Monday, February 1, 2010

How to eat organic and stretch your food dollar

When it comes to buying produce I often get asked what my preference is – local or organic. Buying local is definitely my preference but it doesn’t mean I always choose local over organic. Throughout the growing season it is easy enough to find local growers supplying organic produce so I get the best of both worlds. But when I don’t have local options that are also organic I’m choosey. Likewise, there are lots of items that I don’t bother to buy organic, even if I have a choice.

I know this sounds confusing so I’ll explain.

In conventional farming today there are a lot of chemicals in play. There are petroleum-based fertilizers that contain heavy metals and there is a crazy array of pesticides that are used in various combinations to kill insects, plants and fungi, in order to grow “perfect” produce. All of these chemicals make their way to our tables in various amounts when we eat non-organic produce. Eating organic is a way to avoid them.

The selective shopping that I explained above is my way to limit the amount of chemicals that my family ingests. Here’s how I manage it without tying myself in knots at the grocery store.

I have a handy guide that helps me decide what to buy organic and what non-organic fruits and vegetables are okay to eat. It’s all based on the amount of pesticide residue commonly found on the produce (after it has been prepared the usual way). My guide lists the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue and the 12 with the highest.

The lists are published by Environmental Working Group (EWG) an environmental research organization based in the U.S. I last wrote about their findings in 2008 but they have since updated their lists based on a recent analysis of data (gathered by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food & Drug Administration.)

“Clean 15”
To help your food dollars go further you can feel comfortable consuming non-organic versions of these fruits and vegetables:
Sweet corn (frozen)
Sweet peas (frozen)
Sweet potato

“Dirty Dozen”
These are the foods with the highest pesticide residue so you’ll want to buy organic. Or consider limiting your consumption of non-organic versions of these foods.

Bell pepper
Imported grapes (outside of Canada & US)

The lists are a great tool to help you make good use of your food dollars and still eat well. Plus they provide some helpful guidance on when to buy local. To print out a tidy wallet guide visit On that site you’ll also find a complete list of 47 fruits and vegetables tested and more info in the study methodology.

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