Ayala Laufer-Cahana, MD, is in my kitchen today to talk about the whole-circle benefits of organic food, her healthy favorite foods from childhood, and her well-rounded sources of news.
Dr. Laufer-Cahana, physician (pediatrics and medical genetics), is an artist, serious vegetarian home cook, mother of three active school-age kids, and cofounder of Herbal Water Inc.
Why is living organic important to you?
I started buying organic products as soon as they became available to me, and I believe that living organic isn’t just about your personal well-being, it’s also about doing the right thing for our environment, and it brings us a step closer to healthier, sustainable living.
Conventional food is grown using a multitude of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. We now know that these remain in the food, and are absorbed by and present in our bodies. As expected, research shows that organic diets result in fewer pesticides ending up in subjects’ bodies. Although conventional growers and food producers make every effort to convince us that these chemicals are safe and harmless in these amounts, common sense says that they definitely add nothing good to our health, and we’re probably better off without them.
There is also some evidence that organic produce is more nutritious and has a higher content of phytochemicals. (Phytochemicals are chemical compounds derived from plants and fruits; there is evidence from epidemiological studies that phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of disease.) I personally think organic produce tastes better.
But again, buying and eating organic isn’t just about maintaining your own health; it’s about the health of our whole ecosystem—our air, water, soil, and all other living creatures. It’s also about the health of farm workers and freedom from reliance on fossil fuels.
What was your favorite food growing up?
Fruits, especially apples, and vegetable salads—I’m not kidding. I’m living proof that with the right introduction, and with quality fruits and veggies, you can get kids craving the healthy stuff.
What’s your go-to comfort food now?
Chocolate! I think chocolate has a direct effect on my mood and well-being.
What’s the one thing in your kitchen you just couldn’t live without?
I have to admit that I do love a well-equipped kitchen, and I have treated myself over the years to a kitchen that’s a delight to cook in. But if I had to pick just one thing it would be my fresh herbs, growing in pots in the cold season and outside in the warm season. They add that special complexity and flavor to my cooking.
What magazine, website, book, album, or product are you most obsessed with right now?
I crave books. I’m always reading. Recent good reads include Richards Powers’ Generosity, Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality, and Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows.
What’s the most important news story today that you think we all need to pay more attention to?
I think that the news about the obesity epidemic’s global dimensions, combined with growing concerns about rising healthcare costs, and the growing awareness of just how poor our eating habits and food have become, are creating a perfect storm. I have a feeling we’re reaching a tipping point in which being health conscious will become mainstream.
Where do you get your news?
I read The New York Times and listen to NPR when I’m in the car or cooking. I go to the BBC for another perspective. And The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is what makes the news bearable.