There are many reasons to buy organic foods. The USDA Organic label tells you that fruits and veggies weren't raised using manmade chemical pesticides, fossil fuel- or sewage-based fertilizers or genetically modified seeds. On meat, the label indicates that the feeds provided met those same standards, and that the animals weren't administered hormones and antibiotics. Bottom line: "Organic" is more sustainable and healthier -- for the environment and farm workers, certainly, and often for you and your family. How is organic healthier? It's healthier because some studies suggest that organic produce has more nutrients than its conventional counterparts, probably because the soil is left in better condition after repeated plantings, and healthier because you avoid ingesting any harmful pesticide residues left on conventional produce.
I'm sure you've heard of the "dirty dozen" and the "clean fifteen." Both adjectives, clean and dirty, refer to the amount of pesticide residues on the fruits and vegetables we buy. Not all of us can afford to buy organic 100% of the time, but we can focus on avoiding foods with the heaviest amounts of pesticides, additives, and hormones. People tend to think of organics as mostly associated with produce, when in reality we can choose organic just-about-anything...you name it, it's been made or produced organically--meats, eggs, seafood, processed foods such as frozen meals and tator tots.
Here's a list of foods you really should try to buy organic if possible (there's more than a dozen on the dirty list, apparently it got revised!):
2. Milk. Pesticides are showing up in milk too. Organic dairies can't let their cows eat non-organic grains, nor can they treat cows with rGBH or rbST.
3. Coffee. Many countries don't regulate the amount/type of chemicals they use to ensure a successful crop in a steadily inflating market.
4. Celery. It doesn't have a skin or peel to protect it from the chemicals used to keep it beautiful for stores.
5. Peaches. They're treated with pesticides and insecticides multiple times before harvest.
6. Strawberries. If purchased out of season, they may come from a country with less regulation than the United States.
7. Apples. They're typically grown with the help of toxins to prevent fungus and disease in the trees. The chemicals are hard to wash off of an apple's skin.
8. Blueberries, the dirtiest berry on the market. 59 pesticides have been documented on them.
9. Nectarines. 33 different chemicals have been found on their skins.
10. Bell peppers. They're usually sprayed multiple times with insecticides to protect their thin skins.
11. Spinach. It can be laced with over 30 different chemicals by the time it reaches the store.
12. Kale. Like spinach, it can have over 30 different chemicals on it.
13. Cherries. Apparently the US-grown cherries may have over 3x the amount of "cides" on their skins than imported. Check the label to see where they were grown, and wash them well!
14. Potatoes. They can be treated by up to 37 different pesticides before reaching the market.
15. Grapes (this includes wine, dammit!). Imported grapes are at the highest risk of being treated by pesticides at varied stages of growth. The residues sink into the grapes' thin skins and can't be washed out in any way. Wine should also be purchased organically, or, at the very least, domestically. Support the USA in your evening glass of red!
16. Leafy greens (salad greens, bagged or not). They can be contaminated by some of the more potent pesticides used on foods because of their vulnerabilities to so many pests.
Now for the good news. There are foods you can buy without having to worry too much about what's on their skins or in the product itself:
1. Onions aren't very threatened by pests.
2. Avocados have thick skins that protect the fruit inside from pesticides.
3. Sweet corn. Buy organic if you're worried about the types of fertilizers used to grow it, but don't worry about insecticides or pesticides on the kernels.
4. Pineapples also have thick, inedible skins that protect the fruit.
5. Mangoes are protected by a thick skin, but you'll still want to wash them first.
6. Asparagus, like onions, isn't too high on the insect delicacy list. Eat away!
7. Sweet peas are the vegetable least likely to have "cide" residue on them. Sweet!
8. Kiwi peels provide protection; wash them first, though!
9. Cabbage doesn't require lots of spraying to grow, so there isn't too much residue on the leaves.
10. Eggplants are among the least likely to be contaminated.
11. Papaya, like mangoes, have thick skins; wash first.
12. Watermelon. Thick rind. Enough said.
13. Broccoli doesn't have too many pest threats, so it's sprayed less.
14. Sweet potatoes. Yay!
So there you have it. The ins and outs of organic. The USDA website has a ton of info about organics; get on Google and check out other websites too!