a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Feb, 2007

food for thought

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|Recipes and Food|Yaktivism

This post was chosen as the http://www.gnmparents.com hot stuff winner of the week. Thanks GNM, and to everyone who voted for me. :)

Do you do the organic thing?

Lately there’ve been a few really stupid articles in the media about organic food.

Here’s a sample headline: “Just Because You Are Buying Organic Doesn’t Mean It’s Fat Free!” Uh, duh, OF COURSE. It kinda goes without saying. You’re not going to get thinner by stuffing yourself with globs of organic cashew butter on organic bread, organic ice cream, or organic crackers spread with organic butter and hunks of organic cheese. Especially if you eat it all at the same time.

Organic foods won’t help you lose weight, but it is the better choice to make.

A few months ago we decided to notch up our ratio of organic to non-organic grocery purchases. We’re lucky that our local Superstore carries a wide variety of organic products. We could practically do all of our shopping in one small area of the store. They carry things such as organic cereals, soups, cookies, dairy etc. The one thing they seriously lack is an organic meat department.

Farm Boy on Merivale Road has a decent selection of organic meats. Awhile back I bought two packages of chicken – one organic, one non- as a sort of taste test. There was a huge difference. Before cooking, the organic chicken was pink. PINK! In comparison, the non-organic was its distant sickly pale cousin who never saw the light of day. It was beige. The organic chicken tasted like chicken. I cannot describe the chickeny taste of the chicken. This was vividly-flavoured chicken. It’s the disco ball vs. a 40W lightbulb. It was juicy, even though it was white meat which tends to be drier. The non-organic was tasteless in comparison, with a mere hint of it’s chickeny origins.

And don’t even get me started on organic bacon. I have promised myself not to buy regular pre-packaged bacon ever again. I cannot go back. The organic stuff is too good. We get ours from Saslove’s on Wellington.

In terms of taste, think of it this way: there is ice cream, and there is ice cream. There is the el cheapo stuff that is mostly sugar and flavouring. And then there’s elite ice cream like Haagen Dazs, which is also chock full of sugar but since it probably contains more cream (I didn’t say this was a low-fat argument) and tastes like real ice cream should taste. 

We also started buying organic milk. It’s a fairly regular purchase now, and it’s not cheap. But it tastes wonderful. This will sound strange but I find the organic tastes milkier. Mark said it best… it tastes exactly like the milk you remember drinking as a child.

You’ll read some news articles that argue organic foods are actually healthier for you. And for every one of those you’ll read another one that insists the studies are inconclusive. It’s hard to know what to believe anymore. But all that aside, by making an organic purchase you’re supporting an important and growing industry, you’re supporting a farmer (or more than one!) who doesn’t use pesticides or hormones or fertilizers. Did you know that the agricultural industry is among the world’s worst polluters? The chemicals they use to grow their foods gets into the soil, the air around us (i.e. crop dusters) and pollutes our water. It is not a sustainable way of farming.

Here’s my challenge for you: next time you’re grocery shopping, buy at least one organic product. If you’re frugal, or brand-loyal, this might mean leaving your comfort zone and spending an extra dollar on a product you’re not familiar with. BUT, think of it this way: by buying an organic product you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in.

Not everything we buy is organic, but we’re trying.

You might be wondering how Emma and Sarah have taken to this change. Well, it’s been explained to them and they certainly understand our rationale. And in the process we’ve discovered a few new products we really like. They’ve taken to Cheetah Chomps, a kiddie cereal made by Nature’s Path. It’s mildly, naturally, strawberry-flavoured and surprisingly (for a kiddie cereal anyway) only contains 6g of sugar per serving. It doesn’t quite compare with regular Cheerios (which is practically sugar-free) buy did you know that Honey Nut Cheerios have 9g per serving?

I do wonder what Emma will think of the new organic ketchup I bought.

p.s. for more info, check out the Wikipedia entry about organic farming.


24 Responses to "food for thought"

1 | Jenn

February 16th, 2007 at 10:00 am

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We slowly started making the switch a little over a year ago. We bought some organinc milk on sale and haven’t gone back. Up until a few months ago we only bought the 2% bagged milk for the kids and now that I started drinking it more myself, we have been buying the 1% in glass bottles- even tastier! I can’t stand the taste of many “conventional” foods now, it all seems to either lack flavour or taste of chemicals.
The topic of conversation has come up often lately in the strangest of circumstances. Many people seem interested but cautiously so. Price is a big deterant but we are lucky to have a great independant organic grocery store close by that offers prices much less that the big chains that offer the same products.

