Know what you’re eating

How many of us really know where our food comes from or even how it’s grown? Most people are not concerned with such detail, but when you have a digestive disorder and everything that you do decide to put in your mouth needs to be scrutinized, you learn quickly how to identify the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’. I have recently begun to use the PLU coding on fruits and vegetables in the grocery when the produce is not clearly marked as conventionally or organically grown. This my friends is a very handy tool.

I was in the market yesterday and was looking at the gorgeous asparagus that was on sale. I noticed that it was grown in Mexico, but it did not state whether it was conventionally or organically grown. I checked the PLU code and noticed it began with the number 8. 8? What the heck does that 8 mean? I checked my PLU code list and my mouth dropped when I realized that 8 is the digit that is used to identify food that has been genetically modified. Yup…genetically modified! I was shocked as I watched person after person pick up the asparagus and put it in their baskets. They had no idea (ok, maybe they did but just didn’t care).

I asked the produce worker stocking the asparagus if the store had any organically grown asparagus. I was led to a completely different part of the store where there was plenty of packaged organic asparagus. They didn’t look as pretty as the other asparagus, but I was not going to compromise my body simply for the look of the produce. On my way up to the register I ran into the same produce worker who was stocking the asparagus and asked her if she had any conventionally grown asparagus aside from the genetically modified ones. She looked at me like I had two heads (you know that look) and laughed. I asked her why she was laughing and she went on to explain how some people seem to know more about produce than is good for them. I explained to her that the number 8 digit on the PLU indicated that the asparagus was indeed genetically modified. She went on and on telling me how she has been in produce for 15 years and never has she heard of such a thing.  Just goes to show you that even the people that work with the food sometimes don’t know what they are even stocking.

Here’s how the coding works…
PLU codes have been used by supermarkets since 1990 to make check-out and inventory control easier, faster, and more accurate. Fresh fruit and vegetable PLU codes are used to identify bulk produce (and related items such as nuts and herbs). For example, they tell the supermarket cashier whether an apple is a conventionally grown Fuji apple which may sell for $1.29 per pound/kg versus an organically grown Fuji apple which may sell for $2.29 per pound/kg. In some instances the codes are also differentiated by size (e.g. small, medium, large).

The 4-digit PLU codes for produce are assigned randomly within a series of numbers within the 3000 and 4000 series. There is no intelligence built into the 4-digit code. For example, no one number within the 4-digit number represents anything in particular. The 4-digit codes are for conventionally grown produce. 5-digit codes are used to identify organic or genetically modified produce. The prefix of ‘8’ would be placed in front of the 4-digit code for genetically modified produce and the prefix of ‘9’ would be placed in front of the 4-digit conventionally grown code for organic produce. You will not see the 5 digit codes in the PLU codes database since they are simply prefixes added to the conventionally grown produce PLU codes.

So, a 0 in front of the 4 digit code means that the produce is conventionally grown. An 8 in front of the 4 digit code means it is genetically modified, and a 9 in front of the 4 digit code means that it is organic.

For example, a banana is coded at 4011, a conventionally grown banana would be 04011, a genetically modified banana would be 84011, and an organically grown banana would be 94011.

Simple huh? So, the next time you want to know how your produce is grown, and what you are putting in your body…check the PLU code.

And on a side note, the organically grown asparagus…I roasted it last night with some beautiful extra virgin olive oil (again from my favorite Mountain Town Olive Oil Co in Salt Lake), some Real Salt (again from Salt Lake) and pepper. It was absolutely amazing! It may not have been prettier than the other asparagus, but the taste…pure, gorgeous asparagus flavor with all of it’s intended nutrition. A happy tummy, intestines and body!

I had the roasted asparagus with a simple center cut pork chop…from humanily raised piggies. I love pig! The chop got the same treatment as the asparagus. It was pat dry of any moisture, rubbed with a little bit of the pure olive oil, Real Salt and pepper. I seared it in a hot pan on one side allowing the sugars in the meat to come to the surface and create a crunch piggy caramel. Flipped the chop over and put it in the oven (where the asparagus was already roasting) until it reached an internal temperature of 130 degrees. (Oh, the oven was at 400 degrees F.) I pulled it from the oven and put it on a plate. I tented it with some aluminum foil and let it rest while the asparagus finished (which was in the oven for a total of 20 minutes). As I waited for the asparagus to finish I made a simple pan sauce to go with it.

Ipork chops placed the pan that the chop had been cooked in on the stove top. I added about 1/2 cup of homemade beef stock (you can use chicken if you like), and deglazed the pan (or scrapped up all the brown bits stuck to the bottom). I added a touch of mustard (because I’m a mustard freak!) and allowed the sauce to reduce until the asparagus was done. It was perfect timing. When the asparagus came out of the oven the pork had reached a perfect 140 degrees internal temp (which meant it would be still just a tad pink and very juicy). I finished the sauce with just a touch of chocolate balsamic vinegar (a little acid goes a long way in waking up a sauce)…yes, again from Mountain Town Olive Oil Co. Gave it a whisk to combine and poured it over the chop and the asparagus tying it all together. Dinner…was served! And…dinner…was amazing! And…I didn’t get sick. I ate too much, yes…but I didn’t get sick!

I’m looking forward to making it again! The left over asparagus will go into a fritatta for lunch today!
If you’re curious about the PLU stuff, go to Know what you’re eating! It will keep you out of the doctor’s office!

Off to the market to get some organically grown starter plants for my garden!
Have an amazing day…and happy eating!