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Most aspects of the food conversions in Agricola have fairly justifiable real-world bases. Given the game is set in Central Europe around 1670 CE (per the rulebook introduction), it's fairly reasonable from a health standpoint that you need to be able to cook meat to eat it safely (hence, you can only convert animals to food with a fireplace or cooking hearth). Additionally, while you can eat grain raw, you would certainly get more nutrition out of it by cooking it (hence you can use bake bread to turn grain into more food than the default 1:1).

Given that, what foods are vegetables supposed to represent that they can produce as much food as grain when cooked? The pieces are orange, which is evocative of carrots, but that just doesn't make sense from a calorie math standpoint. 1 cup of carrots have a tenth the calories of a cup of grain (45 Calories vs 450 Calories), so the part where you get the same amount of food from cooking vegetables as baking grain with a fireplace (2 each) or a cooking hearth (3 each) seems very hard to justify.

Are there any sources that explain what the vegetables are supposed to represent in the game? Baring that, what foods have the right calorie density and color to be the vegetables represented in the game?

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There are several niche components in the game that make it clear "vegetables" are actually a mix of things. There are the minor improvements "Lettuce Patch" and "Turnip Field" that allow planting vegetables on them, and the occupation "Carrot Farmer" that gives you vegetables. Unfortunately, none of these are sufficiently high calorie density to make sense with the games mechanics (especially not lettuce patch yielding 4 food per vegetable).

My best explanation is that some of the vegetables are potatoes. Potatoes are botanically a vegetable and actually yield more calories per acre than to grain (source). The game is set post Colombian exchange, so these would be in Europe already. Most potato skins are in the tan-orange-brown range in addition to sweet potatoes which have a bright orange center. Potatoes alone would actually be too high in calorie density, given you can turn a single field's harvest of grain into more food (max 1 grain -> 5 food with a clay oven) than a single field's harvest of vegetable (max 1 vegetable -> 3 food with a cooking hearth or 4 food with a lettuce patch). But potatoes mixed with other lower-calorie items (such as lettuce, turnips, and carrots) grown for nutritional diversity could balance out to the right number.

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  • While potatoes were present they were not a wide spread staple in Central Europe until CE1700-1715 with their use spreading primarily from the cold northern countries southwards over time.
    – KMR
    Jun 19, 2023 at 23:20
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    @KMR that could explain why vegetables don't show up until one of the later rounds of the game
    – Zags
    Jun 20, 2023 at 0:36

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