Ask yourself: Are organic veggies BETTER than conventional?

August 25, 2008 in farm, Food Science, ingredient, issues, vegetable


(This is what you are really getting with conventional and Big Ag Organic food – depleted foods)

Who has not stood before a pile of organic vegetables or fruits and compared their price to the price of the conventionally grown ones next to it? Who has not asked, on some level, is there some real qualitative difference? You likely appreciate the lack of chemicals used to grow it – artificial fertilizers and pesticides made from petroleum.

This question – “Are organic vegetables BETTER than conventional ones?” can catch you because there are several assumptions that are meant to trip you up.

Our first broccoli, for supper tonight

Not all organic growers are the same, what the USDA means by Organic may not square with your idea of it, the USDA is known for letting certain things slide for Big Ag, and many other system issues that have been purposefully institutionalized.

You may also assume that “Organic Food” is more wholesome too.

Merriam Webster defines wholesome this way:

  • Pronunciation: \hōl-sÉ™m\
  • Function: adjective
  • Date: 13th century
  • 1: promoting health or well-being of mind or spirit
  • 2: promoting health of body
  • 3 a: sound in body, mind, or morals b: having the simple health or vigor of normal domesticity
  • 4 a: based on well-grounded fear : prudent -a wholesome respect for the law- b: safe (it wouldn’t be wholesome for you to go down there — Mark Twain)

Unless you are standing in a farmer’s market where the veggies or fruits are honestly sourced from a local small holding organic farm, the organic items in question – in the big box grocery store – are likely to have MUCH more in common with the conventional ones.

How is this possible?

Big Organic growers grow their plants with the same industrial model as Big Agriculture – huge carbon foot print and constant destruction of the soils.

Depleted Soils

Soil, or dirt as some may think of it, is not just powdery minerals. It is a complex mixture that includes those minerals from long eroded rocks but also organic residues from all the activity that has happened in the soil.

Those organic residues can include:

  • Living and degrading plant debris
  • Living and degrading insect and animal bodies
  • Living and degrading bacterial populations
  • Living and degrading mushrooms (mycelium –mushroom roots-, and mushroom fruiting bodies, even spores)

The activities of these living things lend structure to the soil (different zones of life, mineralization, compaction, oxygen levels, nitrogen levels, moisture levels) and also help by making certain compounds, elements, minerals, available, things like:

  • Plant-usable nitrogen (nitrogen fixation via bacterial-root-rhizome symbiosis)
  • Vitamin production
  • Plant-usable forms of elements like calcium, phosphates, and other more rare types.

Our first broccoli!

(Ready to scarf fresh picked veggies)

When soils are plowed, the structure is obliterated and whole communities of plants, mushrooms and bacteria and insects are disrupted, killed, inhibited. They can no longer transmute atmospheric nitrogen and soil-locked minerals and organic debris into nutrients for plants.

The good stuff in the soil is also exposed to the harsh sun, rains, winds – all depleting the soils even further.

Our present day industrial Big Agriculture requires MASSIVE amounts of oil, mechanical toil, and amendments (also dependent on oil for their very manufacture) to compensate for the damage that plowing does to the soils.

Consider these stats:

Raw Broccoli

  • From 1963 to 1999:
  • calcium went from 103 mg/100g sample down to 48 mg/100g sample
  • potassium went from 382 down to 325 mg/100g sample
  • Water content went from 89.1% up to 90.6%

Red Tomatoes

  • From 1963 to 1999:
  • calcium went from 13 mg/100g sample down to 5 mg/100g sample
  • magnesium went from 14 mg/100g sample down to 11 mg/100g sample
  • potassium went from 244 down to 33 mg/100g sample

Raw Carrots

  • From 1963 to 1999:
  • calcium went from 37 mg/100g sample down to 27 mg/100g sample
  • magnesium went from 23 mg/100g sample down to 15 mg/100g sample
  • potassium went from 341 down to 323 mg/100g sample

On top of this soil holocaust, you have genetically modified plants (via breeding and the lab) that have been optimized for the industrial method and which are able to grow in depleted soils.

What you get are vegetables which LOOK like a carrot, a cabbage, a head of broccoli, corn, cucumbers, etc but if you were to measure the mineral and vitamin contents you would find something closer to a wet soggy sponge.

Humble Garden: goliath broccoli

(Ready to eat!)

Let me repeat: Big Organic growers grow their plants with this same Big Ag industrial model – huge carbon foot print and destruction of the soils.

What this means to you at the store, is that when you buy Organic, you are buying a compromised promise of pesticide purity but not wholesomeness. You are buying simulations of vegetables.

Taking vitamins will not solve this problem because they are based on a false premise. Many vitamins are not absorbable by the human body unless they are embedded within the context of food (be it plant or flesh).

The only way to resolve this issue (and just how many diseases arise from our bodies being depleted almost from the moment of conception) is to buy veggies from small farms that are practicing permaculture and organic gardening methods.

Better yet, learn how to get your own permaculture and organic garden beds going so that you can eat REAL vegetables with actual vitamins and minerals.

