Know Why Organic Matters

As farmers’ markets shutter for the season and backyard gardens go to seed, many of us will retreat to the grocery store for the bulk of our food purchases. The question is, when “local” options dwindle, will you opt to buy organic?

There seems to have been a sort of backlash against organic in recent months. Some people say it’s too expensive, that in this economy organic food just isn’t relevant. Others say the complex bureaucracy of USDA Organic Certification shuts out small farmers who can’t afford the manpower to keep up with the paperwork. There’s some truth to both of those arguments.

But there’s another fact that’s been left out: The organic label is still consumers’ only institutionalized way of having a say in what kind of food they buy. When I buy organic carrots, I know at the very least they’ve been grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and that, ideally, they’ve been grown in a way that nurtures soil, surrounding ecosystems and community. When I buy organic cookies, I know they don’t contain genetically modified ingredients. When I buy organic meat and milk, I know they don’t contain synthetic hormones or come from cloned offspring. Whether any of these things factor directly into our health is still being debated, but there are enough reputable studies saying yes–or even maybe–to make me dubious of putting blind trust into the conventional food system.

Does an organic sticker mean that something is going to taste better? Not necessarily. Are organic standards the end-all be-all answer to fixing our food system? Probably not. Sure, “organic” may be flawed, but until there is another structure in place that consumers can trust, organic does matter.

This week as you shop, whichever way you pick, be aware of the role the organic sticker plays in protecting our rights to choose our food.


ECO LOGICAL, by Joanna Yarrow (Duncan Baird Publishers, 2009)

As a writer, quite a few books and gadgets show up on my doorstep hoping for some sort of review. Some get one. Most don’t. But something recently came in that I thought would be perfect for the first review here on NOURISH Evolution.

Joanna Yarrow’s ECO LOGICAL is like a groovy guidebook for navigating eco topics. Where a DK book on Paris might give you a room by room breakdown of the Louvre, arming you with just enough information in an at-a-glance format for you to gain a working knowledge of the art within its walls, Yarrow takes us through various realms of green living. She uses similar boiled-down-to-the-essence graphics and info-bites to tease out the main arguments of a topic and help us understand what’s at stake on both sides, and then leaves us to choose how to incorporate the information into our daily practices; much as we strive to do here at NOURISH Evolution.

In the section on food (one of five other sections), Yarrow tackles the dueling views that “the planet needs to go organic” and “only conventional farming can feed the world” with simple, nifty graphics and summaries that speak volumes. She also looks at fair trade; the wide-ranging impacts of an omnivorous diet versus a vegetarian; sustainable seafood; and buying locally and seasonally.

This book is not an end-all-be-all treatise on how to save the earth, but what I love about it is that it doesn’t purport to be. Rather than trying to answer all the questions, Yarrow instead stirs the pot with ECO LOGICAL and asks us to think for ourselves. The book’s tagline says, “Join the debate—all the facts and figures, pros and cons you need to make up your mind.” While ECO LOGICAL may not offer conclusions, it does spark the questions that do eventually lead to choices that are right for each of us.

Note: My philosophy with books or any other product that shows up on my doorstep is this: if it ends up being heavily used on my own shelves and I enjoy it so much I get excited about telling people, I’ll most likely write about it at some point. If it’s something that I have no use for, I won’t put words to it.

Don’t Give Up on Healthy Eating

Sometimes life seems to conspire against our good intentions when it comes to healthy eating. Tomatoes don’t ripen. That bundle of herbs we intended to use wilts on the window ledge. McDonald’s ends up the only “food source” available within a very tight window of time (my experience recently when sprinting to catch a plane). We all have days where no matter how hard we try to eat well our efforts are thwarted, and it can be tempting to just give up. But if you trip on the way out the door, do you toss in the towel and conclude you’ll never make it down the street? Of course not. You straighten up, find your balance, remove any obvious obstacles and continue to put one foot in front of the other.

The truth is, it isn’t about the stray French fry or the well-intentioned vegetables that didn’t get eaten. It’s about the cumulative effect, the overall trajectory, of each and every choice we make about our food. We all have different schedules, budgets, priorities and responsibilities that pull us in different directions and sometimes those directions will lead to a meal we’re not so happy about. But if we intentionally make nourishing choices most of the time, then ultimately we’re on the right track.

If you find yourself in a bind this week that prevents you from eating the way you want, don’t let it send you into a tailspin. Instead, plan your next meal to be a more conscious one and notice how you differently you feel after each. That, in and of itself, is positive progress and the foundation of mindful, healthy eating for a lifetime.

Yes . . . We Can

Odds are you have a food bank in your community. It’s not something we think of often, if at all; yet it’s nice to know it’s there to take care of those in need. But what if that food bank were to run out of food? Who, then, would feed the growing number of hungry in our communities? That’s the question that Aletha Soule from Slow Harvest, a program that connects excess food in western Sonoma County with the people who need it, is helping to answer.

The need is becoming critical. According to a survey by Feeding America, the country’s leading domestic hunger-relief agency, more than half of food banks reported that they had to turn people away due to lack of food in the last year. There are a record number of new clients relying on America’s food banks and over 20 percent more food dispersed this year over last. Federal and state programs are certainly a help, but people like Aletha are tapping into a resource closer to home—the manpower of community members themselves.


