Fresh Food Fetishists and the Strange Appeal of Canned Green Beans

Michelle Obama is a Newsweek cover girl, with her campaign to get get fresh food to the nation's tubby tots. But what's so great about fresh? Daniel Engber at Slate challenges the farmers market mania sweeping the anti-obesity set:

A single-minded focus on fresh produce distracts us from the bigger problem: Our children are suffering from a lack of any fruits or vegetables whatsoever. Canned, frozen, dried, juiced—anything would help. Here's a simple dictum for public health, endorsed by nutritionists across the land: All forms of fruits and vegetables matter

The second string argument in favor of fresh food is that it's more appetizing. That's sometimes true, but it also depends on the food. While a lumpy, knobbly fresh beet in a designer color may warm the heart of a fresh food activists, it's likely to scare the bejesus out of a picky kid. And far more importantly: Packaged veggies are cheaper and easier to use than their fresh counterparts, which matters for cash-strapped and under-staffed school cafeterias. As Engber notes:

By insisting that food from the farmer's market tastes better and improves your health, our fruit-and-vegetable policies mix up science and culture. Under the guise of evidence-based public health, they export a set of values from one social class to another. They're reinforcing the idea that fresh is the only kind of produce worth eating—even though it's more expensive and less accessible than canned and frozen. In that sense, fresh subsidies may be self-defeating: They improve access to one kind of health food while stigmatizing the sensible alternatives. What will happen if children learn to thumb their noses at frozen corn and canned beans? Will that shrink the fruit-and-vegetable gap, or will it only make things worse?

Fresh and nutritious aren't synonyms. And we aren't doing the nation's lardasses any favors by implying that a carrot's not worth eating unless it still has the green stuff attached to the top, like the ones Bugs Bunny favors and fancy farmer's markets offer.

Clearly, Slate's Engber and I are on the same wavelength, as I also share his fondness for the "tinny, squeaky taste of canned string beans." Weird, right?

Also, I made the same point about the misguided fresh food fetish in a Reason.tv video just last week:

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  • ||

    My family's dinner table on Monday nights circa 1970: Pork chops, jarred apple sauce, canned corn, mashed potatoes.

    Good stuff.

  • ed||

    I comprehend your potato.

  • ||

    We shove the poles in the hole!

  • ed||

    Suburban robots to monitor reality.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Dude, your parents fed you the same thing every Monday? Which night was meatloaf night? At least substitute in different side dishes for some variety, god damn.

    I rejected mashed potatoes to the point where my mother never made them. They are bland, pasty, baby food, the side dish of a poor irishman.

  • ||

    My favorite was Tues night--tuna noodle casserole. With potato chips sprinkled on top before baking.

  • SKR||

    Your mom didn't make them right.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Then no one made them right, because I have had mashed potatoes made by hundreds of different people, and they all sucked. Mashed potatoes suck balls unless they have been loaded with seasonings or other ingredients.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Seriously, public school lunches and prison food come in mashed form. Do you want to eat tyranny meals or free market meals?

  • skr||

    you must not like butter

  • ||

    At least you didn't smash the potatoes.

  • Hank||

    But what's so great about fresh?

    Fresh is dope. Dope is cool. Cool is bad. Bad is good. Good is fresh. Yo.

    Perhaps our nation of little fat fuckers good consume less shit if their fat fucking parents didn't purchase and feed the little fat fuckers shit. Or, maybe let the little fat fuckers out of the house, amid all the fears of the child-toucher crisis, to exercise their little fat asses off. Then, that delicious square piece of pizze, without or without a fly under the cheese, eaten as one meal a day wouldn't be so consequential.

    Or. OR a new tax, more federal control of education, and larger pensions for cafeteria workers would fix the crisis problem.

  • Massah Barack||

    All your lives are belong to us.

  • ||

    Please don't hurt us, Massa.

  • ||

    Okay ... that was *actually* racist. So fuck off.

  • Tim||

    Fresh produce also requires skill and effort to prepare. I am sure when Michelle snacks on Brussel Sprouts that they are simmered to perfection by the White House Chef, not boiled to paste by a chain smoking minimum wage lunch lady.

  • Michelle||

    This doesn't help my kids, cracka.

  • ||

    Michelle Obama is a Newsweek cover girl,

    You'd think Newsweek would employ a better air-brusher for its cover photos.

    I mean, Jeebus, I've seen better touch-ups on Parade magazine covers.

  • Tea-Bagging Racist||

    If Miz Michelle adds any more junk to her trunk, they'll have to add another wing to the White House.

