Last night we met at Laura's to discuss ways we can make our kitchen habits more earth-friendly. We talked about organic foods, nutrition, and green kitchen tips. Here's the low-down:
What organic means:
• Animals have not been treated with: antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts.
• Animals must have been fed organic feed for at least a year.
• Animals must have access to the outdoors.
• Food hasn't been genetically modified or irradiated.
• Fertilizer does not contain sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients.
• Produce hasn't been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.
What the labels mean:
• “100% Organic”: Product must contain 100 percent organic ingredients.
• “Organic”: At least 95 percent of ingredients are organically produced.
• “Made with Organic Ingredients”: At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic. The remaining 30 percent must come from the USDA’s approved list.
• “Free-range” or “Free-roaming”: Misleading term applied to chicken, eggs and other meat. The animal did not necessarily spend a good portion of its life outdoors. The rule states only that outdoor access be made available for “an undetermined period each day.” U.S. government standards are weak in this area.
• “Natural” or “All Natural”: Does not mean organic. There is no standard definition for this term except with meat and poultry products. (USDA defines “natural” as not containing any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients). The claim is not verified. The producer or manufacturer alone decides whether to use it.
The “Dirty Dozen”: Must-buy organic foods
• Grapes, imported (Chili)
• Bell peppers
The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Based on an analysis of more than 100,000 U.S. government pesticide test results, researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., have developed the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, above, that they say you should always buy organic, if possible, because their conventionally grown counterparts tend to be laden with pesticides. They cost about 50 percent more — but are well worth the money.
Other organic foods worth considering:
Reduce the risk of exposure to the agent believed to cause mad cow disease and minimize exposure to other potential toxins in non-organic feed. These foods contain no hormones, and antibiotics — which have been linked to increased antibacterial resistance in humans — have not been added to the food. They often cost 100 percent more than conventional products.
No need to go organic with these foods:
These products generally do not contain pesticide residue. [Source.]
Are organic foods more nutritious? Not necessarily. Research has been mixed. If you compare labels you will see that there's not a significant difference between organic and conventional foods. Using organic ingredients doesn't automatically make something healthy. For example, you can find organic Poptarts in the grocery store. A Poptart is a Poptart. Eat a banana.
Are organics better for the environment? Not always. Organic does not mean “local.” Something can be organic, but shipped from Chile, so you’re not decreasing your carbon footprint by buying it.
Do organics taste better? Not necessarily. I conducted a few blind taste tests on my family. In most cases, they couldn't taste a difference between the organic food and the conventional food. Sometimes the organic tasted better. Many organic snacks you find at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods taste like cardboard. The only way to know is to try it.
Most grocery stores offer organic products. Sappington Farmer's Market and Costco offer them in bulk, so they don't cost as much.
So, what DOES make a difference?
• Buy local. The further your food has to travel, the more pesticides are used to preserve it. The further your food has to travel, the bigger your carbon footprint.
• Buy produce in season. It will taste better and cost less. Sappington Farmer's Market has a great website that includes a chart of what's in season here in St. Louis.
• Use fresh, whole, and pure ingredients. Whole wheat, pure maple syrup, pure honey, fresh fruits and vegetables, and real cheese are best options.
• Cut out processed foods.
• Make your own food. Anything you make yourself will be cheaper and healthier than what you buy at a restaurant.
• Plant a garden and preserve your food or buy local produce in season and preserve it. (Canning, drying, freezing.)
Just a few GREEN kitchen tips:
1. Compost. Keep a small bucket on your counter. Compost food leftovers along with ground coffee, crushed eggshells and even dust or hair from your vacuum.
2. Get Cooking! Make large batches and freeze some for later. You use less energy. Buy local. Eat meat-free once a week, because producing a pound of beef consumes 145 times more fossil fuels than a pound of potatoes.
3. Lose the wrapping. Why opt for cellophane-wrapped vegetables in their plastic trays, when you can buy them loose instead, which is, incidentally, a much cheaper option as well? By buying in bulk, you might pay a bit more for that huge can of olive oil, but there is one less bottle to recycle every month and it saves money in the long run. Leave a bar of soap by the sink, as most liquid soap comes in non-renewable plastic packaging. Substituting one bottle with a bar in each home would keep more than 2.5 million pounds of plastic out of landfills. Consider how much trash a package of Kraft Singles creates compared to a block of real cheese.
4. Recycle. Duh. Check the number on the bottom of recyclable materials. The lower the number, the less it costs to remanufacture. (Hint: Five is on the higher side.)
5. Use reusable grocery bags. They hold more and you will have less to carry and less trash.
6. Keep baking soda, vinegar, and salt on hand to use as natural cleaners that are better for the environment and not as harsh on your surfaces.