Wednesday, June 1, 2011

organic 101

from our garden this week.
radishes copy

This is a hefty post to try and write. 
One I've been wanting to write for a while....but have been at a loss of how to do it.
It's just....

So I'm going to lay it out easy. Very very basic, and completely incomplete.
 I encourage you to fill in the blanks and 
do a little research on your own,
 and then decide what's best for YOU and your family.
Don't "go organic" because you heard it was a good choice, do it because you did some homework and feel like it's a good change for you to make, because you want to. 
Here are some basics.

Why I started
I used to laugh at the people who would pay extra for something labeled organic! ha! jokes on them! "I've been eating produce laced with fertilizers and pesticides for years and I'm as fit as a fiddle (what does that mean?)" I'd say. "People have been eating this way for years--it MUST be fine!" right?

And then.....a few years ago, while bouncing between Lyme and MS diagnoses, my doctor put me on a suuuuuuper strict diet, which limited a lot of food options, but also included as many organic choices as possible. why? Because my body was fighting a war against itself, and adding extra, non natural things (teeny tiny traces of pesticides, growth hormones, GMOs, etc) would only confuse my body more, and make it harder for my system to determine what exactly it was fighting.

So for us the choice was easy. 
As many organic options as possible. 
As few non natural, or "fake" things  going into my body as we could.

What does organic mean? I don't really like the word. I think it's overused, and can be terribly misleading. 
Just because it's "organic" doesn't mean it's healthy.
An organic cookie, is still a cookie. Full of sugar and fat and what not. 
Organic sugar, is still sugar my friends.

This is how I try to think of the word organic--imagine this.
cue daydream music.

You're driving along a beautiful country road. No other cars, houses, people. Just you. 
A field of wildflowers stretches out to snowcapped mountains in the background.
The sun is shining down, and you are flying your hand up and down, out the window. 
You have a snack. A granola bar. A double cheeseburger. Hey--this is your daydream--you choose. 
You have a wrapper left over, and don't want to clutter up your shiny red VW bus (is that what you are driving? that is what I'm driving). 

You toss it out the window. 

One small item, out in the vast wilderness won't make a difference, right? 
You are right, it won't. (note: this blog does not encourage littering, this is a metaphor people, don't litter!)
A few weeks later, you're driving back a long the same road. Your old trash has probably blown away by now. You throw another water bottle out the window and move along.

Now you could do this over and over, thinking it won't make that big of a difference. 
And hey, maybe it won't. 
But the point is, your trash doesn't belong in that big beautiful field of wildflowers.

When I think of eating organic I try to avoid the "litter". 
Can it be avoided all together? no. 
Unless you are some super crazy hippie freak (said in the most loving, admiring way), it can't.

But can I make small choices to make sure I'm not constantly dumping trash out my car window?
yes. And I try hard.

Example: No matter how small the amount, I don't want to eat the pesticides they sprayed onto my apple.
I eat a lot of apples in my life, and over time it's sure to build up.
My body wants food, real food. Only food. Not chemicals.
Example: I want my food to contain REAL ingredients, and as few as possible. 
Peanut Butter should contain 1, maybe 2 ingredients: Peanuts, and (sometimes) salt. 
That's it. 
Not sugar, molasses, fully hydrogenated rapeseed oil, fully hydrogenated soybean oil, monoglycerides (what?!) and diglycerides (huh!?) (these are from an actual "peanut butter" label). 
Why does peanut butter need those things? What are those things?

The beautiful field of wildflowers (your body) may continue to be beautiful and thrive with all the extra could happen, I'm sure.
 Or, all your trash (weird ingredients that aren't actually real food items), might pile up in one place and begin to harm the field. 
First a few flowers die in spots. 
Then more littler starts to gather. 
People driving by see the trash pile and maybe add their trash to it also. 

In your body--as the "trash" builds up, it's easier for sickness and disease to move in.
It starts to weigh you down.

Our bodies are aaaaamazing, and can do so much. 
Why not try to fuel them with things that are best for them?

What to eat:

Why buy organic produce? 
Well, so we can ingest as little of those unwanted chemicals as possible. 
But unless you are rich (if you are, can we be friends), it's hard to afford 100% organic everything. 
I like this list--listing produce from best to eat, to worst (the lower or "worse" you get on the list, you should try to buy those items organic).
This is another HUGE reason to plant your own garden--you are in control of what you're putting into your soil!

The whole growth hormone thing FREAKS me out. And antibiotics??! I don't want those either. 
But organic meat/cheese is so expensive!
 That's why I have been working hard to incorporate more meatless meals into our week, so we can spend the money on good, junk-free meat. And please trust me--coming from someone who hardly ate any red meat for years-- good, grass-fed beef really tastes one-bazillion times better than the cheap store bought stuff. I promise. 
Check your farmers market. I think you'd be surprised to find that good quality local meat may not be as much as you think it is--especially if you're not eating meat every day.

