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Zucchini abuse: a national shame

We all recognize zucchini. We've seen them around without giving them a second thought. Oh, we might be dimly aware that they come and go with the seasons. But have you really paused to look at the lives of these jolly-looking vegetables?

How many of us have stopped to consider the plight of those poor zucchini that are bred to excess every year? This rampant zucchini population explosion has become an appalling national shame.

Irresponsible gardeners (some of whom can't even spell zucchini) plant excessive sets, or sometimes even entire seed packets. They allow the plants to breed unchecked in sleazy backyard "zucchini mills," forced to live out their unnaturally short lives with their roots in filthy manure, or burned by harsh chemical fertilizers.

Some slipshod operators don't see to it that the plants have enough water, or force them to live with such low-class vegetables as rutabagas. The young zucchini may be abused, tormented and, yes, even eaten. After they have outgrown their cuteness, the unwanted are often sent to unapproved homes or abandoned in baskets on strangers' doorsteps. Strays may be found every summer loitering in gutters and alleyways. Did you know that some degenerates, upon spying one of these zucchini, take the word "squash" as a verb?

And what about the mother plants? Their sad fate is to be bred to exhaustion throughout the summer, only to be abandoned to the cruelties of weather in fall. Still feebly flowering, they are left to die of exposure with the first killing frost. Have you ever seen a zucchini plant freeze to death? It's not a pretty sight. The leaves develop dark, wet-looking blotches that spread until the whole plant has a sickly translucent look. The plant wilts and sags until it is too weak to hold itself up, and it lies pathetically stretched out on the cold, cold ground. It is too late to save it. The plant turns black. The poor little corpse is left to rot in the ground until next spring, when the whole sordid cycle begins again.

Or perhaps the plant is mercifully ripped from the ground by the callous gardener and ignominiously tossed on the compost heap alongside its discarded offspring, which are also dying, with moldy patches in blacks and whites and reds, and soft, squishy spots covering their innocent little bodies. Their fate is to become food for future generations, forced to cannibalize their own kind.

What can we as responsible citizens do to stop this shameful abuse of the zucchini? I propose that we set up zucchini spay and neuter clinics across the nation. Money could be channeled into research to develop an effective zucchini contraceptive. Implement public education programs. Require licensing of zucchini breeders. Together, we can stop this wanton maltreatment of one of our most beloved vegetables.

(By the way, while I have your attention, can anyone use a couple bushels of green tomatoes?)

Ellen K. Shurtleff lives outside Medford.