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Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Dirty Dozen - Organic 101

Organic food: Is it worth the extra money?

Immediately I say, yes, of course. But, as we all sadly know, buying and eating organic is more expensive than not. Of course I could go on and on about all the things you save on if you eat organically (health care, environmental clean-up, energy etc.). And, of course, there are times when organic doesn't make sense - a head of conventionally grown broccoli from your farmers market is clearly a better bet than a bunch of organic asparagus flown in from Peru.
We spend about $100-150/week on our food (2 adults) and I'd guess we eat 90% organic.

This is really opening Pandora's box because there are so many issues around organic foods, from the (unaffordable) cost of small farms to become certified "organic" to big corporations beginning to respond to the public's eating trend towards organic foods by offering silly things like organic processed pudding snacks and organic frozen dinners. So, lets keep this simple!

So, what does Organic really mean?

• Food hasn't been genetically modified or irradiated.
• Fertilizer does not contain sewage sludge or synthetic ingredients.
• Produce hasn't been contaminated with synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.
• Animals have not been treated with: antibiotics, growth hormones, or feed made from animal byproducts (animal blood, bones, etc.).
• Animals must have been fed organic feed for at least a year.
• Animals must have access to the outdoors.

*The info above is very simplified. If you're interested, visit the USDA's web site outlining the criteria for organic vs. made with organic ingredients vs. everything else.

What are the benefits of eating Organic foods?

• The impact to the earth and the environment is lower.
• Organic farmers use less energy, less water resources, and less fossil fuel.
• Allowing local farms to stay in business.
• Healthy soil and animals means healthy foods. Organic produce contains as much as 300% more nutrients than non-organic.
• Avoiding carcinogenic chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics (ewwe grossss).

What should I buy Organically?

Ideally, we'd all eat local, organic, seasonally delicious food from our local farmers. But ideally, Nick & I would also have just won the lottery and be shacking up in our Nick Waldman designed house on the vineyard....ho hum...

A simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to nearly 20 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to a fraction over 2 pesticides per day. With that in mind, the Environmental Working Group highlighted the most contaminated (the dirty dozen!) and least contaminated fruits and vegetables out there.

Synthetic steroids and growth hormones provide accelerated growth or milk production. Non-therapeutic antibiotics are used regularly in meat/dairy production for two reasons. Antibiotics, for some reason, also accelerate growth in animals.

Additionally, because factory farmed animals are confined in extremely unsanitary conditions and are regularly exposed to pathogens, other sick animals, etc., they are regularly dosed with antibiotics as a “preventative” measure.
However, this common use of antibiotics in food production, we are witnessing an emergence of many antibiotic resistance strains of diseases, the incidence of neurodevelopmental problems in children, abnormal neurodevelopment in children, reproductive health problems, and unwanted interference with our sex hormones. Read more? -Ryan Zinn, the Organic Consumer Association
12 Most Contaminated
• Apples
• Bell Peppers
• Celery
• Cherries
• Grapes
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Pears
• Potatoes
• Red Raspberries
• Spinach
• Strawberries

• Milk/Dairy/Eggs
• Beef
• Poultry

12 Least Contaminated
• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Corn (sweet)
• Kiwi
• Mango
• Onions
• Papaya
• Pineapples
• Peas (sweet)

Check out their site to download and print the handy wallet guide. Check PLU numbers at the store - a number beginning in 9 means organic, 8 means genetically modified.

Money Saving Tips:

• Buy what is in season.
• Go to the source, shop at Farmers Markets or join a CSA.
• Stock up on organic produce when it is on sale/in season, freeze/store for future use.
• Comparison shop.
• Check out store's private labels (ex. Whole Foods has 185 items in its 365 Organics Everyday Values line).
• Shop from the bulk bins for organic grains, cereals, flour, dried fruit, beans, rice and granola.
• Buy foods in their whole state - packaged and processed organics have the highest mark-up.
• Eat lower on the food chain - fill your meals with fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans rather than dairy, meat, and seafood.
• Prioritize your purchases.
• Plant a garden! (or make friends with a gardener).


  1. as a homecook who tries to make yummy, healthy dishes, your lists of most/least contaminated is very good to know, as well as your money saving tips! thank you!

  2. Anna, thank you! I find the list very helpful myself - I hope you find time to cook something delicious today!

  3. Hey- you have lots of great tips and info!

    If everyone does what they can to buy healthy, organic foods the market will change. Lots of unhealthy, not organic corn based products are so cheap only because the government subsides corn.

    Like they say in Food, Inc (the documentary) we vote 3 times a day!

  4. Very informative and helpful post!!! Keep lemoning, girl.


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