straight talk in the produce aisle

I want to eat organic, I really do. I’ve read enough about how organic farming is better for the environment, my body, and things I don’t understand but sound good, like biodiversity. By this point in my life I really should be inviting organic produce into my home on a regular basis–not just in the middle of summer when the regional farmer’s market pretty much hands it to me.

I should know better. Whether I understand why, or whether it’s even been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt*, I should get it. I should know that chemicals don’t have a place in my salad bowl.

I should be practicing what I read.

But, you see, a strange thing happens when I hit the grocery store. I prance proudly over to the organic section, eyeing those smaller-than-I’m-used-to peppers. I glance back at the conventional produce, like a comfortable old friend. I see the higher price tags, and that’s it. Once again, my desire to hold onto my cash grips my ideals like a vice.

I walk out of the store, another next-time organic buyer.

Before there could be a next time though, I happened upon this sensible Guide to Organic put out by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit group based out of Washington, D.C. This thing is great. It says yes, we know you can’t afford to buy everything organic, so here’s what you really should be buying if you care about your health and are strapped for cash. Think of it as a pauper’s guide to chemical cleansing.

The site offers a list of various produce items’ “pesticide load,” which is basically to what degree each item suffers from chemical contamination. I had no idea that this happy medium between all or nothing organic existed. The Group even provides their ranking criteria, noting, for example, that all tests were performed with washed fruit.

Since they provide a pocket guide, there’s really no excuse this time. I think this might be the end of my once-in-a-blue-moon, feel-good-about-myself organic binges. Now I can focus my organic intentions on the bigger culprits: peaches, apples, peppers, celery, grapes, and spinach. When I need to pinch a penny or two, I’ll turn to onions, mangoes, squash, and bananas.

I’m not here to talk about studies or to try to convince you that organic is better. I’ve heard it said that buying local actually does a broader range of good than organic. And of course, it’s been argued as well that organic is just another marketing tool. Governmental regulations for organic are confusing and long-winded. There is plenty of dissent about the new “industrial organic,” which, if you like cynicism, you can read about in chapter nine of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Big Organic.”

All I wanted to do was (should you feel compelled as I do to eat more-ganically) give you a few easy ways to  do so. So next time you’re stressing over the organic avocados, fear not. There are always apples for that.

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*Pollan cites a study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis, published in 2003 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. The study describes an experiment where identical varieties of different vegetables and fruits were grown using conventional and organic methods. The group found that the organically grown foods were higher in polyphenols, compounds Pollan summarizes as playing “an important role in human health and nutrition.” Pollan states elsewhere that there has been “remarkably little research” done to figure out the effects of prolonged exposure to pesticide and growth hormone that the government allows in our foods.

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