Our family eats a lot of cheese (mmmm....I love cheese) and I have no problem telling you that crap-free cheese is expensive! So for right now, I pass on organic cheese. Hormone free cheese, yes....but not totally organic. I do my best in other areas, and feel confident that non-organic cheese won't kill me. 

When you have a growing (hungry) family, it's really hard to keep it 100% organic. 
So I don't stress about it, and just do what I can.

All your "middle shelf" items. (cereals/crackers/snacks/etc.)
this is where we go back to our peanut butter example above. Keep it simple: if there are ingredients you don't recognize, or can't pronounce, chances are, you don't want too many of them in your body. 
it's just litter. There are plenty of items that aren't labeled "organic" that are perfectly healthy choices--just check the labels for unknown ingredients.

I'm stopping here. 
I feel like I'm juuuuuuust getting in to it, but if organic is not yet your thing, 
then this is already a lot to take in. 

My challenge to you this week is to just do your research on "organic".
Whatever that may mean to you.

Find a balance that works for you and your family. 
Just become more aware of what you are putting in to your body. 

If you still haven't watched Food Inc, I really encourage you to do so.
It explains so much of this in greater detail.
Also read Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It's a quick read--it will take you an hour or so and is very informative.

I would love to hear any feedback you have!
Why you eat the way you do, or how to make it more affordable. 
I'll share my favorite comments on my facebook page.

happy eating!

up next week: more on why "organic" can be misleading, and eating seasonally and locally


kami said...

Well said. It is hard to eat 100% organic but we do try...although, I want to commit to do better with produce. We always eat organic meat, eggs, dairy (not always cheese) and it has really helped to move over to a mostly vegetarian diet. It makes the $5-6/lb meat much more affordable because we really stretch it and yet remain healthy and full of energy. I watched a great documentary recently for free on Netflix called Food Beware: The Organic French Revolution. It was really good! I wrote about my thoughts on it on my blog ( Thx for these posts...I love them :)

Colleen said...

I've written a LOT about this on my blog because it's something I've gotten really into. I always say that I would take people eating pesticide-laden vegetables over packaged crap every. time. And I find that once people start to eat healthier, the quality of their vegetables (and I find local is better than organic, because it's so much fresher, and the person can directly ask what process the gardener/farmer uses) starts to matter more. A year ago my Mom and I would never have thought we could afford all organic produce/meat. Our incomes haven't changed, but now? We do. Because the cost and quality matters enough to spend the extra few dollars. (As far as price, though... shop on sale, and at farmer's markets, where I ALWAYS get better deals than at the super markets. And make friends with some backyard gardeners who are likely to need to get rid of some extra veggies ;))

susanne @ tall pine nest said...

we just finished Eating Animals by Jonathan Saffran Foer. we also watched Food, Inc. and King Corn.
our list is growing longer. we are becoming more educated.
life-changing, and not in a cheesy way. in the best way, because we are making changes for our health and our conscious. learning about industrial food is disheartening, but it makes us want to support farmers all the more.
great post! thanks

My McDonald Meal said...

What a great post! Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a world where organics wouldn't have to be labeled but instead the non-organics did.
It's amazing how you can really eat this way if you make it a priority! We don't have cable and don't buy too many extras to afford to eat this way.
So glad I found your blog. Looking forward to reading more!

banananutmeg said...

Did I tell you about the organic produce booth at our farmer's market? There's this family that is there every week and their food is great, and the prices aren't bad, for organic.

Until I saw them at Walmart buying a shopping cart full of $1 cantaloupes, peeling the stickers off, and writing $2 on them with a sharpie. hahahaha! In that case, the joke was totally on us.

I really think there's something to be said about knowing where your food comes from. Growing up in Ca, my parents always pointed out what was being grown in the fields we passed. I didn't think twice about it then, but after reading the part in Animal Vegetable Miracle, where the author's friend didn't realize that a potato had a plant part on it, I realized that maybe I am more educated about how food is grown than I thought. I'm grateful for it.

And while I don't stick to an organic diet, it's true...pesticides are nasty. If you drive on Hwy 25 from Gilroy, Ca to Hollister on any given day at 4 pm, you will roll up your windows because the cedar-ey smell of whatever they dust those crops with every afternoon is enough to make you sick. It's like having someone spray hairspray in your open mouth. And if you are buying strawberries, spinach, green onions, lettuce, cherries, tomatoes, arugela, or pretty much anything that was grown in the Salinas, Ca valley, your food is caked in it.

heather telford photography said...

