Play it Again: The Dirty Dozen (Making the Most of the Money you Spend on Organics)

A is for apple

Originally Published January 2008

Have you ever wondered whether some fruits or vegetables are more important to buy organic than others? The simple answer is yes!

Certain crops can be more difficult to grow, and when not using organic and natural methods, require the use of many more pesticides and sprays than other crops. So while it would be ideal to be able to purchase all of our produce organic, I know that the reality of the budget does not allow me to do so, and I'm guessing the same goes for most of you!

Allow me to introduce you to the Dirty Dozen… these are the most pesticide laden, over sprayed crops of them all. Actually, the list that I found for you lists far more than a dozen, ranging from the very worst, to the best (those that are the most minimally sprayed, despite being conventional and not organically grown).

Quickly, go take a look at them, and then come back (you'll need to scroll down a little to see them)…

Now let me explain how this list will serve both your family (by reducing toxins in their food) and your wallet (by reducing cost on unnecessary expenses). Suppose you are going to the store for red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots, and strawberries. You have enough money to buy some of them organic, but not all.

So let's take a look at the list. Hmmm, peppers and strawberries are up in the top 6. Definitely buy organic. And carrots are right up there, too, at #13. Considering carrots can be quite reasonably priced (at least where I live), I'd definitely get those organic as well. Now the money is getting a little tight (those peppers and strawberries can be expensive!). But look, tomatoes are only #29 and broccoli is even better at #35. Maybe those could just be conventional, and washed really well. And look at that- onions are on the very bottom of the list! So pick up that $0.99 bag of regular onions, instead of the organic ones for $2.49 and feel relaxed about that choice. That wasn't so bad, was it?

When continually faced with choices between quality and cost, it can help so much to have a guide to which items really matter, and which items are just not such a big deal. Ideally, I would love to buy 100% organic food, and support sustainable farming, the reduction of pesticides being put into our water and soil and the wonderful men and women who are bringing these naturally produced products back to our markets.

For now, though, it seems that the most frugal option is to carefully pick and choose which organic items are the best value, and which ones I can do without. Once again, I truly believe that we do not have to choose between healthier, more natural living and careful stewardship of our finances (which is what frugality is all about).

(Update: Since I first posted this, EWG has revised and updated their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides. Some of the ratings may be different than they were when I composed this post. The Shopper's Guide can now even be downloaded as an application on your iPhone or iPod Touch, or just printed out and kept in your wallet or purse.)

Do you use the Dirty Dozen as a guide for choosing which produce to purchase organic? Do you find that it helps you to prioritize how you use your food dollars?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Thx so much for this list, its hard to pick and choose sometimes, but knowledge is power. Again, this is lifestyle is frugal to some, but to those who DO choose to live this way, your list was very helpful! Thank you for your time :)

  2. Hello new to your blog and this helps a lot as I’m seeking to buy what I can organic!!

  3. I know this post is several years old, and forgive me if you have posted on this topic since then, but going by this list on whether to buy organic or not is obsolete. Some of the produce on the “clean 15” listed on EWG is treated with pesticides that soak into the food and DO NOT WASH OFF. Conventionally grown produce is increasingly becoming GMO – with herbicides and pesticides in the very DNA of the plant. In my opinion it is important to buy organically grown produce all of the time. Period. The best and most cost efficient way to do this is to find a local farmer with a CSA and sign up. Ask them questions about how they grow and ask them to show you around the farm. Know where your food comes from!

  4. Nice i like it!

  5. The thing I don’t like about the “dirty dozen” list is that it doesn’t take into account GM crops, which I don’t want either…take for instance corn which is on the “clean fifteen” list…corn has been highly replaced with GM versions and the only way to steer clear of GM is by buying organic. I do buy corn when it is sold from a local vendor but when corn goes on sale at the grocery store for cheap cheap I can’t bring myself to buy it because who knows where it came from

    • @Evelyn, I would have to agree. That is where I struggle too. I rely a lot on heirloom varieties, and we always try to plant those types in our garden as well. I just can bring myself to voluntarily eat things that we have distorted from God’s original creation. I know they have probably ALL changed A LOT from what He originally intended, but man, do we really have to help it along? lol

  6. good post…very informative….and helpful..thanks

  7. I’m new to buying organic and this is immensely helpful! Thank you so much. And like Camille said, I’m new to your blog as well, so it’s the first time I’m reading this. :)

  8. i am careful about what i buy, and i most certainly try to buy organic when i can. meats are a whole different ballgame…organic is so outrageously priced i simply cannot do it right now. a whole chicken for $3.50 per#
    YIKES! that means a 7# roaster would run me nearly $25.00!!!!
    what i am considering is raising some meat chicken next spring…just need to make room on the farmette!

  9. Great post! I really like it that you are “playing it again”…since I only began reading your blog recently, it is all “new” for me! Thanks!

  10. I keep a list of the dirty dozen and produce in season at the top of my googledoc grocery list as a reminder. :)


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  2. […] Environmental Working Group (EWG) has listed the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that can be bought either conventional or organic. To print out a copy of the […]