Hello, my dears!
I’m here to discuss one of my most frequent reader questions. So frequent, in fact, that I’ll forgo sharing a reader email and simply paraphrase the many I’ve received: how important is it to shop organic?
On Monday, I included a guest post from the wonderful Melody, who, earlier this year, undertook the incredible task of feeding a family of three on $3.33 a day. In her post, Melody alludes to an ethical quandary with which I’m all too familiar: the struggle to reconcile oneself to not shopping organic 100% of the time.
Let me make one thing clear: in a perfect world, I’d eat only organic food (well, in a perfect world there would only be organic food). From a health standpoint, local and organic foods are most health-generating. They’re also the most ethically sound, as far as I’m concerned.
Of course, we’ve all debated the exceptions: conventional apple from a local farm vs. organic apple from Chile? In these debates, I tend to favor local foods, but I respect both arguments. For the most part, I’ll keep it simple and say this: organic food is preferable to non-organic most of the time, and if I could, I would eat it exclusively.
But this is not a perfect world, and I am not working in a lucrative profession. If you have the means to eat organic and local all the time, terrific: do it. It’s a far worthier investment than fancy clothes, shoes, cars, technology, and the like. What, after all, is more important than what we put in our bodies?
If you are, like me, living on a budget, eating organic 100% of the time (such as the $5.63 red pepper I picked up the other night, and immediately put back when I heard its price) simply isn’t an option. And this is where you must begin a series of internal negotiations. My own such negotiations have yielded this solution:
I always shop organic for the dirty dozen—that is, the vegatbles most prone to pesticide contamination. Those are:
• Grapes, imported (Chili)
• Bell peppers
If something’s too expensive within this column (like those bell peppers) I either a) try to find it at a farmer’s market, or b) just live without it, and get something else that week.
For those veggies that are least susceptible:
I nearly always buy conventional. Once again, though, if I can buy them at the farmer’s market, I will. The farmer’s markets in NYC are—at least in my experience—cheaper than grocery stores, which means that organic produce from them will be less pricey for me, anyway. Score!
For those veggies that appear on either list? It depends. I’ll try to buy everything from the farmer’s market, but if a food I need/want isn’t available, I’ll use my judgment at the health food store about whether to go organic or non. This will often depend on my budget for the week; on weeks when I have more disposable income, I’ll shop organic; if I can’t, I don’t become riddled with guilt. I’m human, and I do my best; a clean lifestyle and positive outlook and physical activity are the greatest gifts I give my health. Organic foods are another great gift, but they’re secondary to those first three, and they are contingent on my means. A few non-organic foods won’t undo all the clean things I put in my body.
It’s true that, as one cleanses over time, one will become more sensitive to non-organic produce. When I started eating raw, I didn’t feel the difference between conventional and organic produce. Now that I’m deeper into cleansing and detoxification, I do feel it when I eat more conventional food than usual (such as on vacation, or in restaurants, or simply because I’m short on cash). Does this suck? Yes. Is it tragic? No. I always know that I’ll be eating more organic foods soon, and that my body will be back to normal.
Contemplating the importance of organic food—like so many other decisions within a healthy life—boils down to personal judgment, balance, and forgiveness. It’s fine to take a stance about eating only organic: certainly, that’s a noble pursuit. But there’s nothing noble (or healthy) about going broke, nor about living outside of one’s means. If you can find a way to support organic and local foods some of the time, all the while recognizing that organic can’t be your single priority all of the time, I think you’re still in good shape. And if you’re living well besides, you will not be poisoning your body enough to undo your hard work towards health.
One more point: I do try to juice only with organic vegetables. A friend once described doing anything but as a “pesticide cocktail,” and I’m afraid that image is now seared in my mind. But I make exceptions for conventional juice when I’m on the road. Juice that’s a little skeevy is better than no juice at all.
Hope this helps to answer a hot-button question, guys. What are your thoughts on shopping organic? How do you find solutions within your own lives?
Speaking of farmer’s markets, and organic food, my first stop post-NOLA was my own farmer’s market at Union Square. Flying is a quick and easy way to deplete one’s system, and I always do my best to eat bushels of greens directly after. On the night of my return, I steamed up some turnips, potatoes and broccoli (all farmer’s market fresh) and decided to serve them along with a very large, very green salad. I hope you all aren’t getting tired of salad recipes, because this one is a winner.
It begins with a sweet, spicy, autumnal agave-mustard vinaigrette. This is poured on top of kale and Swiss chard. The latter is a vegetable I love dearly but rarely eat enough of because I always allow it to be overshadowed by kale, which I prefer. The mixture of both is pretty perfect. Paired with carrots and red cabbage, they’re perfect fall foods. This salad is rich beta-carotene (an immune booster, hence perfect for the after-flight), vitamin K, enzymes, chlorophyll, protein, calcium, vitamin C, fiber…you get the idea. And it’s earthy, grounding, and delicious. Give it a try, and tell me if you like it!
Autumn Greens Salad
For the dressing (this yields 1 ½ cups):
¾ cup olive oil
1/3 cup mustard (organic if you like!)
1/3 cup agave
¼-1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (adjust based on how much acid you like)
¼ tsp. salt
Blend all ingredients in a blender, food processor, or by hand till creamy.
For the salad (this serves 1):
4 cups raw, finely chopped kale and Swiss chard
¾ cup red cabbage, shredded
¾ cup carrots, shredded
Begin by putting your greens into a large bowl. Dress them with ¼ cup dressing and proceed to massage them with your hands, till they’re soft, well-covered, and a little wilted. Add remaining veggies, toss well, and enjoy.
It was a perfect fall salad, and chased the travel blues away.
I hope you’re all off to enjoy a great weekend. Stay tuned for a special event recap early next week!
(Top image courtesy of UA nutrition club’s blog)