What a concept

If you are interested in learning how, visit my garden blog at Humble Garden and also ask me in comments.

Humble Garden: goliath broccoli

(Pretty darn big head of organic homegrown broccoli)

Fresh Is Out: Canned Is In

June 17, 2007 in Food Porn, fruit, ingredient, issues


Because this is my own little nano-bully pulpit, I have to relate something I overheard at the grocery store the other day. I have been trying to come to terms with what was said and how I have been reacting to it, over time. This post is part of that process. Your comments will be an important further step.

I was dithering over some apples when I heard this 16 oldish guy (taller than me for sure) talking to his mom. He was trying to persuade her to let him buy a pineapple. She said that she didn’t want him to buy it and to buy the canned pineapple instead. He persisted, saying he wanted to try it fresh. She said, in an off hand and rather annoyed manner, that it is less expensive canned. He replied that it isn’t really and that the pineapple cost less. She said that it was just too much trouble, he replied it couldn’t be that hard to carve up and then he goes on to talk about how you should cut this and that part.

Finally, she literally pulled him away from the fresh fruit display into the canned and boxed budget isle.

I was struck dumb and felt so bad for that kid. Here he is, a guy who is a teen who actually WANTS to eat fresh food and who wants to actually get his hands dirty with the pineapple and his mother is telling him that canned is BETTER. Sure, the mom must have been in a hurry, didn’t want to clean up a mess, preferred canned ancient pineapple, whatever; she missed out BIG time on a [tag]teachable moment[/tag] (hers and his).

She wasn’t listening to her child, in the least.

They could have bought that pineapple, just a few dollars. He would have had the opportunity to use a knife, in the kitchen, and learn a bit about the way of the pineapple – the spiky bits, the woody bits, the green top, the smell and flavor that does NOT exist with canned fruit. She could then have drilled home for him how to clean up afterwards (an extremely important skill that has to be taught). None of those lessons and experiences happened.

He learned one huge lesson: its OK to be virulently anti-fresh pineapple (fruit, food, what have you).

I hope that his personal lesson is to buy it later and do it for himself.

How many of us do not “like to cook” because there was some sort of gatekeeper who made the kitchen out of bounds or unpleasant? Eating is about as basic as you can get, to feel like cooking and creating in the kitchen is the domain of “others” is unfortunate.

I feel very strongly that we are all born with artistic talent as well as a proclivity towards cooking. Both of these interests are discouraged in so many of us. It is hard to overcome that.

It was just a shock to see this dynamic overtly displayed on an ordinary day in an ordinary grocery store.

Just how stupid do they think you are? Chocolate needs your help, today!

April 24, 2007 in baking, chocolate, ingredient, issues, Meta Talk

Hmmmm, [tag]chocolate[/tag].

It’s likely something we all take for granted.

You might think that the [tag]definition[/tag] of chocolate is an inherent thing and you might think that when you go to the store and when you buy something that is called chocolate that it would, indeed, BE chocolate. For the most part, that is what it is now.

Seems there are some who find that unacceptable and there is some nefarious behind the-scenes-activity with the [tag]FDA[/tag] (THAT would never happen in this administration, right?).

In short, the FDA is considering changing the definition of chocolate to include those products that do not contain cocoa butter or even cocoa solids and that transfats and artificial sweeteners are mighty fine amendments to a Hershey bar.

Seems the big business organization behind this would be the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (instills a lot of confidence in their products doesn’t it). Who are some of the companies that are spear-heading this push for dumbing down chocolate and making it even LESS wholesome for our children?

“The [tag]Chocolate Manufacturers Association[/tag], whose members include [tag]Hershey[/tag], [tag]Nestle[/tag] SA and Archer Daniels Midland Co., has a petition before the U.S. [tag]Food and Drug Administration[/tag] to redefine what constitutes chocolate. They want to make it without the required ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, using instead artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats.” (Adam Satariano for Bloomberg Press)

Thats right, you read it, none other than Nestle and Hershey.

I have to tell you. Before I learned about their push to degrade chocolate, I had a lot of good will toward these companies. I would have been positively inclined toward the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. But now, they have done some permanent damage in this household as I now do not nor can I trust these companies to provide a wholesome product that I can give to my children.

I can promise you that I will be looking for other REAL chocolate products from companies that speak up against this silliness.

You can have your say today and tomorrow by visiting the FDA’s comment site. You can give them your 2 cents worth on whether you think its right to allow these large multinational corporations to label a non-chocolate product as chocolate.

To do that visit the FDA’s site at: FDA E-comments Website

Don’t be confused by the oddness of the page, hit the “submit button” and you will be able to make your contribution.

For more specific information on how to do the FDA filing visit the “DontMessWithOurChocolate” page.

Learn more at “Eating Liberally“, get angry, submit your comments to the FDA.

Other Bloggers HEART Chocolate, why you should too

Cybele May, of the Candy Blog, has been quite vocal about this rear-guard attack on the American Way Of Life – I mean – chocolate.


Read her LA Times opinion piece “Hands off my chocolate, FDA!” on it, where she says, in part:

“The FDA is entertaining a “citizen’s petition” to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter. The “citizens” who created this petition represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (OK, I’m not sure what’s in it for them), along with seven other food producing associations.”