  • ||

    Yeah Mich has some junk in her trunk. And Jamie Oliver could stand to lose some weight himself. Where do they get off telling us what to eat??

  • SKR||

    but it's fresh fat.

  • Steve Nash Equilibrium||

    If you look at Michelle Obama's face from the side, she looks like a piranha. I'm sure this is not a coincidence.

  • Tim||

    Taking the high road Steve?

  • zeebs||

    Kind of a poorly argued position for someone named Mango, no? Oh. "Mangu." Nevermind.

  • lunchstealer||

    I generally consider frozen to equal fresh, so it didn't even occur to me to not equate the two. I generally find that it doesn't taste quite as good or retain quite the snap of the fresh stuff, it's so much easier to use than fresh that I use them much more often than fresh. Especially onions and bell peppers for stir-frying and other similar applications.

    I don't love frozen spinach and broccoli, however.

    Canned green beans are the bomb for a lot of applications. And, of course, since Alton Brown has made me an expert food-science wonk while I sit on my fat ass uncritically accepting everything he has to say, I can inform you that for any cooking application, canned tomatoes are often better than fresh, since they were picked at natural peak ripeness, rather than grown in a hothouse and chemically ripened.

    So yeah, Jamie Oliver is slightly right, but MASSIVELY overstating his case, and MOSTLY involved in self-aggrandizing bullshit. He's a far better businessman and showman than he is a chef or food science policy expert.

  • ||

    I'm glad that I'm not the only person who finds Michelle Obama about as appealing as a Komodo dragon. She doesn't just look bad, she looks mean. And I think that if she bit you it would get horribly infected, thus the Komodo dragon connection.

  • ||

    She doesn't just look bad, she looks mean.

    For someone who grew up in a comfortable middle-class household, went to the best schools in the country, and held down a highly desirable in-house counsel job, she seems to be holding a permanent grudge against the world. Remember "For the first time, I am proud of my country"?

    Every time I see her, I think "Those poor kids."

  • The Gobbler||

    I wouldn't fuck her with Barack Obama's dick.

  • DanD||

    HAAAAAA HAHAHA gold!

  • ||

    Like Ben Roethlisberger.

  • ||

    She's got a serious case of shovel-face.

  • Hank||

    Fuckin' aye, a disdain for Obamacare is racist enough. Now, "you people" don't find Michelle attractive. Fucking racism hits an all time high on H&R.

    I've always thought she looked a little like Patrick Ewing. In a flattering sort of way. She's kind of long and leerchy. Barry's no fool, Michelle was connected.

  • ||

    A Komodo dragon is a masterpiece of dinosaur legacy. God only knows what Michelle is.

  • Popeye||

    "Packaged veggies are cheaper and easier to use than their fresh counterparts, which matters for cash-strapped and under-staffed school cafeterias."

    O'rly? Citation, please.

    http://www.thesimpledollar.com.....ally-cost/

  • ||

    I question that too.

  • B.P.||

    Uhhh... read your link. He's comparing the cost of fresh items vs. fresh items that are sliced for convenience, not fresh vs. canned.

  • ||

    Yeah, RTFA.

  • Xeones||

    And I think that if she bit you it would get horribly infected

    You think she's related to Warty?

  • ||

    I do not think--though I'm not sure--that she is a lycanthrope like Warty. She does sort of look like Oliver Reed, though. Hmm.

  • ¢||

    Great troll, KMW. The mildest deprecation of any upmarket consumable can summon an endless rain of bitchy lefty heckfire. It's almost like saying it never occurred to you to be enraged that Palin is allowed to breed. Well-aimed.

  • Jeffersonian||

    This is part-and-parcel with the new lefty push for only letting people eat "local." Just you watch.

  • T||

    Locavores need to STFU until they quit drinking coffee. Or using pepper. Or any of the myriad other things that don't grow within twenty miles of their house.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    The one thing you can count on is that they WON'T STFU.

    After all yapping about that kind of stuff is the ONLY point of it anyway - to demonstrate how "superior" they are and all.

  • DanD||

    Wait, what? These numbnuts are trying to make the whole localvore bullshit a law?!

