Collard greens are delicious.

But spinach is more nutritious.

And the S.C. Senate was presumptuous Tuesday when it voted to decree collards our official state vegetable.

Childhood obesity and justified dread over its long-term toll are rising. Though collards are healthy fare on their own, they are usually cooked with heavy doses of unhealthy animal fat.

Spinach is routinely taken straight as a salad.

Or, as Popeye the Sailor Man prefers it, straight out of a can.

And as that American icon puts it:

"I'm strong to the finish cause I eats me spinach."

Poetic license frees him from correct-grammar bounds.

Dramatic finales confirm his endorsement of what should be our state vegetable.

As the accompanying photo shows, state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, looks a little like Popeye.

That's a compliment.

This isn't a compliment:

Knotts' bill to give collards official-vegetable status would sow a sour harvest. He denies blatant cooking-stench reality: "Collards greens don't stink. They smell like money to me."

Yet that Senate proposal's hasty approval by a House committee smells like a rush to legislative judgment.

And there's no hope for a veto.

Gov. Nikki Haley told me Thursday: "I'm happy with collards."

But Popeye is happy with spinach.

If only more of us would learn lasting lessons from his old cartoons (the newer ones are far inferior), we could be happy, too. Consider just a few of Popeye's sterling qualifications for emulation -- and not just in dietary choice:

--He risks his life for his country fighting the Japanese in World War II.

--He risks his life trying to free his estranged Pappy from Goon Island captivity before that dear old dad has to save him -- after eating spinach, of course.

--He risks his life, and persists in true love, for the hard-to-get, frequently fickle Olive Oyl.

Olive's also admirable. Despite requiring repeated spinach-fueled rescues by paramour Popeye, she serves as a splendid, single-woman model of feminist self-sufficiency. And she's about as far from obese as anyone can get. Back to Popeye:

--He consistently stands up to big bully Bluto, but also forgives and forgets while occasionally teaming up with his blustering nemesis.

--Popeye lives by -- and habitually sings -- this accepting-yet-uplifting philosophy: "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man."

--And yes, he teaches that spinach is much better for us than those hamburgers that panhandling slob J. Wellington Wimpy devours in gluttonous quantities.

Another reason our state should embrace spinach, which we do grow here, as a vigorous vegetable symbol: our grand maritime heritage.

Recall the stirring repulsion of the mighty British fleet, carrying the haughty Lord Cornwallis, by a ragtag band of patriots on Sullivan's Island a mere week before the Declaration of Independence.

Recall the brave sailor men on the Confederate Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy ship.

Recall the brave Yankee blockaders, who were sailor men, too.

Recall Charleston Naval Base -- and all those funky Reynolds Avenue dives that catered to those sailor men.

And remember that while today's kids are stuck with such dubious role models as the Wiggles, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, my generation was lucky enough to have Popeye the Sailor Man, a truly manly man. He best expresses his pugnacious pluck in his theme song's chorus:

"I'm one tough gazookus which hates all palookas what ain't on the up and square,

I biffs 'em and buffs 'em and always outroughs 'em but none of 'em gets nowhere,

If anyone dasses to risk me fisk, it's bop and it's wham, understand?

So keep good behavior, that's your one lifesaver with Popeye the sailor man."

That's a perfect fit for South Carolina's spunky spirit. That's a fitting message to obstructionists delaying the mere pittance of federal funding we need to get started on deepening Charleston Harbor.

Another apt warning to the Washington politicians slighting our port -- and the Columbia politicians slighting spinach:

"That's all we can stand, cause we can't stands no more."

So get on the up and square.

Otherwise, it's bop and it's wham.


Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier.