A little background for anyone who is new or perhaps those of you that may have missed the evolution of my eating habits. Growing up, I was a picky eater, a very picky eater. I sustained on grilled cheese sandwiches and not much else. It wasn't that my mom didn't cook, she lovingly prepared 2 hot meals a day and prepared a homemade lunch each and every day. I can remember many a night sitting at the kitchen table after everyone else had finished eating, staring at the food on my plate that I wouldn't eat, waiting to be excused from the table. One day I got crafty and devised a plan. I would put the food in my mouth, then promptly spit it into a napkin and throw the napkin away in the trashcan that just happened to be placed a mere foot from my chair. This went on unnoticed for quite some time and I'm not sure when my mom or dad finally discovered it (probably when my sister ratted me out) but rarely was anything said. They probably didn't want to deal with it.
Looking back, I think part of the reason I was picky was that I wasn't exposed to much variety. I didn't learn until recently that my Dad has a whole list of things that he doesn't like. My mom, being the accommodating wife that she is, didn't serve those items and thus, I was never introduced to such things as zucchini, greens, cauliflower, and who knows what else. Granted, I probably wouldn't have liked them but then again, one of my favorite things to eat at my babysitter's house was raw turnips, so you never know.
People often ask me when my preferences changed and the meal that always comes to mind is a dish our cook made at my sorority house when I was a sophomore. It was an acorn squash half that had been stuffed with some brown sugar concoction. No one was eating it and my roommate and I, who happened to love this cook, decided to take one so as to not hurt his feelings. I can't remember the taste or really much about the squash at all but I just remember being proud of myself for even trying it. I like to think that was the turning point in my culinary adventures.
That's just a preview of my background. I'll touch on it a little more as the series continues but I wanted to provide a bit of a foundation so you knew where I was coming from.
The title of this post was a quote from my sister in reference to organic foods. While I do agree with the statement in theory, the reality is that the produce now is not the same as what our grandparents had. They had fruits and vegetables straight from the garden, a farm that produced their goods without chemicals or genetic modification. They had no Round-Up, no antibiotics to feed their livestock, or super chemicals to enhance growth. Essentially, they were raising organic goods without the USDA official label. So yes, if we were eating the same food our grandparents did, it would be good enough for me. Trouble is, we're not.
Data released in December by the Food and Drug Administration revealed that 80% of the antibiotics sold and distributed in the United States were used on livestock. 80%! That's certainly a ringing endorsement for organic meat. The USDA organic standards prohibit the use of any medical treatment given to animals unless they are sick, including antibiotics and synthetic parasiticides.
Some people would balk that they can't afford to buy organic meat. My response, can you afford to get sick? Can your body afford the toll all these chemicals will have on it?
One simple solution would be to reduce your portion size. Instead of have 1/4 lb hamburger, make it an 1/8th of a pound. Instead of having an entire chicken breast, pound it out with a meat mallet and give a 1/4 of it to your child. The portion size is America is out of control anyway, so this is a great way to combat that, while lessening your exposure to unnecessary chemicals and drugs.
In addition to meat in the traditional sense, you need to also consider milk and milk products (cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.). All of these products come from the same antibiotic-treated cows mentioned above. Unless you buy organic. Unfortunately, not all organic milks are equal. The Cornucopia Institute has issued an Organic Dairy Ratings Scorecard, whereby they assign "cow ratings" based on a variety of criteria. You may be surprised to learn that local chains like Kroger, Meijer, Target (Archer Farms), and even Horizon all fall at the bottom of the list. Not all organic products are created equal. Whole Foods 365 brand, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield all scored well and seem to be viable options.
Moving on to produce. There's a great chart (below) that I found that shows you what you should and shouldn't buy organic. Essentially, some fruits and vegetables absorb more of the pesticides than others. Some say if you can peel it, you don't need to buy organic but that's not always true. Apples, for example are peelable but are on the top of the "Buy Organic" list because the pesticides don't stop in the skin, they go deeper into the flesh. I prefer to go by the list. At first I carried it around with me or noted on my grocery list which items I wanted to make sure to buy organic but now it's pretty ingrained in my head.
If cost is more of an issue, I encourage you to shop around for the best prices. In my area, I have found Kroger is the most expensive across the board on most produce, organic or otherwise. Watch for sales! When it comes time for me to buy apples, I always buy whatever variety is on sale - and Whole Foods always has at least one variety on sale. Only buy what you are going to use, that will both eliminate waste and cut down on your out-of-pocket cost.
There are plenty of items on the chart listed above that you don't have to buy organic. If you still feel like you can't afford to buy organic, focus on that half of the chart. You can still get plenty of nutrients from those foods. Whatever you do, just eat your fruits and veggies! Your body will most definitely thank you!
This is not a complete dissertation of all the advantages of eating organic. I have only barely skimmed the surface. There is plenty of literature out there if you are so inclined to learn more and I would encourage you to do that. I just wanted to at least make you aware because it seems the more people I talk to, the more I realize how much of this I take for granted that people know. That is, after all, part of the basis for writing this series, to share with you what I've learned.
Next up: Meal Planning 101 and Grocery Shopping 101