Green Cuisine: Understanding Organic and Natural Cooking
When Chef Matthew J. Goudge says that a green cuisine is as delicious as it is good for you, you’ll be wise to listen. Chef Matthew is widely known and respected as a talented organic chef and an industry leader. Having cooked professionally in St. Lucia, Malaysia, China, Austria, Australia, and England, Chef Matthew’s view is that the world is an interconnected place where all should benefit from each other’s knowledge. In his blog, ProChef360, he invites professional chefs from around the world to join in an open forum, sharing their ideas, their tips, their wisdom, their food photos, and their frustrations. We’re pleased to carry on that tradition by sharing Chef Matthew’s thoughts on organic foods and natural cooking.
Although there are many reasons why people should opt for organic foods and natural cooking, there is no better reason than the fact that a “green cuisine” is healthier. Generally, the term organic refers to foods that are free from chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, or any other artificial additives. Organic foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are vital to your health. Using organic foods with natural cooking methods ensures that your body will receive all the nutrients it needs to stay strong and healthy.
And let’s not forget that organic foods are free of chemical additives and sprays, which can distort foods’ natural flavors as well as harm your health. When you consider the benefits of preparing and cooking meals that are packed with nutrients, you definitely have nothing to lose with a green cuisine.
In order to be assured about the authenticity of your organic purchases, it is important to check that they are labeled “certified organic.” This means that the products you buy were grown in accordance with the standards set by appropriate government agencies. This is especially important if you are buying meat. By getting certified meat, you are assured that you won’t be eating meat from animals that have been fed genetically modified feed.
And when you choose organically produced meat and dairy products, you won’t be eating meats exposed to antibiotics or growth hormones. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of the milk produced from dairy cows injected with bovine growth hormone (BGH), a practice that has raised health questions for both cows and humans. Use of the hormone has been banned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the European Union.
But even growers of organic foods occasionally need to use chemicals. It might be necessary to use a pesticide to save a crop from an infestation of insects, for example. Taking this into consideration, it may be more appropriate to describe organic foods as foods grown and marketed without substantial use of the chemicals traditionally used in large-scale food production. This being said, the use of chemicals is tightly regulated for certified organic farmland.
To be absolutely sure your foods are organic, you can opt to grow them yourself. If you have a large space where you can grow your own vegetable and herb garden, you may even discover you have “green fingers” [a.k.a. “a green thumb,” in the U.S.]. In truth, you don’t need a huge space. Even people living in apartments may find a small, sunny spot where they can naturally grow organic herbs, spices, and vegetables. And if your fingers aren’t so green? There’s an abundance of articles, books and online resources to guide you.
BUYING ORGANIC FOODS HELPS THE ENVIRONMENT
Organic farming is sustainable agriculture, because organic farmers take care to ensure that they do not strip the soil of its natural nutrients. When you opt for organic foods, you help conserve the soil by keeping it from being depleted through commercial farming practices. Older people may recall how dark the soil used to be, and how alive it once was with microorganisms and worms. But the soil on much of today’s farmland is virtually dead, its lifeblood poisoned by years of harmful chemical additives.
Another way organic farmers replenish the soil is by growing a variety of crops, rather than just one or two year after year. This diversity helps in maintaining the health of the soil. Farming organically also helps protect the waterways from harmful chemical runoff, preventing yet another environmental hazard.
When you ask for organically grown foods, you help raise environmental awareness in your community. And you help promote green living and the benefits of a green cuisine.
SHOPPING FOR ORGANIC INGREDIENTS
When shopping for organic foods, be conscious of your choices. Although imported organic foods are now available at many grocery stores, consider buying from local organic farmers. Many communities have food co-ops and farmers’ markets, which make it easy to shop locally. And buying local organic foods helps promote your community’s economy.
While it may be interesting and fun to try out organic and exotic products imported from Asian or South American countries, you will help the environment more if you support growers in your local area. Buying locally reduces gas emissions and fuel consumption during transportation over long distances. And when you get your organic ingredients from local farmers, you will have access to the freshest food choices and a menu that changes with the seasons.
It’s always best to check with your local organic farmers first before buying organic ingredients and products elsewhere. Yet, there will be times when you need to resort to other organic food sources. If your local organic resources are lacking or out of season, you can turn to the Internet for the ingredients you need.
Online shopping has made access to specific organic ingredients relatively easy. You only have to key the name of the ingredients into your favorite search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, and you’ll likely get thousands of hits in seconds. You can type in “buy organic cooking herbs” or “buy organic spices,” and you’ll end up with numerous online stores. Just make sure that you carefully choose your online store and are comfortable with their return policy before you purchase anything.
