BY Meggin Juraska
Ever since my daughter started solid foods at 6 ½ months old, I've worried about what I was putting in her mouth. We carefully introduced one food at a time, waiting a few days between new foods, just like experts say to do, all the while wondering if that next bite would cause a reaction. Since neither my husband nor I have food allergies, I was likely worrying for naught but with the increase in food allergies and sensitivities, I wanted to be cautious. We've been lucky and Nora has shown no signs of issues so far.
In addition to introducing new foods slowly, I also chose to make my own baby food. I have a culinary degree, I love to cook, I have all kinds of tools and gadgets to help me do the job so I knew I would be able to do it with no problem. My headache came not from making the food but from picking out ingredients! The choices at the grocery stores in my area of Staten Island aren't always as vast as I'd like them to be. I'd love to feed our family all organic ingredients but besides being financially impossible for us, finding those ingredients without a Whole Foods nearby is tough. I've taken to relying on the Environmental Working Group's “Dirty Dozen/Clean 15” guidelines (http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php) to decide which fruits and vegetables are best to spend the extra money on for organic and which are okay when conventionally grown. Using these guidelines I can spend our money in a way that will most greatly reduce our exposure to pesticides. Spending the money for organic grapes (DIRTY!) will do my family much more good than spending extra cash on organic avocado (CLEAN!).
So when I was recently invited to attend an evening cocktail hour and presentation, hosted by Stonyfield Farms, at the Lower East Side vegetarian eatery Counter Bistro, I thought it's be a great opporuntityt to explore eating organic further. After choosing a bubbly ginger infused drink from their list of delicious cocktails and non-alcoholic concoctions, I joined about 15 other parent bloggers snacking on vegetarian fare while listening to Robyn O'Brien speak about the benefits of eating organic foods and reducing our exposure to food additives.
I was interested in learning about O'Brien's experiences as a mother of children with food allergies. O'Brien is the author of the 2009 book The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother's Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America's Food Supply– and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself. She became an advocate for organic eating and and healthier lifestyles after her youngest child developed a severe egg allergy. She founded the AllergyKids Foundation (www.Allergykids.com), whose goal is “to protect the American children from the additives now found in our food supply.”
Organic 80/20 rule
And since I spend extra for organic is in the dairy department, Stonyfield Farms and other organic dairy companies definitely play a large role in my kitchen! Organic yogurt, milk and eggs are staples that I will not skimp on. O'Brien agrees. She suggested that dairy is the best place to start when it comes to reducing your families exposure to not just pesticides, but to hormones and antibiotics as well. There's a lot of research in this area, on both sides of the argument, and while I'm no expert, I have decided that for my family, I am not comfortable regularly eating dairy products with hormones and antibiotics that might have a lasting effect on our health. This is where I subscribe to what O'Brien calls the 80/20 rule: to try to reduce your exposure 80 percent of the time and to give yourself a free pass the other 20 percent. I won't demand every drop of milk my daughter drinks is organic, but at home, I can make sure it is. Same with produce. If we're out and about and she asks for an apple, I won't say no because it's not organic! If Nora picks an apple over a less healthful choice, she can have it. But at home when she wants an apple, or has some applesauce, I can be sure it's organic.
Get organic meat at St. George Greenmaret
I would also love to feed our daughter all organic meat, but we reduce our hormone and antibiotic exposure by eating vegetarian meals several times a week. Pasta and tomato sauce, macaroni and cheese, veggie pizza, and stir-fried veggies with rice are regularly on the menu. These simple, easy meals that include lots of vegetables and whole grains are perfect for us, but we eat hot dogs and baked beans, lots of turkey and roast pork too. It may not all be organic, or even from the small local farmers I'd LOVE to get our meat from (have you tried the turkey sausage from Dipaola Turkey, a New Jersey turkey farmer who is at the St. George Greenmarket on Saturdays? Delicious!), but when prepared with healthy, thoughtfully chosen fruits and vegetables and whole grains, I certainly don't feel like I'm feeding my family anything bad.
Save money on organic products
The added cost of organic foods is a huge hurdle for many families who wish they could eat more organics. O'Brien had a few suggestions on how to save money on organic products.
– Buying frozen organic fruits and veggies will save bundles over fresh. Frozen organic blueberries and strawberries can be much cheaper than fresh and are great in smoothies and mixed into yogurt.
Organic beans, rice and other grains are often available in bulk sections of large grocery stores and health food stores and can be more cost effective than buying prepackaged products.
The websitewww.organicdeals.com has a database of printable coupons offered from manufacturers websites. And the event host, Stonyfield Farms, has coupons for their products and a rewards program available on their website, www.stonyfield.com.
Go organic on Staten Island
Here on Staten Island, a great way to access organic fruits and vegetables is to join the Staten Island Community Supported Agriculture group.http://www.statenislandcsa.org/index.htm . From their website: “Staten Island Community Supported Agriculture is a group of Staten Islanders who buy shares in a farmer's vegetable and fruit crop for the growing season. We support StarbriteFarmandJohnKrueger, thefarmer, and share the risks and benefits of food production with him.” We were members of the SICSA for a few seasons but stopped last year because I felt I'd be too overwhelmed by the quantity of produce coming into the kitchen while I was learning about life with a newborn. I'm hoping to re-join next year and miss the amazing produce and sense of community the group brought me. There's still time to join for this season. Their contact information is on the website.
O'Brien's book is now out in paperback and was included in a gift bag I received for attending the Stonyfield Farm event. I can't wait to read it and learn more about Robyn and her family's story.