I wonder how many pesticides I have eaten in my life.
When I was a kid, I never heard about organic produce. We went to the store and bought lettuce (mostly iceberg) or apples (those mushy disappointments known as reds) or potatoes (always russet). There wasnt a special section in the produce aisle, even a small one, for produce grown without chemicals dumped on them.
I just thought it was cool when the hoses turned on and the waxy cucumbers beaded up with water.
Now I wonder what was in that wax.
Why is it we have to pay more for vegetables with no pesticides? When did it become the norm to eat fruit from Chile, out of season, because we want grapes all year long? How did growing vegetables become such a big business?
I dont know.
I do know that this is a complicated question with no clear answers.
Danny and I feel lucky. We live on a rural island with about 15 working micro-farms, run by people we like and want to support. During the spring, summer, and fall, we buy almost all of our produce from the farm stands and put our money in the coffee can left there. These vegetables are not certified organic most small farms dont have the money to go through the certification process but they are organic. Theyre grown the way vegetables and fruit were grown in our grandmothers era in the carefully prepared soil, without pesticides.
However, in many parts of this country, fresh vegetables arent that easily available. When I lived in New York, I bought produce at the corner bodega most days. None of my grapefruits or cherries was organic. Whole Foods didnt exist in Manhattan then. On Wednesdays, my last year there, I started going to the Union Square Greenmarket for fava beans and strawberries. Everything tasted fresh and alive.
My wallet wasnt that happy, however.
Fact is, before Lu came along, most of the time Danny and I bought conventional produce at the store. We just couldnt afford for all our bananas and mangoes, zucchini and basil to be organic. Its too darned expensive, we thought.
Then Lu came along. Suddenly, the idea of putting something infested with pesticides into her body seemed wrong. Who cared about the cost? We made sacrifices in other areas of the store instead. The first bite of food she ever ate was puree from an organic sweet potato.
Before Lu, we only ate produce in season. Then life turned on its head, and everything grew more complex by 10, and we have a hungry girl who adores blueberries. Do we make her wait to eat them until July when she has no concept of seasons? Most of the time, she eats what she calls cold berries, the frozen organic ones that come in 5-pound bags from Costco. Sometimes, however, around this time of year, we splurge and buy her a pint of fresh ones from Mexico. Recently, weve been reading that produce from Mexico might be better than some locally grown produce. At least its organic.
Of course, there are plenty of people in this country for whom this conversation isnt really that important. They dont have much money and they dont have access to organic produce. They just want to feed their kids.
Why should it be that only people with money in this country can afford potatoes grown in soil that has not been leeched in chemicals?
Ive been thinking about this a lot lately, since Carrie Vitts cookbook, Deliciously Organic arrived in the mail. (The publisher sent us a review copy last month.) Carrie is one of the most gracious, healthy people Ive had the pleasure to meet in this blogging community. She and her daughter and I baked a cake together in real time this fall. However, it turns out she wasnt always this healthy:
I began having daily migraines. I was 25. As migraines often are, they were both baffling and debilitating .The migraines increased to five or more a week. I often had to lie down in a quiet dark room, which was almost impossible with toddlers to care for. I was taking several medications to manage the pain just to get through the day.
What did Carrie do? How did she break this vicious cycle? She started eating only organic foods.
Youll have to read her book to see why this worked for her. All I know is shes thriving now.
Her cookbook is lovely, filled with healthful dishes made with fresh ingredients. Our friend Helen took the photographs, and they are as distinctive as her photographs always are. Its a good book for a beginning cook, as many of the dishes are fairly simple in preparation. As has happened to me, once Carrie started taking something out of her diet (gluten for me, conventional produce for her), she started playing with other more natural ingredients: different oils and alternative sweeteners. Her excitement about this all is palpable.
You could make everything in Deliciously Organic without buying any organic produce.
However, I have noticed this. Carrots grown by farmers we know, in season, without any pesticides? They taste infinitely, vividly better than the ones grown in large quantities with pesticides. That might be reason enough to buy organic, if you can afford it.
What do you think? How do you decide what to buy organic? Or not? Do you notice a difference in taste? Or your health? Do you eat in restaurants that do not use organic produce? We think its a good conversation and wed love to hear what you think.
ROASTED VEGETABLE AND BROWN RICE SALAD
This hearty salad, inspired by a recipe for roasted vegetables and orzo in Carries book, hardly requires a recipe. Ive written one for you, in case youve never made anything like this before. But mostly, heres what you do:
Roast vegetables (the ones in season taste best)
Cook up some brown rice (or quinoa or millet)
Toss them together and add yummy ingredients that are in the refrigerator
Make a vinaigrette with some kind of vinegar or other acid and another oil
Thinking of this as a template, rather than a strict recipe, will inspire you to make it again and again. If you want it to be a main dish, you could add roasted tofu or chicken to it. If you decide to do this during the summer, you could roast tomatoes and eggplants, zucchini and squash. Try roasting the vegetables in coconut oil or walnut oil. You could use sherry vinegar or lime riesling oil for the vinaigrette. Throw in some sunflower seeds or toasted walnuts.
Really, you cant go wrong. This is a satisfying salad that takes little time and feeds you with healthy foods, pretty inexpensively. Even if you are using organic vegetables.
4 large carrots, cut into four pieces
1 fennel bulb, sliced thick
8 pieces asparagus, woody stems removed
8 pieces lacinato kale, stems removed and torn into pieces
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 cups cooked brown rice (I like the method Nicole uses here)
1 ball fresh mozzarella
½ cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
pinch kosher salt and cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preparing to roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 375°. Pull out a baking sheet.
Roasting the vegetables. Put the carrots, fennel, and asparagus onto the baking sheet. Toss them with the oil and salt and pepper. Roll them around on the baking sheet until they are coated with the oil. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and roast the vegetables until they are browned on the bottom and softened, about 20 minutes. Throw in the kale pieces and toss the vegetables on the sheet again. Roast until the kale is a bit wilted, about 3 minutes.
Preparing the salad. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven and pile them on a cutting board. Chop them, roughly, until they are relatively bite sized. Toss them with the brown rice, the mozzarella, and the kalamata olives.
Making the vinaigrette. Grab a small jar with a lid. Pour in the lemon juice, mustard, and salt and pepper. Shake the jar. Add the oil. Shake the jar. Taste the vinaigrette and adjust the ingredients if necessary. Pour over the salad immediately. Toss.