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?