3) They’re (much) more expensive.
Precut and preprepared fruits and veggies may save a bit of time, but that convenience comes at a cost. On a recent trip to a Whole Foods store in San Francisco, the prices between preprepared produce items and their whole counterparts was striking:
- One sixteen-ounce bag of organic spinach was $5.99, compared with one sixteen-ounce bunch of organic spinach for $1.99.
- Twelve ounces of organic apple slices were $2.99, compared with loose Braeburn apples for $1.99 per pound.
- Ten ounces of precut celery sticks were $3.99, compared with loose celery stalks for $1.99 per pound.
- One and one-quarter pound of precut pineapple chunks were $6.99, compared with one whole three-and-one-half-pound pineapple for $4.99.
The prices of the prepared vegetables range from 50 to 75 percent more; the increase goes toward paying for the factors that increase the products’ carbon footprints—handling, washing, transportation, refrigeration, and packaging. Even when you take into account the weight of cores, stems, seeds, and rinds—parts of the veggie that will probably get tossed away—it still amounts to a restaurant-size markup. Why pay it if you’re still the one doing the cooking and the cleanup?
4) They’re not as healthy.
Many consumers look to precut veggies and fruits as a way to make healthful options as convenient as packaged cookies and potato chips are. But while precut veggies are certainly more wholesome than a candy bar, they’re not as wholesome as their whole counterparts. Vegetable growers label their packages with nutritional data gathered for whole, uncut products, but once a vegetable or piece of fruit has been sliced, the nutrients begin to degrade. Slicing through cell walls halts the movement of nutrients carried by water, such as vitamin C, folate, and beta carotene; the longer the veggies are allowed to go uneaten, the more those nutrients decompose. Precut veggies’ packaging is specially designed to help prevent some of this decomposition; however the New York Times reported in 2001 that after eight hours, cut veggies lose about 10 percent of their vitamin C—and that’s assuming that they’ve been carefully wrapped and refrigerated. Veggies cut and packaged by the supermarket staff may have only been on the shelf for a few hours, but those packaged at the source may have had the time to degrade substantially from their original state.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of convenience; if it wasn’t for convenience, after all, we’d all be responsible for milking our own cows, kneading our own bread, and butchering our own livestock. But even though the convenience of a precut celery stalk is still preferable to a Snickers bar, the greenest, cheapest, and healthiest option is to take the time to do the slicing and dicing yourself.