Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

The NY Times health blog ran a little piece the other day that’s getting a lot of press in the foodie blog-o-sphere: Five Easy Ways to Go Organic. As one concerned mama points out over at the Cleaner Plate Club, this post has them talking and talking and talking … there were nearly 300 comments last time I checked, who knows what’s happened since then? Over at Serious Eats, they were only up to 12 comments last I looked, but all in all, the conversations in all these places quickly gets so contentious and complicated that it undermines the point of the original article — how do we help people who may be afraid of organic, or even afraid of unprocessed food, begin to make the transition? How do we make it “easy” and “affordable”?

I happen to live someplace where we have reasonably easy access to locally-raised meat and poultry and eggs and vegetables. I happen to live someplace where a lot of people hunt and eat game. And yet, every time I go to Albertsons, the majority of the carts are filled with “food in boxes” — food that has been in some way pre-cooked or pre-processed and that is supposed to be “easy” and that is always cheap. In the parking lot of the grocery store there’s an Arby’s advertising 5 sandwiches for 5.95. There are a lot of very broke people around here — something like 15% of the folks in town live below the poverty line —  I’ve lived poor, it’s exhausting. I can see why if you’ve spent all day working some shitty job and your kids are ragging on you and you’ve only got a 20 to get you to payday why you might be tempted by that drive-through. Or by a frozen pizza. Or by the fried-chicken dinner deal (for which I have to admit, I have a weakness). We don’t teach home ec in schools anymore and we’re now on families that are two or even three generations into not knowing the basics of how to cook.

So yeah, to foodies, it might seem ridiculous that two of the five items on the list are ketchup and potatoes, but if those are the primary vegetables your kids are getting, maybe starting there makes sense. Maybe taking a second to look at the milk in the cabinet and choosing the (big) organic milk over the regular milk might be a start — it might give you a sense that there is something you can do, after all. We all have to start somewhere, and for my part, I’d be happy if we can just start weaning people off the food in boxes. I think it’s hard for those of us who like cooking to remember that there are people who are afraid to touch raw chicken, or who don’t know what to do with fresh green beans, or who prefer the sameness and reliability of frozen dinners. Maybe while we’re all lobbying to reinstate PE in the schools we should also be thinking about reinstating Home Ec (minus the gender segregation of course). At least that way kids would have been taught by someone how to buy and cook real food.
I don’t know, I just get frustrated when I see the disconnect. The point was 5 easy and affordable places to start — not the best, not the only, not even the best for every area of the country. But when people are already overwhelmed, sometimes it’s good to give them a short, simple list of things they can do.

Maybe the mantra to think of is Michael Pollan’s: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

4 thoughts on “Five Easy Ways to Go Organic

  1. I agree with you, I really do. But I also understand some of the reactions. It just feels a little silly to be paying more for “organic” ketchup (and let’s face it – it’s considerably more), when there are other, simpler shifts that could be taken in a family’s diet – like LESS ketchup, more of ANY kind of vegetable – that would benefit that family more, for a whole lot less $$. I like the EWG approach – they list the most important produce to buy organic, and also give good non-organic substitutes if someone can’t afford the organic version (can’t afford organic raspberries? – and how many of us can? – go for conventional blueberries, because they require fewer chemicals to begin with). Believe me. I totally understand the pull toward boxed food, and frozen pizza, and cheap take out dinners.

    The foodie movement really is an elitist movement right now – I think that’s why I so strongly feel that change requires more than just a bunch of upper middle class people (who can afford it) “voting with their forks.” Imagine what it would do for some of those broke families if their kids could have access to real nutrition in schools, or if 77% of the items in a supermarket weren’t totally nutritionally deficient, as a recent Hanafords rating system determined!

    And yeah, we need to learn to cook again. I saw Michael Pollan talk recently, and I brought up that subject. He commented that we got rid of Home Ec classes, when we really should have ungendered them.

    Sorry. I’ll shut up now. I could talk all night.

  2. I know — can you believe I’m jumping on the Reagan bandwagon and agreeing that ketchup is a vegetable? I agree with you completely — I’d rather see people eating real food than box food, and can we please re-open the school kitchens and get some lunch ladies in there to feed the kids? I guess what set me off was over at Serious Eats, where the first comment in the thread suggested that people order organic sides of beef — I mean really! Where does that fit into the simple and easy ways to start liking real food construct? I loved your post where you pointed out that the comments thread at the NY Times was baroque — I find the elitism in it all *so* frustrating that I’m willing to say fine, lets start with ketchup, milk, potatoes, peanut butter and apples. It’s an imperfect list, but its short and easy to remember, and a place to start.

  3. Okay, I had no idea that home ec was no longer being taught in schools. Music and art, yes. PE I had become aware of. But Home Ec? We’re not teaching kids to move, imagine and create, cook and balance a checkbook. Yes, that explains a lot. What the heck *are* we teaching?
    That said, despite Home Ec and art in school, when I finally moved out on my own I had no idea how to create meals for myself. I’d even done some cooking at home — lasagna, french toast. But you can’t really get by on those for long. I didn’t want to cook the way my mom had, but it wasn’t until I chose to “go vegetarian” and pick up a new cookbook that I began to understand some of the basic principles of meal prep — variety of color, flavor, and texture. Some of that may have been a failure of my Home Ec class (which I had in 8th grade) but some of it was my attitude toward the “domestic arts” (back then just called “women’s work.”) I’m wondering how we can restore a sense of respect for and joy in the domestic. The current trend of fetishizing the domestic isn’t doing much to help.

    Thanks for the link to the Times piece. I’ve already been doing these things for so long they’re no-brainers to me. (Although I do feel a little pang paying about twice as much per gallon of milk for the organic or hormone-free local.) I’ve got to believe there are at least a dozen other simple things to be done. I’ll check out those other links, too, but I don’t imagine I’ll be scrolling through the hundreds of comments on the Times page. 🙂

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