Does The UK Have A National Vegetable?
04 August 2016
No is the official answer to this question. As a nation the UK does not have a specific vegetable assigned to it. Unlike the individual country of Wales, which does have a national vegetable - the leek – the other countries don’t have their own vegetable, but have flowers instead. England’s national flower is the rose, Scotland’s is the thistle and Scottish Bluebell, Wales’ is the daffodil and Northern Ireland’s flower is the shamrock. These flowers are the symbols associated with each country’s patron saint, and each has its own back story to explain why they are the emblem of that nation. Gardeners across these countries grow and develop new breeds of these flowers. But when it comes to vegetables there is no such official link, except for that of Wales.
But many experts feel that maybe there should be a national vegetable for the UK, but without one already decided, it opens up the question of what should it be?
Despite not being officially assigned a ‘national vegetable’, each of the countries that make up the UK does have a vegetable that is strongly associated with its past and culture. Potatoes for example, are a big part of Irish history, with it being one of the most widely exported produces of the area. It is in fact such a big part of their agricultural personality that it caused huge disruption to the economy as well as the health of the nation when they experienced the great famine (a.k.a. the potato famine) between 1845 and 1852. Thus to proclaim that Ireland’s national vegetable is the potato would make perfect sense, and is virtually the only possible conclusion.
The case for England’s national vegetable is a little bit more complicated as there is no direct history of a specific vegetable, and the crops of England are quite various and vegetable gardening is quite popular. But discussions amongst historians and food experts have led to the conclusion that one of the most likely contenders for the top spot is asparagus. Typically coming into harvesting season around St. George’s day strongly links England’s saint to the vegetable, and would thus makes sense for it to be declared the nation’s vegetable. It requires special garden care, but has become a staple for many hobby gardeners.
But that’s only the story of two vegetables in two countries, is there a single vegetable that could unite the UK? It remains a question that is up for debate. When asked to think about the quintessential vegetable of the UK, there are many possible answers, the onion, the carrot, the cabbage. They all conjure up ideas of schools dinners and typical British meals like stew, roast dinner, casseroles and various pies. But none seems to be more deserving than the others. And all deserve their due garden maintenance and attention.
Ultimately it seems there are far too many options to choose from, and it seems unjust to choose one of our many excellent vegetables above all others. It is also difficult to choose because of the evolution of vegetables throughout the ages. Even vegetables we believe to be of UK origin turn out not to be, for example many of us believe that the humble carrot is one of the UK’s typical produces, and yet the carrot as we know it isn’t. As it turns out our natural crop are white carrots, but the bright orange carrots we all know and love were developed in the Netherlands, and we’ve just incorporated them into our nation identity and everyone can try planting carrots even at home in pots.
Maybe it should be put to a vote, and the nation can decide, or maybe we should just leave it alone, and let the individual decide when they choose. Although a punch up over carrots, probably wouldn’t be welcome.