Monday, February 9, 2009

shopping organic on a budget

Did you know you could dramatically reduce your family's pesticide exposure more cheaply by following an organic shopper's guide?

Like many mothers, I suppose, when it was just my husband and me and we both had our regular-paying city jobs, I had no problem with buying everything organic. Now that there are three of us living off much less money, I am much more sympathetic to the lament that, "oh we'd like to buy organic, but it's so expensive...."

Now, I personally believe that the only way to make organic produce less expensive is to buy more of it. It makes sense - the price of organic food in Italy, for just one example, has dramatically dropped over the years, along with demand dramatically increasing (14% of Italians now buy organic regularly). If we don't continue to demand something, supply will never go up and prices never go down.

However, a family budget is a family budget, isn't it.

I was interested to find a couple of NGOs in the US which have conducted their own studies on the pesticide levels in conventionally-grown produce, and written their own 'shoppers guides', accordingly.

Click on links to 'shoppers guide' and 'pocket guide' here and here.

I would say that although agricultural practices do vary between the US and Australia, these studies are still reliable guides for us down under, in the absence at any rate of any similar local studies (I will post a link to such a study as soon as it is published!).

Some of the findings should not surprise you - for instance peaches, nectarines, strawberries and all those lovely soft-skinned fruits appear to hold a lot of pesticides, peaches being the #1 worst. So buy these organic - hang the price! Unfortunately these are some of the more expensive organic fruits, precisely because they are so delicate and vulnerable to pests that they need more careful protection.

Apples, those great worm-housers, come second after peaches for being high in pesticides, when conventionally grown.

But it may surprise you to know that potatoes and carrots, despite their protective skins and living below ground, are still bad for pesticides (probably because the soil by now harbours so many chemicals). These are worth buying organic - in my opinion the taste factor for organic potatoes alone makes it so. On the other hand, chillies (or 'hot peppers') surprised me by coming quite high up on the list - I would have thought their heat would deter pests all by itself.

On the other side of things, if you need to economise this week (or every week), you might care to know that onions, avocadoes, mangoes and pineapples, asparagus, kiwi, blueberries and bananas are among the lowest (out of 45 kinds of garden produce) in terms of pesticide load, according to the Environmental Working Group study.

That's good news for mango lovers - even conventionally-grown mangoes are pricey this year :(

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