The budget. If it weren’t for that pesky little issue, I wouldn’t be writing on this topic. I’d just buy everything organic, and my guess is that you would too. But since neither of us has unlimited funds, here a few tips I try to keep in mind when deciding whether it’s worth the extra $$ to buy organic:
1) Always buys organic corn, soy, and canola, and any product containing one of these ingredients. Corn, soy, canola, and cotton are the top four genetically modified (GM) crops, and until we know more about GM foods, you’re better off staying far, far away from them. Very few rigorous studies have been conducted on these foods because of loopholes in the FDA approval process, and most of the evidence available suggests that they can cause reproductive problems, organ defects, infant mortality, and increased food allergies. For more information, see the hot-off-the-press Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. It’s a painstakingly-researched, fascinating book. Also visit www.responsibletechnology.org.
2) If you have to choose between buying organic produce or buying organic animal products, sink your money into the latter. There are many times more pesticides in meats than in produce. Conventionally-raised animals consume pesticide-laced diets themselves, which means that they are consistently building up the toxins in their flesh.
My favorite source for organic, grass-fed beef and lamb is Paidom Meats. Check them out if you live in or near Texas. I’ve never found a better price, and their quality is unbeatable. You do have to buy in bulk, so consider splitting an order with a friend to keep the up-front cost manageable (and your freezer from overflowing).
3) According to the FDA, some kinds of fruits and vegetables retain higher concentrations of pesticides, even after washing and peeling. Here’s a list compiled by the Environmental Working Group of the twelve most contaminated fruits and veggies (a.k.a. The Dirty Dozen):
The same organization, the EWG, also offers the least contaminated varieties:
Corn (but you should buy this organic anyway for GM reasons)
To get more information and a free, printable card listing these foods, go to www.foodnews.org.
4) Finally, buy local whenever you can. Visit your farmers’ market. Even if the produce isn’t organic, the food is fresher and is picked at its peak ripeness, which means the nutritional content is higher. In addition, you can ask the growers what kind of pesticides and how much of them they use. Even when the farmer uses chemicals, they are likely at a much lower level than commercial growers use. If you live in the Houston metro area, I highly recommend the Bayou City Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon near the intersection of 59 and Kirby. Check out their website for more information and directions here.