Some people swear by organics, while others couldn’t care less. Where do you fall on that spectrum? Are you someone who won’t even take a single bite of a conventional apple because of concerns about pesticides or artificial waxes?
Are you constantly reading labels and checking for organic certification symbols? Perhaps, on the other hand, you think the whole organic thing is a racket designed to line the pockets of the organic food industry.
Maybe you’re even prone to making fun of your organic-loving friends and family for “wasting their money”?
For vegan plant-based eaters, who rely exclusively on plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts in addition to plant-derived products such as tofu, tempeh, bread, and pasta, to name just a few, the question of organics is particularly important.
Advantages of Eating Organic
- NUTRITION: Research reveals that while conventional and organic produce has similar levels of many nutrients, organic foods have one very significant health advantage –they’re higher in antioxidants, which protect cells by preventing the formation of free radicals.
- LESS TOXIC: One of the main benefits is that organic foods are free from harmful chemicals such as toxic metals and pesticide residues found in conventionally grown foods. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers can leave residues on fruits and vegetables that can harm our health. Eating organic means that you're consuming food that is free from these harmful chemicals.
- BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: Another advantage of eating organic is that it may be better for the environment. Organic farming practices prioritize sustainability and work to minimize harm to the environment. For example, organic farmers may use crop rotation and natural pest control methods to reduce the need for synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. This can help to reduce the environmental impact of farming practices.
Although more research is probably needed, eating organic may provide added health benefits.
Affordability of Organic
While there are many advantages to eating organic, it's not always feasible for everyone to buy organic produce. Many more people would buy organic, whether for environmental, health, or nutritional concerns, if organic food was more affordable. But the fact is that organic foods tend to be more expensive, often considerably so, compared to their conventional counterparts.
Buying exclusively organic produce and other food items may not be affordable for many people. That may be the case for you, in fact. But when it comes to fruits and vegetables, there is an answer, which involves a bit of a compromise. This is where the Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen come in.
Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen
The Environmental Working Group produces an annual list that identifies those fruits and vegetables that are the worst offenders, and have the greatest amounts of pesticides so you can choose to avoid them. The list is called the “Dirty Dozen."
But take heart; the EWG also has a happier list, the “Clean Fifteen,” which lets you know which conventionally-produced fruits and vegetables are likely to contain the lowest amount of pesticides and are, therefore, safest to buy.
What's on the List?
THE CLEAN FIFTEEN
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Honeydew Melon
- Sweet Potatoes
THE DIRTY DOZEN
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell & Hot Peppers
- Green Beans
What Do I Recommend?
Although I don't specifically list "organic" in every list of recipe ingredients, I believe that it's best to use organic, if you can, to reduce your exposure to pesticides. Otherwise, keep the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen close at hand.
You could also reduce exposure by rinsing and rubbing produce under running water. Or, use a method recommended by Consumer Reports, which has been shown to clean produce better than any other method. The easy solution.... to use baking soda!
To quote Consumer Reports, "Submerging apples in a baking soda solution for two minutes removed more pesticides than a two-minute soak in the bleach solution or two minutes of rinsing in running tap water." But to truly remove the pesticide, it took 12 minutes. Read the complete article, "An Easy Way to Remove Pesticides."
Of course, this won't work for bread, tofu, tempeh, or pasta, so for these, you'll have to decide where you stand.
Eating organic has several advantages, including being free from harmful chemicals and potentially more nutritious. However, it's not always feasible for everyone to buy organic produce. The Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen can help guide your produce choices and reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals, even if you can't always afford to buy organic. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide if eating organic matters or not based on your personal values and budget.
Being thoughtful and deliberate about your produce purchases in this way will protect your health and the planet's health while keeping your food budget within reasonable limits.