Just how convenient is convenience food? Pre-packaged produce is a 4 billion dollar industry. Is it a good choice though?
Cute Food Is In
In my ongoing look at the real convenience of convenience products, I’m daring to look at one of our new friends on the convenience market -- the baby carrot.
Remember when those cute little baby carrots first started showing up in the grocery store? They were almost too adorable to resist. And, of course we were now eating healthy by munching on the tasty treats, so the extra money we have to pay is well worth it, right?
The Baby Isn’t A Baby
I learned that those bite size little carrots aren’t miniature or picked when they are young. They are actually regular carrots that they cut down to look like baby carrots. The idea was an invention of a California farmer named Mike Yurosek. When I learned this, I had two thoughts on the matter.
They are widdling down otherwise bad or rotten carrots.
I am deliberately wasting a large quantity of food for the sake of something cute.
Neither idea appeals to me from a nutritious or from a green living perspective. I have vowed to buy regular adult carrots.
The Pre-packaged Difference
When I learned that the pre-packaged fruits and vegetable market was somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 billion dollars a year, I decided to do some checking and see what the difference was between the good old-fashioned vegetable you used to buy versus the one all cut up in little pieces for you.
I’ll use lettuce as one example. A report from Arizona: http://ag.arizona.edu/crops/vegetables/cropmgt/az1099.html explains that most lettuce is field packaged. This means it’s wrapped in the field and ready to go to the store (make sure and wash your produce). This lettuce has a shelf life of 16 to 20 days. Heads that are unsuitable for field harvest are sent to the plant where they are sprayed with chlorine and ozone, cut into pieces and used for pre-packaged sale. The shelf life for this lettuce is 12 to 14 days. For me, this means that the sub-standard lettuce is being used for pre-packaging and there are more chemicals used on this lettuce.
What About The Packaging?
Most produce does come with some type of packaging unless you buy from a local farmer’s market. However, many pre-packaged foods have additional waste. Compare buying a whole watermelon, which has no packaging, with the pre-cut watermelon. The pre-cut watermelon comes in a plastic bowl with a lid and that is often times wrapped in more plastic. All of this material goes in the trash can for every serving.
Hurry Up... For What?
Most comments people make about pre-packaged fruits and vegetables is that they are so convenient because you don’t have to cut up the fruit or vegetable. People are busy and dinner is usually a brief stop-over for the family.
Having work and family, I can understand this argument, but I think we owe it to ourselves to think this idea through a bit. If dinner quit being a race to finish quickly, perhaps we might be forced into saying no to some of the commitments we now try to fit into our schedule. If dinner preparation became more of a family event, we might refrain from racing off somewhere after dinner. This could save a little gasoline and wear and tear on the family car as well.
Although this probably requires quite a bit of decision making, maybe one of the best things we can do for our family is to practice being in the moment. Our stress would reduce if we decided that we can so no to certain obligations and stop the frantic pace by simply enjoying the time to cut up a few vegetables. In an experiment, I grated a carrot that was about five inches long. It took me right at twenty seconds to grate it. I feel good about the time investment.
When Convenience Isn't Convenient
So many products today are sold for their 'convenience' factor. This series explores how convenience isn't always so convenient for the consumer and the green conscious person.
- Down and Dirty with Laundry Soap
- It’s the Baby Carrot's Fault
- Toss In or Toss Out the Salad Dressing