Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Dirty Dozen: When to Buy Organic

Happy Wednesday! This is one of my first photoshop masterpieces above. Impressive, right?  Okay, its not perfect but I'm still learning.

I have lots to share today about when to buy organic produce, but I'm trying to keep it concise. I talked a couple weeks ago about how variety in your produce is so important. But if you are trying to introduce more fruits and veggies, it can be expensive - especially if you want to buy them organic.

Organic is a funny term, because the term itself is new but the method is old. It's how agriculture has been done for thousands of years. But for the sake of clarity, organic means that the food is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or growth hormones, and organic is better because our bodies aren't meant to ingest hundreds of chemicals each day.

The term gets confusing because organic farming has now become industrialized, and small farms practicing the best farming methods cannot always afford to obtain the USDA organic label. So, as a consumer, it's incredibly confusing to navigate if organic asparagus from Peru is better than non-organic asparagus from a local farm.

Personally, I try to buy local and organic whenever possible. I'll have to write a later post on why small farms are the best to support, but for now, suffice it to say that farmers markets and CSAs are my best friend (CSA stands for "community supported agriculture" - a weekly box of produce from a local farm). With a CSA or co-op, you get a lot of bang for your buck - mine is $15 a week for a TON of food. CSAs also force you to eat seasonally and introduce variety into your diet. You can find ones in your area by going to I know, I should be a CSA salesperson.

But back to the point of knowing when to buy organic. The good news is that you don't have to splurge on everything. There is a spectrum of what produce is most important to buy organic and what you can get away with buying conventional.

Let me introduce you to the dirty dozen and the clean dozen. (coined by my adorable mom)

The Dirty Dozen are the items you should ONLY buy organic, because they are the most compromised by pesticides. These are:

Apples                              Celery                             Strawberries            Spinach
Peaches                           Nectarines                        Lettuce                   Potatoes               
Sweet Bell Peppers            Grapes (Imported)            Cherries                  Grapes

For example, the wax on an apple seals in all of the pesticides, so you can't wash those off. And according to the Environmental Working Group, celery tested positive for 57 pesticides. Fifty seven.

The Clean Dozen are the LEAST important to buy organic because they are the least comprised by pesticides. These are:

Onions                              Pineapples                         Asparagus                     Cabbage
Avocados                          Mangoes                           Kiwi Fruit                        Broccoli
Sweet Corn(frozen)            Sweet Peas (frozen)            Bananas                        Eggplant

You'll notice that most of these fruits and veggies have a protective peel or outer layer that protects the produce inside. These are the items are where you can save your money and safely buy conventionally grown. (These lists are taken from the book Anti-Cancer, but you can find a slightly different, more comprehensive list at 

Lastly, I do want to make a one more case for spending a little more money on local and organic food. I believe that the types of food we eat directly impact our health, and that the investments we make in our health now can save us money in the long run. According to Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, in 1960, we spent 17.5% of our monthly budget on food and only 5.2% on healthcare. Since then the numbers have flipped, and we spend 9.9% of our monthly budget on food and 16% on healthcare. So my motto is either pay the farmer now, or the doctor later. No offense, medical community. I still love you.

So whether you want to invest a little more in your food budget or not, I hope the dirty dozen helps you shop a little smarter - to save when you can and spend more where it really counts. Just remember to avoid anything on the dirty list unless its organic. Now go enjoy those fruits and veggies, friends. xo.


  1. Love this! Any ideas on how to purchase organic meat and dairy products? My CSA only has produce and in the city it seems that our main options are industrial organic... any tips on good brands or what to look for?

  2. LOVE this post, Tiff. This is something we've been trying to be better about for awhile, but it's not always easy on the wallet. Thanks for the tips!!