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In a recent speech about the national debt, Obama said it's time to "Eat our peas".

What does it mean - where does it come from?

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3 Answers 3

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The phrase "eat our peas" is not, as far as I know, a historical metaphor. However, according to the context given by CBS, President Obama was telling the nation that they had to buckle down and do what might hurt but would be good for them.

To add further context and explanation, the sentence also referred to "pulling off the Band-Aid". When you need to take off a Band-Aid, you have to rip it off in order to get it over with. The president was saying the same thing twice.

Edit: There is more discussion of this metaphor here, as it is not a usually accepted metaphor. The author writes,

I take it that the pea-eating metaphor is intended to indicate that all sides must take an unpleasant political hit to settle the debt issue. They won't like it, but it'll be good for them.

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    Using specifically peas, which many people don't like (similar to broccoli) might also be a more creative way of saying "eat your vegetables," a common admonition.
    – aedia λ
    Jul 12, 2011 at 20:28
  • Very good point @aedia. I hope the quote I just added helps clarify a bit.
    – user10893
    Jul 12, 2011 at 20:31
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    I actually learned this as "eating your spinach" -- same idea, different unappealing vegetable. Jul 12, 2011 at 20:36
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    It might be of interest that, at least by the late 90s, it was a popular enough phrase to be have a popular (at the time) Australian comedy compilation released with the name Eat Your Peas.
    – Brendon
    Jul 12, 2011 at 23:08
  • For George HW Bush it was broccoli
    – Stuart F
    Jun 5, 2023 at 14:52
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I am not sure where the saying comes from in terms of its origin, but in my opinion it comes from the fact that children don't like to eat peas but are made to because it is good for them. They are green, and gross, and have a yucky texture to them...my mom still hates them! So I would use it to refer to something that I would have to do in a begrudging manner, knowing that it was good for me but man did I hate having to do it!!

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The term is synonymous with "take your medicine" or in more general but similar terms "eat your greens". We may not like it, and we may not see how it could possibly help us, but there is a benefit in the long term.

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