If you’re concerned about bisphenol A — a.k.a. BPA, a chemical linked to everything from sexual dysfunction to heart disease to reproductive problems — you’ve probably opted for a BPA-free reusable water bottle. What many would-be healthy environmentalists aren’t as aware of, however, is the fact that BPA is in pretty much all canned foods. Even green-thinking companies have a hard time getting BPA out of their cans — which is why for now, I’ve just learned to avoid canned food altogether.
1. Shop light. Buy beans in bulk, and you’ll save a lot of energy — that you used to spend lugging those heavy cans from the store. In fact, if buying heavy canned and packaged foods are what’s forcing you to drive to the store to bring everything home, simply de-canning could lighten your load enough to consider making the trip by bike or on foot.
After all, if you’ve been eating local to reduce the huge carbon footprint associated with food miles, then shopping car-free should be part of your locavoring strategy. Even when food is locally grown, driving long distances to buy the stuff is less green than getting groceries delivered.
I really enjoy walking to my local co-op to get my groceries — especially since I get to pass a fig tree that, when in season, yields free dessert! Go can free, and get back on the streets.
2. Go bulk. I eat almost all organic and local — and still spend less money on food than most people. How? In addition to being mostly vegetarian, I make use of the bulk bins at my co-op, where I can get fair trade, organic coffee for $7.99 a pound, organic rolled oats on sale, and — more relevantly in terms of this de-canning issue — all sorts of beans on the cheap!
Do the math, and we’re talking serious money savings on beans. According to the California Dry Bean Board (yes, there is such a board), a pound of dry beans will yield 5 to 6 cups of cooked beans, while a 15-ounce can equals about a cup and 2/3 of cooked beans. A pound of dry organic black beans at Co-opportunity costs $1.69 — or about 28 to 38 cents a cooked cup. A can of organic black beans costs between 99 cents (when on sale in a can that contains BPA) and $2.19 (for Eden Organics’ BPA-free can) — or 59 cents to $1.31 a cooked cup. Why pay double or more for the same stuff?
3. Cook simply. Of course, dry beans require that you cook them. This is much simpler to do than most people believe the task to be — especially if they’ve cooked them incorrectly before and felt the process took forever!
The main bean cooking tip: Soak them first, for 6 to 8 hours. Post-soak, they’ll cook up pretty fast — between 60 to 90 minutes. I like to soak them overnight, then put them on the stove in the morning. By the time I’ve finished journaling and caffeinating, the beans are done!
4. Save energy. Once cooked up, let the beans cool to avoid heating up your freezer with still-hot beans. Then put a half to one-cup of cooked beans in small, individual containers. This way, you can simply take out one or two containers as you need them — instead of having to thaw a vat of beans whenever you decide to make something.
How does storing beans in the freezer save energy? In addition to saving you the energy and space used by a can opener — or your own arm strength struggling with manual can openers (I never really mastered those), a full freezer will retain its coldness better and run more efficiently. Plus, once you’re ready to use the beans, you can move the containers from the freezer to the fridge the night before — and the beans will keep your fridge cooler as they dethaw.
5. Feel healthy. Going can-free for beans and soup will help you dramatically reduce your exposure to BPA. And if you decide to take it easy on the canned tuna too, you’ll cut your mercury consumption. Did you know that if you’re a woman who weighs less than 200 pounds, eating just one can of albacore tuna a week puts you over the FDA’s recommended limit for mercury?
Got additional tips for canned food addicts? Share them in the comments.