Beets are not a dainty vegetable.
I’m thinking of a friend who still recalls a very colorful meatless burger she ordered in San Francisco. Its patty was tinged through and through with the staining purplish-red of beet juice. Bleeding, she said. She told me this while carving into a juicy slab of prime rib the size of a hubcap.
There was a lot to unpack in that moment—about the futility of meat substitutes and the distance we knowingly place between us and our food—but what stuck with me was the simple fact that my hungry friend felt squeamish abouta vegetable.
Beets stain. They seep into things and stay there. From my childhood I remember the pickled-beet eggs my father used to make to honor his Amish-country upbringing. I remember the vinegary red of the pickling juice and the Easter-egg pink of his hands, stained to the wrist from plunging them into a cooling pot of boiled beets. He peeled them all by hand, so the little valleys under and around his fingernails stayed red for days.
For many of us, beets are synonymous with this vivid redness. But it wasn’t always that way. For much of human history, we harvested…