kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

The word “organic” conjures images of small farms, rich soil, diverse crops, and happy farm animals. The small and medium sized farms built the organic food movement but “organic” can now mean something very different.

In 2002, the USDA established its National Organic Standards, an act that brought the disparate state-by-state regulations governing organic production of foods under a single umbrella. This has had the effect of both helping the consumer know whether a product truly is organic while paving the way for large food manufactures to enter the organics market.

Kraft, Dean, Kellogg, Con Agra, to name a few, began buying up small organic companies, such as Back to Nature, White Wave/ Silk and Kashi. Unfortunately, very few of these companies identify themselves on their organic products, a marketing ploy that keeps alive the consumer fantasy of small, friendly companies producing food on a small scale.

This means less transparency of food practices. These companies have many large farms and their products have to go through many channels before being brought to market. This makes it increasingly difficult to trace the origins of specific ingredients and track their production history.

Multinational food corporations also have a lot of money to spend on legislation. Since 2002 when the National Organic Standards act was established, the USDA has repeatedly sided with large growers who have wanted to weaken the stringent organic regulations. More and more, organic food is the product of industrial systems that, like the fast food industry, prioritize efficiency over the quality of food and the experiences of animals.

For example, small growers depend on local sources of manure and compost for fertilizer. These are often manufactured on their own sites. Large growers must find dependable sources to consistently meet their huge demands. Because the act passed in 2002 did not forbid it, many of these growers are using manure from conventional feedlots, which is laced with antibiotics. The danger of developing antibiotic resistance from your organic food is only one problem. These antibiotics seep into the water table (into your drinking water) and harm local wildlife.

The roots of organic agriculture go back to a British scientist named Sir Albert Howard. Based on his experiments in India and observations of peasant farms in Asia, Howard wrote in 1940, ”An Agricultural Testament”, a treatise which demonstrated the connection between the health of the soil and the ability of plants to withstand diseases and pests.

Regenerative farming is based on ancient principles to restore and support natural systems. It goes beyond organic by laying out principles for building soil, enhancing biodiversity, and reducing outside inputs. Large-scale organic farms often use methods that deplete the soil and require expensive inputs while draining water resources. Michael Pollan in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” refers to this as “industrial organic”.

Gene Kahn, the founder of Cascadian Farm, discovered the virtues of adding value to his produce by processing it (freezing blueberries and strawberries, making jams). Once Cascadian Farm had begun processing, Kahn discovered he could make more money buying produce from other farmers than by growing it himself. During the 80’s, Cascadian Farm became an increasingly virtual sort of farm, processing and marketing a range of packaged foods well beyond Mr. Kahn’s farm.

”The whole notion of a ‘cooperative community’ we started with gradually began to mimic the system,” Kahn recalled. ”We were shipping food across the country, using diesel fuel – we were industrial organic farmers. I was bit by bit becoming more of this world, and there was a lot of pressure on the business to become more privatized.”

Cascadian Farm itself became a miniconglomerate, acquiring Muir Glen, the California organic tomato processors, and the combined company changed its name to Small Planet Foods.

Joan Dye Gussow, a nutritionist and an outspoken standards-board member, made the case against synthetics in a 1996 article that was much debated, ”Can an Organic Twinkie Be Certified?”. She fought hard and lost to the the new industry that was growing around “organic” foods. The 1990 law was ignored and a ”national list” of permissible additives and synthetics was drawn up, with everything from ascorbic acid to xanthan gum are now allowed in “organic” products.

Eliot Coleman, a Maine farmer and writer whose organic techniques have influenced two generations of farmers, is repulsed by the whole idea: ”I don’t care if the Wheaties are organic – I wouldn’t use them for compost. Processed organic food is as bad as any other processed food.”

Organic farming is now peopled with migrant laborers, combines, thousands of acres of broccoli reaching to the horizon. To the eye, these farms look exactly like any other industrial farm in California and, in fact, the biggest organic operations today are owned and operated by conventional mega-farms.

There are now hundreds of ”beyond organic” farmers springing up around the country. Many farmers reject the U.S.D.A. organic label, are searching for new words to describe what it is they’re doing. Michael Ableman, a ”beyond organic” farmer near Santa Barbara, Calif., says: ”We may have to give up on the word ‘organic,’ leave it to the Gene Kahns of the world. To be honest, I’m not sure I want the association, because what I’m doing on my farm is not just substituting materials.”

Pollan and others worry that the expansion of “Big Organic” will lower food quality, weaken standards and hurt small family farms. As organic goes mainstream, critics say, the organic movement loses touch with its roots as an eco-friendly system that offered a direct connection between consumers and the land where their food is grown.

