In a perfect world, all the food we put into our bodies would be organic, but as we all well know, we don’t live in a perfect world. Organic food, although more readily available than say, 15 years ago, still isn’t the main supply and sometimes, depending on what the product or produce is, the cost can be up to double the cost of conventional for the same product.
In a less than flourishing economy, like we’re living in now, we all have to watch our spending and need to make sure we’re getting the best value for our dollar. Realistically not all of us can afford to buy absolutely everything organic. So how do you decide? How do you choose what to buy organic and what to buy conventional? How do you know what’s “worth it” and what’s not?
A few of years ago I ran across the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website and found the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce also known as the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. These lists show the results of a study done from 2000 – 2009 by the USDA which ranks pesticide contamination on 53 of the most popular fruits and veggies.
The Dirty Dozen list shows the worst foods to buy conventional due to the amount of pesticide contaminants and the Clean 15 list shows the foods with the least amount of contaminants, or in other words the safest to buy conventional. Everything else falls somewhere in the middle. You can read more about the methodology of the study on the EWG website. I would highly recommend it because it goes more in-depth about the findings and you can see the full listing of all 53 items tested as well.
If you’re thinking “I don’t need that, I wash everything before we eat it.” The reality is, we do need it. The majority of the produce in this study was tested after being rinsed or peeled.
So what do you do? If you’re like me, when I first read this study, it scared the pants off of me. I had no idea that “the apple a day to keep the doctor away” I had been eating is the worst offender in pesticide contamination. Great. Here I’ve been making an effort to eat well and instead I’ve been pumping my body full of pesticides. My initial reaction was fear. I needed to stop what I was doing, throw out all my produce and completely switch over, only buy organic. But, realistically, I knew my bank account would last about four nano-seconds if I did that, which is exactly why the EWG put the Shopper’s Guide together. So instead what I do is as I make my grocery list, I check the lists. (The EWG site has a nice pdf list you can print off and hang on your fridge or bring to the store with you as a reference sheet.) If I need apples I note “org” behind them so I know when I’m in the store that I needto buy that item in organic. If I’m buying bananas I either put “c” or “conv” or leave it blank so I know that I can either buy conventional or organic. Everything in the middle (not on the Dirty Dozen, but not on the Clean 15) I leave blank as well leaving myself the flexibility to buy whatever looks good at the store.
Next, I check my packaged goods (cans, jars, etc.) to make sure that anything I’m buying in this category or is made from these items follow the same guidelines… applesauce “org”, tomatoe sauce “org”, and so forth. The same goes for frozen veggies…
So there you have it. A practical guideline to help navigate whether or not to buy organic produce and where to get the most bang for your buck.