But my breathless revelations didn't even raise an eyebrow. "That's nothing," my mother responded. "I got a cashier once who had never heard of celery."
"I had to tell a cashier what cauliflower was," one of my sisters chimed in. "And don't get me started on cabbage."
Clearly, when youngsters can't tell an onion from arugula, what we are witnessing is a growing national scandal of produce illiteracy. Little wonder: my 7-year-old daughter and her peers get their required allotment of vitamin C from something called a fruit roll, a product in which such things as oranges are mashed to a pulp and pressed into a sheet of goo that looks like a highway reflector.
So I have a proposal. Let us embark upon a massive federal education program. We could call it No Chive Left Behind.
Let us commit that by the year 2010, we will have a cucumber in every classroom.
Let us daily drill our children with horticultural flashcards, so that they can distinguish, in the blink of an eye, between a Burgess buttercup squash and a Royal Chantenay carrot, between Clemson Spineless okra and Bambino eggplant, between the Cherry Belle radish and the Walla Walla onion.
Let us sponsor fifth-grade essay contests that celebrate the bounty of our fields, asking our next generation to ponder, in 500 words or less, "The Cayenne Red: Pepper Pretender or Farmer's Friend?"
Let us start even earlier, retooling our kindergarten aquariums for potato production through a cheerful new curriculum, "Hooked on Hydroponics."
Without such an effort, the implications could be grimmer than the launching of Sputnik: while our next crop of Americans struggles to distinguish a green bean from a spaghetti squash, the Japanese plunge ahead with startling advances in the Fuji apple, and rumors abound of German ambitions to build a Master Zucchini. If we act now, our nation can once again become produce-savvy, securing its future as the apple of the world's eye.
And if you don't know what an apple is, I don't want to hear about it.