Watch out for these Big Organic producers:

  • Cascadian Farms
  • Field Day
  • Earthbound
  • Annie’s Homegrown – ortho-phthalates found in their mac and cheese (all ten pre-packaged tested contained phthalates) Ortho-phthalates are leached from the tubing and conveyor belts in food manufacturing and packaging plants.
  • Honest Tea
  • Applegate Farms
  • Naked Juice
  • Kashi
  • Food Should Taste Good
  • Bear Naked
  • Stoneyfield Farm
  • Bolthouse Farms
  • Green & Blacks Chocolate

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition, organically and conventionally grown apples, pears, potatoes, wheat, and sweet corn were compared and analyzed for their mineral content over a two year period. The organically grown foods were:

  • 63 percent higher in calcium
  • 73 percent higher in iron
  • 118 percent higher in magnesium
  • 178 percent higher in molybdenum
  • 91 percent higher in phosphorus
  • 125 percent higher in potassium
  • 60 percent higher in zinc

Spend the money on good food now and not doctors’ bills later.

Artichoke

One of the oldest records of artichokes was by Theophrastus in 371-287 B.C. He wrote about them being cultivated in Italy and Sicily. According to Aegean legend, artichokes first appeared on earth when Zeus cast Cynara to the land and converted her into a plant as punishment. Artichokes were later used in 40-90 A.D. by Pedanius Dioscorides as a medicinal product. He wrote about it in the Greek Herbal of Dioscorides as a remedy. Artichokes have remained a medicinal plant for over 1500 years.

They were considered as an aphrodisiac and delicacy by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It was also believed that eating artichokes would result in the birth of a male heir. In the old days, artichokes were prepared with cumin, vinegar, and honey.

Artichokes are low in fat, high in fiber, and loaded with vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, and magnesium. They are also one of the richest sources of antioxidants. One medium artichoke has:

Raw Cooked (boiled)
Carbs 13.5 grams 14.3 grams
Fiber 6.9 grams 6.8 grams
Protein 4.2 grams 3.5 grams
Fat 0.2 grams 0.4 grams
Vitamin C 25% of the RDI 15% of the RDI
Vitamin K 24% of the RDI 22% of the RDI
Thiamine 6% of the RDI 5% of the RDI
Riboflavin 5% of the RDI 6% of the RDI
Niacin 7% of the RDI 7% of the RDI
Vitamin B6 11% of the RDI 5% of the RDI
Folate 22% of the RDI 27% of the RDI
Iron 9% of the RDI 4% of the RDI
Magnesium 19% of the RDI 13% of the RDI
Phosphorus 12% of the RDI 9% of the RDI
Potassium 14% of the RDI 10% of the RDI
Calcium 6% of the RDI 3% of the RDI
Zinc 6% of the RDI 3% of the RDI

The high levels of potassium in artichokes might be responsible for helping to regulate high blood pressure.

Studies suggest that artichoke leaf extract may help lower cholesterol levelsArtichoke leaf extract may also protect your liver from damage and promote the growth of new tissue.

Artichoke extract increases the production of bile, which helps remove harmful toxins from your liver.

A study with 90 people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease revealed that consuming 600 mg of artichoke extract daily for two months led to improved liver function. In another study in obese adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, taking artichoke extract daily for two months resulted in reduced liver inflammation and less fat deposition than not consuming artichoke extract.

Scientists think that cynarin and silymarin, antioxidants found in artichokes, help in detoxifying the liver.

Artichoke leaf extract may maintain digestive health by boosting friendly gut bacteria and alleviating symptoms of indigestion

Artichokes are a great source of fiber, which can help keep your digestive system healthy by promoting friendly gut bacteria, reducing your risk of certain bowel cancers, and alleviating constipation and diarrhea.

Artichokes contain inulin, a type of fiber which acts as a prebiotic. Artichoke extract may also provide relief from symptoms of indigestion, such as bloating, nausea, and heartburn.

Cynarin, a naturally occurring compound in artichokes, may cause these positive effects by stimulating bile production, accelerating gut movement, and improving the digestion of certain fats.

How to Buy

To buy the best artichoke, you have to first test the weight of the vegetable. A fresh, healthy artichoke will feel heavy and firm, even if it doesn’t look like that in size. You may need to compare it with other artichokes in the pile to make sure that it is a good weight for its size.

You can also choose baby artichokes, which are just as tasty as bigger ones. They won’t be as heavy as the bigger ones, so compare these to similar size artichokes.The leaves of the artichoke can also help you find the freshest ones in the bunch. Green leaves that are tightly packed are a sign for healthy, fresh artichokes. They can have purple undertones since that is natural, but any artichokes with brown colored tips should be avoided. Leaves that are dry, spongy, split, pitted, or loose signify overripe or old produce. When you squeeze the leaves, they should make a soft squeak sound. They make this sound since the leaves are crispy.

