09/24/2012 07:56 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

Meatless Monday: Tending Our (Organic) Gardens

Stanford University, home of the study questioning the health benefits of organics, is also the home of Cool Cafe, run by Jesse Ziff Cool, chef and lecturer. It is also the home of Cool's organic garden.

Has the study shaken Cool's faith in organics? The Simply Organic author laughs. "I've been pioneering and advocating organics for 37 years. Once you really embrace that, you don't want to feed yourself or anyone near you anything that could some day harm you. All you want is real food." The nutritional findings of one study, even from the university where she teaches, grows food and cooks, doesn't change that.

It doesn't change things for Bob Quinn,, either. The president of KAMUT International and winner of the 2010 Organic Leadership Award says the study "doesn't jibe with my experience of the last 25 years."

It doesn't change things for Arran Stephens. "I've spent the past 45 years growing, preparing and eating organic foods," says the CEO of Nature's Path. "The company's slogan? For 3 generations/always organic."

Call them organic study deniers. Call them, to use Cool's term, "rebellious naturals." The Stanford study doesn't affect their -- or my -- commitment to organics any more than the Medical Journal of Australia's new study advocating a meatless diet will shake the convictions of a passionate Paleo.

We value organics not for one thing but for everything. I want to preserve the integrity of our resources. I don't want conventional farming's toxic crud in the soil, in the water, in you or in me.

"Food grown without toxic pesticides, glyphosate herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, sewage sludge and radiation is healthier for consumers, farmers and the environment," says Stephens. And it's more fun for farmers.

For Bob Quinn, farming KAMUT organically means "I'm not under the thumb of a chemical company. I'm not tied to their regime of high input and high output. I have much more freedom, much more flexibility in what I plant. If you use certain kinds of chemicals, your hands are tied for years," he says.

When you start devaluing organics, you're allowing for the possibility for the food system to be further corrupted, as if it needs any help. You're allowing big ag to come in and push GMO crops. Most Americans do not want GMOs. California is trying to make GMO labelling a state law. There's a similar effort here in Florida. We have the right to know what's in our food, especially as studies continue to link GMOs to health risks.

"In South Africa, farm workers are eating GM crops, they're the first to go down," says Quinn. "To me, those people are like the canary in the cage. They're indicators for the rest of us."

"We dump our garbage in other people's soil," says Cool, "I call it unconscionable." Like Stephens and Quinn, Cool has been advocating organics long before me, since before organic was, well, cool. As a self-described "braless hippie chick, teaching people the value of eating real was not easy." She shrugs. "Everything goes in cycles. I believe as cycles change, the truth comes out." Her organic restaurant Flea Street Cafe, now in its 32nd year, "is always packed -- it's the most amazing think tank/love fest, and it's filled with kids. They care about the planet, they care about each other. I'm hopeful."

Voltaire said we must tend our own gardens. He meant it's tough to change the world and it can get ugly and overwhelming out there, anyway. Be strategic, specific, use your energy to nurture your strengths. That, in turn, makes the world better. Like Quinn, like Stephens, like Cool, whose garden grows at Stanford Univeristy, I choose to make my garden organic. Because as the Simply Organic author says, "Every human being on the planet deserves to eat basic, healthy, clean food."

Whole Grain Salad with Cucumber and Feta

from Jesse Ziff Cool's Simply Organic

There are so many wonderful organic whole grains on the market, and this combination of flavors would work well with most of them. Note that the recipe calls for cooked grains because the cooking times and ratios of grain to water vary so much from one grain to the next. Consult the directions on the package or search for information on the Internet.

2 cups cooked hearty whole grains, such as milo, wheat berries, bulgur, spelt, or barley
2 green onions, chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 jalapeño or another hot chile pepper, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, toss together the grains, green onions, cucumber, dill, garlic, jalapeño, oil, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Stir in the feta cheese. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 4 servings

Kitchen Tip

Milo is grain sorghum, a gluten-free grain native to Africa and Asia. This small round berry varies in color from light brown to white. It has a slightly nutty flavor and can be can be eaten like popcorn, cooked into porridge, ground into flour for baked goods, or brewed into beer.