  • Terry Michael||

    I seldom disagree with my friends at Reason. But I think some of you are beginning to confuse the wisdom of doing something smart, like eating actual, instead of highly processed, food, with being coerced by government food police to eat well. America's obesity problem, which will increasingly rob your Medicare and ObamaCare tax dollars, is a REAL problem. And much of it is caused by lousy diet and sedentary lifestyle, even if the problem is leveling off. Katherine, Michael, et al...take a step back here and don't throw the properly-nourished baby out with the state-directed bath water. I am willing to let people poison themselves; I just don't think it's a good idea, because I don't want to use my money to save them from themseleves. I kind of covered this in a ReasonOnline piece last year:
    http://reason.com/archives/200.....chellecare

  • ||

    I am willing to let people poison themselves

    Hey, that's generous of you, Terry. Maybe you can explain exactly how highly processed food, which huge numbers of people eat, is poison. And after that maybe you can explain how "libertarian Democrat" isn't an oxymoron.

  • ||

    "America's obesity problem, which will increasingly rob your Medicare and ObamaCare tax dollars, is a REAL problem"

    Bullshit. Everybody dies, Jack. If not due to obesity-driven deseases, then cancer or something else. You think ovarian cancer is a cheap two-year treatment? Dying of massive coronary is cheaper. So is some fatty croaking at 50 and never collecting SS or using medicare.

    It's going to happen eventually so...

    Man-up and die people. Man-up and die.

  • ||

    "America's obesity problem, which will increasingly rob your Medicare and ObamaCare tax dollars, is a REAL problem. "

    No the real problem is Medicare and ObamaCare wasting tax dollars.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    Funny how the people who cite spending on government healthcare entitlements as an excuse for some additional government meddling never seem to bring up the most obvious and direct solution of getting rid of the entitlement program.

    That would solve the taxpayer expense problment quite nicely.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Terry, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are still fruits and vegetables. If you're cooking for one (and sometimes two), buying fresh is basically ensuring you're wasting some of your money on rotting produce.

  • ||

    Yep.

  • Mo||

    If you have a lot of rotting produce, you're buying too much food.

  • SKR||

    A bunch is a bunch. Sometimes that is too much.

  • SKR||

    You are allowed to freeze the extra vegetables you buy. Actually, you could even can them if you were feeling really adventurous.

  • JD||

    Of course you're allowed to freeze the things you buy. Of course, you could just buy them already frozen, which was what this whole thread was about...

  • skr||

    Yes but the comment was about fresh food rotting because you were unable to use all of it in time. You could easily freeze half because you know you aren't going to be able to consume it all in the short period of time.

  • ||

    Terry, my problem is that I don't necessarily buy the argument that processed foods are inherently bad (and that's ignoring the fact that frozen foods aren't actually processed), nor do I buy the argument that we're facing an obesity epidemic. You seem to put a lot of faith in Michael Pollan, and at least one Yale agrarian would question your faith. I do agree that we eat too much high-fructose corn syrup, but that's only because we subsidize corn, which makes it cheap.

  • ||

    Obesity will be an asset once the bill comes due and the fed monetizes the debt.

  • ||

    But I think some of you are beginning to confuse the wisdom of doing something smart, like eating actual, instead of highly processed, food, with being coerced by government food police to eat well.

    Terry, I think you are a little confused about

    (1) Our freedom to criticize people who we find to be insufferable nobs, regardless of the alleged merits of their positions.

    You don't have to be advocating immediate state takeover to come in for a hard time from this crowd. Which leads me to:

    (2) The propensity of these insufferable nobs to pick up a truncheon and slip on a pair of jackboots when we don't do as they think we should.

  • ||

    I can't find the citation and I'm too lazy to Google-Fu for it right now, but a British study a few years ago found that fat people actually suffered enough in job pay discrimination to make up for what they were supposedly "robbing" the taxpayer (keep in mind this is the British taxpayer we're talking about) in healthcare dollars.

    Then, of course, there's the evidence from studies (Mayo clinic, among others) that the CDC skews their stats to fit into a fat-is-unhealthy agenda, and dumps out anything that doesn't fit. They've been shown to lump babies in with bathwater repeatedly when it comes to calibrating how much your fat neighbors are actually costing you--for example, lumping in Type I diabetics and smokers who happen to be fat.

    And then, you add the BMI itself, a 19th-century piece of crap that is almost as accurate at predicting someone's overall health as phrenology.

    And finally, there's the big fat elephant in the room, pardon the metaphor: a lotta people are out there making lifestyle choices that also cost us an assload of money. Childbirths, for example, at nearly $10K a pop for a normal, healthy, complication-free single birth. The sexually promiscuous, especially those with low standards. Infertility treatments, which are covered by some state government insurance plans. Extreme sports junkies who can't go more than a few weeks without ripping up their shoulders or knees doing rock-climbing or mountain biking or triathlons or whatever. My supposedly "healthy," thin, soccer-playing co-worker has been to the doctor more times in the past year than I've been in ten years. Three knee surgeries, one shoulder, umpteen MRIs, foot surgery, etc., etc. just since I've known her. Let's add a few million Americans who probably look perfectly healthy and svelte on the outside, but drink like fish in the privacy of their homes at night.

