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: