If you eat a whole food, plant-based diet, you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Which means you have to buy them somewhere and even if you are a regular at your local farmer’s market, you will no doubt be shopping at a supermarket for at least some of your produce.
I live in Canada and the season for local fresh fruit and vegetables is pretty short. For seven months of the year, the only local products for sale are root cellar crops like apples, potatoes, squash and onions. During that time, and much of the rest of the year too, most things in the produce section of the grocery store have travelled from California, Florida, Mexico or parts further south. No wonder the kale is always droopy and the salad greens last only a couple of days in the fridge.
I do make a quick run through the produce section to pick up bananas and citrus and any storage crops that I’ve run out of, but I make sure to visit the freezer section for many of my fruits and vegetables. It’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense for 4 reasons.
Reason #1 Frozen fruit and vegetables retain more nutrition than fresh
When fruits and vegetables are harvested their vitamin content starts to decrease almost immediately. Spending a week on a truck and a few days in your fridge means that green bean has lost a lot of its nutrition by the time you eat it. Contrast this with produce that is picked then shipped immediately to a nearby processing plant to be frozen and bagged. The loss of nutrients is dramatically slowed.
Reason #2 Frozen can cost way less than fresh
Buying out of season produce can be very expensive. Last winter, Canada saw the price of cauliflower spike to $7.00 a head. A bag of frozen cauliflower (yielding approximately the same amount as a head) stayed pretty steady at about half that price and will go on sale for even less. If you have a freezer, you can stock up during sales, something that is impossible with fresh produce. Some items, like fresh berries, are prohibitively expensive at any time of year due to their delicate nature, and are always much less expensive when purchased frozen.
Reason #3 There is less food waste
Another factor that contributes to the lower cost of frozen produce is that there is no waste. You don’t pay by weight for stalks and leaves you won’t eat, and you never have to worry about spoilage. You can use what you need and store the rest in the freezer until you need it rather than letting it turn to mush in the bottom of the vegetable “crisper”.
Beyond the personal savings due to less waste, there is the larger issue of waste in the entire grocery supply chain. When produce is shipped thousands of miles on a truck to a warehouse and then on to a grocery store, it’s a race against time to sell it to a customer before it spoils. Supermarkets throw out vast quantities of unsold food because they simply can not sell it before it has gone off. They do not have this problem with frozen food.
Reason #4 It is more convenient
Frozen fruits and vegetables come pre-washed and pre-cut. If I’m in a hurry, or feeling especially lazy, it’s a very easy thing to pull out a bag of mixed stir fry vegetables and pour out the exact quantity I need. No matter what’s going on, I never enjoy peeling brussels sprouts, but I don’t mind shaking some out of a bag. It’s like having a sous chef in my kitchen, but without the cranky demeanour.
I personally use a combination of sources for fruit and veg, including a large vegetable garden in the spring, summer and fall, stored vegetables from the garden, an aquaponics system growing greens for smoothies and salads in the basement, and sprouted beans and seeds in the kitchen. Having a good selection of frozen produce in the freezer allows me to have a wider variety of more healthy, but less expensive food, with less waste and effort. Who wouldn’t want that?
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