Although organic foods are essential to a green cuisine, natural cooking is not just about the ingredients you use. A truly green cuisine refers to cooking in a sustainable way. It’s about adopting “conservative” and “preservative” methods. For instance, choosing to use leftover broths as a soup base is a conservative method of cooking. Delegating unused vegetable scraps to the compost pile or to a vermiculture bin are ways to conserve food by keeping it out of the landfill and cooperating with nature’s processes. And the result provides organic soil for your flower gardens.
Natural cooking is also about adopting conservative methods in the kitchen and the dining room. Choose recyclable kitchen materials. Buy foods with minimal or recyclable packaging. Reuse or recycle empty glass or plastic bottles. Use cloth, rather than disposable napkins, and make other sustainable choices as you serve your delicious and healthful green cuisine.
TIPS FOR EASY ORGANIC AND NATURAL COOKING
Here are some tips to help you make the transition to a green cuisine:
- Iodized salt is good, but it’s not organic. It has been processed. Natural sea salt is definitely the better choice, though you will notice a distinct difference in flavor.
- Have a small garden at hand. You can reuse old dish tubs, buckets, or other leak-proof castoffs to create planters for small herb gardens. Not only will you be able to save on your grocery bill, you will also have ready access to delicious organic herbs for flavoring your food.
- Go all-out-organic with your ingredients. This includes the herbs, spices, flour, butter, oil and practically everything you use in cooking meals. There is a huge difference in taste between processed butter and milk and their organic counterparts. Cows that produce organic dairy products are BGH-free and eat only organic grass.
- When buying organic products and ingredients, do not rely on the packaging stating that the product is “organic.” Look for a certification seal from a reputable certifying agency. This means that the organic food product passed the standards set by the appropriate regulating agency.
- Adopt traditional cooking methods (stove top and oven) as much as you can. Avoid using the microwave. Traditional methods of cooking do a much better job of retaining the natural taste of organic foods.
- Use only healthy preservatives. Avoid using preservatives at all, if you can. But when you have to preserve jams or other foods for future use, make sure that you use healthier natural food preservation methods.
- A true organic kitchen requires nearly all organic ingredients. Don’t let the enormity of the task overwhelm you. It’s a target to aim for, but every change makes a difference, no matter how small.
- When eating organically, there is no longer any need to buy expensive liquids (often called “veggie wash”) to try to clean off the unwanted toxins before feeling it’s safe to eat those fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Be prepared for a little more effort. For a truly green cuisine, you’ll have to avoid the luxury of using cheaper, prepared, artificially preserved ingredients.
GREENING THE CUISINE IN YOUR RESTAURANT
Organic cooking is a worthwhile endeavor but, for chefs and restaurant owners, there are some additional considerations before adopting natural cooking methods and serving organic foods:
- If you are going to run an organic restaurant, 95 percent of the food you are going to serve must be organic. This includes the herbs, spices, flour, butter, oil and practically everything you use in cooking meals.
- As much as you would like to turn organic, it can be difficult if you don’t have sufficient budget. Organic ingredients can be a bit more expensive than regular ingredients. If you own your kitchen or restaurant, you can adjust your budget accordingly. It’s a different story, however, if you are working for someone else. The cost of ingredients may increase by about 30–50 percent, a significant concern for a traditional restaurant. This won’t be a problem, though, if your restaurant already is an organic one; customers wanting an organic menu understand the additional costs of providing a green cuisine.
- Pastry chefs can also adopt natural cooking in their baking methods. If you need to prepare pastries in small quantities, you don’t have to use a large oven to bake them. This is why it is advisable that you have smaller ovens where you can bake a small quantity of breads, cakes, and pastries. In fact, you can even bake small items using your toaster oven.
- Be prepared to give a sales pitch about your menu and methods to your customers. Not everyone understands the terms organic and natural cooking or green cuisine. Some may initially relate organic food or green cuisine to vegetarianism, or they may think of organic foods as dull and tasteless. You may need to be persuasive at first and adopt efficient marketing methods to sell your organic meals. But soon your menu will win over your customers with the superior quality and taste of organic foods and natural cooking methods.
Admittedly, organic foods are a bit more expensive and take more planning and effort than what we have come to expect from “normal” (processed, preserved, packaged, prepared, and fast) foods. But it’s a small price to pay in return for natural and healthy foods, and the delicious experience of eating a green cuisine.
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