WALLA WALLA TABLE - Food for thought: Ins and outs of 'organic' and buying locally

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In our ongoing discussion of where your food is coming from, I hope to provide some insight and "education," as much as I hate to call it that. The goal is to dispel myths and rumors about the food you buy, in hopes of create better informed consumers who can make smart decisions about what foods are best for themselves and their families.

Myth 1: You should only buy organic

While organic is good, it is not the end all, be all. Some foods labeled "organic" as opposed to 100 percent organic, can contain up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients, such as fish oils, sausage casings from conventionally raised animals, saccharides and even colorings. So is it really "organic"? No

Foods grown organically can also be raised with pesticides, even though that is completely against what "organic" is all about. There are three levels of pest management that are allowable and the first two must be unsuccessful in order to be able to use the third level of pesticides (even synthetic ones). But it still raises the question: Is it actually free from pesticides? No.

There is no conclusive proof organic foods are "better" for you than non organics. If they are not free of pesticides, additives and biological hazards that we have seen recently with "conventional" foods, it is difficult to say that they are "better."

However, if those foods are raised in the spirit of the "organic" ideal and truly free from pesticides, additives and other issues, then, yes, they would be.

The issue is whether you trust government to regulate this with your best interests in mind. If you cannot trust them with health care, I think you have your answer.

For more information about what "organic" means, visit bit.ly/sxag3k.

Myth 2: You should only buy local food

In a perfect world this would be a great way to go, but in reality it does not make good sense for you or your family. The nutritional diversity of the foods available is one of the best things that has happened to the human race.

Ask yourself this: Are you prepared to give up any of the following foods - bananas, pineapples, mangos, citrus, chocolate?

If you answered no to any, you will see might point quickly. Since we do not and cannot effectively grow any of those items here, it makes sense to be able to import them without serious guilt.

On the other hand, if you are buying potatoes, blueberries and onions from Texas, Chile, or elsewhere then you should be wearing your hair shirt for the next year. We grow all of those things here and we do it really well, too.

When in season you should always buy close to home as possible - forget, for the moment, the serious issues of carbon footprints and global - because what you get will have a more nutritional wallop.

Think about this way: A fruit, after it is picked, will continue to ripen up to a certain point. A vegetable will begin to rot as soon as it is picked. So while fruits will increase their sugar content they will not gain any more nutrients and a vegetable will begin to lose its nutritional value, albeit slowly, once picked. So, if you want to maximize the nutritional content of your food and get more "bang for your buck," eating closer to home makes more sense whenever possible.

But remember to not sacrifice good nutritional variety just for the sake of "reducing your carbon footprint." A banana shipped from Central America is a great source of potassium, one of the single most important minerals your body needs for so many things, including, your heart, lungs, brain and bowels.

While a potato is a great source of potassium as well, and grown in abundance in the Pacific Northwest, you cannot and should not live on potatoes. The body needs a very high level of activity to process that amount of carbohydrates efficiently.

It is much better to vary your diet with a wide variety of foods. Michael Pollan, who authored "The Omnivore's Dilemma," said it best: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."

As we head deeper into fall and then to winter the amount of locally grown foods will diminish. But there is a wide variety of great foods available to you now.

If you have access to locally grown fruits and berries consider doing some freezing and or canning. Whole berries are easy to freeze. Apples and pears can be canned sliced or whole and even pureed and frozen.

Citrus from California is coming in now and one of my favorite things to do is make fresh squeezed juice and freeze it in quart sized containers.

Great for breakfast and great for having around the kitchen in spring or summer when it is being trucked in from South America and Australia. You can buy whole flats of citrus from your supermarket or local grocer, just ask.

For some creative recipes this week, check thegrocersbag.blogspot.com. We'll even have tips on how to select the best vegetables and how to check fruit ripeness.

Cheers.

Damon Burke, who with his wife Colby own the Salumiere Cesario gourmet grocery in downtown Walla Walla, can be reached at wallawallatable@gmail.com.

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