The root of all evil?

Posted by Ian
In this week of profound political showmanship and great national debate, clearly the most important news of all is the fact that the parsnip has just been voted Britain’s ugliest vegetable.
This gross act of misrepresentation appears to have been swayed by the way a particularly warped and misshapen parsnip, as opposed to an ordinary looking one, was nominated for consideration and as such the competition’s organiser, the National Trust, felt it had no choice but to award first prize to the offending creation (see the photo below).
By way of consolation, the person responsible for the rogue root vegetable, a Mrs Hillary Nellist of Bedford, won an organic food box for a year and some advice from a National Trust gardener on, you’d assume, how to grow parsnips that are more easy on the eye.
But is that really relevant? Does how a vegetable looks bear any importance compared to how it actually tastes?
Well, off the back of some shamelessly unscientific polling here in the office, apparently so. My colleague Dominic readily volunteered the information that when he was younger he would only eat food that was coloured red and orange. He conveniently omitted to say precisely how young was "younger", so he could have been talking about last month, but his confession serves to illustrate just how powerful and personal a reaction can be evoked by the sight, let alone the smell, of a root vegetable. For him everything was off-limits except carrots. Presumably he can now see very well in the dark.
Apparently the parsnip has almost ceased to exist in France, such is the low esteem in which it is held. Conversely it is a staple dish of most German dinners. I’ll concede it has a mixed appeal as a foodstuff, but surely when it comes to eating, taste should win out over aesthetics every time?
The sight of a great steaming plate of chocolate sponge and chocolate sauce wouldn’t win any garlands at the National Academy, but it would invariably win accolades of the highest kind when served up on teatables the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Equally, consider how the majority of our really filling national dishes – beans on toast, curry, mashed potato – have a resoluted blandness when it comes to appearance but a resonding beauty once off the plate, into your mouth and on their way to your stomach.
So were the judges right to deal such a harsh hand towards the parsnip? If not, which – if any – vegetable would you gladly consign to oblivion, either on looks or taste? Send in your thoughts and suggestions.
Meantime if you’re still not convinced as to the indisputable significance of the parsnip, I’d direct your attention to the part it played in no less than the downfall of a British Prime Minister. When fighting for his political life during the 1997 General Election, John Major was wisely advised to reach for the most potent verbal weapon at his disposal. Unwisely all he came up with was the declaration "A soundbite never buttered a parsnip" – a phrase of such bizarre construction, not to say bemusing logic, as to further diminish his public standing and arguably hasten his exit from 10 Downing Street.
Never underestimate the constitutional power of a root vegetable.
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