I get these questions a lot, and the answer is YES and NO, in that order. Organic is super important if you’re looking after your health (and you’re doing that, right? Otherwise why would you be reading this?!).
Each year more than 1 BILLION pounds of pesticides are sprayed on farms, forests, lawns and golf courses. 27 million of those pounds are banned pesticides, and 500,000 pounds are known or suspected carcinogens. That’s a LOT! These toxic pesticides not only come into direct contact with food crops, but seep into groundwater, polluting it and those who drink it.
According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), 93% of Americans tested by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had metabolites of chlorpyrifos — a nuerotoxic insecticide — in their urine. Chlorpyrifos is in a family of pesticides that’s linked to ADHD. And get this – 99% of Americans tested by the CDC tested positive for DDT degradants, even though DDT has been banned since 1972. Women who were exposed to DDT as girls are 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer!
Not convinced? Do I need to keep going? Okay!
Also from the PAN website:
- Azinphos-methyl, a neurotoxic insecticide, was found on almost 2/3 of imported pears.
- 97% of domestic catfish is contaminated with degradants of DDT.
- 48 different pesticides were found on spinach, including 5 known or probable carcinogens.
So the long and short of it is this: Pesticides Are Bad And Organic Does Matter.
But does it have to be expensive? Sometimes, yet, but often times, not at all. Here are some of the resources I use to make sure that my dollars are spent well.
- Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen/ Clean 15 List – This is a printable list/iphone app that rates common fruits and vegetables based on their pesticide load. Those with the heaviest pesticide load appear on the Dirty Dozen list, and those with the lowest load appear on the Clean 15. Use this list to help prioritize your organic shopping. Buying organic versions of all the items on the Dirty Dozen list will substantially reduce your daily exposure to harmful pesticides.
- Join your local Community Supported Agriculture group or CSA. When you join a CSA, you’re buying a share in an local, usually organic (it’s best to always check!) farm at the start of the season. The CSA shares provide the farmer with capital upfront to start the growing season. Once the harvest season starts, usually in May or June, you’ll start receiving a large box of locally grown, freshly picked produce that is free of harmful pesticides. The best thing? It often works out to be cheaper than buying the same amount of produce – even non-organic produce – from the grocery store. A share costing $550 for the season (about 6 months) works out to about $23 a week for enough vegetables to feed a family of 4! You can find your local CSA at Local Harvest.
- Shop your farmers market – Buying fresh, in season produce is the cheapest way to stock up on healthy foods when they’re at their lowest prices. When the crops come in, farmers sometimes have a hard time selling all the harvest, so the price will be at it’s lowest. Buy in bulk, and freeze what you can’t eat that week. But be a smart shopper – just because someone is selling at the farmers market, does NOT mean that they operate an organic farm! It’s important to ask questions, and get to know the person behind the produce you’re buying. Not all farms can afford the USDA Organic Certification, but they still operate organic or bio-dynamic farms. Ask, and they’ll tell you. If you’re in any way suspicious, don’t buy it.
- Pick your own! I’m a huge fan of picking fruit because it’s fun, but it’s also really inexpensive! Organic strawberries in the store cost about $4-6 a pound, and those often come from California or Mexico. I picked 25lbs of totally organic strawberries for around $2 a pound, and froze them all, which means I’m totally set for strawberries for the rest of the year! Far beyond just apple picking – you can pick greens, peppers, fruits – lots of healthy stuff. Find a u-pick farm in your area by going to www.pickyourown.org. Seek out those farms that are listed as Organic – then double check by calling them before going. It may seem like a lot of effort, but it’s worth it!
- Grow your own. It’s not possible for a lot of people to do this, but if you have backyard space, even just a little, it’s totally possible to start going some of your own foods using organic seeds, and natural fertilizer free soil that’s rich with compost (stay away from Miracle Grow type products – even if they claim they’re organic). Tomatoes, lettuce, summer squash, peas, beans, herbs… it’s all possible, and quite easy to do it.
And lastly, I encourage you to rethink your definition of “value”. While doing this won’t directly affect the amount you spend on organic foods, it can help shift your apprehension from doing so. “Value” is not just about the dollar amount you put on a food – it’s how valuable it is to you, how important. So in asking you to reconsider value, I ask you to ask yourselves – is my health valuable? Is my children’s health valuable? What about environmental health? The health of future generations of children? Would you rather pay a little more upfront for clean, healthy foods that are nourishing and delicious, or would you rather pay your doctor, hospitals, and insurance bills because the “cheaper” food you ate made you sick?
What do you think?