    See, my point is, you get into the business--or you get the government into the business--of policing your neighbors' lifestyles based on what their healthcare bills are, you find out that you'd better get a lot more wood, because you're going to have to burn a lot more witches than you thought.

    But then, you might learn something: you might find out that this policing action, it's mostly about hatred. Those fat, flyover-state slobs who eat more than a card-deck-sized portion of meat, who eat white carbs, don't participate in CSAs, and don't shop at Whole Foods, mon dieu! Something must be done!

    No, actually, nothing must be done. People are going to make all sorts of choices that cost you money. The only thing we should be doing is shifting costs for personal lifestyle choices onto the ones who are making those choices.

    See also: Moral panic.

  • ||

    I agree that obesity is a problem. But the point of the article is that fat people are better of eating ANY vegetables, frozen, canned, or fresh, than they are eating macaroni and cheese made from organic hormone free cheese and freshly prepared whole wheat pasta.

    There is, however, an elitist prejudice that puts canned and frozen veggiee on par with eating McNuggets.

    Which is unfortunate considering that fresh veggies aren't as accessible or affordable for some people.

    Some processed foods may be pretty un healthy, but I wouldn't include canned veggies in that category. All they do is cook them and can them. It's not like they come dehadrated in a box with some powdered cheese blend. If you want to avoid horrifyingly unhealthy processed foods, just get them to stop buying TV dinners, hamburger helper and pasta-roni.

  • Upgrayyed||

    Why does she have a middle aged honkey gunt?

  • ||

    I am willing to let people poison themselves; I just don't think it's a good idea, because I don't want to use my money to save them from themseleves.

    ERROR! ERROR!

    ANALYZE!

  • ed||


    Michelle on a Mission
    How we can empower parents, schools, and the community to battle childhood obesity.

    "Empower"? How about you just leave us the fuck alone?

  • ||

    Is it just me or is this billion-dollar effort to "fight childhood obesity" a fucking colossal waste of money? I mean how expensive is it to tell people to get more exercise and stop eating junk food?

  • Michelle||

    How much money do you have?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I fucking hate corn on a bullshit cob. That shit sticks in your teeth and tastes bland as fuck. Frozen, bagged kernels of corn are easier to eat without getting your hands dirty, and taste much better due to the preservatives, salt, and seasoning they add in, which saves me time from having to add those things myself.

  • Almanian||

    Oh, gotta disagree - nothing better than corn on the cob from our farmer friend up the road in the late summer. No butter, no salt, no nothin - just heat 'n' eat. MMM-DAMN that's some good corn.

    Although I'm just fine w/yer basic Green Giant Niblets, too. Cause ya can't get corn from Farmer Joe up the road in the middle of winter, least here in the midwest. Doesn't grow through the snow very well...

  • The Green Giant||

    I'm glad you like my niblets.

    Ho, ho, ho!

  • SKR||

    I'm starting to think your mama can't cook.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Yeah, because there is a way to cook corn on the cob that magically take away all of its suckish characteristics. Corn on the cob is a pain in the ass to eat. Seeing people eat it is unpleasant.

  • ||

    It's messy, true, but the only reason it's bland is because it isn't fresh. The sugars start turning to starches the minute it's harvested. The best way to eat it is to rip it from the stalk and cook it immediately. It's heavenly. But hours count! I'm not kidding: even 24 hours later it's noticeably blander. It was years before I could stand to eat "fresh" supermarket corn, after being raised on homegrown stuff.

  • skr||

    this

  • Terry Michael||

    First, I want to get government completely out of the healthcare business, including moving Medicare recipients to the private insurance markets, giving them vouchers from the Medicare taxes they have paid. And ObamaCare is an O'bomination. So none of my concern about childhood and adult obesity as threats to health and therefore threats to our over-taxed wallets has anything to do with favoring government-run healthcare. Nor do I favor any laws that tell me what the fuck I can put into my body. But I have seen the effects of poor diet. My mother was on dialysis the last eight years of her life (she died at 88) and it doesn't stretch my imagination, knowing what we ate as a very poor (on welfare) family, to acknowledge that poor nutrition contributed to her late life diabetis, which led to her kidneys shutting down. I eat some canned foods and some frozen foods and some processed foods. I just try to eat as little highly processed food and corn-syrup sweetened and overly fatty food as I can. As a young adult (I'm 62) I ate lots of fast food because it was cheap, and my stomach suffered the consequences. So, just from simple life experience, it boggles my mind when otherwise intelligent adults seem to think there's no problem with obesity or that being smart about eating is somehow giving in to the food police!

