Since we can’t subsist on cupcakes alone, let’s talk about fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce can be expensive when you are trying to stick to a frugal grocery budget, and organic produce can seem like a major splurge as the numbers on the cash register ring up. So, given that it’s often more expensive, what makes organic worth it?
Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The use of these substances on so-called “conventional” or non-organic produce means more chemical residues in your body as well as in the farmland and surrounding environment. The Environmental Working Group has spent years testing produce and has come up with two lists to help consumers navigate the produce department: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. The EWG “found that consumers could cut their pesticide exposure by almost 90% by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead” (EWG Press Release.)
The Dirty Dozen are foods shown to contain the most pesticide residue; for example, apples top the list with 98% of non-organic apples tested containing pesticides. Non-organic onions score the highest on the Clean 15 with less than 1% testing positive for pesticides. While I’d love to buy all organic produce (ideally fresh from a nearby farm), my wallet might jump out of my purse and smack me upside the head. Instead, I’ve used these lists as a concise and indispensable resource to determine which items are worth the splurge, and which I’m okay buying non-organic. Here are the full lists from the EWG’s 2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
The Dirty Dozen (non-organic produce retaining the most pesticide residue)
6. Imported Nectarines
7. Imported Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
10. Domestic Blueberries
12. Kale/Collard greens
and now the good news…
The Clean 15 (non-organic produce retaining the least pesticide residue)
6. Sweet peas
9. Domestic Cantaloupe
13. Sweet potatoes
It can be hard to remember which is dirty and which is clean when you’re staring into a crisper full of vegetables. To simplify your shopping, go to http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/ and click on “download guide as PDF” on the lefthand side to download a wallet-sized shopper’s guide with both lists (printable PDFs or an App for iOS or Android). You can also find a more complete listing of non-organic produce found to contain pesticides on the site. Treat yourself right and splurge on organic greens, but don’t feel bad about enjoying conventional grilled asparagus or juicy cantaloupe at a summer cookout.