One of the favorite dishes in my teenage years was bibimbap with tuna. Bibimbap is a Korean dish with lots of vegetables on a hot bowl of rice, all mixed with spicy sauce. I loved it SO MUCH, I had it at least twice a week. It only needed handful of ingredients and the main star, tuna, only required a snap to open a can. It was also one of the quickest meal I could prepare. We always had dozens of canned tuna at home as both of my parents were working. My brother and I had it often for lunch and/or dinner. The smell of canned tuna is something related to my childhood. But I decided to stop eating canned food 5 years ago. I don’t consume it anymore.
In 2011, I was in New York and it was my first time living alone in abroad. Life as an exchange student in one of the most expensive cities didn’t allow much time or money. Especially in Manhattan you can’t afford going out for a meal so often. So I started cooking at home. I had, although, been cooking at home in Korea. It wasn’t something new. But during the year I started buying more ready-made and easy-to-prepare foods like the ones in cans. I even packed my lunch box in a plastic container for the next day at school. I was, of course, very proud of myself.
But weirdly enough I didn’t feel healthy at all. I had lots of huge red pimples that were hard and itch on my face. It was a mystery for me why I have them. Moreover, I had irregular periods with horrendous cramps. I also couldn’t find a proper reason for that. First I blamed my irregular lifestyle. Going to bed one day at 4 am after a party then sleeping for 16 hours was surely culpable. And then I thought it’s because my diet changed from Korean to Western, which in my opinion was less healthy. I never really thought it could be canned food.
Then I learned about Bisphenol-A (BPA), the hormone-like acting chemical that comes out from plastics. It gets dissolved easily by oil and acidity. That’s why canned soup or tomatoes can have lots of BPA. It may disrupt our natural hormonal system and affect us in different level. It has been also found that it may negatively affect fetus and young children’s development. Sounds very scary, isn’t it?
When I first found out about this, I was sad. My diet included so much of canned foods. I loved canned tuna and tomatoes. I cooked so much with them. I got lost how to cook anymore. Even corns and peas were not allowed if I were to stop eating canned foods. How could I ever maintain my life?
That wasn’t the end. I used to heat up my lunch box – plastic container, of course – in a microwave oven at school cafeteria which I prepared with canned tomato and green beans. The container didn’t say anything like ‘BPA-Free’ on it. I bought it at a 99 cent shop. I shouldn’t use that anymore either. My worries got me panicked. I thought it’s not that I don’t choose plastics or cans, I CAN’T use them ever again.
FDA and European Food Safety Authority, although, says it differently. They claim that exposure of BPA by eating canned food doesn’t pose a considerable risk to our health. Also, they say that BPA in the end gets out from the body through urine. Things sound much better that now some food manufacturers notified they have stopped using BPA for cans’ inner coating. But does that mean it’s really safe to put BPA in our body? What about the alternative chemical they will put instead of BPA? Can we trust that it’s not another harmful chemical just like BPA? Well, based on my experience it clearly it didn’t feel safe at all.
Two years ago, I spent Christmas at my friend’s family house in France. The family was all vegetarian so I was able to have lots of veggies and fruits (some of them were even from their own garden!). So I was sure that there was nothing that could harm me from the diet. Then one night we had a great dinner with lentils and rice. I even had second portion as it was so comforting and delicious. But the right next day in the morning I found my face covered with red, huge, itch and ugly pimples. I could see it clearly as I had already stopped eating any canned food for few years and had clear skin. I found out that the tasty lentils were all from cans. It took me over a week to get my skin back to normal. It was a critical dinner that made me realize how bad the canned foods are for me.
So I stopped all of it again. I stopped eating canned food and using plastic containers or wraps in microwave. My skin got better. Then my cramps slowly went away. My period experience became less stressful. Till now I haven’t consumed any canned food (at least as far as I cook). I can proudly say that I don’t feel lost anymore as I learned how to cook properly and as I’m so lucky to have an access to fresh vegetables and fruits here in Germany.
My experience can sound somehow exaggerated. Perhaps you could think all what happened don’t have to be related with canned foods. But I made this conclusion after long experiment on myself through lots of different diets. And I don’t have to constrain myself so much not to eat anything as now I use tomato sauce in glass jars and frozen beans and corns. But what I really hope is to find a tuna that’s not packed in cans. I would love to try again tuna bibimbap and reminisce my childhood memories.