I'm a fair weather purchaser of organic produce. If it's on the shelf at my local New World or fruit and vegetable store I always choose organic over nonorganic but I won't trek across town or go out of my way to visit a specialist supplier in order to procure my organic fix. Convenience has always been an overriding principle.
But my haphazard attitude towards buying organic produce evaporated in light of the 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce released by US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG). This guide features a so called Dirty Dozen - a list of fruit and vegetables "most commonly contaminated with pesticides". The findings are based on an analysis of over 60,000 samples, and "nearly all the studies ... tested produce after it had been washed or peeled."
Choosing organic versions of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list will significantly lower your exposure to chemicals. The EWG stresses that the "health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure" but adds "[y]ou can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce."
The tests were performed on produce available on the American market and no doubt patriotic Kiwis would believe that our growers use fewer pesticides than growers elsewhere. So even if you're sceptical about how directly relevant these results are to us, at the least you could use the Dirty Dozen to identify produce with a propensity to absorb and retain pesticides.
The Dirty Dozen for 2012 are:
1. Apples: "Eaten daily by many children, 98 per cent of conventional apples had pesticides." I've been buying organic apples for a while now since they've become more widely available.
2. Celery: "Highly contaminated, celery tested positive for 57 different pesticides." Ugh. I predict a rush on organic celery.
3. Sweet Bell Peppers: "Bell pepper [that's capsicum to us] tested positive for up to 15 pesticides on a single sample."
4. Peaches: [M]ore than 60 pesticides have been found on peaches," according to thedailygreen.com
5. Strawberries: This one really annoys me. Youngsters just love strawberries and they're a lunchbox staple for our daughter and probably many other schoolchildren.
6. Nectarines (imported): "Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides."
7. Grapes: "As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other produce, with 64 different pesticides."
8. Spinach: Cannelloni stuffed with spinach is my Sunday night go-to dinner and I often whip up spanakopita too. I'll be tracking down organic spinach for sure.
9. Lettuce: "Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples." I'm a terrible gardener and have never managed to successfully tend a pot of lettuce for more than a couple of weeks. But that's about to change. I'll be harvesting my own leaves from now on.
10. Cucumbers: Eighty-one different pesticide residues were found on cucumbers. Raita and Greek salads are staples in our house - and so too now will be organic cucumbers.
11. Blueberries (domestic): "Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues." Thank goodness then for locally grown Omaha Organic Berries which supply blueberries fresh, frozen and even in ice-cream.
12. Potatoes: Ninety-one per cent of potato samples tested positive for pesticides.
But never fear. It's not all doom and gloom. There's also a Clean 15 list of produce that the EWG reckons you can happily consume even if it's not organic: onion, sweet corn, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, sweet peas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, kiwi[fruit], cantaloupe (domestic), sweet potatoes, grapefruit, watermelon and mushrooms.
What's your approach to organic produce? Are you totally committed to it or are you more sporadic in your habits? Is the Dirty Dozen list likely to shift your attitudes and purchasing behaviour? Or are organic foods simply too expensive to buy regularly?