2 | erin

February 16th, 2007 at 11:05 am

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Internet serendipity. I was just logging on to my website to post about how incredible my cereal was this morning. Organic wheaties, organic blueberries (glorious!), and the best of it all, organic *whole* milk that I had purchased to make lobster bisque on valentines.

I won my husband over to organic a few years ago with broccoli. You can definitely taste the difference. I also recommend carrots for the uninitiated; more sweet, more carrotty, and soup stock made with organic veg is much much more flavorful.

I love organic foods, and I am happy as I eat them that their production is less taxing on our earth. However, and this is a big however, while the price of organics is high, it is still much lower than it should be considering the amount of oil it takes to get them to us. Those amazing blueberries didn’t come from Quebec, they came from Chile. A good majority of organic produce comes from California. The reprieve from chemicals we give to the earth is counterbalanced by a very high tax of oil comsumption.

Price is a big deterrant. Since we have the means, I invest in organics in hopes that production will increase and prices will drop. But it’s just not possible for everyone, and it’s good to keep in mind how lucky we are.

PS – do your kids like Pirate Booty? I am addicted to the Veggie Booty, and it’s got KALE in it for goodness sakes.

3 | erin

February 16th, 2007 at 11:09 am

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Now that I’ve hijacked your comment section with practically an entire post, I’ll go slightly off-topic too. Earlier this week I made a sock dog from the instructions you posted in December for my nephew who turns one in a week. I am not a sewer, so I was dang pround of myself. I also wrote and illustrated him a home-made storybook. How’s that for unshopping? Of course, I also bought him a old school Sesame Street video. Couldn’t resist.

4 | erin

February 16th, 2007 at 11:10 am

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And of course, before I clicked “submit” on that I meant to say, Thanks for the inspiration and instructions!

5 | Porter

February 16th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

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Growing up, my Dad had a very large vegetable garden, some raspberry bushes, and fruit trees. My parents often bought from farmers and farmers markets. It was all because a) my Dad grew up on a farm and b) it was cheaper and they didn’t have alot of money.
I missed the taste of fresh veggies in the summer so much that I planted a few plants in our garden, and next year I intend to plant more. Most of the grocery stores in my neighbourhood don’t carry produce from Ontario, let alone from the farmers within the surrounding area (I live in the ‘banana belt’ for crying out loud!). The produce in the organic department isn’t all that appealing because of this, I’ve never bought anything organic intentionally. I will take the challenge you propose, and I will take a look at some organic food…I will let you know how we make out!

6 | Melissa R. Garrett

February 16th, 2007 at 4:58 pm

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Here! Here! We are on a VERY tight budget, being a family of five on one income, but I always manage to buy mostly organic items. The must haves for us: produce and milk. Our eggs and meat are not certified organic, but they are antibiotic and hormone free. I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch, so I buy very few pre-packaged items. I am usually appalled by what I see in a lot of grocery carts. No wonder people are overweight and/or sick so much. During the warmer months, I have a HUGE garden that supplies us with most of our produce and does a lot to reduce the bill. And I make sure, when I am at the store, to use my cloth bags :-)

7 | Kris

February 16th, 2007 at 7:55 pm

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The funniest organic argument I heard was from my husband’s grandfather, who always talked about the apple orchard that didn’t get sprayed one year and everything died/got eaten. That was his argument for why organic is bad. lol. Just because a crop is organic doesn’t mean the farmer does NOTHING.

I love that more and more organics are available now in the states. Even the major cereal producers and STORE brands. It’s amazing. When I started eating organic 12 years ago, there was nothing, and what was available at health food stores cost a fortune.

8 | Sandra Sousa

February 17th, 2007 at 12:42 am

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I also strive to buy more organic food for my family to avoid chemicals and support more sustainable forms of agriculture. Although our governments insist the level of chemicals in our food supply is safe, I’d rather not take the risk (especially with youg kids) There was an interesting segment on a BC radio station about chemicals in our food you may be interested in: http://www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner/110206.htm

9 | Robert

February 17th, 2007 at 12:26 pm

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The question: is it better to buy organic or to buy local? Try locally sourced organics.

