Is organic food really worth it? I get his question a lot. I believe it depends on the food. The biggest motivation to buy organic is to eliminate foods sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Some people position themselves on the organic side for two reasons. 1.) Minimize their exposure of these chemicals, and 2.) Minimize support of farms that expose their employees to the high amount of chemicals used by spraying while also contaminating the soil in their community.
If your primary goal of buying organic is to eliminate the amount of foods with pesticide residues you place in your body you should read the list called the Dirty Dozen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) creates an annual list that provides consumers with the 12 most contaminated crops by pesticides (a 2011 list yields results from 2010 crops). Since I cook for 6, I understand the challenge of buying organic on a budget. I really rely on this list to tell me what I should spend my money on. According the EWG, if you follow this list, you can reduce your overall exposure by 80%. To check out the pesticides on these foods click here.
- Apples and therefore apple juices and sauces. You can peel the skin (not scrub it) of the apple to eliminate the 42 pesticides present on the average non-organic crop, however, you are throwing out one of most nutritious parts.
- Celery from non-organic farms has often been found with 60 different pesticides. Because it has no protective skin the pesticides immerse themselves to this crunchy veggie.
- Strawberries are tough for regular farmers because of the amount of fungus that smothers the crop. In order the control the fungus, farmers must use pesticides. It is really difficult to wash away these pesticides. If you cant afford them organic, try buying strawberries frozen where there are generally less total pesticides. Blueberries fall in this same category (frozen bags have less). Both carry over 50 pesticides.
- Peaches have also been found with 60 different pesticides on them. So also avoid the single servings of peaches. However, canned peaches have fewer pesticides in general.
- Spinach, Kale (a newer addition to the list) and Lettuce of all leafy greens has the most pesticides. They carry about 50 types of pesticides when they come from non-organic farms. Once again, frozen spinach does have less if you cannot afford spinach from an organic farm.
- Nectarines from imported farms carry a large number of chemicals. Our domestic nectarines are not as bad, but it is still a good idea to be selective and buy organic and ripe to eat so there is no waste.
- Grapes are another fruit that comes to the US from other countries with a lot of pesticides. Keep in mind, that raisins also need to be bought organic if you want to stick to this recommended list of organic fruits and vegetables.
- Sweet Bell Peppers also rank very high in chemicals- insecticide get through this thin skinned vegetable, sadly is all colors.
- Potatoes should come as no surprise. We have all heard of the terrible pests that have historically threatened the potato crop. So many farmers need to rely on pesticides to keep their crop healthy. I was surprised to know that sweet potatoes however, have a much lower amount of pesticide residue.
Can’t Afford Organic – What do you do?
If it is not reasonable to budget for organic food, particularly if you live on a strict budget you can take comfort in the fact that the USDA sets allowable pesticide residue limits that are deemed safe for consumption. Of course, these standards are constantly being debated by various environmental agencies as too liberal, favoring the farm, more than the health interests of the consumer. If this list freaked you out and you are torn between breaking the bank, you can do what I do – shop the sales and cook accordingly. I will admit, I have a hard time always buying strawberries and blueberries organic because they are so expensive and all my kids eat them. But I will rotate my purchases. Since I love kale, spinach, brussel sprouts – pretty much anything green; I buy whichever one is on sale and actually looks like it will make it all week in the refrigerator.