It’s coming up to my anniversary. I’ve been ordering a vegetable box for a year now and to say thank you, Riverford are giving me a free bottle of apple juice. Vegetables make me anxious. The worry eats me up in the night. It plagues my thoughts when I should be thinking about much more pressing issues, like how on earth I’m ever going to get my daughter to go to school again.
When I’m sitting around tables with earnest, well-meaning health and education professionals, and we are talking about strategies and things that are – but mainly aren’t – working for my daughter, my mind is consumed with thoughts of rotting cauliflowers, cabbages, carrots, celeriac and squash. And what the hell I’m going to do with them all.
“How middle class!” I hear you say. Yes, it is middle class. I worry about vegetables because the other worries I have are far too worrying to really think about, or indeed too hard to sometimes tackle. We all do this, I’m sure. Working, middle, upper class. It makes no difference. It’s like referred pain: humans don’t always dwell on the things that hurt most or need the most attention. They choose the stupid things to sweat over.
Celery sticks have melted in the bottom drawer of my fridge, like lollies that turn to slush on a hot day. I carry them to the bin and the children recoil in horror. I tell them to grow a pair. “These are vegetables, children! They are rotten, but one day, this is what will happen to us.
I don’t say that. Instead, I say, “OH GOD. Another week where I’ve spent 15 quid on a couple of root vegetables that I could have bought from Sosos (cheap, lovely Cypriot greengrocer) for less than a quid. But oh no. I choose to have my vegetables delivered by a man called Hugh from a fictional farm in Dorset, in a van that runs on recycled coconut oil.
It all happened last November. I felt sorry for the girl with the Riverford clipboard, who was standing on my doorstep. She arrived at precisely the time when I was thinking about how I was going to make my children eat the remains of a cauliflower cheese, some fatty roast beef and a half tub of baked beans that had turned a depressing shade of orange. My nose told me they were all OK.
I invited the girl – let’s call her Helenka – into my house. “You like vegetables?” she asked, like a James Bond character who’d been sent by the government as a nutrition spy.
“Well, yes,” I replied, trying to do my bit as a good citizen. The day before it had been a man from the RSPCA asking me if I cared about neglected animals, and the week before that it had been a couple of people in green tabards asking me if I cared about neglected children. Of course “Yes!” was the answer to all of these questions, because I’m not a sociopath. But at 6.30pm it’s hard to really care about anything other than getting the children to bed before midnight.
Helenka was tall and thin and had Slavic cheekbones like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde. Standing next to her, I felt like a gnome. If I were my friend’s grandmother – who sized up all beautiful girls in the manner of a talent scout – I might have said in a New York Jewish accent, “You should be a mo-del.”
Instead, I suggested she buy a longer coat that covered up her kidneys to save her getting an infection. Her eyes narrowed, as if I’d told her she smelled, which made me feel terrible. And then, somehow, within seconds, she was sitting down at my kitchen table and filling out a direct debit form, all smiles. Signing me up to a lifetime of organic vegetables. More than a year later, I’m still trying to cancel the order. I fear Helenka will find me and try to kill me.
And anyway, in the ten minutes she was in my house she made friends with my children. My daughter wanted to know what shade of lipstick she was wearing, and where her coat was from.
“Russian Red… and Topshop. Tell your mama to stop vorrying about stupid kidneys. Crop bomber is all the rage!”
My sons mocked the dinner I had put in front of them, and she joined in. “Mama’s cooking is interesting, yeah? Wait until you eat these vegetables. Much nicer!”
But of course, my sons never touch the vegetables that are delivered on a weekly basis. They chew on Kale like it’s tobacco – they spit it out afterwards. I frantically try to eat everything, but there’s only so much roasted winter root veg mush I can eat. I don’t have time for fancy cooking in the week, because I work and so does my husband. Which is why the children eat mainly pasta, sausages and the odd bit of broccoli and I eat packets of crisps.
So it’s come to the crunch. I have to ask whom I am ordering the vegetables for. My children? Or the scary beautiful woman whose name I don’t even know? The answer is clear. So, today I will be brave and I will cancel my subscription. I do hope that Helenka’s been spotted by Storm Models and whisked away to New York. I’d hate to find her on my doorstep again this winter.