If we are what we eat (and I believe we are), then the food we eat matters and the way we grow our food matters a lot. Those of you who've been following my writing over the years through NOVA will know that I'm a big believer in organic and biodynamic farming systems.
But, really, I don't think it matters much what you call it - it's simply what food used to be before big business got hold of it. And, to borrow from Al Gore, it is an inconvenient truth that your food should be good enough to eat. Most of the chemical pesticides we now use are derivatives of nerve gasses left over from the First World War (just more sophisticated versions) and it would be an understatement to say that something designed to destroy life is not going to be good for you.
So, to organics and biodynamics. Late March and up until April 10 sees the introduction of Organic Fortnight Australia, an initiative of the Organic Federation of Australia. It is very much an awareness campaign to help people identify organic produce and learn more about the benefits of organic farming and related topics (climate change especially).
The problem is that although most people see this is a worthy thing, for both themselves and the environment, they are stopped by the perception it is going to be too expensive. This is not necessarily true, although it is true that real food will and should cost more as it reflects the true cost of producing that food. Buying food as cheaply as we have been doing is unsustainable, and in recent months we can see the wheels falling off that bus! This is what I would like to focus on today.
We all have a budget, and there are some essential foods I think you should buy organic. They are all animal-based - especially protein and fat - and are exceptionally nutrient-dense foods.
My Top Three to Buy Organic
1. Eggs because these are one of the most nutrient dense foods we have. The humble egg yolk is a goldmine of critical nutrients: They are the protein against which all other foods are measured, perfect and complete, and also containCholine and Cholesterol, both of which are critical for the development of the brain;Biotin, a B vitamin for skin and nerves;The long chain Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acid and the very long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA for continued function of the brain and nervous system;The critical fat soluble vitamins A and D.
Good eggs come from chickens that range on lush grass, eat scraps with some organic grain and peck for insects as they roam. They may cost you more, but are absolutely worth it. These eggs are a far richer source of the Omega 3 Essential Fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins and, at approx 65c-75c per high quality organic egg, still one of the cheapest ways to get nutrient density. Traditionally, eggs have been stretched in recipes such as frittata, fritters, quiche etc.
2. Meat Other than the higher nutrient value of organic and biodynamic meat and fats, we should only be eating an animal if it has had its life respected, and has been allowed to live its "pigness", "cowness" or "sheepness". Animals that have been allowed to eat their natural food (in most cases pasture) will have far higher levels of Omega 3s, Conjugated Linoleic Acids, vitamin E and many other nutrients. (If you'd like a great resource for grass fed meat, see www.eatwild.com - while an American site, still excellent reading). There are many, many ways to include the benefits of animal-based foods (meat/muscle, bone, organs and fat) in your diet for less cost. See below also.
3. Milk, butter and cream. Again, nutrient-dense, and you get what you pay for. See below in regards to yoghurt.
Buying and Using Organics Wisely
* It is your right as a consumer to see the certification. A good retailer should also be able to tell you the grower. If you're unsure of what these are, you can see them on my website www.wholefoodcooking.com.au/06-resources.html
* Demand beautiful produce. This does not mean blemish free, but beautiful and fresh looking produce. Far too many retailers sell old and tired produce and, worse still, at a premium price.
* Buy in season. Organic avocados, for example, are the same price (and some cheaper) right now, than those conventionally grown. This is common when something is in season. Preserving partners with this as it is the way we store foods throughout the year and a very smart move for reducing your food costs.
* Use the cheaper cuts of meat. This is nothing new; people have been doing this for centuries. It's only in the past 60 or so years we have become addicted to expensive cuts:
Lamb (I might add here, I prefer the cheaper mutton) - shoulder (simply the best for a roast or a stew), breast, shank and neck.
Beef - shin, shank, chuck steak (great for mince, stews and pot roast), brisket, gravy beef. While you're on it, buy a good meat book like the River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnsley Whittingstall, which is a treasure trove of delicious recipes, using cheaper cuts.
Offal - bone marrow, liver (lamb's fry, pate) heart, brain etc are all considered the most valuable part of the animal by traditional cultures, and incredibly rich in vitamins A and D.
Save any rendered fat for other uses (drippings)) If you've gone to the trouble of buying that organic, nitrate-free bacon, save that fat for cooking. All animal fat is very nutrient-dense, and very stable to light, heat and oxygen.
Remember that meat should not be the main part of your diet, but a small and valuable part. With that expensive bacon, for example, you only need a very small bit as the base of a minestrone soup for flavour and nourishment.
Bones - stock, stock and stock! Bone stocks, particularly when cooked with wine or vinegar, draw out the minerals, amino acids and cartilage in the bone, making them more freely available. As a component of stock made from animal bones, gelatine is of particular interest. Gelatine enables the easy digestion of cooked foods, particularly protein, and it also allows the body to more fully utilise the complete proteins that are eaten. Using bone stock is one of the cheapest ways to add nutrient density and good protein to your diet.
* Don't depend on meat based meals, but include plenty of vegetarian meals based on the cheaper grains and legumes (and buy those grains and legumes from a bulk bin)
* Buy local, seasonal, unfarmed and unendangered fish - they are invariably cheap, and a stunning source of the long chain fatty acids and protein. Go to www.amcs.org.au, where you can download a book (free) telling you the good fish. Buy the fish whole (far cheaper) and ask the shop to fillet it for you, and take the bones home also for stock.
* Make your own yoghurt or kefir - easy, and so cheap
* Look for seconds - some of the larger organic stores stock a lot of seconds at cheaper price. Many of these are simply a bit smaller - it makes a big difference.
* Buy from a bulk bin - anything that someone else has put into a bottle or in a packet is at least double the price.
* Cook from scratch - so much cheaper, same reason as above. If you're looking for a couple of guys with good ideas, Jamie Oliver or Bill Granger will help you on your way for simple weekly meals.
* Buy from a Farmers Market - they sell at a slightly less price than you can get it at the store, and is a perfect example of what a farmers market should be. A win for the grower and a win for the consumer which is often overlooked.
See Jude's Wild Rice and Autumn Vegetable Harvest Gratin in our Recipes Archive