In Praise of Frozen Vegetables

Matthew Yglesias points out that a lot of the rhetoric used to explain why Americans eat so few vegetables--"A pound of kale is not exactly grab and go!"--ignores the existence of frozen produce.

I sometimes feel like California-based foodies have produced some kind of mass hallucination around the subject of fresh vegetables. But if you poke around your local supermarket, you'll find that they have tons and tons of big freezer full of little conveniently portioned bags of vegetables. Just like pizza or egg rolls. But healthier. Is it 100 percent as tasty as farm-fresh locally grown in-season produce? No. But it's convenient as heck and very very inexpensive.

I second the applause.  In many cases, frozen produce is superior to the industrially farmed stuff trucked a zillion miles to your house:  out of season, for example, you are better off baking with frozen fruit, which is picked ripe and flash frozen near to its source, than using "fresh" fruits which are picked green so that they can withstand the lengthy journey to your house.

I'm also an enormous fan of frozen artichoke hearts, which when roasted at 500 degrees with a little spritz of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, make a delicious, inexpensive, low calorie and high fiber dinner or side dish.  We always have them in our freezer, and after eating same at our house, some friends have started stocking up as well.  Are they quite as good as fresh grown, local artichokes would be?  No.  But local artichokes aren't available for very long in Washington, DC, and I tend to get discouraged by the task of cutting down twelve artichokes to extract the heart.

There are some categories of frozen veggies I wouldn't touch--green beans, for example, never seem to come out well.  But even with these--or boring-but-adequate staples like frozen peas--I think you have to ask, compared to what?  It would be nice if we all had hours every day to shop at the farmer's market and lovingly hand-prepare quality meals.  But as Matt notes later in the piece, if you set that up as your standard, you're quite likely to end up simply buying prepared food.  And prepared food is almost always loaded with more fat, sodium, and calories than you'd make at home.

Which gets around to Matt's main point:  when people discuss why Americans eat so few vegetables, we tend to hear a lot about "food deserts" and the relative unavailability of fresh produce (or inconvenience of cooking it).  But frozen vegetables are available in any supermarket larger than a corner bodega; they are cheap; and they are very convenient.  For the people who truly live in areas served by no supermarket at all, even frozen vegetables may be difficult to obtain.  But this does not describe a majority of Americans.  We're not eating vegetables because we prefer meat, fat, and cheap carbohydrates, not because we just can't make vegetables fit into our lifestyle.