Trivial spinach question

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Thu May 21 12:43:29 CDT 1998

At 01:00 PM 05-21-98 -0300, Doug Yanega wrote:

>At the risk of lightening the tone, the activity here of several scholarly
>botanists prompts me to see if any of you can help on a small question. A
>little while ago, a Brazilian colleague asked me if there was any
>significance to the cartoon character Popeye eating spinach - thinking that
>it might be something cultural.
>        My response was that I supposed it possible that it was a US naval
>policy early in the century to serve sailors spinach, for health reasons,
>and that the image of a sailor who was unbeatable after a few bites of
>spinach would be humorous to a contemporary audience. Basically something
>along the lines of British sailors being jokingly called "Limeys" because
>their naval policy was to include limes in the diet to avoid scurvy. Any
>scholarly botanists who can confirm or refute my supposition?

I don't pretend to know what Max Segar had in mind.  As a child, I suspected
it was a thinly veiled attempt to promote consumption among children of a
veggie they considered unpalatable, by having a popular cartoon character
depend on it for problem solving.  My impression now is that spinach has
always been widely regarded as an excellent source of dietary iron, and
pushed as a food that would make one "strong".   This idea  is carried to
extremes by Popeye.  I do not think the navy would have had much luck in
serving fresh greens on ships ca. 1900, or at the very least am unaware of
any such practice.

Thomas G. Lammers

Classification, Nomenclature, Phylogeny and Biogeography
of the Campanulaceae, s. lat.

Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:    tlammers at
office:          312-922-9410 ext. 317 (voice-mail)
home:     630-759-4280
fax:                312-427-2530


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Children pay the price for our educational cowardice."
                              --- David Gelernter

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