Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dirty Dozen

There are many reasons to choose to eat organic food. My family's health is my main priority, but the fossil fuels used to fertilize and transport food is a growing concern, especially as the prices of oil and gas sky rocket. Unfortunately, organic does not mean local, so many foods that do not use petroleum-derived fertilizers are driven across numerous states before they are finally sold and consumed. Here in the bay area, we have the luxury of being able to buy sustainably grown food raised locally on small farms. We are able to use our food dollars to provide a better way of life for small farmers and in turn get a higher quality product.
I often hear the complaint that organic is too expensive. It can be more expensive, especially when your only option is to buy them from a store. Fortunately, farmer's markets are becoming ever more popular so more consumers have the option of buying directly from the source. Not only is buying directly from the farmer more cost effective, but it also gives one the opportunity to ask how and where something was grown. For example, if it isn't "certified" organic, the farmer can explain why.

I realize that not all of us have the time to shop at farmer's markets and sometimes you find yourself choosing between organic and non-organic produce in the supermarket. There are undoubtedly price differences between the organic and conventional and perhaps you cannot even find certain vegetables grown organically. As I mentioned earlier, my family's health is my main priority and it might be yours too, so here is a little tool from Environmental Working Group to help make those decisions. It's the Dirty Dozen, the twelve most contaminated vegetables and the twelve least contaminated. I am now more comfortable buying conventionally grown avocados (number 2 on the least contaminated list) and put more emphesis on buying those grown in California. You'd be surprised how often I see a "grown in chile" sticker on a bumpy skinned Haas. On the other hand, there are certain things I will only buy organic mainly because they taste so much better and those things just happen to be on the Dirty Dozen list. For example the celery I buy is actually green with slender stalks that have flavor- a far cry from the pale green, overgrown stalks you find in the grocery store.

These are the ones you'll want to choose organic varieties of if at all possible:

1) Peaches
2) Apples
3) Sweet bell peppers
4) Celery
5) Nectarines
6) Strawberries
7) Cherries
8) Lettuce
9) Grapes (imported)
10) Pears
11) Spinach
12) Potatoes

And, when organic is not available or very cost prohibitive, these are the least likely to have pesticide residues:

1) Onions
2) Avocados
3) Sweet Corn ( frozen)
4) Pineapples
5) Mango
6) Sweet peas (frozen)
7) Asparagus
8) Kiwi
9) Bananas
10) Cabbage
11) Broccoli
12) Eggplant

You can download a wallet-sized version at FoodNews from Environmental Working Group.

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