Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Organic Food (and Mustard-Roasted Potatoes!)

You get two posts today. Lucky you!

Actually, it's because I never got around to finishing my road trip post yesterday. But you can still consider it a bonus!

So one of the things that has been on my mind lately is when to buy organic vs. . . . standard? (well, I certainly can't call it inorganic) food. I mentioned in my Christmas post that I've been reading The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer (the very controversial ethicist) and Jim Mason. Their book does not deal with personal health issues - it discusses how your personal food choices can impact those around you, including animals and the environment. I was astonished to see the impact factory farming has on our world. I know that organic food is healthier because it isn't treated with pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals, but the cost (especially of organic meat) is generally so much higher that I often balk (except in the case of organic milk - I haven't bought regular milk in ages because I'm afraid of rBGH and what it does to the cows, let alone me). But I think I am no longer going to balk at the cost. This book has shown me that organic food is not extra expensive - standard, factory-farmed food is artificially cheap. The money we save on our food is actually being paid by others - the child who cannot go outside without getting sick because of the nearby factory farm; the fish killed in the Gulf of Mexico when fertilizer run-off from thousands of farms filters down the Mississippi after spring planting; the animals themselves; the cows forced to live in crowded pens and deprived of the grazing and socialization that are their natural behaviors. A decision that I found difficult to make merely for my own health became a lot easier once I saw how many others had a stake in it. 

So when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I made a big effort to put my money where my mouth is. To be honest, it's a lot harder than it sounds. The above pictures are the result. On top are (most of) my standard groceries. On the bottom are the organic products. I shop at Wegman's, which is a better than average supermarket. They tend to have a wide selection of even hard-to-find international products, and their produce is excellent. Yet I was surprised at the number of products I could not find organic versions of. Some of that might be due to the season (like apples) or just the day of the week (the organic banana section was totally empty, but they were doing a lot of restocking throughout the store, so I chalk it up to that). I had always bought Wegman's brand organic milk, which is in the regular dairy section. But this time, I discovered there is a whole organic dairy section as well, carrying Organic Valley products, including cheese. While I have no specific problem with Wegman's organic milk, I cannot find any specific details about where it's from; Organic Valley, on the other hand, is essentially a cooperative of organic farmers (you should totally go to their website - they have profiles of all their farmers, which is almost unheard of in the industry - try to do the research and you'll see what I mean).

The thing that disappointed me most was the sparse selection of organic vegetables. While I do think Wegman's has a lot of organic options compared to other stores, most of the vegetables I needed this week had no organic option. I was especially concerned about the potatoes. How could a store with a twenty-plus-foot potato display have only one organic option? You see that small bag of red potatoes in the bottom right of the organic picture? That's all they had. I needed white potatoes, too, and had to buy the regular version. What is especially distressing about this is that I recently read something (I can't find the website or I'd share it) about the five vegetables that you should always buy organic (due to the quantity of chemicals generally used on them): lettuce, spinach, celery, peppers and potatoes. If my normal grocery store (and one I already drive several miles to get to, when there's a Shop Rite just down the street) can't provide this for me, I may just have to turn to Whole Foods. It might be pricier, but at least I can be certain they'll have the selection I want. And they're an ethical company as well, featured in Singer and Mason's book (seriously - what other company actually profit-shares with its employees nowadays?).

So, finally, my recipe. I used my organic potatoes, mixed with the regular kind, in a lovely mustard-roasted potato dish. This is one I've had bookmarked for awhile. I knew it would be delicious, and still took over a year to get around to it. It's funny, though, because Deb from Smitten Kitchen (where I got the recipe) said she did the same thing! I guess that's one of the down sides of stockpiling delicious recipes you want to try - you can't get to everything at once! I hope you try this more quickly than I did - it's totally worth it!

Mustard-Roasted Potatoes

nonstick vegetable spray (I used an olive oil one - and it's organic!)
1/2 c whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter, melted (wow - I totally forgot this and they were delicious anyway. Imagine if I'd included it!)
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from half a lemon)
1 tsp lemon zest (from a whole lemon)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
3 lbs red-skinned and white-skinned potatoes, cut into 3/4" wedges

Position one oven rack in the top 1/3 of your oven and another in the bottom 1/3 (but not too close to the heat element or the mustard grains will burn quickly). Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray two large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray (I was generous with this and nothing stuck, but I think it caused the mustard grains to burn faster, so I might go a bit lighter next time). Whisk mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, oregano and salt in a large bowl. Add potatoes, sprinkle with black pepper, and toss to coat (I did this with my hands - it's messy but effective).

Divide the potatoes between the two baking sheets, leaving any excess mustard mixture in the bowl (if you tossed it on there, it would definitely burn). Roast for 20 minutes, then rotate the trays and roast 20 minutes more, until the potatoes are nice and crusty on the outside and tender inside. Enjoy!

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