We eat organic pancakes most every morning, (made from scratch of course – not a package!) from grains from Mountain Path near Ottawa. (most of the time I use organic soy drink to make the batter – it gives them a unique nutty-like flavour)

We buy our grains in bulk or with a group and put things that need preservation into a freezer. (stone ground grains, for instance, contain the germ (so much more healthy) and will go rancid if not preserved or eaten) It’s actually less expensive than conventional foods made from scratch, which are much less expensive than pre-packaged foods. I figure my organic homemade loaves of bread cost about 30 cents to make, including electricity (excluding the benefits of family time).

10 | Jennifer (ponderosa)

February 18th, 2007 at 9:29 pm

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I have been trying to cut back on products that contain corn syrup, esp. ketchup and jelly, since those would seem easy places to use sugar instead & also my kids eat a lot of those two. The only ketchup at my local grocer’s which didn’t have corn syrup was the organic kind. And the only jelly w/o corn syrup was the European kind and the organic kind… So. People often conflate organic food and health food — and I think that’s because the organic food often *is* healthier. Low salt, low fat, no additives. That’s not guaranteed but in my experience it’s often the case.

Of course that’s no excuse for an article like the one you mentioned!

11 | Jennifer (ponderosa)

February 18th, 2007 at 9:31 pm

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By the way, Robert: I’ve been considering making my own bread but I get no where near 30 cents a loaf. All the recipes I have call for 2 packs of yeast, and yeast is $2.50 for a pack of three! I wish I could get it down to even $1 a loaf; I’d make my own every time.

12 | liss76

February 19th, 2007 at 8:43 am

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Buying yeast by the bottle is much cheaper than buying packaged yeast.

Even cheaper would be using a sourdough starter.

13 | Miss Vicky

February 19th, 2007 at 11:22 am

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Here’s my issue. I buy organic most of the time, esp meat, produce and milk. But recently I started looking at the sources of some of the fruits and veggies I buy at the Herb and Spice and so much of it is imported from California and other far-flung places. Argh! I want to buy organic, but I want to buy local too. I don’t think my walk to the grocery store cancels out the emissions produced in transporting those carrots all the way from California. Grrrr.

14 | liss76

February 19th, 2007 at 3:27 pm

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Buy local and organic in season and preserve it for off-season. I am less-concerned with buying organic produce than I am with buying local (within 100km) produce.

I have a freezer full of brussel sprouts, broccoli (2 huge heads for $0.75 the day I bought it at the market), zucchini, fresh herbs, blueberries, etc.–all purchased, processed as required, flash frozen and vacuum-sealed. It tastes and looks fresh when cooked–much more flavour than storebought frozen veggies.

We also can a lot of things–tomatoes, peaches, string beans, carrots, etc. We love out pressure canner!

The only thing I can’t find for an accessible price in the winter is fresh salad greens. I was buying Bryson Farms greens for awhile (totally awesome, btw), but stopped because it was 3x’s the cost of the same amount of (product of California) organic greens at local stores. I want to eat local as much as I can, but it needs to fit into our budget.

We buy organic milk as well–UHT through our ONFC buying group. I’ll never go back to regular milk, if for nothing else than the improved flavour! Milk that tastes like milk!

15 | BeachMama

February 20th, 2007 at 5:31 pm

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This is an interesting thread. I find some products wonderful when it comes to organic, but last year after recalls of several organic produce for e-coli and samonella, I think I will be sticking to non-organic for the time being. I plant a garden in the summer and only buy what I don’t grow. I definately won’t be taking a chance on my fresh produce. Milk is one I would love to try, maybe with my next order.

16 | GNMParents

February 20th, 2007 at 9:55 pm

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Congratulations this post has been nominated for a Hot Stuff Award at GNMParents.

Good luck, voting closes on Thursday.

17 | Hot Stuff: Vote for YOUR favourite | GNMParents

February 20th, 2007 at 10:21 pm

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[…] A peek inside the fish bowl reveals some food for thought, a post on the merits of buying organic. […]

18 | andrea

February 21st, 2007 at 10:27 am

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Thanks everyone, for your insightful comments on this post. Thanks as well for the props from GNMParents.

