I try to be as conscious of the environmental and health impacts of the food that I eat, cook, and serve as possible. But the truth is, it's simply impossible to eat all-organic, all-local, all-sustainable, all-ethical ALL of the time. Well, perhaps it might be possible if I had a million dollars in the bank and didn't work and had the land space to raise chickens and have a huge garden. Then I might have the time and the resources to be able to make that happen. But I would still have to limit at what restaurants I ate, and I am okay (for now, at least) with not imposing such strict limitations on myself and my family.
So what I'm saying is: knowing what I know about the brokenness, filth, toxicity, and inhumanity of our food systems, and as someone who wants to eat as healthily and as safely for our planet as possible, I still need to compromise and make choices.
And nowhere is that more important than in the grocery store.
When I make my weekly meal plan, I also make up a grocery list and head to the store to stock up for the week. Sometimes a recipe will call for, say, red bell peppers. And sometimes I will buy them, if they're not grown and flown in from Chile or New Zealand (because for me personally, I've drawn the line there -- I won't support that much fossil fuel being used to bring me a bell pepper. Plus they never taste the way they should -- and why would they? They've traveled a looooong way to make it to my store).
But if I do buy them, I will only buy them organic. If the organic ones are too pricey (because OMG red or orange bell peppers are freaking expensive!), I'll either choose to buy the smallest one I can find, or pass and find some kind of a substitute, like a (usually cheaper) organic green bell pepper.
Why? Because bell peppers are on the Dirty Dozen list!
Check it out -- EWG has put together two lists:
THE DIRTY DOZEN
The top 12 vegetables and fruits that are the most susceptible to and carry the most pesticides on and in them when they are grown conventionally. So these are the 12 that you will want to go out of your way to be sure to buy organic. These are listed in order of "dirtiness," with 1 being the worst (ie, most full of pesticides).
- Celery (Who knew?! This is news to me -- and glad I know! I love me some celery sticks with peanut butter.)
- Bell Peppers
- Kale and Collard Greens
- Grapes (Imported)
THE CLEAN 15
These are the 15 fruits and vegetables that retain or carry the lowest amount of pesticides. This is where you can make your compromises if you need to buy non-organic. These are listed in order of "cleanliness," with 1 being the best (ie, least full of pesticides).
- Onions (Yay, because for some reason, organic red onions are wayyy expensive here at some times of the year. I'm switching to conventional next time I shop until their price goes down.)
- Avocado (Also yay because a) I loooove avocado and b) sometimes organic avocados are not even available in the store.)
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potato
- Honeydew Melon
I was surprised to not see bananas on the Clean 15 -- I was under some mistaken assumption that they were on that list. I am now switching my banana-buying habit to organic-only.
If you're wondering how much pesticides really get into your system and how bad they really are for you (in other words, how much should you pay attention to the Dirty Dozen or the Clean 15), you can read the many, many reasons why or here's a brief summary of what EWG has to say about it:
Some of the most toxic food pesticides have come off the market in the past 15 years. But some pesticides considered safe now will invariably be restricted in future years. Chemical agribusiness interests might assert that pesticides in food are perfectly safe, but the reality is that many pesticide uses that are on the books as safe today will be found unsafe by EPA in the future, based on new science, new understandings about the mechanisms by which pesticides can harm the human body, or strengthened policies for health protection within the agency itself.
EWG research has found that people who eat five fruits and vegetables a day from the Dirty Dozen list consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat from the 15 least contaminated conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily. Concentrations of organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos and malathion, in elementary school-age children’s bodies peaked during seasons that they ate the most produce. Conversely, exposures fell to non-detectable levels in just 5 days, when they switched from a conventional diet to eating exclusively organic foods.
So how about you? If you find these useful, you can download a PDF to print out and then cut out your own little card with the two lists. I've got mine in my purse for when I go to shop. And if you're an iPhone user, you can download their app to take it with you!