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Cleaning the cupboard, or:

Monday, October 08, 2012

From somewhere we gathered a 16oz can of 'Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans,' a can that has sat quite a while in a cupboard waiting to be used.

1. Convenience

I like canned goods, all in all. I like goods that are nonperishable, economical, and healthful. Canned beans and many other canned vegetables fit that bill, as do a number of canned fish. They are often 'on sale,' with or without coupons.

Canned tomatoes, diced or hole, seasoned or not, are inexpensive and tasty in and out of the actual growing season. They lead to quick and delicious sauces and even make a quick, smooth, wonderful soup. One of my favorite fast filling meals is what a friend and I have named "BBR&B", or black beans, rice, and balsamic: cumin, oregano, basil, onion, and garlic sauteed in oil, balsamic added, a can of black beans added, a can of diced tomatoes added, simmered, and reduced, and more balsamic added before being served over rice.

Hell, they last a long time. If you're preparing for the breakdown of civilization, you have canned goods in your bunker.

2. Concerns

Concerns over canned foods fall into four categories, I would say:

a. Environmental
b. Food safety
c. Nutrition
d. Bisphenol A

- If cans are not recycled, they're a hefty, one-way piece of packaging.

- You can always get the 'bad' can, the one infected with botulism or similar, a potential problem with any more or less PH-neutral liquid-stored food.

- Canned foods tend to be cooked before or as part of packaging, which would lead to you think that some water-soluble or heat-sensitive nutrients are lost, though I don't think this has been established. Canned fruits are often packaged with extra sugar or syrup. A great deal of extra sodium is added to packaged meats and beans. They aid in preservation. But you can find low-sodium and low-sugar varieties.

- For some time there has been some concern about Bisphenol A (BPA), found for years in plastics, which in laboratory experiments has been linked to developmental and reproductive abnormalities.

See also:
"Concern over canned foods" www.consumerreports.org/

"BPA in Canned Foods: Should you Worry?" abcnews.go.com/Health/w_

"Bisphenol A (BPA) Information for Parents" www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa/
"Bisphenol A (BPA)" www.niehs.nih.gov/health

3. Contra

The -- impartial, informed -- jury is still out. The take-away is that BPA is 'not good' and that acidic foods, like tomatoes, are more likely to leech it from cans than are other types. But at the same time manufacturers are reducing their reliance on it, and furthermore there is currently neither conclusive nor even strong evidence that BPA in food containers really gets into and stays in the human body, or that it is a major concern for healthy adults.

Scare-mongering, science-illiterate naturopaths, and the like warn us to stay away (see also 'Dr.' Alex Reinehart dralexrinehart.com/food-
or the alarmist 'Take Part' www.takepart.com/article
); more cautious takes are provided by those who actually look at the evidence, not just the headlines (see also: 'Science-Based Medicine' <link>www.sciencebasedmedicine
-in-plastics-should-we-worry/ <link>).

There's also this frequent knee-jerk reaction against 'stored' or 'old' food in favor of 'fresh' food. "Fresh is better" is one of our mantras, but that's hardly the case in any absolute sense. Fresh eggs are better for some culinary uses, older for other. A number of favorites / comfort foods across cultures are based on leftovers, less-prime cuts, and so on: many soups and stews, pizzas and their cognates, most savory pies, bread and rice pudding, and so on. Admittedly I'm equivocating a bit on "fresh" and what its situational opposites are, but I think the point remains a solid one.

Numerous foods are improved through preparation and preservation: cured meats, of course, but also dried/preserved fruits and vegetables, anything pickled or fermented, and so on.

4. Choices

When I was growing up we had a small farm along with a garden and orchard. My parents did not pickle, but jams and preserves were made, and some vegetables were canned. Other items were vacuum-sealed and frozen.

This works all for the best, at least until you find a plastic cube of raspberry jam at the back of a freezer nearly two decades later ...

These are not things that Ms. S. and I currently do, though I've tried my hand in the past at certain types of fermentation. In the future, though? Pickling, especially, is a hobby I want to pursue.

But what brought this up was a can of baked beans.

We like to keep a limited supply of canned or otherwise packaged, prepared foods around, preferring instead to stock up on dry beans or grains and buy most vegetables in a relatively fresh state, as long as we can use them within a few days or a week.
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