It is tough sometimes: the organic v. local. I like the suggestion of freezing/canning local produce but I don’t have the freezer space or the skills or stamina to undertake such a thing.

It all boils down to a choice, and sometimes it’s hard to know which is the right choice to make.

Who’s the better person: the ones who buy locally-produced foodstuffs, pack them in their own cloth shopping bags and bring them home in their SUV? Or the person who takes the bus and buys organic berries from Mexico?

It’s easy to beat yourself up over the details. But as long as YOU are making a few changes YOU can make – and everyone does the same, I think it’ll even itself out in the long run.

Related: plastic grocery bags are a huuuuge peeve of mine. I’ve shopped at grocery stores where they didn’t hand out ANY bags at all. And somehow shoppers managed to make the adjustment. Everyone agrees that plastic bags are one of the worst things for our environment. So why are they still around?

19 | Stu Mark

February 21st, 2007 at 5:13 pm

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As an editor over at GNMParents, I shouldn’t really attempt to have sway in the voting, but for now, hang the implications, I voted for your post as Hot Stuff Of The Week. We’ve been getting into a new area over there, called A Little Greener, where we discuss different ways that parents can take baby steps towards becoming more environmentally friendly. Your essay is wonderful and fits right alongside our thinking. I so totally hope you win!

20 | liss76

February 22nd, 2007 at 9:39 am

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Home canning is one of those things that seems really daunting until you try it. Honestly. :o)

The hardest part is learning how to use the pressure canner, but if you can use a pressure cooker, you already know! The rest is following directions on proper processing times for the various foods–“Putting Food By” is an excellent starting point. Our biggie is tomatoes–we use a lot of them and a bushel of roma tomatoes in season at the market is very affordable. Our end cost per jar is significantly lower than supermarket canned tomatoes.

We also have limited freezer space. A lot of it is taken up with pork and beef ‘organically’ raised by a local hobby farmer. (Not certified organic, but raised in the same manner.)

The thing that bugs me is when people assume that the organic label means something is free of pesticides. That is not true. ‘Organic’ pesticides can carry a lot of the same risks as conventional ones–regulations regarding what can be labelled organic vary from country to country.

21 | Tanya

February 22nd, 2007 at 10:41 am

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A little late here, but I’ll add my thoughts anyway…

We’ve been trying to buy as much organic as possible since the kids were born. And before that, we got the $20 weekly organic hampers at the Byward Fruit Market. We were generally pleased (although you don’t have a choice of what you get, so we often got things that we had no clue what to do with!), but lately they’ve had more and more non-local items and the quality just wasn’t as good. So we cancelled in the fall. I’d rather use that $20 to buy the organics at the grocery store. I do feel bad for not supporting a local business, but I feel a little less guilty since they don’t try overly hard to support local farmers, even during the growing season.

When we can’t find organic, I opt for local…at least Quebec grown, if not local farm grown. Someday when I have the time and energy, I’d love to learn how to can stuff so we have it for the winter and don’t have to rely as heavily on products that are shipped in.

I would love to try meats…that’s one thing we haven’t made much effort to find yet. I think there are farms locally that will let you buy a large amount of chicken and beef to freeze. But we’ll need a bigger freezer!

22 | Miss Vicky

February 22nd, 2007 at 3:33 pm

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Saslove’s has a good selection of organic meat, much of it local. there’s an elk farm out in the west end.

Just Food has a buy local guide. http://www.justfood.ca

23 | Robert

February 24th, 2007 at 6:05 pm

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mosaic of responses since 17th…

food for thought
http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4925

Liss76, I’d love to learn how to make a sourdough starter…never gotten around to that yet.

Jennifer, we buy yeast in bulk, a fraction of the cost and less packaging waste.

Another option for accessing greens (and other produce) in the winter is to grow them inside a south facing room. I know several people who do this throughout the winter (Northeastern US, Ottawa areas) and am anxious to try soon.

BTW Andrea, our new town is phasing out the use of plastic bags.

One thing I’ve discovered is that when buying organic, careful attention must be paid the certifying body and their requirements.

24 | liss76

February 26th, 2007 at 7:34 am

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough

I’ve never done it myself, but my husband was doing it fairly regularly for awhile. My grandmother has been doing it for years.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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