01.10.2009

Organic October

Organic Wholefoods Sydney Perth Australia Organic Cooking Jude Blereau - NOVA Magazine Australia Sydney Melbourne Perth Brisbane Adelaide NOVA Magazine
Food is how we take in the fuel and nutrients we require - we are very much the food we eat. There are many confusing wisdoms about what healthy and wholesome food actually is, but really it is quite simple. There are certain fundamental truths that form the basis of healthy and wholesome eating: food should be real, it should be close to its natural state and it should be good enough to eat. Food that is good enough to eat is the focus of this article.

I believe that food should be organic or biodynamic where possible, and pesticide-free. The term "pesticide" covers a broad range of chemicals (fungicides, insecticides, rodenticides and herbicides) that came into being after the First World War, and even more so after the Second. They were derived from nerve gases, which were designed to kill, or interrupt and corrupt the systems of living things - it's worth bearing in mind that humans also are living things. This is especially important for babies and growing children, who with a smaller body mass, undeveloped organs and body systems, are especially vulnerable to side effects.

Eating organic food is one of the easiest ways to:
* Reduce your pesticide load,
* Increase your nutrient density, and
* Support sustainable farming systems that work in harmony with the eco-system, and tread lightly on the earth.

I know that this view brings us face to face with a recent report that found organic food was not nutritionally superior to conventional food, which received an enormous amount of media attention. Studying reports is not my forte, so I rely on those who have more technical experience in this area. Tim Marshall, who has been at the forefront of the Australian organic industry for the past 25 years as a writer, grower and trainer, believes that the conclusions drawn by the researchers are simplistic and result from a very narrow perspective of the benefits of organic food and a lack of historical perspective on their topic. He notes that there are many problems with the methodology used and provides the following comments:

* The analysis was restricted to the most commonly reported nutrients. This permitted the researchers to include the widest range of papers, but limited the factors that could be compared. In other words, organic could have some better micronutrients, anti-oxidants or co-enzymes but not be statistically relevant.
* The paper completely lacks a historical perspective. Until 10 years ago, we didn't know what to look for, and in some cases did not have the measurement capability, and we certainly did not have the research funding to establish the benefit from organic. In the last 10 years, we have discovered more nutritional factors, more benefits arising from those factors, and have refined our ability to isolate and measure them. The same study applied to the last decade would undoubtedly have a different result. Some of the other methodological problems listed here are severely compounded by the lack of an historical view.
* The paper does not consider the methodology of the original study. Measurement of nutritional value is very complex. Take this example: if we grow three varieties of carrot in one paddock we can get three different results. If we grow one variety in three different soil types we can get three different results. If we grow one variety in one soil in three different years we can get three different results. Many studies do not adequately cover these issues. Of particular relevance is that, especially before the current decade of increased awareness of organic, many studies did not define organic as certified organic. The organic industry strongly promotes certification and will only be compared on the basis of certified produce.
* The conclusion is too broad. The researchers have considered only some nutrients and have therefore ignored others, especially antioxidants and coenzymes, many of which will only appear in more recent papers. Furthermore, they have not considered the other benefits of organic food, such as the absence of anti-nutritional and polluting compounds (eg pesticide residues), or the environmental benefits (eg reduced soil loss, carbon sequestration), the production benefits (fewer energy-dense inputs, better growth, less water use), or taste, social justice and animal welfare. Social factors may have direct nutritional benefits such as consumers may be much more prepared to eat whole produce (eg apple and potato skins) if they believe that no pesticides have been used, leading to much better delivery of nutritional factors such as antioxidants (generally higher in the skin of vegetables and fruits).

My own experience from 20 years' working and cooking with organic food is that it is profoundly different and better. Organic food has a more robust and full flavour, far more density (organic grains, for example, will absorb far more water than conventional, and take longer to cook), and tend to sustain over a longer period of time. If I want to save myself time in cooking a meal, one of the easiest ways I've found to do this is not to use just four ingredients, but instead use organic ingredients. The end result tends to require far less buffing, shining and balancing (if any). Thus we come to one of the questions I am most often asked, "How can I trust the food I buy actually is organic?"

Australia has one of the best certification systems in the world, but up until this time, the use of the word "organic" has not been able to be regulated. New standards are being developed that will be able to ensure that regulation. Until those standards come into effect, which is not far off, the way in which you can ensure that you are getting a truly genuine, organic product is to look for the certification. There are a range of certifying bodies in Australia, they all have logos and you can see these on the links and resources page, on my website http://wholefoodcooking.com.au/06-resources.html.

Saying something is organic or biodynamic is not good enough - there must be a certification to back that up. It is your right as a consumer to ask to see the certification. It is also your right as a consumer to expect that the product is beautiful - a vegetable is not old and dodgy because it is organic, but because the retailer or seller is not doing their job. You can expect to pay more for organic food, because this is reflecting the true cost of producing the food, but you shouldn't be taken for a ride, or for granted.

The Organic Federation of Australia, the peak body for organic agriculture in Australia, has declared, "October is organic month". The feature event for the month will be "Trust Organic-a Fortnight of Awareness featuring Organic Standards and Climate Change", which will run from October 2-18. Numerous events have been planned in every state and territory, to feature the multiple benefits of organic products and farming systems. They are inviting you to come, join, and learn about the many benefits of organic and biodynamic farming systems to food, health, climate change and the environment. You can see these on the website www.trustorganic.org.au

Using organic products and supporting sustainable farming systems really does matter. While the organic path may not yet be perfect, it's getting better, and I believe it is our best path forward.

QUICK AND SIMPLE FRUIT SPONGE PUDDING
SERVES 4 - 6 WHEAT FREE / DAIRY FREE

Use whatever fruit is in season for this delicious, old fashioned dessert. This version is for apple and berries, but any stewed fruits will work, just replace the weight. In October I would use apple, rhubarb and strawberry. Serve with yoghurt, pouring cream or coconut cream if desired.

KITCHEN NOTES:
It's good to use a baking dish that gives you an even, not too deep layer of fruit - that is the base of the dish is not narrower than the top. Mine is 23 x 16cm with a depth of 4 cm and works perfectly. You get a lovely not too deep layer of fruit, all topped with sponge.
You could easily do these in individual ramekins.

THE FRUIT
2 medium apples-approx 280 gm
300 gm berries - any or a mix is fine
1 - 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract

THE SPONGE
2 eggs
50 gm golden castor sugar
45 gm white spelt flour

PRE HEAT OVEN TO 180C

To prepare the fruits, peel, core and cut the apple into 1 cm chunks. Add to a medium size saucepan with the berries, maple syrup and vanilla. Cover and cook over a gentle heat until the berries and apple have begun to sweat out their juices, approx 10 mins. Remove the lid, increase the heat and continue to cook over a medium heat until the juices have reduced, but the fruit retains some sauce, approx 8 mins or so. Pour into an ovenproof baking dish.

To prepare the sponge, break the eggs into a medium size mixing bowl and add the sugar. Beat with electric beaters until doubled in size, thick and pale in colour, and when the beaters are lifted and a little mixture is drizzled back into the bowl, it holds its shape. Sieve in the flour, and use a spatula to fold through. Pour over fruit, place in the oven and cook for 20 - 30 mins, or until the sponge is set, is golden and springs back when gently touched in the middle with your fingertip.

Serve immediately.

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