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Organic Food vs. Conventional Food

By KENNETH CHANG

 

Why do consumers buy organic foods?

 

A new study by Stanford researchers has added fuel to a debate about the differences between organic and conventionally grown foods. The Stanford report, an analysis of 237 studies of organic produce, meats and dairy foods, concluded that organic foods are no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts. Advocates of organic foods, meanwhile, say that the study takes a narrow view of organic food choices, and that most people choose organic because they want to avoid pesticides, hormones and other chemicals used in conventional farming.

 

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the Stanford study and organic foods.

 

Q.   Why would the Stanford team focus on whether there are nutritional differences between organic food and conventionally produced food?

 

A.   Hundreds of scientific studies have looked at just that question for various fruits and vegetables, based on the idea that fewer pesticides and organic growing methods allow for more nutrients in soil, and therefore could raise the nutritional content of organically grown foods.

 

And in some cases, researchers have measured significant differences. A 2010 study by Washington State University scientists found organic strawberries have more vitamin C and antioxidants than conventional strawberries. Organic tomatoes also have more of a type of antioxidant called polyphenols than commercially grown tomatoes, according to a study published in July by scientists at the University of Barcelona.

 

However, other variables, like ripeness, may influence nutritional content even more. A peach or berry that reaches peak ripeness with the use of pesticides could contain considerably more vitamins than a less-ripe organically grown fruit.

 

The Stanford study reviewed decades of research to determine whether choosing organic produce, meats and milk would lead to better nutrition generally. They concluded the answer was no. That is, just following “organic” for everything does not bring obvious, immediate health benefits.

 

Q.   I’ve heard organic milk is a better option than commercial milk products. Is that true?

 

A.   Organic milk has risen in popularity in large part because of concerns over bovine growth hormone, used to stimulate milk production on conventional dairy farms. The hormone occurs naturally in cows, and the Food and Drug Administration has argued that use of the hormone does not change the milk.

 

But producers of organic milk are required to allow their cows to spend a certain amount of time grazing, and that does produce a noticeable effect on the fatty acids in the milk. Compared with conventional milk, organic milk has lower levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which are believed to be unhealthy for the heart in high concentrations, and higher levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids. The Stanford researchers noted that organic milk does have modestly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, based on a few small studies included in the analysis.

 

Organic Valley, a cooperative of organic farmers, says its organic milk shows omega-3 levels that are 79 percent higher than those in conventional milk, as well as much lower levels of omega-6.

 

Q.   What about pesticides? Is there a health benefit to eating foods grown without them?

 

A.   Organic produce has lower levels of pesticide residue than conventional fruits and vegetables. That said, almost all produce, whether it’s organic or conventional, already contains less pesticide residue than the maximum allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. It then becomes of a question of whether you are comfortable with the E.P.A. standards. Charles Benbrook, who worked as the chief scientist for the Organic Center before moving to Washington State University last month, said the benefits of organic food, in terms of pesticide exposure, would be greatest for pregnant women, for young children and for older people with chronic health problems. He cites research that looked at blood pesticide levels of pregnant women and then followed their children for several years. The studies found that women with the highest pesticide levels during pregnancy gave birth to children who later tested 4 to 7 percent lower on I.Q. tests compared with their elementary school peers.

 

Q.   Aren’t there benefits to organic eating beyond individual gains? What about the health of farm workers and the health of the planet?

 

A.   The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as one would like it to be.

 

For farm workers, some pesticides appear to cause some cancers.

 

Over the past few decades the E.P.A. has banned many of the most toxic pesticides, so presumably the risk to workers is lower now than it was. Many people who buy organic foods say they do so because they are concerned about the health of farm workers.

 

In terms of the environmental effects of organic farming versus conventional farming, it depends on how you view it. One meta-analysis found that organic farming had fewer environmental impacts per acre. However, because of lower yields from organic crops, the environmental effect of organic produce was actually greater per product shipped.

 

In addition, there are growing concerns about the role of agricultural antibiotics leading to new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

 

What are your reasons for buying organic or conventional food? Do you have more you want to know about the Stanford study or organic eating in general? Join the conversation below, and I’ll be jumping in to answer questions as needed.

 

 

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The Obamas’ 2012 White House Thanksgiving Menu

The President pardoned the well-behaved ‘Liberty’ during the 2011 ceremony, joined by Malia and Sasha

Next Thursday, Nov. 22, with four more years to be thankful for, the First Family’s holiday will be even more special, and the White House for the first time has released the recipe for the glorious, brine-soaked Thyme-Roasted Turkey and Turkey Gravy that Executive Chef Cris Comerford will cook for the feast.  Upholding decades of White House tradition, President Obama will spare two luckier Toms next Wednesday during the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony that is equal parts excitement and jocular nail biter, as the gathered press collectively hopes for a misbehaving bird.

Thanksgiving, the President said last year, “is one of the best days of the year to be an American.”

“It’s a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company.”

