Have you ever gone into a supermarket and picked up a pack of shredded vegetables, artfully arranged in a Styrofoam tray wrapped in cling wrap? Do you rejoice at the convenience but balk at the price? Do you suck your teeth, mutter to yourself, ‘For this little bit of thing?’ and still toss a couple of trays into your shopping basket? If you have, you are not alone.
Last week I was in a supermarket shopping for yogurt, butter and cheese, and wandered over to the refrigerated section where they stock vegetables. I went to check out the prices (research purposes; I do not buy vegetables in supermarkets). A woman was standing nearby, staring at the multilayered row of neatly packed shredded vegetables, arranged so that the trays were standing on their sides to clearly display their contents. The eye-pleasing colour combination of green (broccoli florets), orange (carrots), white (cabbage) and purple (cabbage) was very inviting, until you zoomed in on the price and picked up a tray for careful examination of the weight and quantity. The woman turned to me, a packet of the shredded vegetables in hand and said, “Can you believe these people? [Meaning the supermarket owners/conglomerate]. Look how much money they want for this little bit of thing?” I nodded in agreement of incredulity at the situation. There were about 5 thin slices of carrots, 5 small broccoli florets, and less than a handful each of shredded white and purple cabbage. However, the vegetables were fanned out to cover the surface of the tray giving the impression of plentitude.
“They’re charging for the convenience,” I said.
It’s true. The ‘value’ of what is in the packet of pre-cut vegetables has more to do with the convenience of having the ‘work’ of cutting them up, done for you. This type of prepped food is meant to be tipped directly into the pan/pot from the packet. It is the same convenience we pay for too when some folks buy pre-shredded/grated/sliced cheese, instead of buying a small block and doing the work ourselves of breaking it down. When we purchase a cut-up rather than whole chicken; peeled, shelled and deveined shrimp and so on, we are paying for the convenience. Some of the convenience purchases do make sense for many people because of work, lifestyle and skillset in a kitchen. The bottom line for me is this – if it gets people cooking and eating at home, I’m all for it.
However, I believe that the convenience of pre-cut/shredded veggies should be more an exception than a norm; buy it only in a pinch and when you are really short on time because it is a waste, on two fronts.
Think of it this way – if you bought 2 carrots, 1 medium to large head of broccoli and half each of 2 small cabbages, and shredded and sliced them all yourself, imagine how many packets of prepped veggies would you get. The packet bought from the supermarket would only be enough to feed you. And if you decide to cook it for 2 people, then you are actually shorting both of you on your vegetable intake for desired nutrition. I mean the fact that you bought the vegetables in the first place was for nutrition, right?
The second kind of waste is ugly. Supermarkets have to abide by rules such as sell by dates, and that is especially so for highly perishable goods. Here’s what some are doing with those vegetables (unless they are giving them to a soup kitchen), the dried or rotting outer layers – leaves, barks, and skins are removed and discarded, blemishes cut or dug out revealing still edible parts. All these newly cleaned vegetables get chopped, sliced and shredded and are nicely arranged and packaged to be re-sold for a heck of a lot more money than they were originally being sold for, in their whole form. It is the same thing with fresh fruits. Ever go into a supermarket and see pineapples, watermelon, cantaloupe and a variety of other melons cut up, housed in plastic containers in the refrigerated section? Yup, some ripening fruit that can no longer be sold whole or halved, or have gotten soft in some spots, have been peeled, top layer removed, de-seeded in some cases, and then cut up, repackaged for sale.
I am not saying not to buy the pre-cut vegetables or container fruits – they do serve a purpose of convenience, however, as I said, let those types of purchases be the exception rather than the norm. Take the time to do some of the work yourself – you’ll be glad you did, in more ways than one.