Should Restaurateurs Buy Organic or Not?
Rising Organic Ingredient Use in RestaurantsOrganic ingredient use in restaurants is rising. More restaurant menus are featuring organic ingredients in their dish descriptions, and more chefs are buying organic ingredients to feature in their dishes. But, are organic foods better than conventional foods?
Organic means anything that grows, usually from the soil, without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Natural fertilizers are used and everything from chocolate to wine to olive oil to tomatoes is organic in essence. Remember that when something grows from the soil, its flavor is influenced by what grows around it, the type of soil it comes from (volcanic, acidic, etc.), and how much moisture and sunlight it receives.
Certified Organic FoodsCertified Organic is a subset of organic foods. Its a regulated process that requires producers to follow specific rules and methods in their growing. Fields that grow Certified Organic foods, for example, must be free of chemical use for at least three years.
Most Certified Organic foods cost more than traditionally grown foods, sometimes twice the price. Are they worth it? Some certified organic ingredients are and others aren't. For foods that we eat the skin, using organic is safer, since these foods are likelier to absorb more chemicals and have more pesticide residue. Good examples are strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, peaches, celery, spinach and bell peppers.
Not All Organic Ingredients Are BetterOrganic foods that have little difference from their conventionally grown bretheren include asparagus, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, corn and onions, so it doesn't make sense to pay the premium for these.
Its important to realize that getting Certified Organic is an expensive process and is done by producers who are large enough to afford it. Many small farm producers dont bother to go through the certification process even though their products could pass certification and their animals live a more natural, wholesome life consistent with the organic way of life than Certified Organic producers.
Remember that chemicals are costly, so small producers can't afford them. Organic farming is much more labor intensive than traditional farming because without more pesticides there are more weeds to kill by hand.
Organic dairy products and meat products are vastly different from their conventional counterparts. The animals are not given hormones or antibiotics and have different diets. Many organically raised animals are grass-fed and therefore require more grazing land. Because of their grass diet they have a lower fat content too.
Take milk. Organic milk is worth the premium, especially for children and for fresh, flavorful dairy products like artisanal cheeses and ice creams. Organic milk that isn't flash pasteurized (heated to a very high temperature for a short period of time) will have hints of wildflowers and other things that the cows ate and have a more flavorful taste.
for example, The milk from Ronnybrook Farms, a small dairy business in New York that raises their own dairy herd, is more organic in its nature that the Certified Organic milk from Horizon Organic, the huge dairy producer. Ronnybrooks cows are able to freely graze and eat the grasses that are grown without chemicals on the familys land. They are truly happy cows. Horizons cows, on the other hand, are in stalls standing all day on cement floors. While theyre eating certified organic hay, Id rather have milk from a happier cow that lives in the country!
Buy Foods That Are Locally Grown From People You KnowThe best products often come from small, local farmers, who grow products and raise animals in a natural organic way, even if they don't have certification. If you establish a relationship with local farmers, get to know them and buy your ingredients from them, youll have the highest quality ingredients at fair prices and wonderful dishes to serve to happy customers. Chances are you know who cuts your hair better than who grows your vegetables and meats, so why not get to know your neighbors?
More and more chefs are using locally grown ingredients. Danny Meyer locates his restaurants in Manhattan, like Union Square Cafe, near the Union Square Farmers Market so that his chefs have easy access to the freshest, local fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, and cheeses. It's no coincidence that some of the best restaurants in the country develop their menu around the season's available local ingredients. From Aspasia in Cambridge, MA to The French Laundry in Yountville, CA to Chanterelle in NY, the country's best chefs are using the finest quality fresh ingredients, some certified organic, to highlight their culinary skills.
Buy organic selectively and utilize the products produced near you in a wholesome, natural way. Well all have more sustainable communities and better tasting food on our plates.