Understanding the benefits of organics and seasonal produce.
The words organic and sustainable are increasingly important to the growing numbers of Americans who recognize the health consequences of toxic and persistent pesticides in our food supply.
If given a choice, 58% of American consumers prefer to purchase organic foods over conventionally produced foods when they have the opportunity (Thomson Reuters 2011). And the Organic Trade Association reported last year that 4 in 10 families said they were buying more organic products than the year before and 48% of parents recognized that organic foods are healthier for the entire family (OTA 2011).
One of the leading advocates for organic agriculture is Myra Goodman, founder of Earthbound Farm®, the largest grower of organic produce in the United States. Goodman sees organic food as a long-term investment. “You invest in your personal health by not being exposed to pesticides, hormones or genetically modified organisms [GMOs],” she says, “and it is an investment in the environment’s health by not exposing our land, air and water to toxic synthetic chemicals.”
Goodman says organic farming does much less damage to the environment and poses fewer risks to the health of those who farm the land. “It is as important as keeping your body in shape by exercising and [as] raising healthy children,” she says.
Goodman and her husband, Drew, started Earthbound Farm in a 21/2-acre backyard garden in Carmel Valley, California, in 1984. She urges fitness professionals to impress upon their clients the importance of healthful eating. “I know that [fitness professionals] have credibility with their clients and students and are looked to as a source of information on health,” she says.
Where to start? Goodman suggests fitness pros first inform themselves about organics and then relate their positive experiences to clients. “They can say, for example, ‘I’ve really decided to bring more organic foods into my diet,’ and then let their clients know the many reasons they should choose organic,” she says. “This type of word-of-mouth communication can be extremely effective. I think fitness professionals have a lot of power to effect change.”
“People should know that 97% of our exposure to pesticide residues comes from consuming fresh produce,” Goodman says. She recommends following the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ (www.ewg.org/foodnews). Choosing organic options from EWG’s list can substantially reduce pesticide exposure from fresh produce. Another good resource is The Organic Center, a nonprofit research and education association, which reports that “organic produce contains, on average, 25% higher levels of 11 key nutrients as compared to conventionally grown produce” (The Organic Center 2011). The center’s website (www.organic-center.org) offers a comprehensive guide for identifying safe and nutritious food. Goodman, who is on the center’s board, says it is important to recognize that the choices we make affect the way food is produced in the U.S. She says she has witnessed firsthand how the growth of the organic food movement is “truly a consumer revolution. When consumers change what they buy, they are truly changing the world.”
Goodman says that while she seeks to be flexible about her food choices, she tries not to compromise on these four principles, excerpted from her book Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook (Workman 2006):
1. She does not buy products with partially hydrogenated oils. These are the main dietary source of trans fatty acids (or trans fats). Research shows that trans fats have harmful effects on cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
2. She refuses to buy conventional strawberries. Government reports show that conventional strawberries are among the produce items most likely to have pesticide residues. Before conventional strawberry fields are planted, they are often fumigated with methyl bromide, a destructive chemical. This pesticide is linked to neurological disorders, respiratory problems and cancer in farmworkers and people who live near the fields. (See Pesticide Action Network’s website, www.whatsonmyfood.org, for more on pesticide residues.)
3. Whenever possible, she buys meats, poultry and dairy products from livestock that have been humanely raised without antibiotics or added growth hormones.
4. She does not buy products with artificial sweeteners. It is much healthier to train your palate to enjoy unsweetened beverages (such as herbal tea instead of diet soda).
As part of the Goodmans’ mission to spread the word about the multiple benefits of eating organic, they established the Earthbound Farm Stand in 1992, a few miles from their original farm. To complement their sales of seasonal organic produce, they opened America’s third certified organic kitchen in 2003. The farm and café provided a venue for testing new products and recipes and served as a springboard for Myra Goodman to begin writing cookbooks. She has written three books (see references) and is working on a fourth, focusing on organic vegan recipes.
“Most Americans eat too much red meat,” she says. “If people decide to eat the right type of organic plant-based foods, such as whole grains and legumes, they may cook a little more, pick healthier food choices and have a smaller ecological footprint.” She notes that plant-based foods are good sources of fiber and protein. “Quinoa, for example, is a nutritional powerhouse,” with one-quarter cup providing 6 grams of protein. A complete protein with all nine essential amino acids, quinoa also provides vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium and fiber. “You will be helping your cholesterol level and clearing out chemicals and toxins that put a strain on your body,” Goodwin says. “Plus, organic plant-based foods are more affordable.”
Goodman is also committed to helping people understand the joy, benefit and cost savings of eating seasonally. “Food in season is usually at its peak of flavor and quality, and [it’s typically] cheaper because there’s a great deal being harvested and produce is abundant,” she says. “So if you eat more in season, it will be more affordable because you aren’t paying to have out-of-season produce shipped across the country.
“In January, if you are deciding to have a BLT for lunch and you buy a tomato, you will pay $2.00 for that tomato and it’s not going to taste very good. Instead, try to let what is in season inspire your cooking, your menu and your cravings. You will be eating healthier, tastier food,” she says. Goodman suggests freezing seasonal organic fruits and vegetables like berries, apples, broccoli and fresh beans when they are plentiful.
Autumn is one of Goodman’s favorite times to cook. “You have everything that you need in the fall, because the summer produce has had the full light and heat of the summer to ripen. You have corn, tomatoes, peppers and herbs, like basil, as well as peak summer produce like zucchini and string beans.” Autumn is also a good time to discover new ingredients and challenge yourself to cook what is available. “The new crop of winter squashes becomes available in the fall, and this always makes me very excited. I taste the difference between a fresh butternut squash and one that’s overwintered. [The fresh one] is sweeter, easier to cut and cooks faster.
“Fall is also the time when the first crops of delicious apples that are really crunchy become available. There are so many varieties of apples now. Some of the more exotic ones you see for a shorter period of time. They are not grown in quantities, and they’re not stored to overwinter. Pears arrive in autumn, too. And then you still have all the salad greens. It’s just a perfect time—you have the warmth of summer, and then the weather begins cooling off. Fall is the best time of year to be cooking!” Goodman exclaims.