This Is Me

Jessie Bee
I am a seeker of God, a help-meet to my husband and a mother to my 3 children. I love hot lattes, good books, cold weather and anything that inspires me to be creative. I desire simplicity and authenticity, but often have to remind myself to seek those .
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Food 101: Organic

Wow.  I knew it had been awhile since I posted, but not THAT long.  Nearly 2 weeks?  Sorry guys.  Especially now that I realize just HOW many readers I have.  I had no idea!

If you were to come over to my house, about 85% of the time you'd find me in my kitchen.  I love everything food:  cooking, shopping, creating, baking, even composting, haha.  But I also love researching.  And that research has extended beyond looking up recipes that I cook; it also includes the food that I buy.  Well, if you follow my reading list (in fact, if you have ever even just once looked at my reading list...because I update that WAY less than my posts!), you'll notice I've been reading a book called "To Buy or Not to Buy Organic."  I finally finished it a couple weeks ago and wanted to condense the information for those of you who like to incorporate organic foods into your diet, but don't know where to start.

In our country, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) all have a hand in regulating conventional (read: pesticide) farming.  Well, I guess they technically don't have a hand in it, more like just a couple fingers.  They are not efficient or all-encompassing when it comes to what they watch, know, see, and regulate.  In fact, much of what is done in OUR country is completely banned in other countries.  Why?  Because other countries have a concern about their people, not about what big corporations are writing 7-figure checks to the government.  Sorry if I sound bitter.  But when over 50 of the pesticides used on our produce is considered carcinogenic (read: cancer-causing), you have to wonder why they don't stop it?  

Thankfully we can do something about it.  I read another book once that told me we vote for organic food every time we purchase it.  In fact, most milk is now rBHS hormone-free because people kept voting for it (by only purchasing from suppliers who offered it).  Even Costco has a wide selection of organic products because the customers keep asking for it.  And its relatively easy to find - just look for the little seal "USDA Organic."

Okay, I know, I know, organic food is expensive.  And that's probably the BIGGEST turn off for most people, especially since most of us live on a budget and strive to be frugal.  My first answer to that is start small.  Make one change.  Our family started with organic, free range eggs.  One of my good friends worked on several organic farms in New Zealand, one of which was a chicken farm.  She said she would only ever buy organic free-range eggs from that point on because she saw a stark difference in the treatment of those animals.  I trusted her and started there.  That was 3 years ago. Now approximately 60% of our food is organic, including our most of our milk, butter, ground beef, canned goods, produce and garden.  =)

Here is a sampling of our organic food.  The little onion is from my garden, the half and half, butter and beef came from Costco, produce and milk are from Henry's, and the other stuff comes from organic lines found in Vons and Trader Joe's.  The clementines in the background are NOT organic, and the mint in the background is from Henry's, but I don't believe its organic.

My second answer to navigating the high price of organic foods is to shop in season.  For instance, strawberries contain an obscene amount of residual pesticides at the time of consumption, and should really be organic.  Last week Henry's was selling non-organic strawberries for $2 a container, whereas the same size container of organic strawberries was $2.50.  Not a huge price jump, and if you bring your own reusable shopping bags instead of using their plastic ones, they take off 5 cents for each bag saved.  If you use 5 bags while shopping, you just saved yourself 25 cents, knocking the organic strawberries down to $2.25.  =)  Also, conventional gala apples were on sale for 99 cents a pound.  Organic gala apples?  Also 99 cents a pound.  Not a difficult decision.  Potatoes are usually the same price, as is organic spinach.  Usually the biggest price differences are seen when purchasing something out of season.

Now, to get to the book.  I'm going to keep this basic, but hopefully "hopeful" for those of us who can't buy strictly organic.  The good news about organic foods is that many tests have been done on produce to figure out the levels of pesticides/herbicides/etc that remain on them by the time they're ready for consumption.  Based on those tests, its easy to cut out about 90% of the pesticides consumed in our diets.  Here is an awesome shopping list for those interested:

TO BUY Organics:
-apples (including juice)
-baby food (or make your own from organic foods!)
-herbs, which are very susceptible to bugs, and thus have higher pesticide residue
-carrots, which are pesticide leeches.  Also, they absorb any heavy metals found in the ground.
-dairy products (including milk, butter, cheese - where does one buy organic cheese? - yogurt, etc)
-juice, esp. if your kids drink tons of it. - this is the HARDEST one for us!
-lemons and limes, if you commonly use the zest.
-lettuce, spinach, leafy greens
-nectarines and peaches
-peanuts, peanut butter - peanuts grow underground and absorb the toxins from the soil.  Ugh.
-pears, plums
-raspberries and strawberries!!  - these are heavy hitters when it comes to pesticide residue.
-rice, OR buy imported.  Like I mentioned earlier, the US uses more pesticides than most other countries.

That's a basic shopping list for organic foods.  Now, for the foods that you can buy conventional and not have to stress over.  =)

NOT TO BUY organic:
-bananas!!  Most bananas are grown outside the U.S., so naturally have less pesticides.  Also, their peel isn't commonly used for cooking and protects the fruit from absorbing much, if any pesticides.
-dried beans
-cabbage - pesticides don't work well on cabbage, haha
-cooking oil
-radishes - don't appeal to most insects.  Not sure why.  ;-)
-grapes grown in U.S.
-mandarin oranges (including clementines, yay!)
-onions, all types
-orange juice
-potato chips (though its wise to avoid these in excess, haha)
-sweet potatoes
-melons, including cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, etc.  Avoid imported, though.

These lists contains most of the foods discussed in the book.  If you have questions about anything not listed, please please please ask me.  Or if you're curious why a certain food is placed on a certain list, let me know and I'll tell you what the book says about that.

Now, the last thing worth discussing is imported, transported, or local.  Some people weigh out the gas vs the pesticide usage, etc.  It's nice to have organic eggs, but if they're coming from Texas, should I buy them?  The easiest way to absolve that guilt is to visit your local farmers market.  If its a good market, don't concern yourself with looking for the USDA Organic seal.  In order to be certified organic, farms have to go through a rigorous process and pay lots of money.  Despite the fact that most small farms practice organic and sustainable farming, many don't want to shell out the money just to get the label.  Just ask the farmers what their growing practices are, or better yet, visit the farm!!

I don't intend to overwhelm people with this post.  The world of pesticides, organics, conventional, and the government is so scary and foreign to most of us.  But no matter how small a positive change is, it's still a positive change and worth making.  So my encouragement to you is to avoid one small conventional purchase this week, and instead buy it organically.  A tomato, an apple, a container of strawberries.  Eventually all those little votes will add up to something big, and I believe organic foods will be widely available and affordable.

P.S. I posted the pita bread recipe in the comment section of the last post.  Sorry for the delay for those who asked for it!


The Professor's Wife said...

Really good information Jessie! Especially the list of what to buy organic and what not to buy.

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