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Frozen and Canned

September 28, 2015

Officially, this was the best Tour de Donut yet. If you missed it, you missed out. What made it so amazing? Well, never before have we gotten so many hot donuts. Four of the five places were selling these seasonal treats just as fast as they were coming off the robot. It was like a dream come true.

Of course, that made the judging even that much harder. The full results will be in by Wednesday at the latest. There’s a lot going on this week.

But instead of focusing on the future, let’s turn our attention to the recent past. Sometimes with my once-daily posting schedule, I miss out on commenting about some issues near and dear to my heart.

School lunches are right up there. So is teaching food insecure communities about healthier eating. There has been a big push to focus on eating fresh and eating local. But now there’s the inevitable backlash from the canned and frozen food lobby. Maybe this Yelp job is having an effect on my brain, because instead of doubling down on one side or the other, I’m finding a nice comfortable niche in the middle that makes a ton of sense. However, it would never work.

This recent Consumerist story was forwarded to me by the one and only Stanford Steph.

It tells the story of the federally funded program to feed poor students fresh fruits and vegetables at school. And the logic is kind of interesting. It’s one of exposure. Because these foods are harder to find, more expensive, and prone to spoilage, they are oddities to this population of kids. And regardless of nutrition, that’s a problem on its face.

America’s school system is so big, and its buying power so vast, that when a small change like this is put into place, it can have massive repercussions. You know, like diminished sales of canned and frozen food.

The manufacturer’s lobby has a valid case. It feels that these products are being vilified.

Now, sure, canned fruit cocktail is inferior to fresh fruit. It’s loaded with sugar. Skins have been removed. And it’s just sticky, sweet, processed stuff. Most canned vegetables are terrible too. I think about those mushy spears masquerading as asparagus, but bearing no physical similarities other than its shape.

Canned vegetables are one of the big reasons why vegetables have a bad name. And they’re super salty to boot.

But you know what canned vegetable is amazing? Low sodium canned chickpeas. Those would make a great item for school lunches. These, large, firm beans are popular with kids who pick at them with fingers and pop ‘em into hungry mouths. Chickpeas are high in fiber, and protein. And it’s something with which low income families might not be entirely familiar.

And fruit? Frozen mango and frozen berries are a staple in the Fussy household. They defrost relatively quickly, but can also be enjoyed while still either entirely or partially frozen. Sure, they aren’t particularly inexpensive, but provided the power stays on and the freezer doesn’t fail these will stay good for a long time.

There may be a good canned fruit that isn’t full of added sugar, but if there is, it’s escaping me right now.

All the same, I can understand those policymakers who want to hold the line. Sometimes all it takes is a crack in the dam and the wall comes tumbling down. And when you are working with such a large system, it’s easy for instructions to be executed incorrectly. That’s the nice way of saying it.

One could also say that every change allows school districts the chance to recalibrate what they do. Maybe that turns ketchup into a vegetable.

In an ideal world, we could come up with a sensible middle ground. It makes sense for schools to prioritize fresh vegetables. But the better varieties of canned foods should be celebrated. As should their frozen counterparts. Sure, there are bad versions of food in each. But trustworthy actors wouldn’t take advantage of the system for personal profit. Right?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. ericscheirerstott permalink
    September 28, 2015 10:29 am

    Frozen peas can be better than fresh, at least the fresh ones you’ll find in the average grocery store.

  2. September 28, 2015 10:29 am

    My contention is that if we have local processing facilities such as freezing, then everyone in the local food region wins. The schools can buy more frozen (processed) LOCAL foods, the farmers can have a fairly reliable market and process more harvested crops that they can’t get to the fresh markets.

    So if the food processing guys would get with the program and decentralize gradually they could still be very much in the local food game. As always, it’s strategy, strategy, strategy.

    If they resort to making laws to skew the market in their favor, then, you know, that sucks.

  3. September 28, 2015 10:30 am

    Food deserts and food insecurity are hugely important topics that are easily brushed off the table as out-of-sight-out-of-mind issues. Or people have pat answers for a very complex problem.

    If you lived in a food desert, you would know that while frozen fruit might not be all that expensive, it is 1)unavailable and 2) still not affordable and the power staying on is not a sure thing for the poor either.

    There is no easy answer to this issue. And I want to remind people that food deserts are not at all just an urban issue. In the country side, in the middle of farmlands, we are living in food deserts. Horrifyingly, we are also smack in the middle of some of the worlds most fertile farmlands.

    And people are still having to buy their food at the service station.

    The people who are food insecure arent just parents with low incomes and kids. They are also the handicapped and elderly. They are those with no transportation to access foods. They are the elderly who live out in the countryside, not in town.

    As long as a frozen pizza from the gas station costs 4.00 and can feed someone for a day, that is what they are going to buy.

    I dont have answers, btw. But I do know that when I have been low on food funds, I havent chosen fresh vegetables to eat. I would choose fatty& high calorie foods to eat. The anxiety of not knowing where your next meal is coming from does also dictate what you are hungering for. And that is usually something that is mouth-satisfying and reassuring like cheese’s and fats and breads and sugars.

    So there is that aspect as well.

  4. September 30, 2015 3:53 pm

    While fresh fruits and veggies are superior in nutrition (i.e. vitamins & minerals) than their frozen and canned counterparts I’d prefer people eat them no matter if they are fresh or frozen/canned (of course i’d prefer no syrup or excess chemicals and sodium) just so long as they are eating them.

    Canned pineapple is pretty great and you can find it in it’s own juice without the syrupy gunk! And no, ketchup will never be a veggie in my book….nor will pizza :-)

  5. labk permalink
    November 5, 2015 11:33 pm

    This is an old post but… I don’t like frozen vegetables in general because of their off-putting texture. The only exception is frozen peas, especially petite peas. As for canned vegetables, again it’s an issue with texture as well as salt and *that* canned taste. However I don’t mind canned corn. It’s not even a vegetable and it’s not all that healthy in the first place so a can-o-corn once or twice a year is fine by me. As for fruit, I usually enjoy whatever is fresh and in season. But I do enjoy frozen berries as long as they are only fruit without added sugar. The are great once thawed and mixed into plain yogurt with a bit of honey or worked into pancakes, waffles or pies.. My guilty pleasure, although not super healthy but a good option to canned fruit, is Dole brand Mandarin oranges in 100%*fruit juice. They can’t compare to fresh seasonal citrus but they are so tasty and juicy.

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