The SATs of Shopping
Posted by Brett
It’s back-to-school week which has me thinking not only about education but about choices. For example, when you are shopping your local farmer’s market or grocery store, do you feel bombarded with choices? Free-range or barn raised? Locally produced or imported? Organic or conventionally grown? These days, grocery shopping is like taking the SATs – or in this case – the Shopping Aptitude Test. With so many decisions to make, how do we know we are making the healthiest choices for ourselves and our families? The simple answer is that you don’t know, unless you have done your homework. For those of you who haven’t studied, it’s time to grab your #2 pencils. I am going to lead you on a short course through the world of healthy food choices.
Part I: Organic?
You walk into a grocery store and see a beautiful, perfectly round, red tomato on display next to a smaller, organically grown tomato that looks a little like Abraham Lincoln’s profile. What do you do?
- Not knowing what the term organic really means, you throw up your hands in defeat and wander off towards the frozen foods section in search of a pint of Chunky Monkey.
- Buy the organic tomato because even though it looks like something grown on Mars, it has the Earthy aroma of a tomato.
- Buy the beautiful, conventionally grown tomato because it’s cheaper.
Correct Answer: #2
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) believes that there is mounting evidence that organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus with less exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues, than their counterparts grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. It just makes sense that foods grown without pesticide residue are healthier for you. Organic farmers are prohibited from using synthetic chemicals but conventional farmers can use around 200 approved synthetic chemicals-fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Pesticides on foods pose even more of a danger to young children. Because they are growing, they consume more food per pound of body weight than adults which means higher exposure to pesticide residues. Since many modern pesticides are neurotoxins designed to kill bugs by interfering with their nervous systems, even low levels could be potentially dangerous in children whose brains are developing.
Part II: Localvores? Choose the answer that best describes the term localvores.
- Legendary, dragon-like creatures that eat local villagers.
- People who eat food that meets the Authentic Food Standards.
- People who eat food produced within a certain radius of their home.
- Both (2.) and (3.)
Correct Answer: #4.
Because formal USDA certification can be expensive and complicated for small, independent farms, alternative organic standards are emerging. The Authentic Food Standard, proposed by author and organic farmer Eliot Coleman, included criteria that was incompatible with current agribusiness. He proposed that fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and meat products be produced within a 50-mile radius of the place of their final sale and that grains, beans, nuts, and potatoes be produced within a 300-mile radius. Seasonal food can be brought to market more quickly than food that has to be transported long distances keeping it fresh for longer periods which allows for a better tasting and more nutritious food choice.
Part III. All of the above
The debate over organic versus conventionally produced food has waged for years with proponents saying that organic farming protects the environment and critics saying it has little effect. Organic advocates say pesticides can cause numerous health problems including cancers, neurological disorders, immune system weakening, autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, infertility, miscarriage, learning disabilities, mental retardation, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders. Critics say there is little evidence that organic is healthier than conventionally grown food.
I think we can all agree that the local food movement has been gaining momentum for some time as more and more people discover that the best tasting, most sustainable and healthiest choices for their family are foods that are fresh, seasonal and locally grown. While localvores are drawing inspiration from books like the “The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating” by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver, others are following their consumer consciences to farmers’ markets, CSAs and food co-ops.
During back-to-school season, I am going to do my homework and educate myself about my local food choices before I head to the market so that the next time I find myself overwhelmed with choices, I will make the healthiest and best informed decisions.
The Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen
Posted by Brett
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a newby juicer is know your Clean 15 as well as your Dirty Dozen before you hit the farmer’s markets or produce section of your grocery store. For those of you who are not aware of what the Clean 15 or Dirty Dozen are, let me enlighten you.
Our friends at the Environmental Working Group EWG produce a Shopper’s Guide To Pesticides in Products. The guide not only singles out the 12 types of produce with the highest pesticide loads – The Dirty Dozen – but also the top 15 types of produce that are least likely to hold pesticide residues – The Clean Fifteen.
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas – Imported
- Hot Peppers
- Kate/Collard Greens
Reading the EWG Report on Pesticides really opened my eyes to what I had been eating and feeding my family. On their website they estimate that nearly two-thirds of the 3,015 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 contained pesticide residues. The EWG makes the point that this is a surprising finding considering the soaring consumer demand for food without agricultural chemicals. Personally, I have started raising my own vegetables and putting a lot more care and attention into producing fruit in my small orchard.
My new motto is, “If I can’t grow it myself, I buy local and organic.”
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas – frozen
- Sweet Potatoes
My Mighty ‘Mato
Posted by Brett
While I continue on my health improvement journey, I am constantly reminded of one thing – most vegetables have zero Weight Watchers points. I even tested this claim by entering 10 pounds each of cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots in my online Weight Watchers tracking calculator. It’s true – nada, zilch, nothing, not a single point. While this does encourage me to eat my veggies, I also know that vegetables are healthy beyond measure and don’t pack on the pounds like 10 pounds of fried chicken will.
Keeping the health benefits and incredible taste of fresh veggies in mind, I continue to water my garden daily. About a month ago, I was shopping at our local, natural food co-op and found that not only are almost all the plants organic, they are affordable and locally nurtured. That’s when a group of mature tomatoes plants caught my eye. They were in large pots along with a U-shaped bamboo stake in each one holding up the 18″ plant. I immediate thought to myself, “Here is a plant beyond infancy…I shouldn’t be able to kill this one.” Beyond the size, I also noticed the type. It was labeled as “Grafted Tomato” with the grower called “Mighty ‘Mato.” My first thought was that it was a Frankenstein, GMO laden green monster that could grow up and eventually ask me to feed it humans. I’ve seen the movies! I then remembered my grandfather showing me grafted fruit trees in his orchard when I was a child – safe, non-GMO, very hearty fruit trees. I was sold. I brought my Mighty Mato home and planted it.
After researching the variety for this post, the Mighty ‘Mato website describes my Stupice variety as such:
Extra early and reliable; cool-season heirloom produces 2″ red fruits with wonderful, balanced, sweet-acid tomato flavor. Perfect for gardeners in northern climes or first of season production in warmer areas.
Flash forward four weeks later – it has grown to a height of four feet with golf ball size (green) tomatoes on it and more blooms than I can count. I’m even more excited now. Tomatoes taste awesome and are good for you. Oh and did I mention, they have a zero Weight Watcher’s point value?
Here is one of my favorite summer tomato recipes:
Italian Bread Salad
Makes 3-4 servings
3 Weight Watchers points per serving
1 Tbl sp. Extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbl sp. White or red wine vinegar
1 Tbl sp. Balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced to a paste with a dash of salt
Salt and white pepper to taste
3 cups stale, crusty sourdough bread (French or Italian if you don’t have sourdough), cut into ½” cubes
¼ lb. fresh, ripe red tomatoes, cut into large chunks
¼ lb. fresh, ripe yellow or orange tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into slices
1 c. thinly sliced red onions
½ c. packed basil leaves, stems removed, finely shredded
1. Whisk together all dressing ingredients and set aside.
2. Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss
3. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.
4. Let set for 15 minutes before serving to allow the bread to
soak up the flavors of the dressing and ripe tomatoes.