Last Tuesday I was part of a canning initiative through Aletha’s Slow Harvest. Fifteen of us signed on to can 400 pounds of tomatoes gleaned from local growers, a number that climbed to 1,000 pounds due to incredibly generous donors, to donate to two local food pantries.

We gathered at Relish Culinary Center here in Healdsburg and made a quick round of introductions before setting to work. A crew manned the stove, plunging bunch after bunch of tomatoes into boiling water to loosen their skins. Then onto the table the tomatoes rolled to be peeled, chopped and—what to call it—squished by hand into a sort of chunky sauce. That sauce got poured into huge stock pots and brought to a boil, then ladled into jars to be ‘processed’ in a steam bath.

After about half an hour we’d all found our groove and conversation began to blossom, despite the fact that most of us were strangers. This is the type of activity that has been the glue of families and communities for countless generations and there was something humbling—for me, anyway—about stepping into such well-worn shoes. Even just a century ago, the majority of Americans were intimately tied to agriculture; their very survival depended on what they could bring up from the land, and canning and preserving were part of that cycle. Nowadays, very few of us are connected to the farms that feed us, and our family size and generational span has dwindled. So in many ways a gathering like this—using surplus food picked from neighboring farms and labor supplied by willing hands—is really just an extension of a much deeper, traditional pattern that has been playing out over millennia.

And the “extended family” of our communities needs us now. Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, noted that “most economists project that unemployment lags the return of economic stability following a recession by one to two years. This means that the incredible strain on the nation’s charitable food assistance network is not likely to dissipate any time in the foreseeable future.”

The good news is . . . you can help. If you want to join a gleaning project near you, click here. If you’d like to learn more about preserving so that you can organize a gathering similar to the one I attended on Tuesday, check out the canvolution. Or if you’ve got an excess of those darned zucchini we talked about earlier this week, call your food bank or contact a gleaning organization near you to donate.

With all of us coming together, we’ve got enough. We can do this.

No Work Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

How to preserve the flavor of summer tomatoes? I love the whole concept of canning, but more often than not I’ll opt for low-heat and a deep freeze instead. After roasting, let the tomatoes cool to room temperature and pop the whole pan in the freezer (this freezes them individually, so they’re easy to separate later). When the tomatoes are firm (usually after just an hour), slide them into a Ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer for luscious, flavorful roasted tomatoes all winter long.


When Life Hands You Zucchini, Make Fritters

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When vegetables are at their peak they’re cheap, scrumptious and abundant, which means that now is a great time to get creative about adding more veggies to your plate.

Here are a few ideas to get you started, along with a recipe for knock-out Zucchini Fritters:

Zucchini and Summer Squash

  • Slow cook slices of zucchini in olive oil with garlic, chile flakes, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon at the end for a sort of zucchini jam that’s great on crostini, or tucked into chicken breasts.
  • Stir a few cups of grated zucchini into a soup or sauce as a flavorful thickener.
  • Slice a variety of squashes lengthwise on a mandolin, arrange on a platter, drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with herbs and shaved pecorino.


  • Roast whole Italian eggplant and use the flesh in a dip, as the base for a pasta sauce, or even as a stuffing for ravioli.
  • Slow-cook chopped Asian eggplant with garlic, ginger, spices and sugar for an Indian-style marmalade.
  • Grill slices to keep in the fridge for using on sandwiches or adding to salads.


  • Slow roast plum tomatoes, then freeze in a single layer and transfer to a freezer bag for what I call “tomato candy” all winter long.
  • Chop a variety of heirloom tomatoes and cook over medium heat with onions, garlic, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil for a simple, flavorful (and thinner-than-usual) pasta sauce. Can for keeping if you like.
  • Try taking your favorite tomato dishes into new realms—tuck a Greek salad into pita for a sandwich, or transform your BLT into a main-dish salad.

Sure, we all want to eat more veggies, and there’s no better time than now. This week, expand your boundaries and take advantage of the bumper bounty in new ways.

Lia’s 16-1/2 Minutes in the Limelight

It has been an interesting month. Some of you know that Cooking Light trained me to be one of their West Coast spokespeople back in May of 2008 (some of you may even remember sputtering oil that drowned out microphones and questions about caraway seeds). But a full 18 months passed by after those first initial segments before I got the call to go back on air (could it have been the oil?). And then, suddenly, I was in the midst of a media blitz.

VFTB-postAt ABC’s View from the Bay with hosts Spencer Christian and Janelle Wang

My first stop was San Francisco’s View from the Bay on ABC, where I talked about how to make healthy lunches fun for kids . . . host Spencer Christian enjoyed them, acting like a kid to get a taste of the peanut butter banana roll-ups.

Next up was KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles where I talked viewers through how to pick a whole grain bread–I loved how everyone on the set came over to learn about what to look for on the label.

Then it was back to San Francisco for another segment on View from the Bay; this one on how to choose–and use–healthy carbs. I even got host Janelle Wang to cook!

I have to admit, I had a ball with all of these, and I really enjoyed sharing information and encouraging people through a new medium. I’ve also been so impressed by how down to earth and just-plain-fun everyone has been, from producers to interns to hosts. Such an experience for someone who (confession) doesn’t have television. Thanks to Cooking Light and to everyone at KGO and KTLA for everything.

And keep an eye out . . . I may just be coming to your screen sometime soon!