Monday, April 21, 2008

Organic Pasta on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day! No, that doesn't mean I'll be preparing mud pies for supper tonight. It does mean that I'll be talking about organic food. More importantly for this month, organic pasta.

Grains, in the form of whole grains, breads, or noodles, make up 75% of calories consumed by humans. Fully half of the worlds cultivated land is grows some kind of grain. Conventional wheat production makes use of synthetic agricultural chemicals, while organic rules prohibit such use. While there are certain benefits to organic grain production, there are also problems that are difficult to deal with on a large scale. The efficiency of conventional methods is hard to match when using purely organic ones.

Fortunately, the human health risks associated with the chemicals used in grain production appear to be very small. The problem lies more in environmental issues. Pollution of ground water and soil compaction due to heavy machinery are the biggest issues.

Fortunately, consumer demand has made organic pasta readily available. Twenty years ago we were lucky to even find whole wheat pasta. Today we can get pastas made from a variety of grains and in all kinds of shapes. Most local supermarkets only supply organic pasta in a few forms. Natural food stores have entire aisles dedicated to the stuff. Several national brands, such as DaVinci Italian Organics, are widely available. Local brands are, by nature, more limited. If you're making your own fresh pasta, organic flours can be also be found under brand names like Gold Medal Organics.

One problem many consumers have with the switch from conventional to organic food is the price. Most organic food is much higher in price than its conventional counterpart. Organic breads can be as much as two to three times as expensive as conventional bread. Interestingly, though, organic dried pastas aren't much more money, on average, than conventional dried pastas. Many are available in bulk bins, further reducing the cost.

If you're thinking about going organic, if only for Earth Day, organic pastas may be your first, and easiest, change. Now, go plant a tree.

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