When a foodie looks for a peach, we want a peach that is ripe, that is tender, and that when you bite into, the juice runs down your chin as the flavor bursts in your mouth. If the peach was picked before it was ripe, as it is transported to the supermarket, it does not rippen – it starts to die. The softening of a peach picked early is just peach death. First the peach begins to dry out, then the enzymes of the fruit begin to break down the cell structure of the peach, causing the softness that many mistake for being ripe. Store bought peaches, organic or not, do not have the flavor of a tender, ripe peach.
Yesterday my two year old son and I walked along the road in the costal range of Oregon. There we picked some wild blackberries – ripe on the vine, sweet and delicious. In the store you can’t get those – because they are picked earlier than they are ripe. They never get to that sugar content, to that sweetness.
So many fruits are grown to less than being ripe, picked, and transported to a grocery store – and so many of those fruits do not rippen when they are removed from their plant, instead they start to die. The flavor is simply not the same. Cut off from their supply of nutrients, sunlight, and water, the cells in the fruit die, the enzymes leak out, breaking down cell walls making the fruit softer.
Contrast this with fruit that is left on the vine. In nature’s own way, these fruits are given abundant nutrients, water, as the cells build up with sugars. The colors deepen to attract creatures, and the fruit is weighing down the branch, exposed to sunlight. Before the fruit is cut off from its source, to either fall to the ground, or be eaten by a creature who is an unwary transport system for the seed, the fruit has a maximum flavor, sugar content, and nutrient. Pick an apple that is ripe from a tree- you can smell it a foot away. The skin is not too hard, the pulp is starchy and fresh filled with moisture.
So when the meta-analysis came out that organic foods don’t have more nutrients than non-organic food the response was: so? While some noted that pesticide content was smaller on organic food, most paid no attention- first, the numbers are so small that it isn’t an issue (although the organic food producers want you to think so), and second, because we already knew that.
People who love the idea of organic are often not purchasing “organic” from a grocery store. We know that today foods labeled as “organic” are often raised on the farm adjacent to the non-organic farm, by the major agriculture-industrial companies. When we wanted food labeled “organic” the industry found a way to make their product fit the definition so they could raise it. But foodies are different. Foodies want food with flavor.
In the mid 70’s as a student at Stanford, my budding foodie friends and I went to Berkeley, but not for the football game. We loved going to this little restaurant that did something different– “fresh, local, organic.” Somehow at this restaurant the tomatoes tasted better, as did every vegetable there. Alice Water’s restaurant, Chez Panisse is now well known, but then it was a “novel” idea (as one restaurant reviewer called it).
So today, a foodie cares less about the label of the food, and more about when was the peach picked, or the cherry, or the apple- or a dozen other fruits that just are not meant to be away from the vine two weeks before they are mature.
Those of us lucky enough to spend time in Seattle are familiar with Pike Place Market- where local farmers bring their fruits and vegetables and offer a slice of a honey-crisp apple, or a fresh peach, or a fresh salmon (ok, not a fruit, but still fresh – and if I can convince my vegan friends that fish are fruit the Vegans will live longer and better).
Back to the “news.” Here is the bottom line: food labeled organic may or may not be any better for you than food that costs much less. Some will argue over amounts of chemicals and pesticides. Here is foodie reality: how fresh is it, when was it picked?
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.