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How to Create a Life of Good Grub: 7 Steps to an Organic Kitchen

Fitness guru Jack La Lanne got it right more than 60 years ago when he said, “If man made it, don’t eat it!” Still going strong in his 90s, La Lanne has been following his mantra all these years, choosing a whole-foods diet and eating as few processed foods as possible. We may nod knowingly when we hear La Lanne’s exhortation, but how many of us reach for the frozen dinner, grab that fruitless fast lunch or scarf down a bag of chips between the office and errands? We may be familiar with the time-tested advice to eat low on the food chain. We may even have experienced glimpses of how good it feels when we choose local, in-season foods that are singing with flavor, but how many of our daily choices reflect what we know and feel, and what is best for our bodies?

Not many, if national statistics tell us anything. According to estimates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, half of all Americans consume less than one serving of fruit a day. And part of our already meager veggie intake comes from french fries, potato chips and iceberg lettuce. The truth is that we live in “a toxic food environment,” as Yale psychology professor Kelly Brownell likes to call it. We’re paving over our farms, replacing them with Wal-Marts and golden arches. We’re bombarded by tens of thousands of television food ads every year urging us to crave—and buy—junk food. And, as the number of hours we work steadily increases, we have less and less time to spend on our food choices.

So how do we follow La Lanne’s advice? What do we do when many of our communities—and even our own kitchens—tend to be friendly to convenience food and hostile to good, honest grub. How do we make sure our healthy eating doesn’t become too costly or too demanding on our time.

What follows are seven simple steps to help individuals make the choice for grub easier. Some of these may be an affirmation. Some may be unfamiliar, even daunting. Pick and choose what works. Remember, one step forward is still moving in the right direction.

Step One: Get Fired Up Every time a person buys food, he’s voting for the world he wants. When choosing corporate, processed foods, he’s paying for a food system gone awry, including the massive environmental cleanup of runoff from industrial farms. Factory-farmed meat operations are one of the country’s largest polluters and one of the leading contributors to global warming. Every year, these factory farms—with 1.5 trillion head of hogs, cattle, poultry and sheep—produce nearly a billion tons of feces and urine. In the past decade alone, 35,000 miles of river were damaged by this waste. Overuse of hormones and antibiotics in factory farms further imperils our health.

When buying grub, we’re supporting the production of food that doesn’t poison farmers, farm workers or the environment, but preserves biodiversity, rural communities and food security. Every time we choose grub, we’re making the healthy choice—not just for our bodies, but for the planet as well. To learn more about the impact of industrial farming on the environment, visit

Step Two: Look for the Labels Thankfully, we now have labels to look for to help us know grub when we see it. But we have to stay on our toes. As interest in grub grows, the food industry has begun to develop its own labels, which are confusing at best, deceptive at worst. The “Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly” seal piloted several years ago called itself the “only science-based seal of approval that supports both farm economics and protects the environment without added costs to consumers.” It was actually developed by the Hudson Institute, a think tank funded by chemical and agrochemical multinationals.

When contemplating a new seal, consult the Center for Science and the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks “nutri-washing” in the food industry, or visit, a project of the Consumers Union.   Here are three somewhat common labels with explanations of what they mean.   USDA Organic Since 2002, the United States has had an official label for organic farming production. Organic-certified production prohibits genetically modified organisms and irradiation as well as the use of pesticides and sewage sludge. To become certified, farmers must confirm they’ve foregone these products for at least three years. Organic farmers also promote soil health by employing soil-building and conservation practices, manure management and crop rotation. Organic animals must eat only organic feed and have outdoor access and pasture. All certified organic farms are required to keep detailed production records and submit to ongoing monitoring.

Note: Look for “100 percent organic ingredients.” That’s a guarantee that products were made from solely organic ingredients. By law, companies are allowed to include no more than 5 percent of approved, non-organic ingredients in any product with the seal.

Get involved with the Organic Consumers Association to maintain the integrity of organics in the face of attempts to dilute their standards. Visit and to learn more.

Fair-Trade Certified This black-and-white logo adorns everything from boxes of tea to pounds of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The seal confirms that producers were guaranteed a fair floor price, similar to our minimum wage, for their product.

Fair-trade-certified products provide farmers economic security and an essential source of income. Fair trade started in Europe in the 1980s, and in 1999 the United States began its own certification process. In just over five years, fair trade products bought in the United States have helped channel more than $55 million in additional income to more than 800,000 farmers and their families in more than 50 countries. Fair trade products include coffee, tea, fruit, chocolate, rice and sugar. If such items aren’t stocked in local stores, consumers can ask for them.