 

Multiple organic turkeys will be cooked for the Presidential feast by the White House chefs, because Comerford’s recipe calls for a twenty-pounder to serve sixteen, and the First Couple have a large guest list.  It includes their adult siblings and spouses and their children, friends from Chicago and Hawaii, and White House staff and their families. The First Wingding has always been closed to press.

 

The White House Thanksgiving Menu

Kale Salad

Like many Americans, the Obamas serve the same menu every Thanksgiving.  The White House chefs make good use of the bounty growing in Mrs. Obama’s Kitchen Garden, which produces crops through all four seasons.  Accompanying the Presidential turkey is Honey Baked Ham, and the sides are a romp through regional delights.  There’s Cornbread Stuffing and Oyster Stuffing, Macaroni and Cheese, Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole and Dinner Rolls.  Also released for this year’s celebration is the recipe for the White House Kale Salad that the First Couple will serve next Thursday.

 

The White House has previously released the recipes for Whipped Sweet Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes and Greens and for Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese.  Comerford’s No Cream Creamed Spinach is a nice addition to any Thanksgiving feast, too.

 

The President shares his pie on the campaign trail

President Obama is America’s most famous pie lover, and the big finish to every Obama Thanksgiving feast is six different kinds of pie.  White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses is no fan of what he calls “spa desserts,” so his pie recipes make liberal use of sugar.  Yosses’ White House Apple Pie–on the Obama Thanksgiving menu–includes both butter and lard for the crust.  White House Huckleberry Pie, also on the menu, includes blueberries, too.  The White House Sweet Potato Pie that is served has a honey meringue topping, in an homage to Mrs. Obama’s first-ever White House beehive.  Cherry Pie, Banana Cream Pie, and Pumpkin Pie will also be served.

 

For the White House turkey recipe, the bird needs to soak in the brown sugar-and-garlic brine in the refrigerator for at least twelve hours ahead of roasting.  A five-gallon food-grade bucket is needed for this, unless a brining bag is being used.  A meat thermometer is a must, too.

 


 

Recipes

 

White House Thyme-Roasted Turkey

 

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    • 20-pound fresh turkey, neck and giblets removed, rinsed
    • 16 Tablespoons unsalted butter (s sticks) at room temperature
    • 16 Tablespoons unsalted butter (s sticks) at room temperature
    • 3 Tsp freshly ground black pepper

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    • 1 Gallon water
    • 1 bunch thyme
    • 4 whole heads garlic, peeled and cut in half horizontally
    • 1 Tablespoon whole black pepper corns
    • 6 Bay leaves
    • 1 Cup Kosher salt
    • 1 pound light brown sugar
    • Ice, if brining in a bucket

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    • For the brine:  In a large saucepan, heat the water, thyme, garlic, peppercorns, Bay leaves, salt and brown sugar over medium-high heat,  Stir frequently until the salt and sugar dissolve.
    • Transfer brine to a clean, food-safe 5-gallon bucket.  Add enough ice to total 3 gallons of liquid, and mix until incorporated. Add the turkey to the bucket and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.  Alternatively, place the turkey in a large brining bag and fill with enough of the brine to cover the turkey; seal the bag and refrigerate.
    • For the turkey: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
    • Remove the turkey from the brining liquid and use paper towels to pat it as dry as possible, inside and out.
    • Rub the turkey with the butter all over, including inside the cavity, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Fold the wingtips underneath the turkey.
    • Place the turkey in a large roasting pan, breast side up. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and fold the neck flap under.
    • Roast the turkey for one hour to brown it, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and cook for 2 more hours or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees.
    • Let the turkey rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before carving.  Use the pan drippings for the gravy.

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White House Turkey Gravy

 

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    • 2 pounds turkey wings and/or neck bones, plus the contents of the turkey’s giblet packet, excluding the liver
    • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 Cups)
    • 3 medium carrots, cut into large dice (1 1/2 Cups)
    • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half horizontally
    • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch lengths (1 1/2 Cups)
    • 2 sprigs Thyme
    • 1 Bay leaf
    • 1 Teaspoon whole peppercorns
    • 1/2 Cup flour
    • 1 Cup Sherry
    • 8 Cups water

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    • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  The first part of the gravy prep can roast with the turkey as it is cooking.
    • Place the turkey wings, bones and giblets in a single layer in a small roasting pan, and put in oven to roast.When these have begun to brown nicely, after 20–30 minutes add the onions, carrots, garlic, celery, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns, and roast for 10 more minutes.
    • Transfer the roasting pan to the stove top over medium-high heat.  Add the flour and stir to coat the contents of the pan. Pour in the sherry and use a flat wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape contents of the pan into a large saucepan.
    • Add the water and bring the mixture just to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat so that it is barely bubbling. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour, until the liquid has thickened somewhat. Cover the pan and keep it warm.
    • When the turkey is done, scrape drippings from the roasting pan into the saucepan and stir to combine. Pour the gravy through a strainer into a bowl or gravy separator and discard the solids left in the strainer.  Skim the fat from the surface of the gravy.  Transfer to a gravy boat or other serving vessel.

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*Top photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House; kale photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; pie photo by Pete Souza/White House; turkey photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post, which has also posted these recipes.

 


 

 

 

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