By Catharine L. Kaufman – a.k.a The Kitchen Shrink
Every Earth Day, we are reminded that while all of April is dedicated to the global celebration of our Blue Planet home, the 22-nd of the month is when we really kick up our heels, in honor of the late Eddie Albert’s birthday. For in addition to being a fine actor—whom you might (if you’re old enough) remember as the star of TV’s long-running comedy series, “Green Acres”—and a mellow-voiced singer, Mr. Albert was also one of the pioneers of environmental causes.
Parks and neighborhoods sprout tents and kiosks displaying gadgets and appliances that harness renewable, clean energy, as well as healthy and Earth-friendly foods, clothes, home furnishings and other necessities. Fragrances of plants, essential oils and incense waft over families sampling the wares, getting massages, learning to weave and cook and practice ways to relieve some of the stresses we have imposed upon our planet. On Earth Day, we pledge to pay more attention to the environment, to recycle, carpool, ride bikes, walk to work and stores as distances and stamina allows, and always, always bring along the eco-totes and other reusable bags for groceries and other goods.
We talk about composting yard clippings and other organic waste, running dish- and clothes-washers only when full, and above all, buying locally grown produce at Farmers Markets and eating organic foods that have not logged frequent flyer miles from Chile, Honduras, Argentina or Italy—or long-haul truck miles from sea to shining sea.
So today dear friends, for nutrition’s sake, choose the least-traveled foods whenever possible. Not only will you be helping the environment, but also avoiding prematurely picked, cold-preserved, jet-lagged, irradiated foods. Look for such organic spring beauties as artichokes, asparagus, avocados, spinach, citrus fruits and berries ripening practically in your backyard—or at least in your own region’s farming communities.
Here’s an idea: Visit nearby family farms on weekends. Have a conversation with the farmers tending the produce stands along the roadside, as you fill the bags you brought from home with the fresh-picked fruits and vegetables heaped on the display tables. Establish relationships—maybe even friendships—with them; and enjoy return shopping trips.
The other day I found a bug doing the hip-hop in my organic romaine lettuce leaves, and I was thrilled. The presence of a critter (dead or alive) is evidence that pesticides were not used in the crop production. Organic farmers use ladybugs and other natural techniques to ward off undesirable pests—even if now and then a few slip through. Organic certification promotes excellence in terms of food quality and safety, while preventing fraud. Some family farms are too small to afford the lengthy and expensive certification process, and choose instead to follow pesticide-free and mostly safe growing practices, even without obtaining the coveted “USDA-ORGANIC” label.
To give yourself more choices, all you need to do is learn the sneaky vocabulary used by less than scrupulous food producers. Misleading adjectives used on food packaging include “all natural,” “fresh-picked,” “authentic” and “pesticide (or chemicals) free.” Those who use this vernacular, hope the consumer will assume the product is organic. In the United States, Japan and countries within the European Union, the governments regulate, legislate and oversee organic standards. Only certified food producers are permitted to use the organic certification labels which in this country is a green and white circular symbol stamped, “USDA ORGANIC.” (See the “What’s So Special About Organics” posting on this blog.)
The “organic” designation covers the entire gamut of food production, from growing to storing, processing, packaging and shipping. Organic foods are strictly kept away from all synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, additives, genetically modified organisms, irradiation and sewage sludge. To qualify as an organic farm, the land must be free of all these substances for three years worth of planting seasons; and once qualified, distinct physical barriers must be maintained between fields planted with organics and non-organics.
My refrigerator certainly deserves that dear little “USDA ORGANIC” stamp. It is a strictly organic refrigerator. I am unbending in my obsessive-compulsive practices of maintaining strict separation between my organic foods and the pesticide-laced stuff my Mom insists on bringing in whenever she comes to visit. To spare her feelings —and my perhaps over-the-top standards for healthy foods– I allocate a separate area in the fridge for her food and insist on hermetically sealed containers to prevent contamination.
So here’s to Earth Day! Let’s celebrate it with an environmentally friendly dish. It needs to be plucked from the organic, local ground and doesn’t require much electrical or physical energy to prepare. So, have an orange for dinner, a bowl of berries or a chunk of lettuce. Or you can sandwich these foods between two pieces of organic whole wheat bread, and say a prayer for our beleaguered Mother Earth. Better yet, I’ve concocted an exciting chilled lettuce wrap stuffed with spicy ceviche that doesn’t need to be cooked, and you can eat it with your mitts so you don’t even have to wash the cutlery. As another tribute to Earth Day, use cloth napkins that can be washed, instead of paper ones that go through a polluting manufacturing process—even though they can be recycled. Best, of course, is that no pots or pans are needed for the following recipe, which means you’ll save water and the energy it takes to heat it, and you won’t be adding soap suds to your probably overburdened sewage system.
Happy Earth Month!
Earth Friendly Seafood Ceviche Wraps
(Serves 3 to 4)
(Use organic ingredients where possible)
½ pound of large fresh water shrimp, peeled, halved
½ pound of New England fresh water scallops, halved
¼ cup of fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice
½ cup of white wine
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon of crushed arbol chiles
1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
2 cups of ripe roma tomatoes, diced
1 Persian cucumber, diced
1 cup of firm but ripe avocado chunks
6 trimmed romaine lettuce leaves
In a large glass bowl marinate the seafood in the mixture of lime juice, wine, garlic, chiles, cilantro and onion for 8 hours or until “cooked.” Blend in the tomato, cucumber and avocado, and chill for another hour. Stuff the lettuce leaves and eat with your hands. Serve with cold mineral water… and a hand-held fan.
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