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Elixirs: Organic Planet

From peppercorns and Pinot Noirs to shampoos and skin creams, the world of organics is getting bigger and better.

Organics Around the Globe
Lundberg Family Farms brown rice from California is chewy and aromatic (530-882-4551). Frontier Natural Products Co-op black peppercorns from Madagascar have a mild bite (800-669-3275). Roi extra-virgin olive oil biologico comes from fruity Italian Taggiasca olives (877-878-2783). Handmade tagliatelle from Recipes of Provence can compete with any Italian pasta (212-378-4410). Profits from sales of Organic Lemon Refresher, a sparkling lemonade from Prince Charles's Duchy Originals, go to English farmers (209-522-6860). Mulino Sobrino Italian red-corn polenta is stone-ground (877-878-2783).

When Chefs Go Green
New restaurants are so eager to tout their green credentials they're calling attention to them any way they can. The superhot Chadwick, in Beverly Hills, is named for the organic-gardening guru Alan Chadwick. Chris Douglass, the chef at Icarus, in Boston, has established a lending library in the restaurant to educate diners about sustainable agriculture. And Cory Schreiber, the chef and owner of Wildwood, in Portland, Oregon, boasts that 80 percent of his produce is organic. Of course, there are always the classics: Restaurant Nora, in Washington, D.C., and Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, which started the whole trend.

Natural Beauty
The organic rose petal essence in Neal's Yard Remedies Rose Floral Water tones and refreshes the skin ($11 for 1.7 ounces from Karen Alweil Studio; 800-600-3458). John Masters Citrus & Neroli Detangler is the result of this New York City hair stylist's experiments with organic oil essences ($15 for 8 ounces; 800-599-2450). Weleda Skin Food is a moisturizer with organic extracts such as chamomile ($13 for 2.5 ounces; 800-241-1030). Aveda's All/Sensitive Body Formula, the company's first entirely organic product, can be used as a moisturizer, makeup remover or hair conditioner ($18 for 2 ounces; 800-328-0849). Plus, two new organic aromatherapy brands to look for: the British import Everest Hill Aromas (Barneys; 888-222-7639) and Tend Blends (303-413-9384).

Did You Know...
" There are more than 12,000 organic farmers in the U.S.
" Certified-organic cropland in the U.S. more than doubled between 1992 and 1997.
" You can join an organic mile-high club: Swissair and the Belgian airline Sabena are serving meals and snacks that are 90 percent organic.

Best Organic Wines
Wine-store shelves hold plenty of organic choices, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the labels. Most bottles don't say so on the front and only some have notations on the back from certifying agencies such as the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Organic wines will be easier to pick out once the new United States Department of Agriculture seals start appearing next year (see Eco-cooking, below). In the meantime, here are 10 bottles recommended by wine writer Michael Bonadies:

NV Toffoli Prosecco di Conegliano ($12)

1998 Mas de Gorgonnier
Les Baux de Provence ($14)

1998 Marc Kreydenweiss Kritt
Pinot Blanc ($16)

1998 Mont St. John Madonna Estate Pinot Noir ($17)

1998 Bonterra Syrah ($19)

1998 Robert Sinskey Los Carneros
Chardonnay ($26)

1997 Lolonis Private Reserve
Chardonnay ($28)

1998 Coudoulet de Beaucastel
Côtes-du-Rhône ($28)

1997 Domaine de Marcoux
Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($30)

1997 Frog's Leap
Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)

Why to Buy Organic
Is organic food worth the extra money? It is if you care about the environment. Organic farming is less likely to pollute the soil and water, and it promotes sustainable agriculture (keeping soil fertile instead of overworking it as conventional agriculture does). It's also worth it if you want to reduce your exposure to pesticides, which at high levels could cause cancer and other illnesses. A 1998 Consumer Reports study on organic and conventional produce found that only a quarter of the organic samples examined had pesticide residues, compared with 77 percent of the regular produce. While the experts continue to debate how muchpesticide exposure is safe, the Environmental Protection Agency is reevaluating 9,700 pesticide-tolerance levels. So far, it has revised its opinion in 37 percent of the cases it's studied, in some cases because levels once considered harmless are now known to pose a hazard.

Eco-cooking
"Behind every great chef is a great farmer," says Wendy Richard, cofounder of Eating Fresh, a new company that aims to publish region-by-region guides that celebrate organic farmers and the chefs who love them. The first, Cooking Fresh from the Bay Area, features recipes by Gary Danko, Annie Somerville of Greens and other notables. Look for Cooking Fresh from the Mid-Atlantic early next year.

Labeling Breakthrough
Advocates for organic food can celebrate another victory: The United States Department of Agriculture is (at long last) establishing national standards for labeling food and wine as organic. Right now, there are more than 50 certifying agencies in the country, each of which has its own standard. Next year packages will bear USDA organic seals... meaning, among other things, that produce has been grown without synthetic pesticides and hasn't been genetically engineered or irradiated, and that chickens and cattle were given feed without hormones or antibiotics.

Published May 2001
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