Monday, January 13, 2014

Organic Trade Association's New CEO on the Future of Organics

Posted: 13 Jan 2014 04:39 PM PST

In the midst of the frenzy kicked up by Cheerios' GMO-free announcement, the organic world has been buzzing with its own important news after the Organic Trade Association named longtime industry veteran Laura Batcha to become the association's CEO and executive director.

Batcha will take the helm of the North American organization at a time when the organic sector is beginning to regain stronger annual growth numbers while continuing to face challenges in promoting, clarifying and differentiating the attributes of the organic seal in relation to the non-GMO, local and natural categories.

Batcha has had her hands in the organic industry for more than 20 years, beginning in 1989 when she worked on an organic farm in Santa Cruz, Calif. Later on, she started her own herbal business and held several leadership positions at Tom's of Maine before joining the Organic Trade Association six years ago. She began as the association's marketing and public relations director and climbed the ranks to become executive vice president before her most recent promotion.

Batcha said one of the association's top priorities will be continuing to support the National Organic Program and its oversight of the organic seal. That work has recently included pushing for a provision in the upcoming Farm Bill to provide one-time financial assistance to the National Organic Program to update its technology systems.

Marketing the Organic Message

On a broader market-level view, the OTA's industry analysis describes a continued challenge in overcoming consumer confusion over the different benefits of organic food versus natural, non-GMO and local alternatives. Many consumers don't understand that the organic certification prohibits the use of GMOs, for example, the report said.

It's a challenge the OTA is taking on through education and promotional efforts that include advocating for policies that protect the rights of organic producers and handlers to make claims around, for example, the non-GMO guarantee that organics offer. There's also movement to form an organic checkoff program, a quasi-government structure that allows the industry to self-pool money to fund education, promotion and research to support the industry รก la the Got Milk? campaign.

"It's a way for the industry to really have a big enough megaphone to communicate that message to the public consistently," Batcha said. "At any given time, 30 percent of shoppers choosing organic have only been buying organic for less than two years, so our burden for education won't go away."

On mounting energy behind national or state-driven GMO labeling efforts, Batcha acknowledged they have the potential to increase competition with the green organic seal. But they also have spurred consumer desire to make more informed choices about their food which is a positive. It's the job of organics to educate consumers about the additional benefits the organic label brings to the table, she said.

"What we have to do as an organic industry is make sure the consumer understands that it's not apples to apples. The organic field offers more," she said.

Taking Organic to the Masses

The increase in shelf space devoted to organic products at mass-market retailers and the growth in private label organic products are both trends Batcha said will likely continue. Eight of twelve private label categories tracked in 2012 experienced double-digit growth that year, according to the OTA's 2013 industry survey. A combination of trust, convenience and price has driven consumers to choose those brands, the report said.

On the international stage, mass-market retailers like Costco are becoming key players in bringing U.S. produce to other countries, Batcha said.

"As long as the trend for the consumer is more organic products, which it will continue to be, more outlets are going to be interested in attracting those shoppers to their stores," she said. 

Immune-Boosting Pho Recipe

Posted: 13 Jan 2014 09:47 AM PST

Whether you tend to approach cold and flu season by crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, or by stocking your cupboards with an arsenal of natural immunity-boosters, I've got a recipe for you that I think could revolutionize your approach to staying healthy this winter. It's a delicious version of pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup that's chock full of health-promoting aromatic spices.

As an enthusiastic vegan cook and an herbalist, I just had to play with the classic recipe a little bit to see if I could make an animal-friendly version that's even more effective and delicious than the original. I've added burdock root (Arctium lappa) to support liver function and to increase the mineral content. The astragalus in the recipe is prized as an immunomodulator. It will help to make your immune response more effective without causing your immune system to become overactive. Finally, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it helps your body to respond more healthfully to physical and mental stress.

In many traditions, tonic herbs like these are considered to be most effective when cooked into food, but it's the taste of this soup that will keep you coming back for more. I can't think of anything more comforting than cozying up with a bowl of this healing pho on a wintry day. Enjoy it as a meal or make a big batch of the broth and drink a bit each day as a delicious tonic for your immune system this winter.


**Tip: you may be able to purchase the medicinal herbs for this recipe in the bulk section of your natural food store. If you can't find them there, you can order bulk herbs online.

For the broth:
  • 2 unpeeled organic onions, cut into quarters
  • 8-12 garlic cloves, smashed
  • a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, cut into thick slices
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (about 3 inches long)
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 cup dried burdock (Arctium lappa) root
  • 1 Tbsp. dried (Astragalus membranaceus) root
  • 1 Tbsp. dried Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) root
  • 3 Tbsp. tamari, or Coconut Aminos
To make it a meal:
  • 1 pound rice noodles
  • 8 ounces fried or baked tofu (or seitan), sliced
  • 6 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
  • Handful of fresh basil or cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime
  • Optional sauces for serving: hoisin or sriracha
To make the broth:

Start by dry-roasting the broth ingredients to bring out their flavor. Heat a very large soup pot over medium-high heat. Do not add any oil or water to the pot. When the pot is heated, add the quartered onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anist, and cloves. Stir occasionally, allowing the veggies to char slightly and the spices to start to give off their aromas. This should take about 5-10 minutes.

Next, add 4-6 quarts of filtered water until your pot is a little bit more than ¾ of the way full. Add the medicinal roots (burdock, astragalus, and eleuthero) and give the pot a good stir. Bring the broth up to the boil, uncovered. Then, turn the heat down to low, partially cover the pot, and allow to simmer for 30-45 minutes. Add more water as needed to keep the pot about ¾ of the way full. If you have more time, let the broth simmer longer.

Once you're finished simmering the broth, allow it to cool enough to handle. Strain the veggies, spices, and herbs from the broth using a strainer lined with cheesecloth and make sure to wring out your herbs and veggies by wrapping the cheesecloth around them and squeezing it with your hands. This helps to make sure you get to enjoy every last drop of the broth. (You can snack on the cooked onions, garlic, and ginger for an extra immune-boost.) Finish the broth by adding 3 Tbsp. of tamari or coconut aminos.

You can enjoy a cup of the broth each day as an immune tonic. It will keep in the fridge for about a week, or you can freeze it in small batches to use throughout the winter. Or, if you'd like to enjoy the Pho as a meal, cook your rice noodles according to package directions and place them in serving bowls with your tofu/seitan and mung bean sprouts. Cover each portion of noodles with a generous serving of broth and garnish with hand-torn basil leaves. Bring a small bowl of lime wedges to the table along with hot sauce and/or hoisin sauce so that everyone can serve themselves

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