Who would have thought the U.S. Supreme Court would spend part of a rare, multiday hearing discussing broccoli? On Tuesday, the second day of debate on whether the health-insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, justices mentioned broccoli no fewer than eight times.

Bloomberg noted that broccoli has been part of the talk on health care since 2010, when U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson mused that, if Congress can require Americans to buy health insurance under so-called Obamacare, why couldn’t they make us all eat broccoli, which—as every mom knows—is good for you?

Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly parried with broccoli as a defense against Big Government. And at yesterday’s hearing, conservative justice Antonin Scalia argued the lawyer defending the health-care law into a rhetorical corner: “You can make people buy broccoli!” He meant it as nightmare of Big Government power. So how did the vegetable become the symbol of tyranny’s slippery slope?

George H.W. Bush is probably the nation’s most prominent hater. In 1990, he banned broccoli from the White House. He declared, “I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” To some, it was an exercise in executive overreach. Others sympathized.

But getting more Americans to try broccoli sounds pretty good to Julie Cummins. Naturally, though, the broccoli Cummins would like to see in more shopping bags is the fancy organic kind. Cummins works for an organization that goes by the acronym CUESA—it’s a nonprofit that runs the farmers’ market at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, one of the country’s best known. More than a dozen farmers sell a range of broccoli varieties there year-round. “When you eat it really fresh from the farmers’ market, it tastes good,” Cummins says, nothing like the huge bunches of bland, dried-out supermarket broccoli that most haters were force-fed as children.

But even Cummins hated broccoli once. “I used to hold it in my mouth and ask my mom if I could leave the table,” Cummins confesses, “then go to the bathroom and spit it out.” She experienced a conversion in her college dorm, where she’d hack Top Ramen by leaving out the flavor packet and adding fresh broccoli florets. But what about mandating broccoli consumption? “Well, I don’t expect anyone to like any one particular vegetable,” she says.

Spoken like a politician.

Image source: Flickr member Jim Mead under Creative Commons

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