Saturday, April 4, 2009

Week 11, Organic or Not....

Here is the dilemma; I am standing in the produce section of the local grocery market. In one hand, I hold a conventionally grown apple. It is firm, red and shiny. In the other hand, I hold an organically grown apple. It is also firm, red and shiny. The only outward difference that I can discern is that the organically grown apple has a label that says "USDA Organic", and the price is a little higher. Should I buy the organic apple? Is it a safer, more nutritious apple then the conventionally grown apple?

This quandary has lead me to do some research, in an attempt to become a more informed consumer - and also insure that I am feeding my family the "right" foods.

I start the research with the meaning of the word "organic". According to mayoclinic.com, the word organic "refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution....farmers don't use conventional methods to fertilize, control weeds or prevent livestock disease." Specifically, these farmers cannot use herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation. Organically raised animals must be given organic feed and kept free of growth hormones and antibiotics. These animals must also have access to the outdoors, including pastureland for grazing. (source: http://www.webmd.com).

The federal government allowed food to be labeled "organic" starting in October of 2002 - approximately 6 1/2 years ago. (http://sciencenews.org, Federal Government Launches Organic Standards. John Pickrell). If a food bears the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label, it means it meets strict government standards that regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. USDA organic foods are at least 95 percent organically produced. Using an "organic" label on your product is voluntary, however most organic producers use them.

Products that are completely organic - such as fruits and vegetables or other single-ingredient foods - are labeled 100% organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more then one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, either use the USDA seal or the following wording on their labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
  • 100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
  • Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can't be used on these packages.
(source: http://www.mayoclinic.com)

In 2006, sales of organic foods and beverages totaled $16.7 billion. Although this is a major increase from when the organic seal was first introduced, it is still slightly less then 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. (source: http://www.nytimes.com. Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not. Mark Bittman)

New York University professor Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH recommends "If you can afford them, buy them...how can anyone think substances, such as pesticides, capable of killing insects, can be good for you?" But many experts say there is not enough evidence to prove any real advantage to eating organic foods. According to the chairman of the department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University in Detroit, David Klurfeld, PhD: "There's really very limited information in people on actual health outcomes with consumption of these products...We don't know enough to say that one is better then the other".

To date, there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that organic food is more nutritious than conventional food. A few studies have shown that organic foods do have higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants. However, the differences are so small that they probably have no impact on overall nutrition. When you take into account that nutrients like vitamin C do oxidize over time, even though the organic food may have more vitamin C to begin with, if it sits in your refrigerator for any amount of time, it could lose that benefit. (source: http://webmd.com).

While it is debatable whether organic food is more nutritious then conventional food, it is clear that organic food may be safer. "If you're talking about pesticides, the evidence is pretty conclusive. Your chances of getting pesticide residues are much less with organic food," says John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

Even so, the amount of man-made pesticide residues found in conventional foods is still well below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe. Therefore, the issue becomes whether these small doses overtime add up in our bodies and lead to increased health risks down the road.

Nutrition and safety aside, advocates for organic food claim that the health of the environment and society alone are enough of a reason to "go organic". Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil. However, if you buy an organic mango that has been flown in from Chile, and then placed on a truck that ships it to your grocery store - you really haven't done much to reduce your "carbon footprint".

Back in the produce aisle, my head still spinning, I've decided that while the big picture is important - I need to make a decision that is best for my family. The most important piece of information I have taken from my research is the best thing I can do for myself and family is to eat more whole foods: lots of fruits, vegetables and grains. According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., there are certain foods that are more susceptible to pesticide residues then others. They refer to these foods as "the dirty dozen". If you are like me, interested in feeding your family healthy food while not breaking the bank, focus on buying the organic version of these particular foods:
  • peaches
  • apples
  • sweet bell peppers
  • celery
  • nectarines
  • strawberries
  • cherries
  • pears
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • potatoes
Whether or not you chose to buy organic, you can keep the amount of pesticide residues down on the foods you consume by washing produce under streaming water to remove dirt, bacteria and surface pesticide residues. Remove the peel from fruits and vegetables. (Of course, you will lose a substantial amount of nutrients by doing this). Trim visible fat and skin from meat and poultry because pesticide residues can collect in fat. If you are stuck making the decision whether or not to buy the organic "Oreos" or the original version; don't buy either - they are both junk food.

