Is eating organic really that important?

May 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

I must admit, every once in awhile i’m gripped by a panicky feeling that I have dedicated my business to the importance of all organic food, and that maybe this is gimmicky, or not truly as important as I generally feel that it is.  Because of the greater cost of organic food items, most people buying them probably experience moments of wondering if it’s all really worth it-especially considering the way our media crazed world has a way of blowing up health concerns to horror inducing levels (i.e. additives, pesticides, GMO foods), and the fact that health crazes come and go, with companies exaggerating their products health benefits to such extremes that they are left with class action lawsuits in the wake of their ravings (i.e. coconut water’s magical  electrolytes, acai berry’s antioxidants, the serotonin precursors in dark chocolate).  One must carefully peruse and digest a lot of information in order to feel like one is making sound purchasing decisions when it comes to health and food.

In an effort to address this question about the importance of eating organic foods, this blog entry is dedicated to laying out the facts about organic foods, so that you can decide for your self.  After doing the research (thank you to the Mayo Clinic, as much here is via there research and website), I feel reassured that the benefits of eating organic are real and solid.  They reach beyond the personal benefits of knowing one self and family are protected from the cumulative effects of pesticides, additives and hormones.  Organic farming treats our neighbors, our cities and the earth in a way that promotes continuation of our species and the planet.  At the risk of sounding too expansive, I cannot imagine any thing more important than supporting sustainable agricultural practices.

Definition:

“Organic” refers to how farmers grow/raise and process their product.  Organic farming does not allow synthetic inputs that are used to increase crop production and prolong shelf life.  These non-organic inputs are things like the following:  pesticides, chemical fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, hormones, irradiation, preservatives and food additives.  Organic farmers use other methods to control the typical problems that arise with agricultural farming.  Some examples of the difference between organic and conventional farming are below.

Conventional Organic
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use herbicides to manage weeds. Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Labeling:

So, your favorite shampoo is “made with organic ingredients”.  What exactly does this mean?  There are currently three types of organic labels.  The first is “100% organic”-self explanatory, every ingredient in the particular product is 100% USDA organic. A simple “Organic” label means that 95% or more of the ingredients in the product are USDA organic.  “Made with organic ingredients” means that 70% or more of the ingredients in the product are USDA organic.  The label USDA organic means that a product is produced and processed according to the stringent guidelines set down by the Unites States Department of Agriculture.  Any farm that sells over $5,000 worth of product annually must be in compliance, in order to receive this voluntary label.

When is it most important to purchase organic foods?

Not all produce, meat and dairy is equally impacted by conventional farming practices.  The Environmental Working Group annually compiles a list of 25 food products that are most “contaminated” by pesticides/hormones etc., and that should be purchased organic:
Apples
Celery
Strawberries
Peaches
Spinach
nectarines
Grapes
sweet bell peppers
Potatoes
Blueberries
Lettuce
Kale
Collard greens
Fatty meats
Milk
Coffee
Wine
Chocolate

Environmental impact:

There is a general consensus that organic farming has three positive influences on the environment.  The first is that no synthetic chemicals are put into the water system or soil, hence not endangering those “down stream”, the neighboring community, nor the farm workers.  Secondly organic farming sustains a more diverse ecosystem.  The bugs, microbes, plants and little animals that all coexist together in symbiosis stay that way.  No imbalances in the natural ecosystem are created.  The third benefit is that organic farms generally use less energy and produces less waste.

Nutritional aspect:

This is an area that is still somewhat in question.  The UK’s Food Standards Agency has put out the statement that their meta analysis of studies shows no significant difference in nutritional profile between conventional and organic foods. Some studies do exist showing that ascorbic acid, micronutrients, protein concentration and mineral profile of organic foods is higher.  Nitrates are also lower in organically farmed produce (high levels of nitrates are toxic for humans, and especially bad for children).  Being that conventional farming practices often deplete the soil of many micronutrients and minerals, it makes sense that food grown in this ascetic soil would reflect this dearth of minerals.  Minerals of course play a myriad of roles in the human body, and are required for body systems to run smoothly. Phyto chemicals are substances found in plants that have positive health effects when consumed (i.e. resveratrol in grapes), and are produced in response to environmental stressors like weather and insects.  Theoretically it makes sense that organically grown plants would have more phytonutrients because they are grown in a natural environment with natural stressors present.  The research however is in its infancy, and no substantial concrete evidence abounds.

