Once upon a time in America, we were quicker to pay a compliment to one another. In the halcyon days before iPhones, we seemed more willing to look up and give credit where credit is due. Fellow Charlotteans, credit is due somewhere but scandalously remains ungiven. This ends now.
I speak of those multitalented, image-making men and women assigned to the Brussels sprout account. In just one generation, these intrepid Madison Avenue mavens have turned the lowly vegetable from also-ran to party-star. Is it me, or are these things unbelievably tasty now?
Let’s review. Did you eat Brussels sprouts as a kid? Of course you didn’t, other than on a sibling dare or as parental punishment. Miserable looking and tasting, they were as undesirable as Steak-umms were desirable.
That’s right, Steak-umms. In the Eighties, parents showed their children love not by purchasing organic food that would go bad in a day. Rather, they bought us snacks that could last a decade in the pantry, even after being opened. Some of it I still haven’t fully digested.
What role did Brussels sprouts play in this milieu? Not a big one. Sure, you might have heard of an older kid one town over who’d found a way to smoke the buds. But he also spent an inordinate amount of time watching “Fantasia” after school, and you knew this wasn’t the path for you.
Just look at Brussels sprouts now! They’re featured on menu after menu in Charlotte, and other cities with equal or greater claim to foodie status. For the first time sweet beets feel the heat, collard greens are greener with envy, and even cocky asparagus is hearing footsteps.
And why shouldn’t these complacent side-dishes be nervous? Consider all the A-list roles in which Brussels sprouts have been cast recently. Roasted with bacon. Dusted with parmesan. Sauteed in olive oil. Drizzled in honey balsamic. I could go on, but these are family pages. You get the point: so many combinations, so little time.
Brussels sprouts are like that classmate who sat behind you in second-period French sophomore year. You remember her only vaguely, but then she shows up at your 25th year high school reunion looking absolutely ravishing. She doesn’t steal a glance in the mirror because she doesn’t need to. Neither do Brussels sprouts — they know they’re all that.
The suits at Cube Steak International must be steaming in their C-suites. Not long ago, they occupied the same unpretentious perch in the pantheon of tastes as Brussels sprouts. But now this once-modest cabbage is celebrated like an Oscar favorite on the red carpet, while cube steak is praying for a broccolini-type reinvention that ain’t happening.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives. Had the author lived to see Brussels sprouts’ resurgence, he’d surely have said something truer — if less catchy — like “take it easy on the sprouts, Zelda, you’re moving futures markets.”
Let’s lead the way, Queen Citizens, and reunite this divided land we call America. Let’s bring civility back with our courtly manners, and recommit to giving credit where credit is due. And let’s start in the most obvious place: To all those responsible for the extreme makeover of the humble Brussels sprout, well done.