Other bloggers in the blogosphere who are trying to raise the ruckus on this issue include:

Tofu, with a side of hormones

March 9, 2007 in Food Science, ingredient, issues, Japanese

sesame tofu with nori and gomaiso

There are only a few foods that I crave. Crave, in my case, is not a constant background desire but rather a sudden basic need. If you have ever been [tag]pregnant[/tag], you likely know what that feeling is, its very hard to articulate. I do not [tag]crave[/tag] [tag]chocolate[/tag] although I adore it. I do not crave [tag]krispy kreme[/tag]s, love those.

I do crave tofu.

I will be minding my own business, going through a normal day and, bang, I will have a powerful [tag]craving[/tag] for [tag]tofu[/tag] out of the blue. I do the same thing with [tag]beets[/tag], [tag]carrot[/tag]s, [tag]rice[/tag], [tag]mochi[/tag], and [tag]homemade[/tag] [tag]chicken[/tag] [tag]soup[/tag].

The soup is an [tag]umami[/tag] thing, no doubt.

The rice and mochi, I still have to figure that out.

The beets and carrots? That is related to the tofu and thats all about [tag]phytoestrogen[/tag]s, specifically isoflavones (a type of flavonoid).

What, in the name of all that is good and wholesome, are phytoestrogens and isoflavones?

isoflavone structure

Our bodies have evolved a whole host of [tag]receptors[/tag] and [tag]regulatory[/tag] [tag]mechanisms[/tag] (some involved in regulation and [tag]dysregulation[/tag] in [tag]cancer[/tag]) that respond to [tag]estrogen[/tag]. Phytoestrogens are found in plants ([tag]phyto[/tag] is a [tag]Greek[/tag] prefix that implies a [tag]plant[/tag] origin) and they are active [tag]species[/tag] in our bodies. Phytoestrogens can and do act like estrogen, although with likely important differences. In addition to its estrogen [tag]mimicry[/tag], [tag]isoflavone[/tag] [tag]scavenge[/tag]s [tag]free radical[/tag]s like reactive oxygen species (in other words, its a strong [tag]antioxidant[/tag]).

I can not stress strongly enough how immensely complex our bodies are, especially the regulatory mechanisms that relate to growth and development. You can not do one study to determine the effect of estrogens and phytoestrogens on people and say anything meaningful. Its like a very big bowl of tightly tangled noodles. You have to tease out unconfounded data and form new hypotheses constantly.

What do I mean by that?

Estrogen, phytoestrogen, and tofu will have a different effect on you if you are:

  • young
  • old
  • female
  • male
  • prepubescent
  • fertile
  • menopausal
  • postmenopausal
  • low on thyroid
  • high on thyroid
  • low on testosterone
  • high on testosterone
  • low on estrogen
  • high on estrogen
  • of any particular race
  • naturally skinny
  • naturally overweight
  • immunocompromised
  • alcoholic
  • drug user
  • and just about any combination and variation thereof

Estrogens are nothing to mess around with. It can [tag]feminize[/tag] men into testicular infertility and can energize primary and secondary cancers that arise from estrogen-responsive body tissues.

Estrogens are used to pump-up that plump chicken you bought yesterday or to boost [tag]milk[/tag] output in the cows that were milked for that cup of milk you gave your kids this morning. Estrogen-doped foods such as chicken can have a profound impact on the developing bodies of little girls, pushing them into very early [tag]puberty[/tag] (menstruation and breast development).

You may think, hey, those hormones were used up by the animals and cant possibly pose a risk to me. The food industry dopes the animals so FAR IN EXCESS of anything [tag]physiological[/tag]ly relevant that even the [tag]effluent[/tag] from [tag]farm[/tag]s (water run off) will have quite measurable levels of [tag]hormone[/tag]s.

The effects of estrogens and phytoestrogens can be counterintuitive as well. [tag]Science[/tag] is learning that phytoestrogens and [tag]synthetic[/tag] estrogens can interact with different parts of estrogen receptors in ways that are different from “human estrogen.” For this very reason, one can have one estrogen mimic promote cancer growth and another [tag]mimic[/tag] inhibit it. Phytoestrogens have been described as protective against certain cancers in some patient populations. Some studies suggest that flooding the body with phytoestrogens that do not have a stimulatory effect (cancer wise) would block the estrogen receptors and thus some of the action of estrogen.

Yes, its confusing. Thats what makes Science so fascinating to us scientists. Its also what can be so frustrating to consumers who think that they can demand a one-size-fits-all answer.

You can not.

Bottom line

Be aware that soy containing foods can be a source for phytoestrogens. Try not to get all your protein from soy sources and do not raise your children on pure soy. Eat a variety of protein and vegetables. If you obsess on ingesting a narrow set of foods, you can run into trouble with unknown aspects of those foods and unknown interactions.

(pull)Our bodies have not evolved to be pure, they have evolved to interact in complex ways with a complex and diverse world.(/pull) Honor that with healthy diverse wholesome foods and you will be healthy.

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