Look for the freshest artichokes in the spring and early fall

How to Store

Do not rinse or cut the artichoke. Sprinkle the stems with water, and place it in a reusable silicone container in the refrigerator. Fresh artichokes will keep for 3-5 days.You can only freeze artichokes after they have been cooked in some way.

 

How to Cook

Preparing and cooking artichokes is not as intimidating as it seems.

You can also prepare them stuffed or breaded, adding spices and other seasonings for an extra burst of flavor.

Rinse artichoke in cold water, using a soft brush or cloth to remove any film from the exterior. Trim one inch from the top (pointed end) of the artichoke. Cut a quarter inch off the stem. Use kitchen shears to cut the thorns (tips) off of each petal (optional). Rub the cut portion of the top with a lemon to prevent discoloration during cooking (optional). Use  fingers to slightly separate the petals, opening the artichoke so that seasonings can be better distributed.

Steaming is the most popular cooking method and usually takes 20–40 minutes, depending on the size. Alternatively, you can bake artichokes for 40 minutes at 350°F (177°C).

Keep in mind that both the leaves and the heart can be eaten.

Once cooked, the outer leaves can be pulled off and dipped in sauce, such as aioli or herb butter. Simply remove the edible flesh from the leaves by pulling them through your teeth. Pulling off all the leaves will reveal the heart of the artichoke.

Baked Creamy Vegan Spinach Artichoke Pasta

Rebecca Pytell/ Photo credit: Strength and Sunshine

6-8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 12 oz Box of Gluten-Free Penne
  • 4 Cups Frozen Spinach (defrosted, drained)
  • 1 12 oz Jar of Plain Artichoke Hearts (chopped)
  • ½ Cup Chopped Sweet Onion
  • 2 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tsp Minced Garlic
  • ½ Tsp Black Pepper
  • 8 oz Plain Vegan Cream Cheese (I use Daiya)
  • ½ Cup Unsweetened Plain Coconut Yogurt
  • 1 Tsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ Cup Vegan Mozzarella Shreds (I use Daiya or So Delicious)
  • ¼ Cup Homemade Vegan Parmesan Cheese – One cup hemp seeds and one cup nutritional yeast – blend until completely combined.

Instructions

    1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
    2. Boil the pasta according to package directions for 8 minutes, drain, and set aside.
    3. In a large cast iron skillet*, heat the olive oil and saute the spinach, artichokes, onion, garlic, and pepper, until soft.
    4. Mix together the lemon juice and coconut yogurt while the veggies saute.
    5. Now add the cream cheese, “sour cream mixture”, and mozzarella to the sauteing veggies.
    6. Mix together until you have a creamy dip and then fold in the cooked penne pasta.
    7. Turn the heat off on the stove, top your skillet with the homemade parmesan, and bake the entire pasta skillet in the oven for 15 minutes.

*If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can make the creamy dip part of this recipe in a separate sauté pan, fold in the pasta, and then transfer to a standard baking dish.

Resources

https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2015/11/12/not-all-organic-food-labels-are-created-equal/?sh=3baff39d1955
https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2019/10/22/organic-food-better-environment/
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/future-of-food/organic-farming-crops-consumers/
https://www.cornucopia.org/scorecard/cereal/cascadian-farm/
https://www.cnbc.com/2015/11/04/is-organic-really-organic-a-deep-dive-into-the-dirt.html
Nestle, M. 2006. What to Eat. New York, NY: North Point Press
Pollan, M. 2008. In Defense of Food. New York, NY: Penguin Press
https://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/magazine/naturally.html
https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/72624/12-natural-and-organic-brands-owned-big-food
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Smith, B. “Organic Foods vs Supermarket Foods: Element Levels.” Journal of Applied Nutrition. 1993; 45:35-39. http://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/Organic/organicstudy.php.
https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/michael-pollan-farmers-oca-speak-out-big-organic
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https://www.homestratosphere.com/how-to-store-artichokes/
https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/460547/nutrients
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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1902564
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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26310198
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https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/4/1417/htm?__hstc=3584879.1bb630f9cde2cb5f07430159d50a3c91.1522886401936.1522886401937.1522886401938.1&__hssc=3584879.1.1522886401939&__hsfp=1773666937
http://yadda.icm.edu.pl/yadda/element/bwmeta1.element.agro-a162625a-4ae7-4ae3-b06e-a3deb6803b03
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https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11130-015-0503-8

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