For further learning, visit

Buy Fresh, Buy Local The typical grocery item is jet-lagged and weary after traveling hundreds—and often thousands—of miles to get to the shopping cart. But it doesn’t have to be. Not all food is labeled with a country of origin, so ask the store manager for ideas and look for local specialty labels, such as  the regional “Buy Fresh/Buy Local” concept, which varies by locale.

For more information, visit

Step Three: Know the Hands that Feed You The best way to “know” food is to “know the hands that feed you.” So says Marin Organic outside San Francisco, which introduces consumers to their local farmers through larger-than-life posters of them in stores. Community-supported agriculture (CSA), brought to the United States from Japan nearly 25 years ago, is one way for urbanites to get to know a farm or farmer. By joining a CSA, an individual becomes a shareholder in a farm, investing in it at the beginning of the growing season. The individual is then rewarded throughout the year with fresh produce, and sometimes dairy, meat or even cut flowers. He’s guaranteed not only the freshest food, but also food at a far cheaper price than he’d find in the supermarket. Plus, most CSAs offer opportunities to head out to the farm, a fun way to help kids know that broccoli doesn’t grow in Aisle 8.

To find a nearby CSA farm and to learn more, visit

Step Four: Do a Community Food Audit Individual consumers can also get one step closer to farmers by researching the resources in the community. Is there a farmers’ market in the area or a store that is local-farm friendly? Perhaps a food cooperative, where consumers can find healthier food at below-market prices? When conducting the audit, individuals can enlist a community or faith-based group to help bring good food to friends and neighbors.

Step Five: Get a Fresh Start Once resources are found, it’s time to make the kitchen an inviting place. Make sure it’s well equipped, sparkling clean and well stocked. Does the fridge contain hidden land mines of long-forgotten leftovers? Have the cupboards been cleared since the last Olympics? Cooks will be much more inspired to bring grub into their lives once they have a fresh start.

So first things first: Clear out the fridge. Empty the freezer. Put bright lights (or even full-spectrum lights) in the kitchen, so that it’s possible to see clearly (and lift the cook’s mood at the same time). Give away old, oversized appliances. Scrub down the oven.

Next, stock the kitchen with essential items. The Grub Pantry sidebar (at the end of this article) offers some suggestions, but individuals can add their own specials, so that everything they need is at hand for a smart snack or a quick-and-healthy meal.

Step Six: Become a Grub Ambassador Yes, we vote our values with our forks, but what if our forks don’t have much to choose from? That’s when a little citizen muscle can go a long way. If the local grocery store or café doesn’t carry organic or fair-trade products, individuals can talk with the manager to effect change. The impact of a single voice can be surprising. If there’s not a farmers’ market nearby, reach out to the local agriculture commissioner or elected officials about starting one. If the food fare at the local school is undesirable, join the district’s Wellness Council and visit to get inspired ideas for transforming school food.

Individuals can also maximize their time by linking up with national networks, like the Organic Consumers Association and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, to ensure their voices are heard all the way at the top of the political food chain.

Step Seven: Host a Grub Party Share the spirit of good food. When I was working  with Bryant Terry, the chef who created the recipes in our book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, we started hosting free-form celebrations based on a few common traditions.

We invite an eclectic group of people who don’t know each other. Everyone is asked to bring a gift that reflects something essential about them. Guests have offered everything from an a cappella song (by a friend who had that very day quit her job to embark on a singing career) to a recently published book (by a writer who helped chronicle the diverse reactions of New Yorkers to 9/11). As the evening begins, we take turns picking names from a basket and offering our gifts, explaining their significance. We give thanks to everyone who has brought food and brought us together. As we eat, we share where the food came from, helping our guests learn about the connection between our food and the world around us.

To learn more, visit and

We like to begin our dinners with gratitude, so I’ll offer this blessing: A Grub Blessing We give thanks to all who contributed to our meal, from seed to table. To Mother Earth who bore the seeds and the sun, rain and soil that allowed our food to grow, To the farmers and farmworkers who planted and harvested, To the workers who transported and shipped, To the cooks who envisioned, prepared and lovingly cooked. We give thanks. Enjoy the grub . . . and save me a seat at the table!

Anna Lappé is the coauthor of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (Tarcher/Penguin 2006), with menus by Bryant Terry and a foreword by Eric Schlosser ( She is also coauthor, with her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, of Hope’s Edge.

Source: by Anna Lappé

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