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Healthy Cooking Ingredient Selection Issues

Healthy Cooking Ingredient Selection Issues

Farmer's Market oranges, right after a harvest

Culinary Institute of America

Chefs consider a number of things when they decide what foods to buy and where to buy them. Menus and daily production needs dictate the ingredients. Beyond that, chefs consider quality, cost, and availability. Today’s chef also needs to think about how foods were raised or grown, the ways in which they were processed before they arrived at the restaurant, and the consequences to the health of their customers and the planet.

Food scares and even recalls are common occurrences. When bagged spinach was infected with E. coli at a major processing center in the fall of 2006, the nation learned just how quickly a food-borne illness could spread nationwide. The lesson for the industry is not that you should avoid all bagged spinach but that you need to learn more than just the specifications for the apples you use in the kitchen. You should be confident that the foods you are purchasing are wholesome and safe at each step on their way to your operation. There is little you can do about a food you’ve already accepted that arrives at your kitchen already contaminated, especially when the pathogen is not destroyed during ordinary cooking processes. Your best, and really only, recourse is choosing reputable suppliers who deal with reputable food producers. The larger and longer your food supply chain, the more difficult this can be. The more direct your contact, the greater the sense of accountability.

When healthy cooking is an important component of your operation, you also need to be knowledgeable about some common farming methods: conventional farming, organic and sustainable farming, free-range animal husbandry practices, and aquaculture. Foods that have been genetically modified, bio-engineered, or treated with hormones are very much on the minds of your customers these days.

Agriculture in the United States has changed dramatically in the last fifty or so years. Mechanized farming, synthetic chemicals for fertilization and pest control, improved irrigation methods, and seed stock that is both resistant to disease and produces greater yields are but some of the innovations. And while some people feel these modern methods, often referred to as “conventional” farming practices, are a necessity if there is to be enough affordable food for everyone, others believe they pose a threat to the health and well-being of society and the environment.

However, foods that are organic, hormone-free, free-range, and not genetically modified tend to be more expensive than foods produced by conventional farming methods. Rather than base their choices solely on price, many chefs who are responsible for purchasing feel they have an obligation to make informed choices about the ingredients they buy in order to support or discourage certain agricultural practices.

Some production methods are controversial. There are consequences for every choice that is made. The challenge to the chef is making the best possible choices to meet the objectives and goals of his or her individual operation and the customers it serves. For some, this will require giving cost a top priority. For others, the nutritional and ecological benefits of one food or producer over another may beat out all other priorities except quality.

1. Sustainable Agriculture
2. Organic Foods
3. Free-Range Livestock
4. Biotechnology
5. Irradiation
6. Toxins and Allergens