What? No Tips for Cooking Dried Pasta ?
I know, I know. But I’m going to take a short break from the Pasta Primer because 1) I’m in the middle of moving kitchens (and will be for a few more weeks-it’s a long story), and 2) because my pasta maker is still packed away somewhere. It’s also why posts are going to be every two weeks for a little while.
So, as promised in the spring produce blog, next week will be all about summer produce. Before that, however, I thought I would cover the basics of organic food. The very, very basics.
Buying organic produce and other foods can be a touchy subject depending on who you talk to. My goal here is to give you information so you can start on your own path to figure out what’s best for you and for those you cook for.
What Does “Organic” Mean?
So what does organic really mean? How is produce grown organically any better than produce grown with today’s standard practices?
The USDA defines (and certifies) organic food as, “products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. USDA certification guidelines cover soil, water, control of pests, farming and ranching practices, and food additives”. In other words, farmers, ranchers, and food producers who want say their food is “USDA Organic” must follow a certain set of guidelines. There’s even a USDA fact sheet to help you better understand USDA Organic.
Farmers and ranchers who produce organic food are also supposed to use practices that are better for the environment and sustainable (versus depleting the land of nutrients and/or good soil). Ranchers are supposed to provide outdoor access for animals and are not allowed to use antibiotics or growth hormones.
When it comes to processed food, 95% of ingredients must be organic and free of chemicals, pesticides, dyes, or genetic engineering. Products can be 100% organic.
Why Buy Organic Food?
The basic reason you’ll hear for buying organic food is that it’s supposed to be better for you, but how?
- As stated above, organic food is supposed to contain little to no potentially harmful pesticides, chemical fertilizers, dyes, industrial solvents, irradiation, genetic engineering, antibiotics, or synthetic additives.
- Farming and ranching practices are supposed to be better for the environment
- Organic produce can contain higher levels of antioxidants and vitamins like Vitamin C
Why do I say supposed to?
It is also important to note that just because a booth at your local farmer’s market can’t say they sell organic produce doesn’t mean it’s bad. Many small growing operations don’t have the money, time, or means to get the USDA Organic labeling. However, their methods can be just as good as or even better than those with the classification. Just ask about their growing practices—they’re usually more than happy to tell you.
Why Should I Skip Organic Food?
Organic food is a hotbed of debate. Some say yes, some say no (or somewhere in between). Why might organic food not be all it’s cracked up to be?
- A recent study by Stanford University published in the Annals of Internal Medicine published by The American College of Physicians found a lack of evidence that organic food has any nutritional benefits over conventionally grown food (although critics have noted that nutritional value is not the only reason to buy organic food).
- The same study also concluded that there are few health benefits from eating organic food (the study has been criticized as omitting important health facts, such as the effects of pesticides on the IQ of children with high pesticide exposure versus those with low exposure).
- Many organic food producers still use some type of pesticide and/or fertilizers approved by the USDA. Just because they are more natural doesn’t always mean they’re safe for humans and animals.
- Organic food is more expensive.
- Studies have found that crop yields on organic farms are less than those on conventional farms, meaning increased land use.
- Organic doesn’t mean lower in calories or fat
Again, opinions and even facts change all the time. New studies are coming out all the time that support, repudiate, and even change known information. It can be confusing and even overwhelming.
So what do I do?
What Do We Do in Our Family?
Personally, I do buy organic when I can. I especially love going to the farmer’s markets around here for produce. But we can’t afford to buy all organic produce and especially not completely free-range, organic, and local meats. Someday, if we can, I would love to buy more local food and re-join a CSA (community supported agriculture), but… yeah. Not really an option right now.
But, again, I do buy organic when I can, especially when the produce in question is one of the “dirty dozen” (see below). It may just be a mind thing and it may just make me feel better, but I do like the idea of trying my best to keep chemical consumption down.
You’ll find that I believe in doing the best you can and practicing balance/moderation, especially when it comes to how you eat. That’s how I approach organic food. I want to do the best for my family and the environment, but I’m not going to go to lengths that I just can’t go to do so. It may be better for you to buy more conventional produce than little to no produce that is organic.
It’s difficult to get all the facts because everyone says something different, including the experts. You’ll always hear a different opinion. My advice is to get all the information you can, then choose what feels (yes, feels) right to you. And believe me that will change as well as you find more information or just make an informed decision for yourself. It’s okay to do things like that.
It really is up to you how important “going organic” is and how much time/money/effort you feel you want to and need to put into it. And that may even change over the years. Some people go all the way while others focus on just the dirty dozen.
Again, it’s all up to you.
The Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen
The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are the basic guidelines for the produce you should or don’t need to buy organic. The Dirty Dozen is a list of foods that have been found to contain higher concentrations of pesticides in studies done by the USDA and others. The Clean Fifteen, on the other hand, have been found to have fewer pesticides than other types of produce.
|Dirty Dozen (Plus)||Clean Fifteen|
|· Apples||· Asparagus|
|· Celery||· Avocados|
|· Cherry Tomatoes||· Cabbage|
|· Cucumbers||· Cantaloupe|
|· Grapes||· Cauliflower|
|· Nectarines||· Eggplant|
|· Peaches||· Grapefruit|
|· Potatoes||· Kiwi|
|· Snap Peas||· Mangoes|
|· Spinach||· Onions|
|· Strawberries||· Papayas|
|· Sweet Bell Peppers||· Sweet Corn|
|Dirty Dozen Plus||· Sweet Peas|
|· Hot Peppers||· Sweet Potatoes|
|· Kale and Collard Greens|
So, if nothing else, you can go organic with those fruits and vegetables that have higher concentrations of pesticides and go conventional for Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables.
So, those are the basics of organics. I hope that I’ve covered everything pretty fairly and as comprehensively as possible in a 1,200 word blog (I didn’t want it to be a tome). If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!
‘Till next time!