I find it so wonderful that there are more and more organic foods being offered, but I still think there is a bit of confusion as to why, when, and what you should spend your extra cash on. My handy pocket guide of the The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen will help you choose wisely.
Why is Organic Important?
For many people “organic” means more expensive and less appealing. We know that pesticides are not good for us, but how bad can they be? After all, we’ve been eating all these fruits and vegetables just fine all these years, right? And can we really trust the organic labeling? isn’t it just a ploy to get us to pay more?
The USDA National Organic defines organic as thus:
Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.
As you can see from the description above, becoming Certified Organic is not easy. The record keeping is rigorous, and the agency does test constantly. Farmers also have to pay a hefty fee to use the organic label. So if you wonder if those organic labels are easy to slap onto the box, they are not. A lot of farmers, usually smaller (and thereby local) are now farming organic but not wishing to deal with the rigors of USDA organic labeling. This is why you may have heard that it is better to buy local. There is no guarantee that your local farmer is not using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, but since they don’t have to ship long distances, they have less need to.
Are Pesticides Really All That Bad?
It is true that our parents, and, for most of our lives, we’ve been eating, shall we say, less than organic foods, and we seem to be doing ok. Or are we? The pesticide residues are indeed small amounts, but over time they may have detrimental effect, especially in children and their growing brains. As time going on more and more research finds pesticide residue linked to pediatric cancers, reduced cognitive function and behavioral problems. In Europe they ban the use of neonicotinoids, a neurotoxin, for the disruption of brain development, the killing of the honeybees and other vital insects. We do not.
It is also true that we are bombarded with natural pesticides. A pesticide is just something that kills, or prevents the growth, of bugs. These are nature’s ways of creating checks and balances, but synthetic pesticides and fertilizers disrupt the natural balance which then leads to the use of- that’s right, more pesticides and fertilizers.
OK, So Do I HAVE to Eat Everything Organic?
Let me put it this way. What we are learning more and more about food is that it is a dynamic. Foods are remarkable matrixes of vitamins, nutrients, water, proteins, fiber, etc…. all working together to offer assorted benefits to our well being. No scientist in the world can recreate a synthetic fruit or food that contains all these dynamics. So do yourself a favor. Eat real food. Eat organically- as much as you can.
On an ecological note- the more you purchase organic, the cheaper and more available these items will become. In addition, there will be less contamination of our waters and soils, leading to a healthy return to balance to our planet. It might seem like a small thing, but it does compound over time. The most effective tool we have to make a difference is with how we choose to spend our money. What gets supported will grow.
Where to Start: The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen
The Dirty Dozen is a list of 12 foods with the highest pesticide residue relative to other foods. 99% of apples test positive for high levels of pesticides. Potatoes has more pesticide relative to it’s weight than any other vegetable, and grapes can have 15 different types of pesticides. Use this guide to help you remember which foods to ALWAYS purchase organic (or at least local).
The Clean Fifteen is a list of produce with the lowest concentration of pesticides. Avocados have the lowest levels along with kiwi, pineapple and mango.
Start with following this list. Print out a copy by clicking the link in the sidebar and keep it in your wallet. Then print out another one and give it to a friend or loved one. I hope you find this helpful, at least as a starting point.
Check back here regularly for more insights and helpful information on how to live a wholesome healthier life.