I loved this post. I remember about a year ago when my sister thought her 8 year old was starting her period.. "yes 8 years old".. She went to the doctor and he asked if she ate alot of dairy.? She said yes and he said girls and boys these days are starting to hit puberty "early" because of all the hormones pack in our foods.. After she told me this I flipped out, I have 2 boys and a girl on the way and certainly dont want them hitting puberty at 8 years old" no thanks".. lol So we made the choice and It felt great..! we only do our meats, cheese and pretty much all dairy hormone and antibiotic free.. It does cost more but we choose to skip back on cereals and that makes up the cost. Oatmeal is cheap when you grind your own oats anyway. :) I love the timilook cheese and the brown cage free eggs at costco, its cheaper there as well.! Thanks for "the list" That is very helpful.. :)


Joanna said...

Love this post! My husband and I started eating organic (and local, as much as possible) in response to his own illness, which we just found out is Lyme and four co-infections. It's hard to know where to draw the line (like you do with cheese) for practicality and pricing, but I always tell myself if we can eat our 90 percent organic, clean diet 90 percent of the time, we're doing pretty well.

Your posts are always so encouraging. We eat so similarly that I always feel like I'm talking to a friend when I read them. Thank you!

Meg said...

Over the past year I've really tried to switch my family over to as much organic produce, meats and cheeses as possible. But, like you, it is very expensive. My family of five costs us about $700 a month in groceries! And that is not even full organic. A couple of cheats I do that might be helpful to you:

1. Like you said, organic cheese is super expensive. Target's market pantry brand cheese is not organic, but it is hormone free which is a step in the right direction, and it's price is comparable to other cheese prices.

2. When I can, I make my own butter. Some costco stores sell a large container of organic heavy whipping cream and you can make your own butter out of that, which is much cheaper than organic butter and you also get the added benefit of organic buttermilk on the side!

3. I buy a lot of my organic meat at costco. It is a lot to shell out at one time, but I freeze it and use it as we need it. They sell organic chicken breasts for $5.99 a pound (which is much cheaper than whole foods), and organic ground beef for a little over $4.00 a pound. Sometimes they have organic whole chickens as well. (which you can then make your own chicken stock out of!)

4. Making your own bread (which I know you do) is a lot cheaper than buying organic bread and you can control the ingredients. I also make large batches of waffles and pancakes and freeze them for easy breakfasts in the mornings for the kids. As easy as an eggo and much healthier! (and more tasty in my opinion)

I know you already do some of these things but they might be helpful to other readers. Thank you for all of the things you share in your blog - I enjoy reading it!

Clandestine Road said...

I have nothing new to add that the other commenter did not cover, but I did want to say I just watched "Beneath our Skin."


I am horrified and hope you did not get that treatment. Is Lyme's treatment still so polarized and political?

Ashley said...

Thanks for this. Now that we have started an organic garden, I have become more aware of what I am putting in my body. Food Inc. is insane!

melissa said...

what kills me is that there are even other options most of the time--whose idea was it to put corn syrup in applesauce?? we don't so much stick to "organic" all of the time, but we really try to go with grocery items that a human could have made in a kitchen. it's easy to just read the labels and buy whichever bread, salad dressing, ketchup, yogurt, peanut butter and such doesn't have crazy stuff in it. it's not harder and usually not more expensive!

it is hard for us to find organic or grass-fed meat around here, unless we want to buy a whole beef (which we don't), except for one awesome farmer at the farmers market who sells their steaks individually. that's the area where we are trying to improve!

summer said...

(wow. awesome comments from everyone.)

i LOVED this post, sheena!! you did such a perfect job of getting into this hot topic. our road to becoming more aware about food started with disease in our family as well. and when you do start the process of getting educated- it's so compelling! i remember finding out that (a lot of) cows don't eat grass anymore. maybe they haven't been eating grass since i was born. WHAT!? and what they ARE eating is freaky. i felt so betrayed. suddenly you appreciate REAL food so much more, and food becomes super exciting to you and some of it- pretty luxurious. (i.e. "This carrot came from your garden?! Oh wow. I cannot wait to eat it.")

someone once formspringed me asking what i splurge on. the only thing i could think of was food! it really does become a passion when you realize how important it is. and how good the GOOD stuff is. trips to health food stores and farmers markets are now on par with date night.

summer said...

ps. i love how simple you kept this, sheena!! organic can be overwhelming and guilt-ridden, but you made it happy and sensible and what-works-for-you.

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more. As expensive as organic is or eating produce in general...I always ask much is my life and health worth? It's worth spending tons of money on good healthy food if that means I'll have great health and live a long life. Reason #9999 to eat local organic produce as well... :)Awesome post...i'm going to check out that book.

Unknown said...

Great post! I love the analogy. The more I read, the more I'm realizing how important organic is for both our bodies and the environment. Sometimes, the pesticides on apples are so bad that I can taste them. I don't want that in my body or my loved ones' bodies!

