Digestive Care Expert Brenda Watson

TAG | locally grown food

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What Does “Fresh” Really Mean?

I was walking through the produce section of the grocery store the other day and a lady looked at me and asked where the locally grown produce was located. I replied with “I usually look for the areas of organic vs. conventionally grown”. Her question got me thinking because the locally grown conventional produce could actually have just as much pesticide residue as regular conventional produce, wherever it is grown.

I started considering the new “food vocabulary” we now have to know as we walk into a grocery store. It’s an ever-changing environment when it comes to food. So what does it all mean? Let’s look at some of the words we frequently use these days to describe our food.

At least the term “organic” has strict guidelines. Technically, “organic” on a label certifies that the food was processed in accordance with US Department of Agriculture regulations that promote sustainability and MINIMIZE exposure to pesticide and other synthetic materials. Notice the word ‘minimize’. Believe me, this gets crazy. I decided to follow the link above to view the “allowed synthetic substances”. The list alone had me feeling like I was being sucked down into quicksand – and yet, all these regulations are certainly better than no regulations by far! I’m so glad someone takes the time to make those lists!

The term “natural”, when seen on meats and egg products means MINIMALLY processed (that word again). If you’re interested, here’s more explanation on what that could include – and bottom line – that word “natural” means next to nothing. The FDA doesn’t technically define the word, however the agency says it won’t object to the claim “natural” as long as there are no artificial or synthetic ingredients in a particular product. The truth is that the word “natural” has become a billion dollar marketing ploy, with 60% of Americans purchasing a food more readily if that word is on the label.

“Local” may be defined as products from a person’s own state, or sometimes from bordering states as well. A different definition could be anything brought into a store within 24 hours of harvest. Wow, now that’s a big difference! To get it to the store within 24 hours, it better be close – and that sounds fresh to me!

“Artisan” products of all types have historically been defined as ‘handcrafted, made in small batches’. This term was used to denote premium quality, explaining higher prices. In today’s world, it’s a term fast food chains are now claiming. I just cannot imagine “artisan” and “Domino’s” in the same sentence. Can you?

“Seasonal” is a term that’s heard often as well. One definition refers to the window of time in which a given food is freshest, ripest and most abundant in a particular region. In other words, ‘grown near me now’. That has a good ring to it.

And one more – the term “fresh”! Another mind boggler!! “Fresh” could mean the following – ‘just picked or gathered produce, live or unprocessed’, or even ‘dishes made the day they are sold’ – I read this in Consumer Reports. HMMM?? Really, that could mean just about anything.

I hope you’re laughing along with me – or at least a bit confused too. I don’t think I’m alone in all this. One thing, I’m grateful we’re defining and considering words like “organic” and “seasonal” instead of “processed”, “artificially flavored” and “trans fat” today. Hopefully those terms are on their way out! We’ve come a long way.

I can tell you though, the next food related definitions I would really like to understand are the words MINIMIZED and MINIMALLY!! What are your favorites?

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I was watching 60 Minutes the other night, as I try to do every week. They had a segment and interview with Alice Waters, a famous restaurateur in Berkley, California. She is trying to bring more awareness to eating not only organic, but locally grown food as well. This morning I read many of the comments made on cbsnews.com about this segment.

I understand the viewpoint of many of the comments made about being able to eat organically in these tough financial times. Many people I talk with at lectures and on the road struggle just to buy a few supplements once in a while, and add trying to feed an entire family organic foods and this can become quite impossible. That is why I have developed some tips to help those who cannot afford or do not have availability to organic foods all the time. One tip is the washing of your fruits and veggies. In speaking with people, I realized a lot of people do not wash, I mean really wash, their produce. There are a number of commercial veggie washes available now that are designed to remove the wax, as well as pesticides and herbicides from the outside of the vegetable. I recommend soaking your produce for about 5 minutes in some of the wash before rinsing well. You can also make your own veggie wash with equal amounts of vinegar and water or add some grape fruit seed extract or baking soda into the mix.

If you can afford some organic, the Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group is important to know. These are the twelve most pesticide laden of our produce and the most important to buy organic if you can. Here is the link to the list: http://www.foodnews.org/

As far as availability of organic foods goes, I have traveled all over the United States and Canada, and can tell you they are definitely not available in a lot of places. And if they do have any at all you are going to pay even more for the little available. Luckily, I think they are recently starting to become more readily available at mass market stores such as Walmart and Target Superstores. I think this is bringing the concept and availability to more Americans and also bringing the price down.

Sometimes buying organic frozen foods can be helpful during the times when fresh organic may not be available, as during certain seasons. Of course, again, if funds allow you to do so. I just bought some Cascadian Farms organic broccoli florets at $3.29 for a 16 oz bag. I think that is pretty comparable to the Birdseye brand at the same price for a 14 oz bag.

I must say one very loud bravo to Alice Waters in relation to what she is currently doing to help teach kids about nutrition. Her foundation called Chez Panisse Foundation (the name of her famous restaurant) and The Edible Schoolyard is worth applause.

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