If you try to buy organic when it counts to be gentle on your budget, you’re probably familiar with the Dirty Dozen produce list published by the EWG (Environmental Working Group), the same organization that puts out the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database that the natural sunscreen review relies upon heavily.
This is a list of the 12 items that, when consumed, supply your body with over 90% of your chemical pesticide load from fruits and vegetables. You can find the current list here, or see below for the fruits and veggies that stay on the list year after year. You may have this already somewhere in your house or wallet, but you should know that it is updated every year with the newest information, so be sure that your list is current.
Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to memorize the Dirty Dozen list.
Reallly, you don’t have to memorize the list. Just post it on your fridge and refer to it as you make shopping lists and check grocery sale ads. 🙂
On the other end of the list lies the Clean 15, where you’ll find produce with the lowest levels of chemical residue to affect your body.
Both can be helpful in prioritizing your organic purchases when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
Dirty Dozen Produce List
The list changes every year, and you can find the most current list on EWG’s website, but there are a few items that have stayed on the list year after year as far back as 2009.
- Bell Peppers
- Greens – It seems to change from one year to the next, from kale to spinach, then lettuce, then back to kale or maybe collard greens. Maybe all the green leafies should be bought organic?
There’s always a bit of fluctuation from year to year, but these items stay on the list pretty consistently.
Prioritize Your Organic Budget
EWG recommends that you buy items that are on the dirty dozen list organic whenever possible. If you can do that, it’s a way to concentrate your efforts where it counts and save your budget when it doesn’t matter quite as much. That’s why I can say this mission impacts your budget both positively AND negatively: you may find yourself spending more on organic vs. standard produce, but at least you can make wise choices about when to take that plunge.
Dirty Super Foods
You might notice that an unfortunate number of Dirty Dozen items are also on our Everyday Super Foods list. That always makes me sad, but it also gives me more motivation to try to find it in my budget to purchase this stuff often, and purchase it organic when possible. When I can’t, I trust in the promise of my meal blessing and continue to do the best I can.
The Clean Fifteen Produce List
As with the Dirty Dozen, the Clean Fifteen list changes every year. You’ll find the most current version here, and the following is a list of items that tend to stay on this list from year to year.
- Sweet corn*
- Cabbage (I’m thrilled with this inclusion. Cabbage is super helpful and versatile when trying to eat plenty of veggies on a budget.)
One major caveat on this list, that the EWG also acknowledges: buying organic ensures non-GMO (genetically modified) status. Sweet corn is sometimes (often?) genetically modified. If GMOs are on your “X” list, you’ll want to ignore the fact that corn is on the clean 15 and seek out organic anyway…but it’s hard to find!
My Household’s Decisions
For my family and my budget, there are some choices that are easy:
- Carrots are rarely more expensive to buy organic, so I always do. Another way to save $ on carrots is to go old-fashioned and cut your own carrot sticks from organic carrots — this ends up being cheaper than conventionally grown “baby” carrots in a 1 lb. package.
- Celery has a negligible price difference when comparing organic to conventional, and we don’t use much celery. Sometimes I buy the organic hearts to include in recipes and the regular stuff for my stocks.
- Grapes – In the winter in Michigan, the grapes in stores are from Chili. They usually don’t have that satisfying snap of American grapes (perhaps because of the long airplane flight from South America). My philosophy is to skip them and wait until summertime, when grapes are from California. Sometimes the EWG will specify that grapes grown in the USA are less chemical-y than imported grapes.
- Bananas and Mushrooms – I know, these aren’t on the list. They did make it onto Greg Horn’s list of most important organic choices in the book Living Green, however. I believe because of the impact on the environment and because of the impact on our fellow humans, I buy bananas organic and Fair Trade Certified when I can. Because bananas are usually only 10 cents more per pound for organic and mushrooms are generally the same price when organic goes on sale, I do my best to stay away from the pesticide-laden varieties.
Some choices are harder to swallow, even though the choice is clear:
All of these are so very expensive to buy organic. I just can’t do it. Plus, I prefer to buy peaches and cherries locally and pick our own strawberries in June. They last us almost all year in the freezer.
Some choices are complicated:
- Apples and Pears – I vacillate between local Michigan apples and organic Washington apples. Pears I’ll occasionally buy organic, when on sale. Otherwise, I scrub them to death! I even did my own unscientific research into the most effective way to wash an apple. The results were surprising!
- Bell Peppers – Organic bell peppers are a whole lot more expensive in the grocery store where I live. I just grimace and bear it on this one, but sometimes I can get organic peppers at the Farmer’s Market in the summer and freeze them, both diced and sliced.
- Greens (lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, etc) – I go back and forth on these leafy items as well, depending on what is on sale and what my grocery budget has left. We eat a lot of salad at my house…I wash non-organic lettuce and spinach twice!
Yay! Garlic and Onions aren’t on the list! You can eat them without (as much) worry and with the knowledge that they’re so healthy for your family.
Does Washing Produce Help Reduce the Pesticides?
Perhaps you can make one small change in the way you handle the Dirty Dozen items. In my house, when I can’t/don’t buy organic and I know the vegetable or fruit I’m about to use is on the Dirty Dozen list, I scrub harder! Potatoes take forever for me to scrub because I really do them well (they were on a previous Dirty Dozen list). If you don’t have a vegetable scrub brush, add it to your wish list! I don’t know if it helps for sure (and the EWG says probably not), but I’ll trust the Lord to at least honor my intentions as I try to scrape my way into Heaven, even if my children’s bodies aren’t as protected here on Earth.
Even if washing help some, keep in mind that the dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists take washing and peeling into account. There are still internal chemicals floating around all these produce items. (If you want to feel better about the washing you can do, check out my comparison of 8 different types of produce wash.)
I also put my children first and try to make sure they get more organic food than I do if it comes to a choice like that. Their bodies are so much smaller that the chemicals in conventional produce have a much greater negative impact on them than they do on me. For example, we have some organic frozen fruit for our yogurt right now (it was the same price as conventional fruit, and only 2 oz. less for raspberries). The blueberries were 10 oz. organic vs. 16 oz. conventional, so I bought one of each (plus they only had one organic). My husband and I will eat the regular stuff and save the organic for the kiddos.
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