Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maximizing money spent on organic foods

When I was a junior at Berry College, I had a friend tell me she was switching to "all organic" foods. If I'm honest with myself, I definitely scoffed and thought "how pretentious!" (Sorry if you read this ME!). But over the past few years, as I've learned about the U.S. agricultural system and generally how food is produced and shipped globally, I've become more and more interested in not only eating organically grown produce and organically raised animal products, but I'm also beginning to commit to eating locally produced items as well. I must admit that this is slightly easier to do in Upstate New York where we are surrounded with wonderful farms, and in addition to having a twice weekly Farmer's Market available year-round, we also have two grocery stores which have a wide selection of organic and locally produce products. A commitment to this type of eating is not as easy in other places of the country-- like Alabama and Georgia (sorry to the people I know there!).

So why is this so important? Recently, many food scientists have come out saying that even small doses of pesticides and chemicals used on mass market farms can/could cause lasting damage to human health, particularly during fetal development and early childhood. As Scott and I begin thinking and planning about a pregnancy in the not-so-distant future, I've started thinking even more about what type of foods I'm putting into my body. Washing and peeling vegetables and fruits will, of course, help cut down on the pesticides, but there are still penetrating pesticides AND most of the nutrients in many fruits and vegetables are found in the skin.

But it's SO EXPENSIVE!! This is SO true. While some prices are coming down, and aren't too much expensive (just 50 cents more for 2 lbs of organic carrots compared to the un-organic carrots), when you combine all the produce a couple or family consumes on a balanced diet, it will really add up. And this isn't even including the prices of organic meat. We haven't quite gotten to the point where we can afford organic meat and eggs, but we're working on it. The Environmental Working Group (found at has put together a "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides." This ranks the "dirty dozen" or the top 12 fruits and vegetables to always buy organic, and then the "Clean 15," which are 15 fruits and vegetables that are lowest in pesticides. Now, as you plan your meals and snacks for the week, you can know where you money is best spent on organic produce.

The Dirty Dozen (buy these organic) in order of highest concentrations on pesticides:
1. peach
2. apple
3. bell pepper
4. celery
5. nectarine
6. strawberries
7. cherries
8. kale
9. lettuce
10. grapes (imported)
11. carrot
12. pear

the Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides):
1. onion
2. avocado
3. sweet corn
4. pineapple
5. mango
6. asparagus
7. sweet peas
8. kiwi
9. cabbage
10. eggplant
11. papaya
12. watermelon
13. broccoli
14. tomato
15. sweet potato

Notice that the dirty dozen items all have thin skins and traditionally are known to have bug and worm problems! Majority of the Clean 15 are much heartier plants.

Of course, we could all avoid this debate and cost if we just grew our own food in our backyard. As soon as I get a backyard... I'm already planning my garden!


Scott Salsman said...

This is so great, honey, and I think people should pay attention, especially those planning to have children. Autism and related neurological conditions are becoming more and more prevalent, so we need to be extra careful to keep chemicals out of our systems (especially the ladies, sorry!). It certainly can't hurt us, and it may even help the food industry and agriculture in the long run if we're pumping some extra money into them for healthier food.

sarah said...

Thank you so much for this Tara! I was looking forward to this entry when I read about it on one of your other posts. Something I'm coming to be more concerned about as well. I actually went to the farmer's market today and bought onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, squash, and strawberries - all for $11!! I couldn't believe how inexpensive it was, and it was all local produce. :) I am going to write down both of these lists, and keep them in my purse for when I go grocery shopping.