Discovering methods to save food from times of abundance for eating during lean months has proven vital to moving our civilization forward. Today, the benefits that emerged from our ancestors’ efforts at preserving food continue to positively affect our lives – and we’re gaining new benefits, too! For ourselves, our community, and the planet, the modern day benefits of preserving our own food have an impact that extends far beyond our kitchens. Here are six good reasons to try home food preservation.
1: Reduces waste at the land fill. Instead of opening and tossing another box, jar or can of commercially prepared food in the trash, the glass jars used in home canning can be used repeatedly as long as they show no signs of damage, such as cracks or jagged edges. However, it’s important to remember that lids are single use, and thus have to be replaced annually. The screw bands need replacing periodically when they become rusted or are dented.
2: More choices. At the grocery store, you’re limited to what the retailer has selected for you to eat depending upon its shelf life. When you source food to be preserved from your garden or farmers’ market, you may be able to incorporate different varieties, such as heirlooms, that are not ordinarily available to you and may provide better quality and taste when selected at their peak.
3: Eat healthier. One advantage to home food preservation is the ability to control the ingredients. This can be especially helpful for people who are trying to control sugar or salt intake. People are also concerned about chemical additives, such as food coloring and artificial sweeteners, and are seeking ways to eliminate these chemical ingredients from their food sources. Depending upon the recipe and preservation method, sugar and salt can be controlled without affecting the end product. You must find a tested recipe that allows for reduced salt or sugar and follow it precisely, because it might be essential to the preservation. For example, salt is a necessary ingredient in fermented and brined pickle recipes and should not be omitted for food safety’s sake.
4: Bisphenol A concerns lessened. Among its industrial uses, this chemical is an ingredient for making the epoxy resin lining used by food manufacturers to protect food from metal corrosion. There is concern to avoid consumption of food exposed to this chemical, which home food preservation offers. While BPA-free canning lids are coming to the market due to consumer demand, consumers should be sure their source is reliable and uses approved materials. Unknowing consumers might purchase a product containing other chemical ingredients such as formaldehyde, not approved by USDA or FDA, and may be manufactured in places outside the U.S. where dubious manufacturing practices are used. In the meantime, keep in mind canning procedures require “head room” between the food and the lid, and home canned foods stored in upright jars are usually not in contact with the lids for prolonged periods of time. To exceed the government’s safety guidelines for BPA, a consumer would have to eat unrealistically vast amounts of home canned food, and the BPA in home canned food is less than the levels found in most canned foods.
5: Good for the planet. Home food preservation helps reduce your environmental footprint. The impacts of home food preservation trickle all the way down the industrial food chain, resulting in fewer fertilizers and pesticides being applied to crop land, decline in fossil fuel for transportation, and less energy required for large commercial storage facilities, just to mention a few.
6: Good for the local economy. If you don’t have a garden, then buying fresh produce at the farmers’ market for food preservation supports local farmers, creating stronger markets closer to home. While, eating seasonally is not so challenging during the summer months, by winter it becomes more complicated. A way to solve the dilemma is to process abundant, locally-sourced food from summer and autumn so you can enjoy the nutritional quality, better flavor, and maybe better price during winter and early spring months.
You may wonder where you can find local fresh produce when you don’t have a garden. In that case, check out the publication New Hampshire Farmers’ Markets 2013 at visitnh.gov/what-to-do/markets-and-fairs/farmers-market.aspx to find sources near your home.
Another option is to seek out a worksite farmers’ market. CAWC member Karen Johnson of Johnson Golden Harvest retails local produce and meat in a farmers’ market-style setting, which she operates at worksites. Johnson works with employers to schedule a convenient time and place to help busy employees access healthy, local foods. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or contacted by phone at 210-2031 to create a worksite farmers’ market opportunity.
You do need to know the current methods and techniques of home food preservation. Whether you want to learn the basics or update your skills, a place to start is the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu/index.html. Here you will find PowerPoint tutorials, videos, tested recipes, tips, and more for a successful food preservation experience covering canning, freezing, fermenting, drying, curing/smoking, and pickling. Another place to review the basic techniques and find tested recipes is at the Ball Company food preservation website: freshpreserving.com/home.aspx. This site also provides videos, tips, and a breakdown of canning to three easy-to-do steps.
Whether you preserve food picked from your garden or from the farmers’ market, months later, you will reap many times over the benefits of your labor.
Capital Area Wellness Coalition member Marilyn Sullivan is a community educator and consultant with experience teaching health and wellness topics in workplaces and community settings. She works collaboratively with people to identify strategies that help them achieve optimal health and wellness through educational opportunities. She can be reached through her company LivingSmart Today, 867-8194.