Friday, October 27, 2006

Be a smart organic shopper and save: learn about the most and least contaminated produce

Are you interested in buying organic produce-- for health and/or environmental reasons-- but are put off by how darn expensive it is?  That's how I am, and so I end up basically ignoring organic food altogether.  It feels like an all-or-nothing thing, and I can't bear to spend the money for the "all" so it ends up being "nothing."

But it turns out that not all organic produce is created equal-- or really, that not all non-organic produce is created equal.  There are actually huge disparities in the amount of pesticides on fruits and vegetables.  For example, more than 90% of non-organic apples, peaches, nectarines and celery have pesticide residue on them after normal washing/preparation; less than 10% of onions, asparagus, frozen sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, and avocados do.

That data's from the Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce, by the Environmental Working Group.  They used data from the FDA and Department of Agriculture, and rated the 43 most commonly purchased fruits and vegetables based on a number of criteria, including likelihood of pesticide residue, number of different pesticides present, amount of pesticides present, and more.  If you visit, you can download a pocket guide with the top 12 worst and best fruits and vegetables, as well as see the whole list of 43 and read more about the methodology.

There are a variety of ways to put this information to good use.  You can choose to pick a handful of the worst offenders and go organic for those fruits and veggies; you can go organic for all except the best cases; if you're already shopping organic and the prices are killing you, you could go back to standard onions, asparagus, and other low-pesticide produce.  Another option, rather than the pricey organics, would be to cut back on or eliminate your purchases of particularly contaminated produce.  If you like but don't love peaches, and you enjoy pineapples or mangoes almost as much, maybe it makes sense to change your habits.

Of course, I don't mean to suggest that the "good" fruits and vegetables are a perfect solution.  Even in the best cases, you've got a 1 in 10 chance of ingesting some pesticides.  If you want to be on the safest, healthiest side, and promote chemical-free organic farming, you'll want to buy organic across the board.  But honestly, reading this information has opened my eyes.  I keep a lot of criteria in mind when I'm shopping for food, but I've always said that I "don't do" organics, and it's all been because of the price tag.  But now I've got a plan to be a selective, partially organic shopper in the most beneficial way, and I'm excited about the implications.

Do you buy organic produce (or other food)?  If so, do you do it across the board or selectively?  If you only do it sometimes, is it just kind of haphazard, or do you choose what organic stuff to buy based on the price differential, or based on data like this, or other reasons?  If you have kids, has that affected your thinking and practices regarding organic food?

(I got tipped off to this info via Green LA Girl , a new favorite read of mine who I'll surely jabber more about on a future day.  Be especially sure to check her blog out if you're interested in fair trade coffee!)


HC said...

I admit it. I usually just watch conventional produce with soap and then rinse. ("Normal" washing routines don't include soap, as I understand it.)

I do like bananas, though, which have the advantage of being both inexpensive and lower in pesticides. And with them, I don't have to wash anything.

Debbie said...

Might be more to it than that. People don't just buy organic for the effects on them, but for the effects that non-organic farming practices have on the environment.


Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

We buy almost entirely organic--not just fruits and vegetables, but everything we can. THe impact of the amount of pesticides that makes it into streams and rivers is reaching critical mass; it's truly scary. Beyond that, some pesticides appear to mimic estrogen in the body, so in addition to just being poisons, they can also help develop and spread cancer. (Having had a hormone-linked cancer, I don't want to go through it again.)

We buy organic but almost all of our fruits and vegetables are extremely affordable, because we shop at a local farmer's market on Saturdays. That ended for the season this Saturday, so now we will be getting our fruits and veggies ($35 for a family of four for a week!) through a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture). You can find out more about these affordable options at

Emily said...

I would love more than anything to afford buying all of my produce organic, but the prices are certainly prohibitive.

So I'm very selective, and luckily there are several great health food stores nearby that stock both organic and regular produce from local farmers. Buying in season really helps, too.

But I have eliminated some of the top 12 offenders from my diet, and the others I buy organic when they're on sale. It really helps to know your prices.

FIRE Finance said...

This is a great post. We had switched to organic produce about a couple of years ago. Since then our health has improved and visits to the doctors have also decreased. Not only does it benefit our health, but also our planet and environment. And to top it off, we are investing long term in our health and saving huge on medical expenses and sufferings from illness. Even if its a bit expensive in the short term in the long run "organic" means win-win.

Anonymous said...

I started by being partly organic but after reading all the side-effects on both my own health and theenvironment, I simply cannot afford NOT to buy everything organic. Plus, it tastes so good! I've been buying organic food (produce, meat, dairy) for 5 years now and enver looked back, so what if it's a bit more, my health is worth more than money! Plus, it saves you money in the end since you don't need to buy all kinds of vitamins, etc. I also buy organic soaps, shampoos, lotions, etc. I am now starting to buy organic clothes & underwear, towels, blankets, pillows, etc. conventional Cotton crops make up 25% of worldwide pesticide use.

frudal credit card user said...

I think organic food is way too expensive. What do you think about jewish cosher food? It should be healthy, too.

BK said...

I, too, have found organically grown food to be expensive, but as it becomes more mainstream with more grocery chains offering organics, it should become less expensive due to competition.