May Menu

May 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

The latest menu is inspired by bits of my past and the desire to lean towards plant-based meals.  With this intention, it was natural that I dusted off my copy of the Moosewood Cookbook, which was my mother’s favorite recipe book growing up.  As I flipped through the hand illustrated book, it brought back images of my tall Norwegian mother bent over the sink rinsing a bowl full of soy nuts, wearing a long batik dress with her blonde hair tied up in a gentle twist.  My dad grew a sprawling vegetable garden, which provided my mother with the raw ingredients for our mostly vegetarian lifestyle.  It was a beautiful jungle of creeping zucchini squash, towering indian corn, and raised beds of strawberries, cabbage, carrots and green peppers.  For the current menu I chose five vegetable laden soups, four cheese lasagna and spinach calzones, which were lovingly inspired by my mother’s cooking, my father’s lush garden, and the Moosewood Cookbook which brought the two together.

For one dinner, I chose to make koobideh kabob, one of Iran’s most famous dishes, where it is universally loved.  Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to spend several months in Iran, which has a spectacularly delicious and healthy cuisine.  Koobideh kabob relies on lots of grated garlic and onion, as well as saffron, celery powder and sumac.  I used local organic grass-fed beef, and marinated it overnight in the garlic, onion, and spices.  I chose dill chelou (rice) as a side.  This subtle dish achieves its unique flavor and light fluffy texture through a series of rinses, a boil, and finally a bake.  The organic Thai jasmine base is augmented with copious amounts of finely chopped calcium rich dill.  Not only does dill taste great, but it also has antibacterial properties and protects against free radicals and carcinogens.

While finishing up my last year in grad school, I lived on 124th St. and Madison Avenue-right in the heart of Harlem.  I’d never been particularly fond of Southern food, until I discovered a modest little restaurant called Sister’s, which was right around the corner.  The establishment served a combination of West Indian and southern fare, and soon became my favorite place to pick up dinner on my way home from class.  A plate of food from Sister’s was guaranteed to be sweet, spicy and rich.  This awesome trifecta of tastes was the inspiration for the dinner featuring mild jerk chicken, collard greens, scallion cornbread and yams.  Instead of boiling the collard greens for hours with ham (which destroys nutrients), I sautéed them for a few minutes with a touch of olive oil and sea salt, hence retaining the collard greens true flavor and nutritional profile.  I made the cornbread with a cup of low-fat organic yogurt, and organic pepper jack cheese, for extra calcium and protein.  I also used whole wheat to make this somewhat decadent recipe just a little healthier, and cooked it in a cast iron skillet, which adds trace bits of iron.

Monday:

Lunch:

Minestrone Soup

Scallion Corn Bread

Dinner:

Koobideh Kabob

Vegetable Kebab  (orange pepper, onion, celery)

Dill Chelou (Iranian rice)

Tuesday:

Lunch:

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Corn bread

Dinner:

Spinach, Ricotta and Mozzarella Calzone with Whole-wheat Crust

Steamed Carrots and Cauliflower

Whole-wheat Chocolate Chip Walnut Kale Cookie

Wednesday:

Lunch:

Cauliflower Cheddar Soup

Celery Sticks with Nut Butter and Raisons

Whole Wheat Animal crackers

Dinner:

Mild Jerk Chicken Thighs

Corn Bread

Collard Greens

Sweet Potatoes with Jamaican Allspice

Thursday:

Lunch:

Chicken Soup With Rice and Vegetables

Cornbread

Dinner:

Four Cheese Lasagna

Steamed Carrots and Broccoli

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Walnut Kale Cookie

Friday:

Lunch:

White Bean and Black Olive Soup

Cornbread

Dinner:

Tilapia with Dill Butter Sauce

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Sautéed Zucchini and Carrots

Whole-wheat Chocolate Chip Walnut Kale Cookie

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