Welcome to the virtual organic food aisle! I was recently approached to write some articles about organic food for a specialty website and thought it would be interesting to extend these notes to the blogging world at large, so I will be running the two blogs in parallel. Sometimes the articles will be the same and sometimes they will differ. I was extremely flattered when approached to write as an authority on organic food and for my inaugural posting I thought it appropriate to provide an introduction to both myself and to organic food.
I love food. I’ll repeat that. I LOVE food. I don’t know how many teenagers spent their Saturday afternoons glued to Boston PBS, watching Julia Child bashing away at large cuts of raw meat with a huge knife and stuffing them with great wodges of thyme and sage; Todd English rolling out thin crust artisanal pizzas and topping them with artichokes, goats cheese and the most unusual ingredients that I’d certainly never seen at my local takeaway; and finally there was Gary Rhodes, blowtorching sky high peaks of meringue (which were not dissimilar in appearance to the style of haircut Gary was sporting at the time).
Throughout university my culinary library grew and expanded beyond a single bookcase, and the rather clumsy dinner parties I hosted in my little apartment grew into more relaxed and slightly more sophisticated gatherings of friends as I grew older. University ended and a wonderful year of culinary school began, where I trained as a pastry chef. This wasn’t the type of food I will be writing about much of in this blog, however. This was haute cuisine. This was the sort of food that was so complex and pretentious, you had to write a dissertation rather than a menu for it to be appreciated. I soon found myself in the position as head pastry chef at Canada’s hottest new restaurant of the moment. I loved working with food, but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with something else…someone else in fact…and I moved away from my native Canada to southern Mexico. And that is where I really discovered organic food. Not organic food with expensive packaging and sophisticated marketing practices inflating the already high prices, but naturally organic food. How it tastes. How it smells. And mostly, how it impacts upon the lives of those who produce it and those who consume it. And that’s when I finally ‘got’ it.
What is organic food? Well, by way of a quick and rough introduction, you should know that its a heavily regulated industry with a wide range of certifications which depend upon the country of export, the country of import and by which set of standards each of those certifications uses to be considered ‘organic’. There are a plethora of logos, seals, badges and brandings that get slapped on the packaging for the organic products which qualify for them. There’s a fascinating code of federal regulations as well and maybe on a really boring day sometime I’ll talk you through them all. (Or perhaps not.) But really what its about as a consumer, is having food produced in a sustainable way that doesn’t require the use of pesticides and nasty chemicals to keep them disease-free. If you’re pregnant, breast-feeding or fighting any sort of serious illness, particularly cancer, eating organic is a no-brainer.
Additionally, any sort of GMO (genetically modified organisms) food cannot be considered organic, as these often have built in pesticides and are particularly bad for the farmers in developing countries who are distributed seeds in the form of ‘aid’ by those nice big multinational corporations. When these farmers save the seeds from the harvest of these GMO crops and replant them, as farmers have done for as long as humans have been cultivating plants, they find out that the second generation grows nothing but a bunch of leafy greenery, and are forced to buy another lot of seeds or have no crop at all. It’s a dirty business really.
But its not all a big mean world. In Italy, non-organic foods have been banned from the school cafeteria and hospital meal tray for the last decade. In Mexico, farmers still often use organic methods because they have the sense to farm in smart, traditional ways which don’t require the use of pesticides. In Cuba, they farm organically because they have no other choice – no one will sell them the chemicals! Meanwhile, in Canada, the US and the UK, organic food has become a multi-billion dollar industry and to boot, its become trendy…much like yoga or manuka honey.
What’s the point of looking after your emotional wellbeing if you’re cramming your body full of e-numbers, growth hormones, trans fats and pesticides?
Organic food won’t make you skinny & beautiful; it doesn’t have less calories or fat; and eating it won’t make your life perfect. What it can do is make you a little bit happier and more at peace with yourself knowing that you’re supporting something good and ethical; and that in your own small way, you are contributing to making the world a cleaner, healthier and more wholesome place to live.