Posts Tagged ‘Food Evolution’

Organics 2.0

Spring is on its way, and with it a bounty of fresh produce

These days, it seems that everywhere you turn, there’s an organic counterpart to a product you’re consuming: shampoo, vegetables, dairy, even cosmetics. Their labels usually market the product as “All Natural” and “100% Organic” and are typically more expensive. But are these products worth the higher cost and most importantly, do they deliver on their claim? Keep reading to discover what you need to know to shop organics the smart way.

It’s easy to shop organic.

In the past few years, manufacturers have leveraged the country’s obsession with healthier eating by producing more organic products. However, for a product to have a USDA-certified organic sticker and be certified organic, it must be composed of at least 95% organic ingredients. Consumers are easily misled by those products with the word “organic” on their label, and often end up paying more for a product that has organic ingredients, but isn’t certified organic.
Diane Hoch, nutritional health counselor and founder of Food Evolution, a nutrition and cooking center in Bardonia, New York, defines the word “organic” in simple terms: “Organic is how nature intended food to be.” When shopping for produce, she suggests looking at the PLU sticker. A number 9 in front of the 4-digit number indicates the product is organic; an 8 indicates that the product has been genetically modified (yuck!).
In shopping for poultry, she recommends you look for “Free Range Organic” on the label or labeling that says “Hormone Free, Antibiotic Free” or “raised on a vegetarian diet without the use of hormones, antibiotics, steroids”. Ideally, beef should be “Grass Fed Organic” and/or purchased directly from a farm.

Organic food means more healthful food.

Organic food is food that hasn’t’ been grown using pesticides or chemical additives. It is food that doesn’t come from GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) that have been developed inside a lab, instead of in an open field. Traditionally, food was farmed in a system of rotating crops that would attract pollinators and give the earth time to replenish itself. Contemporary industrial agriculture subsists on a monoculture focused mostly on the crops of corn and soy. Thus, farmers have had to resort to using chemicals and pesticides in order to grow their crops because the earth is literally exhausted.

Virginia Schiffino, former Associate Professor of the NYU Food Studies Program, believes that organic good doesn’t equal healthful food, since now organic versions of junk food are now readily available. “I’d’ rather buy a nonorganic brussels sprouts than an organic box of cereal,” she says.

You can be eating food that’s organic that doesn’t have organic certification.

When you visit your local fresh market, it’s possible to buy food that’s organic without being organically certified. There are costs involved in acquiring an organic certification, so those producers whose annual sales don’t exceed $5,000 are exempted from the certification. You can often find this produce at your local farmer’s market, or at CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, where it’s possible to visit the farm and ask the farmer directly about the kind of growing methods that are used.

Products need to be made with 100% organic materials to be labeled organic.

In order to be labeled organic, a product must have at least 95% organic ingredients. If it has 70%, the product can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients”. The National Organic Program (NOP) is the federal regulatory agency governing organic food, administered by the USDA. The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 required the USDA develop national standards for organic products, which covers production, processing, delivery and sale of organic products.

When a product is not organic, you can automatically assume that it has some GMO components.

GMO’s are genetically modified organisms that have been altered or developed inside a lab. Food that is not certified organic has at least some traces of GMO’s. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils are examples of GMO’s that are commonly found in most of today’s processed foods. To Schiffino, what is more perplexing is that fact that when something is not organically certified, you don’t know why it’s not. “When something is certified, it’s absolutely clear, but when not, the consumer is lacking in a lot of information,” she says. There are parts of the world in which more transparency exists when it comes to what’s in your food. In Europe, for example, labeling requirements specify that manufactures have to let consumers know the ingredients that are GMO’s.

You should stay away from the “Dirty Dozen” to reduce pesticides in your diet.

There’s a list of produce that is more prone to absorbing pesticides because of its soft outer layer. These fruits and vegetables have been labeled the “Dirty Dozen”, which include the following:

Domestic blueberries
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Imported grapes
Source: Environmental Working Group 2010

Jessica Solt, a writer in New York City has been shopping organic for about 1 ½ years. Her wake-up call came after watching the movie Food, Inc, which led her to realize that the food industry was “being tampered with”. For her, it’s money that’s well spent. “If there’s something you can control, it’s that.”

So next time you prepare your sofrito, try to make it with organic celery instead.

Cooking with the Seasons

Preparing the Kale Sautée

This past weekend, in honor of a Spring that shyly approaches, J and jumped into the convertible and headed north to spend our Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. After many wrong turns, we eventually reached our destination: a cooking school tucked into a small strip of businesses right off the highway in upstate Bardonia, NY. Two months ago, we purchased a cooking class at Food Evolution. We were prepared to put our Groupon coupon to the test!

We walked into a warm sliver of a space and were welcomed by our teacher Lori and her assistant Rebecca, two young women who greeted us nonchalantly, completely ignoring the fact that we were very, very late. Their sweet dispositions made us feel as comfortable as the modern yet homey kitchen we had set foot in, stocked with shiny appliances, as well as organic herbs, vegetables, bottles of olive oil and cookbooks. Today’s menu included an array of seasonal dishes that included sautéed kale, quinoa with currants and almonds, roasted chicken with apples, pears and figs, and vanilla-scented poached pears for dessert.

This fabulous kitchen houses Food Evolution, a cooking center focused on a whole food approach which was founded last year by Diane Hoch, a nutritional health counselor. She believes that food supports you physically, spiritually and mentally. As it turned out, the dishes we prepared that afternoon were not only nourishing and delicious, but also helped to define some simple kitchen basics: roasting a chicken is easy, separating the kale leaves from its stems reduces its bitter flavor, and preparing quinoa with a 1:2 (grain to liquid) proportion achieves a fluffy and moist consistency.

While J and I spent most of the afternoon watching Lori and Rebecca in action, the conversation also turned to many aspects of their alternative lifestyle, from juicing to the Dirty Dozen, from hot yoga to gluten-free baking. These choices may initially seem extreme (at least they did to me), but to these two women they were a normal part of their daily life. This attention to health and healthful choices was evident in the food they prepared. The dishes, made with organic produce, spices and meat, were delicious, clean and full of flavor. The kale was delicate and toothsome. The chicken was moist and crispy on the outside, the fruits a tasty garnish reminiscent of the holidays. The quinoa was fluffy and moist, sweet and crunchy.

At the end, I’m not sure if it was the food or the company, but we walked out into the late afternoon light feeling happy and relaxed. Creating wholesome dishes can be incredibly satisfying, forcing you to be more creative in the kitchen or as J said, be a good way to “get out of the broccoli-pasta rut”.

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