Shelf Life

An allotment neighbour recently explained to me how his wife selected the best raspberries for freezing. This is probably what most peole do, but I started wondering why we don’t eat the best stuff straight away, while it is at its best! There is no evidence to show that defrosted food is less nutritious, but neither is there convincing evidence to show it is as good as fresh stuff. My own feeling is that you can’t do better than fresh, straight from the plant.

We increasingly eat food from the freezer. Freezer Food. It is like having food on tap, a constant supply. The freezer has become our store cupboard. Even if we have fresh stuff, we put it into the store, not straight to our mouths. Then when it is time to eat, we select from the store, or the freezer. Food has become a two step process, and we have forgotten that it only need be one step… Go out blackberry picking and put them straight in your mouth, like the kids do!

It is as if we have a shop style computer control system on how to move the food along. Even when we have beautiful fresh allotment food! The fresh food goes into the queue at the back, and you take the older stuff from the front. So we always eat the old food. Shops and cafes and restaurants work on this basis, motivated by profit and controlled by the Sell By Date. Shelf Life. The fear is that if they sold the freshest stuff first instead of the oldest stuff, the old stuff would go out of date, they would have to throw it away thereby losing money. We have come to think of this as acceptable and normal.

And because this is acceptable, we also think it is ok to put additives into food, or otherwise tamper with them, to extend Shelf Life.

There are other reasons a long shelf life has become a requirement. One is the Weekly Shop. Whoever decided that we should shop weekly? I don’t, and I puzzle people as a result. It is confusing to people, how do I manage to feed a family without doing a Weekly Shop? The Weekly Shop is all about supermarkets of course, and stocking up your store or freezer, probably with more stuff than you can eat in a week. So from the supermarket view, the shelf life needs to be at least a week, so they can keep hold of their monopoly. If you had to buy daily, you would not go to the supermarket, it is not that much fun.

The second reason that we need a long shelf life is transport. If food such as strawberries are imported from Africa, which they often are out of season, they have to stay fresh for the entire journey, and have a good shelf life remaining when the finally arrive at the shelf. Shelf life does not mean fresh, and something is not necessarily fresh just because it is still within its sell by date.

Just to show how we have forgotten the meaning of “fresh”, I once went into my local greengrocers (which no longer exists, too many supermarkets around), and was told that the bananas were “fresh in today”. Surely that’s impossible? They are from the other side of the world. What he really meant was that they had arrived in the shop that day, after a long journey across the planet, probably picked green and underripe to prolong Shelf Life. I suppose you could say that food is “fresh out of the freezer” too.

Bread lasts suspiciously long. If you make your own bread, no additives, it goes stale within 24 hours. That’s if it isn’t eaten up, being so much nicer than shop bread. Even if you buy bread from local bakeries, it lasts too long, maybe a week if you store it carefully (longer in the freezer!). What has it got in it? And why are the local bakeries all being taken over, and expanding? I noticed recently how one near me started off as wholesome bread, then started selling square sliced versions for sandwiches, and now the sliced bread comes in plastic bags. It looks EXACTLY like supermarket packet bread. Are we being deceived on bread?

We could do things differently. Try eating the freshest stuff first. Maybe that way we would crave lest food because we would have better quality? Cut down on the weekly shop, and get more local fresh stuff. Store less, and trust that you will have enough, and maybe then we will waste less as well as eat the best! Make your own bread, or don’t eat bread at all. Eat more from the hedgerows (though make sure you know what you are picking, plant ignorance can kill). Grow some of your own. Freeze less. And whenever you think of it, put something straight from plant to mouth, just to remind yourself it’s possible.

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2 Responses to Shelf Life

  1. george silver says:

    What if you live in a desert? Why do squirrels bury their nuts?

  2. suliwebster says:

    I think stored food has its place as well. And some foods, like nuts, store much better anyway. Most tribes, and even nomads have ways of storing certain foods at certain times. I didn’t intend to advocate giving up stored food. More that there is a joy, and probably health benefit, in really fresh food that we don’t experience as often as we could. Blocked only by our own routines and modern day procedures.

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