Best organic food choices


Hi, everyone! My name is Louisa Shafia, and I’m very pleased to be joining Rachael’s website to bring you a blog about cooking fresh, beautiful food with an eye toward your health and the environment.

With Earth Day coming up on April 22, and a new, environmentally conscious spirit in Washington, it’s a perfect time to start thinking about how our food choices affect the natural world and our health. In the next several blogs, I’ll introduce you to many convenient, affordable, and delicious ways to green your cuisine through recipes, shopping tips, and simple adjustments to your diet. I love to cook, and I’m excited to share that joy and excitement with you, and to have you contribute your comments and ideas right back. I look forward to hearing from you!

As the 39th annual Earth Day approaches, chefs and food lovers alike have reason to celebrate, as First Lady Michelle Obama has planted an organic vegetable and herb garden on the South Lawn of the White House. The first family’s decision to grow their own vegetables is a terrific model for the rest of us, and by bringing wholesome, garden-grown food to their own dinner table, the Obamas are highlighting the essential link between the foods we eat and the health of our environment.

Michelle Obama begins work on the White House vegetable garden

Sasha and Malia will no doubt enjoy those yummy fresh veggies, and just as importantly, the “First Vegetable Garden” will require none of the pesticides and chemical treatment used at factory farms. Unlike supermarket food, the White House harvest won’t require any gasoline to get it to the White House kitchen. What’s more, the South Lawn garden will be fertilized with compost (food scraps that would otherwise wind up in the trash), and it’ll provide an ideal urban haven for pollinators like bees and butterflies.

As our First Lady understands, the more often we choose fresh, unprocessed and chemical-free foods, the healthier our environment will be and the healthier our children, spouses and loved ones will be. Organic foods are certainly an important part of that equation, but if cost or availability are making you wonder which organic foods to prioritize, here are my suggestions for your best bets, based on two simple criteria: the health of the planet, and the health of you and your family.

Be sure to look for the organic label on products

1. Red Meat: Organic and Grass Fed

Grass-fed beef is free of hormones and antibiotics, and will provide you with increased beta-carotene and Vitamin E, along with a decreased likelihood of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. You’ll also help to alleviate problems like groundwater pollution and toxic ammonia vapors from cow manure. Yes, it costs a bit more, but consider eating less red meat anyway—it’s a good move for your health, and scientists agree that cutting down our meat intake will help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

2. Pasture-Raised Poultry and Eggs from Small Farms

Chicken and eggs are good sources of cheap protein, but those low prices are often accompanied by abuse of the birds and damage to the environment. By contrast, pasture-raised birds eat a natural diet of grass and insects, and their manure is a natural fertilizer. Instead of buying parts, cook a whole chicken, and use the leftovers for soups, stir-fries and sandwiches.

3. Fair Trade/Organic Bananas

Everyone loves bananas, but banana production has a history of high pesticide use, toxic work settings, and child and slave labor. In contrast, bananas with the “Fair Trade” label guarantee fair wages, good working conditions, and limited use of chemicals. If you can’t find Fair Trade-certified bananas, always try to buy organic rather than conventional.

4. Fair Trade/Organic Coffee

Look for the Fair Trade label to ensure it is certified

Along with tasting better, Fair Trade coffee ensures that fewer pesticides are released into the environment, and it contributes to a better life for the working families in Africa and Latin America who grow our coffee. Organically grown coffee follows the age-old practice of growing beans under trees, which provide shade and leaf litter to naturally fertilize the soil. Luckily, fair trade organic coffee is easy to find at most grocery stores and coffee shops.

Fair Trade Coffees

5. Berries: Local, In-Season, Organic and U.S.-grown

We’re used to seeing berries in stores throughout the year, but out-of-season berries grown in Central America are generally bland, low in nutrients, and heavily sprayed with pesticides, many of which are illegal in the U.S. In the winter, avoid lackluster berries and choose apples or Florida citrus fruits instead, or if you simply must have berries, buy organic. In summertime, go for berries from your local farmstand or farmer’s market, which are sure to be less pesticide-treated.

6. Sugar: Organic and Unprocessed

Doctors know that high sugar intake is linked to diabetes and obesity. But conventional sugar production has environmental problems too, like the discharge of polluted waste water and high use of pesticides. Instead, look for organically grown sugar; it’s sold at many markets and used just like regular sugar. If you’re going to buy a sugary snack, support one of the many brands that have recently begun using organic sugar; this change in the food industry came about through consumer demand—remember, you have power!

7. Organic Kale

Food scientists refer to Kale as a “Superfood” because of its cancer-fighting properties. It’s also loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and minerals like iron and calcium. To avoid high pesticide levels, seek out organic kale—a bit pricier, sure, but a little goes a long way! You can even prepare kale raw, using it like lettuce in a tasty salad. If you can’t find organic kale or don’t want to shell out for it, use red or green cabbage instead—very few pesticides are used to grow it and cabbage is chock full of antioxidants.


A little bit about me: I graduated from NYC’s The Natural Gourmet Institute, and I’ve cooked at several excellent restaurants in New York and San Francisco, including Aquavit, Pure Food and Wine, Millennium, and Roxanne’s. All of these experiences have taught me that fine dining and natural ingredients make very happy partners.

In 2004, with a mind to bringing sustainable practices to the world of fine catering, I started my own catering company, Lucid Food. Our healthful food and eco-friendly approach has been enjoyed by clients like John Varvatos, Porsche Design, The Sundance Channel and Glamour Magazine. Over the last few years, I’ve been featured in the magazines Domino, Parents and Metro New York, and on the Discovery Channel’s website I’ve also lectured and taught at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County, the Natural Gourmet Institute, Macy’s, and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

In January of 2010, Ten Speed Press/Random House will publish my first cookbook, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of healthy, eco-conscious recipes, tips, and entertaining ideas.

For more info about me and my work, and for more healthy cooking tips, please visit my website,

Louisa’s recipe from her new book:

Kale Salad with Avocado, Almonds, and Toasted Nori

Massaging kale with olive oil and salt is a useful technique. The greens get “cooked” by the salt and the squeezing action, becoming tender and easily digestible. Nori seaweed, the kind used to wrap sushi, adds a rich, savory note to the salad. Find nori at any natural food store or Asian market. In summer, add fresh corn kernels, mint leaves, or shaved radishes to this recipe.

Serves 4

1 bunch kale, thick stems removed

1 ripe avocado, diced

1/4 clove garlic, germ removed, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra

1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin half moons

1 small, sweet, crisp apple, sliced thin

1 scallion, green part only, sliced thin

1 large handful toasted almonds

1/2 lemon

1/2 sheet nori seaweed

Salt and pepper

Roughly chop the kale, and place it in a large bowl with the avocado. Add a pinch of salt, garlic, and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently massage everything together for about 3 minutes. The kale will shrink and become darker and more pliable. Set aside.

Save a small handful of the carrot and apple slices for garnish, and then fold the rest into the kale. Taste and season with salt.

Divide the salad onto plates, and top each with the sliced carrots, apples, and scallions. Season with freshly ground black pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil. Scatter on the almonds.

Turn a gas burner to a medium flame, pick up the nori sheet with a pair of tongs, and pass it over the flame 3 or 4 times. Using a scissor, cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then cut several thin juliennes of nori over each plate. Serve immediately.

Reprinted with permission from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press. Available January 2010.

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