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Making the decision to live a better life, to find a better path, to know a better way, is momentous in and of itself. But once you make that decision, where do you start? If the better way you’re seeking is one of eating healthier, a good leaping off point is Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry’s book Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006).

The first part of their book provides a primer on the issues that have led so many people to embrace the organic movement, to explore whole foods, to eat more locally and sustainably, and to seek alternatives to the industrialized food system.

Part two offers dozens of fun recipes, organized seasonally and with dinner parties in mind. Best of all, the book is nonjudgmental and encouraging, joyfully trumpeting a hopeful message: You can do it! But still, once you decide you can do it, the question remains: Where do you start? I put the question to both authors of Grub.

Ask for What You Want (Back to Top)

Bryant Terry, the chef who designed the recipes in Grub, and who is also deeply involved in educating children on food issues, explained to me that the best place to start is close to home. “One step that anyone can take,” Terry told me, “is to ask the people who run or own their local grocery store to buy from local farmers, to get more local produce or to just get more organics. We’ve found that only three or four people asking for a product can change an entire supermarket. People see their supermarket as set in stone, but it doesn’t even take 20 requests to change it. It usually only takes a handful. Working with what we have is all we can do sometimes, and that is a noble thing. Besides, the worst they can say is no.”

Once you find a grocery store you can work with, take a whirl at preparing Terry’s flavorful “Wild-Style Salad,” which combines flavor, style and whole foods to delicious effect. And now that you’re cooking, don’t set impossible goals for yourself, warns Terry.

“Incremental steps are huge steps,” Terry says. “Just in terms of the work I’ve done with young people, I’ve seen so many who have been conditioned to buy sugary sodas and fruit drinks to the point that they don’t like water. So if they go from not drinking water at all to drinking even a little water, we celebrate that. It’s a giant victory for us. We never want people to feel that this is such a daunting task that they just throw their hands in the air and don’t make any change.”

Take Action

Anna Lappé, Terry’s coauthor, seconds that motion. Lappé, who previously cowrote the bestselling Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003), also emphasizes that beating yourself up for failing to reach some imaginary standard is counterproductive.

“People feel that all-or-nothing pressure so intently,” she told me from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “The choices aren’t between canning everything all year long versus eating all your meals in a fast-food restaurant. Any step you can make toward eating less processed food is a good step.”

“I’m not an absolutist,” says Lappé. “I’m not a purist. I think it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that we live in an imperfect world.” In a perfect world, she notes, “there wouldn’t be toxic chemical residues in our food. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to decide: ‘This week I can afford organics, but next week it’s back to toxic residues.'”

“We live in a country,” Lappé asserts, “where the current policies are not protecting us. Imagine how different it would be if when you walked into a supermarket, instead of little labels saying ‘organic,’ all the nonorganic labels read: ‘This was grown with toxins known to be carcinogens.'”

“That’s the truth,” she says, “but it’s not the truth that most of us see. Why should it be our responsibility to find the foods that don’t contain harmful chemicals? Shouldn’t that just be a given?” To that end, Lappé recommends taking a first step by signing up to receive the e-newsletters sent by the Organic Consumers Association (www.organic consumers.org) and the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org). Get informed. Get involved. And know that by speaking out, you really can change the world.

“Our current organic standard would be all but meaningless,” notes Lappé, “except that when the final wording of the standard was before Congress in 1998, 275,000 everyday people spoke out through letters and public comments.” We are far from powerless, Lappé points out: A single phone call or letter – whether to your local market or your local policy makers – “can make a huge difference.” So there you have it. Whether you decide to pick up the phone, a pen or the groceries for the recipe at right, you now have at least a few great places to start.

Wild-Style Salad

For the Salad

  • 1 cup wild rice, rinsed and soaked overnight in the refrigerator
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  •  1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/2 cup cashews, toasted and chopped

Combine the wild rice with 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat, transfer to a strainer or sieve, and rinse under cold water until the rice is completely cooled. In a large bowl, using clean hands, combine the cooked rice, bell pepper, carrots, celery, raisins, scallions and cashews.

For the Dressing

  • 3 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  •  1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. pure maple syrup
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbs. chopped parsley
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, maple syrup, garlic, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste. Mix well. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking until emulsified. Pour the dressing over the rice and toss well using clean hands. Cover and refrigerate for one hour to allow flavors to combine. Remove the rice from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

Fresh Pineapple, Jicama and Mint Salad

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Inactive Preparation Time: At least two hours, or overnight 2 cups fresh orange juice (from about six oranges) 1 small jicama (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 2 cups fresh pineapple cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. With clean hands, toss well for two to three minutes, or until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight. (If letting sit overnight, wait to put the mint in until 30 minutes before serving.) Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with a slotted spoon. |

Cucumberslice, Mint and Lime Salad

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Inactive Preparation Time: At least 30 minutes, or up to two hours

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, lime juice, and mint. With clean hands, toss well for one minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste. Toss for an additional minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Recipes excerpted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006).|

Fresh Pineapple, Jicama and Mint Salad

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Inactive Preparation Time: At least two hours, or overnight 2 cups fresh orange juice (from about six oranges) 1 small jicama (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 2 cups fresh pineapple cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. With clean hands, toss well for two to three minutes, or until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight. (If letting sit overnight, wait to put the mint in until 30 minutes before serving.) Transfer to a serving bowl and serve with a slotted spoon. |

Cucumberslice, Mint and Lime Salad

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Inactive Preparation Time: At least 30 minutes, or up to two hours

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, lime juice, and mint. With clean hands, toss well for one minute. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste. Toss for an additional minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to two hours. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Recipes excerpted from Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappé and Bryant Terry (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006).

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