Unknown said...

LOVED this post! It's amazing how eating organic starts to be part of a total healthy lifestyle/eating cycle. When you begin to treat shopping and eating organic as an investment I've noticed you also start to let the produce star more in your meals. I've started to shop at local farmers' markets and invest in the good organic produce and ingredients at whole foods, and I've noticed I'm so much less likely to cover up the veggies and REAL food (as you call it!) with heavy sauces, etc. when I cook. More and more of our family meals are centered around the yummy fresh vegetables we find at the market rather than pushing them off to the side. As a result I've even noticed we are almost becoming vegetarians at home!

Keep up the amazing posts! I use your blog and recipes as inspiration all the time and it's really helping me to start to overhaul the way we cook and eat in our home! :)

Tara said...

I'm with you 100%! If you haven't read the book "Clean" by Dr. Junger, you should. It was life-changing for me.

Hannah Mayo said...

Over the years I have become quite passionate about organic food, and I make it my goal to use our budget as wisely as possible to provide it for my family.
Joining an organic CSA and shipping the farmer's markets helps a lot, and this year I am moving toward growing more of our food myself.
I love your flower field metaphor, as I have often tried to explain to people why I make these choices and why I believe the cost to be worth it.
I believe that food can either heal or harm the body, and that real foods heals it and keeps it full of life.

Nicole said...

Great post! I love your blog, by the way. Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? It's a weekly food co-op with no commitment, and it's a great way to get more affordable organic produce. Check out

Tara said...

haha we're so friends... I love making analogies, too. And I liked this one. Especially the shiny red VW bus part, even though that wasn't the point. :)

Stephanie said...

What an excellent post!

My husband was a fan of organic long before I was. I love that you suggest researching it because that is what I did and it certainly enlightened me.

We don't buy all organic by any means, but we do try to buy as much organic as possible. One thing we haven't done is organic meat, which I am now wanting to do after reading your post!

I LOVED Food, Inc. With regards to the high cost of organic food, I love this quote from the movie, explaining our power to increase supply and therefore reduce prices: "When we run an item across a supermarket scanner, we're voting for local or not, organic or not."

Cre8tiveQueen said...

Have you ever heard of the product "fit" it is used to wash veggies and fruit to clean your produce. Do you know anything about it? I'm wondering if it works to remove pestisides... I don't think it would be able to.. but someone else told me about it!
GREAT POST! Thanks for the info!

Unknown said...

ADORE that top photo! LOVE it

Kylie said...

I don't think I've ever commented before, but I've been reading your blog for a long time (kinda stalkerish, I know). I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I've been doing a lot of reading on the internet about healthy eating (from raw diets to simply more natural). The more I read and learn, the more strongly I feel about eating food in its most natural state. One thing I've learned is that the old adage is correct, "you are what you eat." The food we put into our bodies affects us in more ways than we realize. I've heard about people who suffer from depression changing their diets to eat "cleaner" and virtually eliminating all symptoms of depression. So, because of a number of reasons, my husband and I have decided to change our lifestyle in the way we eat. It's hard being newlyweds and not necessarily having a lot of money and living in an area where we don't have a lot of farmers' markets and health food stores. But I honestly feel that this will better our lives in many ways. Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

mimi charmante said...

I completely (utterly totally crazily) loved this post! We aim to do the best we can (feeding four growing boys, two of which are teenagers) and strive to do better each day. Thanks for posting it in such a simple manner (especially the visuals and music suggestions). I think that what frightens people most is that it all seems big and overwhelming~
Bravo to you for putting it out there!

Kelly said...

What a great explanation of "organic". With my sometimes cynicism you may have me thinking twice, in a more favorable way... Love your blog. It is a treasure. But as a big dog fan.. with 2 boy dog sons, must ask, how and what do you feed Charley??? Thanks for the info.

Becky said...

We are almost completely organic. We made the change after watching Food Inc. and reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I really had no idea what was going on with my food until I started my research. I have worked with students with disabilitis, and have often wondered if there was a correlation between some disabilities and food. I do believe there is.

I'm lucky enough to live by the Amish, so we are able to get our meat, eggs, cheese, and milk very easy. We have a little garden and joined an organic CSA. I have found, besides the meat, that my grocery bill overall has not really changed. I'm just replacing the processed food with whole food. We only eat meat or chicken once or twice a week, so it doesn't dent our wallet too much. :)

I love your blog! Thanks for sharing your talents!

alexandra said...

pollan's "the omnivore's dilemma" - the young reader's edition is a great summer read, even for adults. also - jonathan safran foer's "eating animals" is a cold dose of reality. . . incredibly enlightening. enjoy your organic quest : )