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Items already in pantry or fridge:
7 eggs, milk, salt and pepper, olive oil, flour, sugar, olive oil, dried basil, red pepper flakes

Shopping List:

2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms

1/2 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto
3 large vine ripened tomato sliced
1/2 pound of sliced provolone cheese

1 pkg dry yeast

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 small oragne
1 tbsp honey
3 scallions
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots

1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 large container of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini

1 orange bell pepper

Recipes for this week: Pizza Margherita, Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps (made in the crock-pot), Crust less Quiche, Vegetable Lasagna

I did take pictures this week, but the camera was dropped before I downloaded them and it is now broken. I didn't have tim
e to get it fixed before I published this post. So, I only have one picture of the lasagna and I took that with my phone's camera!!




Vegetable Lasagna

Pizza Margherita, with Mushrooms: (Serves 4)

To make this recipe I use my "Lodge" cast-iron pizza pan. You can use any circular or rectangular cookie sheet, or if you have a pizza stone that works well too!

**This dough recipe is for a bread machine, and very easy to make. I advise to make first thing in the morning and punch the dough down to allow to rise at least twice before you use the dough. If you don't have a bread machine or the time to make the dough ahead of time you can buy it at the grocery market, usually in the deli section or buy the canned tubes of refrigerated pizza dough. If you do have the time double the recipe for the dough and freeze one portion for later use!!


Dough:

1 1/8 cup warm water
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp dry yeast

This will make one 15" circle.

2 large vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
8 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
About 6 thin slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups of sliced baby portabello
8 small basil leaves

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until slightly tender; set aside. Drizzle your pizza pan with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Place the dough onto the oiled pan. Sprinkle the top of the dough with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Cover the pizza with the mozzarella slices, spread the top
with the mushrooms. Add the provolone cheese, add the tomato slices and sprinkle with the basil leaves. Drizzle the top with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper.

Cook the pizza in a 425 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Serve with a garden salad.

Asian Style Shredded Pork Wraps ( Serves 6)
**cook in a crock-pot**

3 lb boneless pork tenderloin
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp orange zest
1 tbsp honey
1/4 cup water
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 scallions; chopped
3 tbsp of rice vinegar
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup of sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1-2 cups bean sprouts
1 large ripe pear or apple; sliced into thin slices
whole wheat wraps - in any variety, spinach, carrot etc.

Place the tenderloin into the crock-pot and add all the ingredient up to the carrots. Cook on low for about 10-12 hours, or until the pork shreds very easily.

Add the carrots, almonds and bean sprouts to the pork mixture. You can refrigerate this mixture and serve it cold, or serve immediately.

Place some of the mixture into the center of the wrap, place 2-3 slices of the pear or apple on top and roll up into a wrap.

I serve with a cucumber, endamame, tomato salad.

Crust less Quiche(serves 4-6)

6 eggs
2 cups of sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/4 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto; chopped up
1/4 of milk (your choice, can be any fat content, or even heavy cream if you so desire)
1 large vine ripened tomato sliced
salt and pepper to taste
6 slices of provolone cheese

Saute the mushrooms until slightly tender, then add the prosciutto and saute until slightly crispy.

Whisk the eggs together with the milk, add salt and pepper. Add the egg mixture to an already greased 9 inch pie-plate. Add the mushroom and prosciutto mixture. Top with the cheese and then the sliced tomatoes.

Cook in a 425 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbly and slightly golden and the center of the quiche is not "jiggly".

Serve with a salad or steamed vegetables.

Vegetable Lasagna (serves 6)

1 box of no-boil lasagna pasta
1 jar of favorite marinara sauce
1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 - 10 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli (I like to use the "steamer" bags) - cook according to directions on pkg.
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 small zucchini sliced lengthwise very thin slices
1/2 large orange bell pepper, sliced very thinly

Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, sugar, basil, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl - combine well. In a 13 x 9 casserole place about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the casserole, add about 4 lasagna sheets, cover with 1/4 ricotta mixture. Lay the zucchini on top. Cover with marinara sauce, add 4 lasagna sheets, cover with ricotta, place the broccoli on top, cover with sauce, 4 sheets of lasagna, ricotta mixture, cover with remaining broccoli and slices of bell pepper. Cover with remaining sauce and the shredded cheese. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and cook in a 350 degree oven for 60 minutes. Uncover and cook until the cheese is bubbly at the center of the lasagna and golden brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes before serving.







1 comment:

Eila (Chef/Owner of "Mom-a-licious") said...

I love all the research you do, and facts you pass along. I thought of you as I filled out this (massive, I better win the $200 gift card) survey that Kiwi Mag sent out that centered on organics....