As a cooking instructor, one of my obvious objectives is to teach people how to prepare simple, tasty and healthy meals at home. Yet there's another essential aspect of what I do, one which flies under the radar of most food television shows and cooking magazines: helping people understand how our food is grown, how these growing practices can affect our health and how to shop accordingly.
For example, last week I was teaching a family how to make an organic potato-leek soup. In addition to cooking technique, we discussed the harmful pesticides used to grow conventional potatoes.
As I've learned from PAN, organic potatoes are safer for us and the environment. Luckily, they aren't that much more expensive than conventional potatoes, especially if bought in bulk. And as seen in the battle being waged by the White Earth Pesticide Action Network (WEPAN) against industrial potato farming, the cost of conventional potatoes is far greater than their per pound price.
Battling the "Lord of the Fries"
Recipe: Potato-leek soup
This recipe is straightforward to make and employs a basic formula used for cooking other puréed vegetable soups (i.e. carrot-ginger, split pea).
For a big pot of soup, wash and chop about two pounds of organic Yukon gold potatoes (into 1-inch-or-so cubes) and three or four organic leeks.
Heat olive oil and/or butter in a soup pot (enough to just coat bottom) and cook leeks until they are soft (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally so they don't brown.
Add the potatoes and enough cold water to cover the vegetables by about an inch or two (roughly 6 or 7 cups).
Let the vegetables simmer for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife.
After letting the mixture cool slightly, use a hand-held immersion or regular blender to purée the potatoes and leeks until you achieve the desired consistency. If the soup is too thick, add water. Taste and season with sea salt, fresh ground pepper and fresh lemon juice.
For a more complex texture, add a little heavy cream as well. Like a little spice? Add some hot sauce or cumin.
Members of the Pine Point community have been battling an industrial potato farmer, Ron D. Offut, over pesticide drift affecting the air and drinking water on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.
Offut, dubbed "the Lord of the Fries"' owns or leases more than 11,000 acres of land adjacent to Pine Point village. His company, RDO Holdings, harvests 1.8 billion pounds of potatoes annually, most of which are sold to McDonald's to produce French fries.
RDO Holdings is the leading sprayer of pesticides in the region — including several likely human carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
WEPAN has been working for more than a decade to lessen the spraying of pesticides by RDO Holdings, or even to be notified when sprayings are happening. So far RDO Holdings has refused to change their practices.
Community members from Pine Point have worked with PAN scientists to monitor the pesticides drifting from potato farms into the elementary school and other sensitive sites using the Drift Catcher technology developed by PAN.
Their results found the air contaminated with the fungicide Chlorothalonil at 123 of 186 test sites in and around Pine Point. Chlorothalonil is a 'PAN Bad Actor' pesticide that is both acutely toxic and a known carcinogen. Don't our families and communities deserve better?
Guest blogger Chef Rob Endelman is a PAN member and the founder of Cook with Class, which teaches people how to cook and understand the modern food supply. Endelman also empowers people to make better choices when it comes to buying and preparing food through his blog, The Delicious Truth. He has served children and adults in New York City and the New York metropolitan area since 2004.