Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dangerous Soup

Soup for dinner last night. It’s that time of year. I’m a single parent this week and there were several places I needed to be at once, so last night it was soup from a box. The box irritates me because I can’t recycle it, but I suppose the trade off is avoiding the BPA lined cans. Over lunch I read an article in Time magazine about BPA and I’m going to steal shamelessly from that article for this post, since it was the inspiration.

We all know about the BPA (bisphenol-A) in plastic water bottles. That’s why we’re paying through the nose for the metal bottles these days. I’m also paying in terms of the number of times my kids have spilled the metal bottles because they don’t have those nice plastic flip tops the plastic ones have. Lately I’ve been buying metal bottles that come with a plastic spout, but wondering – does the spout have BPA?

Which leads to my next question? Just how bad is BPA? The science is not completely clear on that question. In Europe, the use of BPA in baby bottles has been in place for some time and in the US, companies (with any brains) are voluntarily removing it from their products. So someone knows something. Researchers have claimed that there is a compound in BPA that can interfere with hormones. It’s been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity and most alarmingly (for those people bottle-feeding), problems in the development of young children.

There are also plenty of studies that claim that BPA is harmless. Unlike other dangerous chemicals, BPA doesn’t remain in your system very long. In fact, the Time article sites a recent study that asked participants to either eat canned soup or homemade soup for five days. The participants who ate canned soup had their BPA levels increase by 1200%, while the homemade soup eaters had normal levels of BPA (whatever that might be).

Apparently 93% of Americans have detectable amounts of BPA in their system right now. How is this possible, you ask? I don’t even like soup. Because BPA can be found just about everywhere – lining of aluminum cans (not just soup), cashier receipt paper (try avoiding that), plastic water bottles, pizza boxes, soda cans, toilet paper, dental sealants (What? Someone needs to do the pro/con on this one), and some wine bottles (much to my chagrin). So it’s pretty much everywhere.

How do you avoid it? And should you? You know I’m going to say stay away from it. Although even I am at a loss for avoiding the BPA in toilet paper. But there are some things that are easy - 

  1. Give up your bottled water habit and buy a reusable BPA-free re-usable bottle. Not only will you avoid BPA, you’ll save lots of money and be doing a kindness for the environment.
  2. Make your own soup. If you’ve never done it before – consider giving it a try. Truly, nothing is easier to create than homemade soup. Just about anything works if you can make a broth. Broth is simple and free to make. The next time you cook a chicken or beef that has bones, save the carcass/bones (and the giblets – I don’t know what they are but they’re usually in a little bag stuffed inside your chicken) and put them in a big pot on the stove. Fill the pot with water and simmer it for as long as you want (probably at least 30 minutes). Done. Instant broth. I cool the broth and then freeze it in large yogurt containers which is about how much we need for a soup base. You can get fancy with your broth and add vegetables, spices, and salt or you can keep it plain and get fancy later. Truly, you can make broth. It is also possible to can broth in glass jars, but you need to use a pressure canner for this and I am still too frightened of my pressure canner to attempt it.
  3. Avoid cans of all types. Buy frozen vegetables (or better yet, freeze them yourself in the summer in plastic bags or can them with your pressure canner, you brave soul you).
  4. Make food that normally comes in cans yourself – cranberry sauce is super simple. I wrote about it last year. Ditto applesauce. There is no need to buy canned pumpkin either – if you cook up one pumpkin, you’ll have enough pumpkin puree to last you six months. I don’t know how much to worry about the BPA in pizza boxes, but this is something else you can easily make yourself.
  5. Just say no to soda. You don’t need it. Your kids don’t need it. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about a can of soda. Nothing. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t.
I don’t know if BPA is harmless. I’m inclined to think that it isn’t on the basis that the products it is found in have become more and more plentiful in the last 50 years, as have the health threats that are linked to BPA. The parallel is too neatly drawn. Erring on the side of caution is smart, but making more of your own food fresh is good for reasons that go way beyond the potential danger of BPA. 

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