Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen

I'm sure by now most people are familiar with this concept. The concept that while ideally all the food we consume would be organically grown, that is not always the case for multiple reasons. These reasons are varied and include cost/financial considerations, apathy, ignorance, and accessibility to name a few. I would have to think that upfront cost would be the major determining factor. I mean imagine if there were a store that sold both organic and chemically fertilized, pesticide-laden versions of fruits and vegetables side by side for exactly the same price. I would hazard a guess that the organic would out-sell the conventional. Or what if the organic produce actually cost less. Certainly then people would buy it first. But with few exceptions, the cost at the register is usually less (sometimes a little and sometimes a lot) for conventionally grown produce. Of course, as we know, the true costs of buying and eating toxic food are externalized. The environmental damage is difficult to measure and we pay in doctors' bills later as our health suffers.

Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compiles a list of the 12 conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue, and also a list of the 15 fruits and veggies with the lowest. I appreciate having this knowledge as I try to balance health and budget and convenience in my life and for my family. There are certain things that I always buy organic. There are certain things that, armed with this knowledge, I buy on the cheap. And some things I don't tend to buy at all because I will not subject my family to their toxicity but I am also unable to justify the high prices of the organic versions. 

Here are their current lists:

Dirty Dozen
Nectarines (imported)
Grapes (imported)
Bell peppers
Blueberries (domestic) 
Kale/collard greens

Clean 15
Sweet corn*
Sweet peas
Cantaloupe (domestic)
Kiwi fruit
Sweet potatoes

I keep this list on my refrigerator as a reminder. As the EWG website states, you can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and by eating the least contaminated produce. Celery for instance, tests positive for 57 different pesticides!!!!!! That is crazy. So you can typically buy a celery bunch for under a buck at the grocery store. At our co-op it goes for $2.29. Talk about bang for your buck! For an extra dollar or so I am avoiding exposing my family and guests to up to 57 pesticides! I am happy that onions and avocados and mushrooms are on the clean list. I take seriously that apples, celery, and strawberries are the three "dirtiest". I also never, ever buy non-organic greens. I've always done that on instinct. Of course, my dream is that someday organic is conventional and "conventional" is labeled as potentially hazardous to our health and planet.

*Oh, the asterisk next to the sweet corn... I just think there may be other reasons not to buy conventional corn like that it may be genetically modified (Syngenta's GM corn is already available and there is talk of Monsanto's being offered at Walmart by this summer). On another note, if you'd like to see mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, make sure to sign a petition that is now circulating to get it on the 2012 California ballot for voters to decide. Consumers should clearly be informed so that they can make a choice. For some, it will change their shopping habits, for others not. It's like the Environmental Working Group's Clean 15/Dirty Dozen list. They put the information out there. You can use it as you see fit.