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Gay Browne

Gay Browne

Posted: July 25, 2008 04:21 PM

Organic Panic: What To Do When You Can't Eat Green

What's Your Reaction:

We try to buy organic, we do. But here's a confession: Some of our weekly groceries are still grown and produced the old-fashioned way -- loaded up with crud.

It's not that we crave chemicals in our food. We don't have a hankering for pesticide, or an insatiable appetite for growth hormone, or anything like that. And it's not because we're cheap. We've gotten over the fact that organic products often cost a bit more. We figure that whatever we spend now on toxin-free food, we'll save later on medical expenses.

It's true: Organic goods are available in more places than they used to be. Thanks to increasing consumer demand, organic food sales in the United States has grown by about 20 percent each year since 1997. Whole Foods now has more than 250 U.S. stores from Albuquerque, N.M., to Woburn, Mass. Even Von's and Albertson's have their own organic product lines.

But sometimes we need mangoes in November. Sometimes we need milk at 10 p.m. and the closest market is a liquor store with limited selection. And sometimes (we're sorry, but it's true) we want a guarantee that we will absolutely not find a furry caterpillar curled up in our head of lettuce as we prep that dinner-party salad. So sometimes we buy non-organic.

How awful is that?

Turns out the level of awfulness depends on the product itself. A report by Consumer Reports found that buying organic makes a big difference in some products, and means very little in others, at least when it comes to the personal health aspects. Buying organic isn't just about health though- it's important to remember that organically-grown crops mean fewer toxic chemicals being dumped into waterways and soil, and healthier working conditions for farmers and workers who pick the crops.

The "dirty dozen" are 12 fruits and veggies that, even when washed, tend to maintain high levels of pesticide residue unless they're grown organically. They are: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, spinach, strawberries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes and raspberries. Meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products should also be bought organic, to cut down on exposure to hormones, antibiotics and disease-causing agents.

But if you're rushed, or organic isn't available, non-organic versions of the following crops, which don't tend to harbor pesticide residues, aren't so bad if you need to grab one on the run: bananas, kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, asparagus, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, onions and peas. Always buy whatever products you use the most of organically though, since those are the products that will affect your health- and the environment more.

Take home advice: Buy organic when you can, and for the foods that you consume the most of; it's those habits that you create for yourself that will have the most positive impact on you and the planet.