The Tomato Project: An Introduction

We are in the midst of tomato season right now, which means I am busy stockpiling oven roasted tomatoes in my freezer to use as sauce base for the rest of the year, but my sister told me yesterday that even during the summer she only buys canned tomatoes.  In bulk, she says, they are the cheapest option, and they taste pretty darn good.  I was aghast at the idea of consuming so much BPA, but Mark Bittman made the same point in the Times this past weekend in his piece “Not All Industrial Food is Evil.”  Bittman doesn’t even mention BPA! Canned tomatoes do taste better than the hydroponically farmed ones in supermarkets in the winter, but this is August.

My sister is stubborn, and we argued for a while about the cost of canned tomatoes vs. the risk of BPA exposure.  She is committed to living on the cheap, and will probably never switch away from canned food, no matter how toxic, unless a cheaper option is presented.  And as Bittman points out, canned tomatoes are dirt cheap thanks to the international market.

Home canned tomato sauce, yum! I wish the lids of Ball jars weren’t also lined with BPA/BPS.

My mind is blown by how difficult it is to avoid foods packaged with BPA. You have to really TRY, and in my experience, you pretty much have to spend either a lot of money or a lot of time (i.e. buy organic tomatoes in fancy jars or can your own).  I don’t think that this doesn’t have to be the case, though.  Living in a city, I have a lot of options for buying food, and I bet that I can find cheap, non-BPA tomatoes in bulk for at least a reasonable price.

…and so the tomato project was born.  I am going to be living in this city for a while, and I certainly buy lots of groceries, so I think it will be worth the time to study sources of tomatoes and other major foodstuffs in the city of Pittsburgh. Plus, I need to prove to my sister that it is possible to live cheaply and avoid major, um, not-so-beneficial food additives.

Here’s how this is going to work: I am going to visit all of the places in the city I can think of from which I can buy tomatoes (fresh, canned, jarred, or otherwise) and document them with my camera. I don’t have a car, so everywhere I go will be accessible by public transportation. I plan to check out:

  • Giant Eagle Market District (standard grocery store chain)
  • Whole Foods
  • Trader Joe’s
  • East End Food Co-op
  • various farmer’s markets
  • Pennsylvania Macaroni Co (huge Italian specialty store)
  • Costco

In my assessment, I will be considering:

  • Price (by weight)
  • Packaging*
  • Source (domestic or international)
  • Organic (or not)
  • Additives (sugar and other unnecessary additives are a no go)

*Note: I do not consider cans designated “BPA free” to be ok if they don’t say what replaced it.  Most BPA free plastics use BPS instead, which is a structurally similar molecule with similar endocrine disrupting properties.  It just hasn’t gotten as much publicity yet. 

While I am investigating tomatoes, I am going to research a few other major foods as well. I most often shop around for dairy and nuts because they are expensive.  Because of the high fat content in dairy products, it is important to me to buy organic (and hormone free) because many toxins, especially pesticides, partition into fat rather than water. Nuts I would prefer to buy in bulk because it is usually cheaper and saves packaging, but I have found that the nuts in the bulk bins at Whole Foods are much more expensive per pound than the packaged ones because the bulk bins are stocked with “fancy organic pecan halves” whereas the packaged ones are just pieces and almost half the price. (Whole Foods is probably set up like this just to trick conscientious shoppers.) Finally, I’d like to find the cheapest and least packaged way to buy unbrominated unbleached and preferably organic flour.

The project will start this weekend, and probably will take a while.  In the meantime, the next post in the tomato project series will be an exposé on the threat of BPA with the purpose of convincing you that you should want to pay more to avoid it. Hopefully I will soon be able to prove that you don’t have to.

 Any thoughts, questions, or suggestions for other foods I should look into? Leave a comment!

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A New Chapter in the Green Experiment

Today is an important day because not only have I lived in Pittsburgh for exactly one year, but we are starting a new green project: no car.

We’ve been toying with the idea of selling it for a while, and when Taylor’s mother offered to drive it home to New Mexico we gladly agreed.  Pittsburgh is a moderately spread out city but with decent public transportation that we can take for free as students, so we are ready to stop feeling guilty every time we drive the one mile to the grocery store.

My estimated pros and cons of not having a car:

  • Pro: saving about $1600/year on gas, insurance, and parking
  • Con: I will always forget this when we need to rent a zipcar or uhaul for any reason and will not want to spend the money on them
  • Pro: we have bikes and will use them more
  • Con: will make acquiring furniture more difficult
  • Pro: we will not end up with a lot of crap we don’t need
  • Con: will take an hour to get somewhere that would previously have taken 10 min
  • Big Pro: feeling good about using public transportation
  • Pro: new and exciting adventures/vacations via Megabus $1 tickets

Think we can do it? I am excited for the challenge.

Bye bye Subie.  We will miss you. 

I don't have a picture of the Subie so here are a few of our favorite city buses

I don’t have a picture of the Subie so here is a bus instead

The Little Things

Lately, I’ve been feeling frustrated in my quest to “green” my life, and I realized today it’s because the desire to green me has turned into a desire to green the whole world. I want so badly to convince others to believe in what I doing, to understand that we’re destroying our bodies and the environment without even knowing it.  In my attempts to thoroughly research everything I want to blog about, I get distracted by trying to find a perfect solution. I need to remind myself that the little things do make a difference even though they can never be perfect and that eventually I will figure out what to do with all of this knowledge.

In the spirit of making the little things count, here are some of the ways Taylor and I have greened our lives recently:

  • This past weekend, I roasted a whole chicken. A two and half lb. free range organic chicken cost about the same as buying just one lb. of chicken breasts, and we got a fancy dinner out of it, sandwiches the next day, and about 2 quarts of stock to make soup. Buying a whole bird is more sustainable because processing and packaging are minimized. Plus, it was local!

 chicken Continue reading

New Green Habits: On Cars, Elevators, and Worms

This week, Taylor and I are trying to decrease our eco footprint by not driving at all.  Taylor estimates that we use about a 1/4 of a tank a week, which isn’t that much gas, but the everyday driving that we do could easily be avoided by just taking the city buses or walking.  So this week we’re doing our part to unclog the streets of Pittsburgh and reduce emissions, and hopefully we’ll be able to keep it up.

In the spirit of using less resources (and being less lazy) we have also decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.  That will mean quite a few sets of stairs every day because we work 3-4 floors up. I got a little out of breath this morning, but I think I can handle it.

Lastly, as of this week we’re going to start composing to provide organic matter for our [future] gardens and to reduce our waste.  As badly as I want a worm bucket (no sarcasm; I like worms), Taylor has a compost pile in his backyard that nobody uses. Perfect.