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Actually, those sound like pretty expectable things to happen at 88.

  • ||

    If teh evil HFCS hadn't given her diabetes, she could've rotted in a nursing home for another 5 years! You Monster!11one

  • ||

    We're being a little hard on Terry, here.

    Terry, you might chalk up our short fuses over being lectured about just about any-fucking-thing that is our personal business to the fact that we can't turn around these days without some oh-so-smug tool telling us that we need to change our ways.

    Sometimes the "Or else" is stated, and sometimes its just implied.

    So we're a little touchy about it, is all.

  • Ray Pew||

    Terry, you might chalk up our short fuses over being lectured about just about any-fucking-thing that is our personal business to the fact that we can't turn around these days without some oh-so-smug tool telling us that we need to change our ways.

    Especially regarding food, an issue which is both HIGHLY personal and HIGHLY misunderstood.

    The food movement reminds me of the alternative health movement. Both fall for the nonsense that "natural/organic" = better.

  • Terry Michael||

    I'll stop with these final observations. No, it is not usual for your kidneys to shut down and for you to be on dialysis in late life. And dialysis is absolute hell for someone at any age, but particularly someone elderly. Your kidneys shut down for physiologically understandable reasons, and diabetis has causes that you can protect yourself against over the term of your life. As for the natural vs. organic debate, I happen to think that "organically" grown is pretty much nonsense; I mean, I don't want my beef or pork or chicken pumped full of anti-biotics, and I don't want to eat stuff that has been grown in a way that assures lots of crap in it; but most food we eat from large farming operations isn't significantly more harmful than food claimed as "organically" grown. Finally, not everything suggested for healthful eating is an affront to your liberty!! LOL :)

  • Ray Pew||

    Finally, not everything suggested for healthful eating is an affront to your liberty!! LOL :)

    And this is a red herring. NOBODY is claiming this. I have never seen a Reason article criticizing the Food Network or diet books or any host of media that promotes healthy living.

    What I have seen is criticism of those SPECIFIC individuals and organizations that vocally advocate for regulations or punitive measures to force others to eat as they prefer.

  • ||

    I'd like to tie Michelle down and force feed her nothing but Screaming Yellow Zonkers for a month. Do they still make those?

  • SKR||

    Unless the food item is raw,whole,and unseasoned, all food is processed. Canning is just another cooking process that happens to seal the can. Do these same people eat dried apricots, raisins, prosciutto, or cheese? Give me a fucking break.

  • SKR||

    forgot ice cream for the frozen cooking method.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Growing, harvesting, transporting, purchasing, and digesting food are all processes as well.

  • skr||

    true enough but I wasn't going to go there because it was a little too much.

  • ||

    Making your own spagetti sauce from scratch is the easiest thing in the world if you use canned diced tomatoes. But damn near impossible (and expensive!) from fresh tomatoes.

    From Canned Diced tomatoes:
    Minces a couple cloves of garlic.
    Fry in olive oil for 30 seconds or so.
    Throw in canned diced tomatoes. Plus one 8 ounce can tomato sauce.
    Add seasonings. basil, oregano, etc.

    If you use fresh tomatoes, add intermediate step: BOIL FOR SIX HOURS.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I can add extra toppings to a frozen pizza, too.

  • ||

    Yeah, but frozen pizza contains PIZZA.

  • JB||

    Most frozen vegetables are fresher than 'fresh' vegetables.

  • ||

    And if you're going to cook the fresh vegetables they will end up having the same nutritional value as frozen, sometimes less. Fresh are only more nutrituous if you eat them raw.

  • ||

    Who and what exactly are all you people arguing against? Don't you realize that there are no actual articles or statements or programs holding the positions you're all struggling so valiantly against?

  • Karen||

    I find it HILARIOUS how we are so trained to think that processed food, that needs to be picked, ground up, cleaned in ammonia and other chemicals, have 10 different chemicals placed into it for taste and color (chemicals have to be produced too), packaged, frozen, shipped from miles and miles away...is so much easier than picking up something local.

    As long as the work isn't on us, it's "easier".

    Don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't use frozen/canned/processed food (Canned tomatoes, beans, ketchup, mayo, etc. hurrdurr potato chips) but the fact that you are denouncing the obvious benefits of fresh foods is appalling.

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