Last weekend, Farra Korshin drove two hours to Vernon, N.J., from her home in Queens, N.Y., to visit Bobolink Dairy, a family run farm that sells wood-fired bread, raw cheeses and pasture-raised meats at their farm store, online and at farmer’s markets. She trekked there to meet the farmers and after a tour of the farm, she bought some cheese, pork liver and fatback to try.
A onetime fan of junk food who learned to cook only recently, Farra is now “on a mission,” to eat food that is good for both her and the planet. Her new lifestyle is not always easy, Farra says, but “it’s a fun challenge, a hobby even,” involving some trial and error. Turns out, she’s “not so fond of pork liver,” but will surely buy Bobolink’s cheese again.
Korshin is part of a new culinary trend, SOLE food, which encourages people to eat fresh food that is sustainable, organic, local and ethical. Sole foodies are taking heed of such advocates as chef Alice Waters, who has championed natural ingredients for decades, and author Michael Pollan, whose book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” deconstructed the American way of eating and caused many to lose their appetites for packaged, industrial farm made food.
As a trained chef, I’m often approached by friends, customers and others seeking advice on how to find such “good” food. While I agree with the SOLE food model in an ideal world, it’s hard to follow a strict SOLE food diet. But it’s not impossible if you put in a little effort, and here are my suggestions on how to do that.
First, a primer on what’s meant by SOLE. The “S” refers to sustainable agricultural practices used to grow or process foods. Sibella Kraus, director of education at Sustainable Agriculture Education, says such foods integrate environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. So meat, produce or seafood it must be raised and harvested with an eye toward current and future health of the land or water from which it comes as well as the economic and physical well-being of the farmers.
The “O” is for organic. Organic farmers do not use pesticides, herbicides or weed-killers and organic meat means that animals are fed a vegetarian diet without hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. However, not all farms that follow organic farming practices are certified organic by the USDA, so getting to know your local farm and its farming practices is imperative.
The “L” refers to buying local food rather than goods that must be transported long distances, thus consuming a lot of fossil fuel from farm to table.
The “E” is for ethical, referring to how farm workers are treated.
Now, take stock of your diet. Cut back on the obvious no-no’s like soda and processed snacks. Then, rather than focusing what you shouldn’t eat, think of how you want to eat, and then plan on doing some homework.
The broad food categories listed below are a good start. Look at each one before focusing on individual food items. Don’t consider it a chore but rather a challenge, even an adventure. Make visiting farms an entertaining road trip. Or like Deborah Eden Tull of Los Angeles, organize “green” dinner parties, as a way to foster a relationship with food, as she outlines in her forthcoming book “The Natural Kitchen:Your Guide to the Sustainable Food Revolution.”
Poultry and Meat
Ignore marketing slogans and vague supermarket labels like “all natural” and “free-range.” Keep only these two words in mind: pasture-raised.
That usually means the animals were 100 percent grass-fed, or had a grain diet, ideally organic and pesticide-free and one that avoids genetically modified seeds. Then, look for local animal farms and visit them. Ask questions about their farming practices. Or buy pasture-raised meats from select butchers in your neighborhood or online at www.fossilfoods.com or at www.heritagefoods.com.
To keep the cost down, I often buy inexpensive cuts of meat, like neck and shoulder, which are luscious when braised to perfection. Or just eat a little less meat. Pasture-raised animals are not only healthier, but according Jo Robinson, author of “Pasture Perfect,” “their meat is significantly more nutritious for humans than feedlot meat,” containing higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants.
Cheese, milk eggs, and yogurt are not only healthier, but tastier when they come from pasture-raised animals. Search for local dairy farms; many of them even deliver direct to your home.
Eating “good” seafood depends on what seafood you choose, whether it is over-fished or going extinct or how it is caught or farmed. Certain methods of catching wild fish are bad for the sea floor and kill other types of seafood. Fish farming methods may include feeding antibiotics to the fish, which could pollute surrounding waters.
More information on the ins and outs of sustainable seafood is offered by a nonprofit organization, Green Chefs, Blue Ocean. It is available at http://www.oceanfriendlychefs.org/. While this Web site is geared toward chefs, it is appropriate for all seafood lovers.
Ideally, it’s great to buy vegetables from local farms, farmer’s markets or by joining a local Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA), which helps consumers support nearby farms with freshly picked seasonal agriculture every week.Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs
This option is not always practical, though. If you live in a cold climate, there are few vegetables available in the winter other than root vegetables and squash. I can’t go a whole winter without some of the winter vegetables common in the Mediterranean climate of my roots. So, yes, I “cheat” and buy things like citrus fruit and leafy greens from California; I just try to buy them organic.
Be sure to read the labels, though. Don’t buy asparagus in January if it comes from Peru, not just because the voyage is not sustainable, but such distantly produced produce can lack flavor.
You also can start your own organic vegetable or herb garden, or pickle or preserving your favorite fruits and veggies.
Beans and Grains
Grains, like rice, flour and whole grains, can often take you off of the SOLE food path. When you see them at a farmer’s market, grab them up. Otherwise, buy them from the supermarket or online, but make sure they are organic. Non-organic grains such as wheat and rice are often genetically modified.
First off, drink local water — as in from your tap — but filter it.
If you like sweet drinks, make your own with a juicer or citrus squeezer, and you can make healthy drinks that will taste better than anything you can buy. You will rarely need to add sugar, unless you are making lemonades.
As for coffee and tea, there are numerous organic options on the market. Brew them at home, whenever possible. Like all beverages, carry them with you in a reusable container. For that afternoon coffee break, have your container refilled at your favorite coffee shop.
SOLE food resources on the Internet:
United States seasonal growing chart: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/seasonalcooking/farmtotable/seasonalingredientmap
USDA Nationwide Farmer’s Market Info: http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/
Online listings of SOLE food resources by Zip code, including restaurants, co-ops, stores, CSAs, and more: http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?pd=Home
Seafood Guide; what to buy, what to avoid: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_regional.aspx
Facts about Grass-fed meat: http://www.eatwild.com/
Slow Food’s list of foods on the verge of going extinct: http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/programs/details/ark_of_taste/
An Online Store for Organic and Heritage Seeds: http://www.seedsavers.org/Content.aspx?src=buyonline.htm
A national nonprofit dedicated to reintroducing Americans to their food the seeds it grows from, the farmers who produce it, and the routes that carry it from the fields to our tables: http://www.foodroutes.org/
An award winning cartoon worth watching about American factory meat farms: http://www.themeatrix.com/
A educational website about food-related issues and works to build community through food: http://www.sustainabletable.org/home.php
Recommended Reading List:
“What to Eat” by Marion Nestle (North Point)
“Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods ” by Gary Paul Nabhan (W.W. Norton & Co.)
“Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, and Fair” by Carlo Petrini (Rizzoli Ex Libris)