When chef Jesse Cool opened Flea St. Cafe in Menlo Park 21 years ago, she feared the word organic on the menu would scare people away. Paul Buscemi, chef at trendy Incanto restaurant in San Francisco,
admits organic food used to look "kind of raggedy." But today, he buys organic whenever possible, and Cool's three restaurants proudly tout organic menus.
"Organic food is grown seasonally, and food grown in its rightful season has more flavor and taste," says chef Nora Pouillon, owner of Restaurant Nora, a four-star, certified organic restaurant in Washington, D.C.
American consumers increasingly agree. Chefs like these may have led the way to organic ingredients, but it's grocery shoppers fed on a steady diet of scary news about pesticides, food-borne diseases, and genetically engineered plants, who have turned to organic produce and packaged foods to help allay their fears and improve their health. But not everyone has bought in.
"The health risks associated with pesticide residues on food are not at all established," Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health, which lobbies against organic agriculture, told The New York Times. "I think the amount of pesticide residues to which we are exposed on our foods pose no significant health risks to human beings."
An Organic Apple A Day
But Americans are increasingly aware of connections between diet and health, such as studies that have shown that 35 percent of cancers are linked to eating habits. Seventy-nine percent of Americans worry about the safety of their food. So, many U.S. consumers, according to the Economic Research Serv-ice of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, choose organic food for its perceived health attributes.