Budget Organic Buying Guide

A plateful of pesticides is a lot more than most of us want to stomach. But shopping for healthy, natural food without blowing your budget can sometimes feel like a serious balancing act. If you haven’t got the wallet for a fridge stuffed with organic food, there’s good news: you can still reduce the amount of chemicals you take in by being selective about what you buy.

When it comes to toxic substances, not all dishes are created equal. Because fruits and vegetables have different characteristics and growing conditions, the resulting levels of toxic residues are extremely varied. Soft fleshy fruit, for instance, is going to be a lot more dangerous than say, a mango or avocado, because peels and rinds can act as a protective barrier from chemical spray. And then, some items are risky just because of the way they’re packaged, as with canned tomatoes and microwave popcorn.

Here’s where you should splurge for organic, what you want to avoid, and where you can skate by with the cheaper stuff:

Prioritize Organic Produce Purchases

Sometimes buying on a budget means making tough choices. If you’re struggling to find room amid your pinched pennies for that head of locally-grown organic Romaine, should you opt instead for a cheaper alternative? Are some nonorganic items safer than others?

Each year the Environmental Working Group releases their Dirty Dozen list, which hashes out the worst of the toxic offenders—the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide counts. It’s a great place to start when funds force you to be finicky about what you buy.

In 2015, the EWG’s most-wanted included the following:

  • Apples: Don’t put one of these on Teach’s desk unless it’s organic! Testing shows that conventional apples contain high levels of DPA, a substance already banned by the EU.
  • Peaches and nectarines: Unfortunately, worms and borers enjoy a fresh, juicy peach as much as we do, so stone fruit is often laden with pesticides.
  • Strawberries: A mind-boggling 54 chemical residues were discovered on samples surveyed by the Pesticide Action Network.
  • Grapes: Even raisins are not safe! Grapes have been shown to contain some traces of pesticides even after dehydrating.
  • Celery: 13 different harmful substances showed up on celery tested by the EWG. Yikes!
  • Spinach, kale, and other greens: Popeye himself would be no match for these leafy delinquents. Greens absorb toxins in the soil through their stems, so if you must buy them nonorganic, make sure to cut off the ends and outer leaves before eating.
  • Sweet bell and hot peppers: While other growers are banned from using the dangerous pesticides organophosphate and carbamate, pepper farmers continue to spread these nervous system toxins.
  • Cucumbers: Bad news for your dinner salad—cucumbers tend to store trace elements from the soil in their tissue, so they could be sucking up chemicals from years before.
  • Cherry tomatoes: The USDA has performed zero chemical analysis on commercial tomatoes since 2009. This fruit is long overdue for a checkup.
  • Imported snap peas: Another bad boy of the veggie clan, it logged a hefty 13 residues during EWG testing.
  • Potatoes: Your side of fries may be laden with neurotoxins! Conventional potatoes are all sprayed at least three times—once with fungicides, once with herbicides, and once to prevent sprouting—racking up a walloping 35 pesticide residues in USDA samples.

But just because a fruit or veggie appears on the list doesn’t mean you should ban it from your dinner table. In fact, limiting your diet this way may cause you to miss out on vital nutrients and minerals, which might be a bigger danger to your health than any pesticide. Still, if you have to go with conventional produce sometimes, you’ll rest easy knowing that asparagus, avocados, onions, sweetcorn, pineapples, mangoes and grapefruits are all low-pesticide alternatives.

Shop Savvy for Other Products

It doesn’t stop at vegetables, of course. Prepared foods and other products often contain harmful chemicals as well, and their organic replacements don’t exactly make for savings central. Be extra careful when buying these items:

    • Animal products: Animal fat is like a warehouse for toxins. Always choose milk and meat from animals fed with grass, not corn, and save money by staying away from boneless cuts. Or buy direct—food journalist Jo Robinson’s site Eat Wild lets you search a directory of farmers and dairies in your area for straight-from-the-source eggs, meat, and milk.
    • Bread: Nothing like a mouthful of flea meds! Many nonorganic breads contain Malathion, the same chemical used to control pests on pets.
    • Canned tomatoes: Tomatoes’ high acidity levels can cause BPA from canning to leach into your food. Instead, go for organics stored in glass bottles.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables: With all the emphasis on keeping things fresh, it may sound strange to talk about frozen food. But flash-freezing locks in vital nutrients, and frozen organic foods are easier on your budget too!
  • Popcorn: Convenience comes with a price for your health—microwaving bagged popcorn crystallizes chemicals from the lining, contaminating your movie night snack. Avoid this and save dollars by buying bulk organic kernels and popping your own.

Or, Labor for Your Lunch

CSA baskets and farmers markets can be pricey, but there is one way to score fresh food without spending your whole paycheck. Urban farms are often eager for an extra pair of hands, and if you don’t mind logging a few hours pulling weeds, they’re usually happy to reward your efforts with a bag of produce straight from the garden. Visit localharvest.org to find a farm in your area and check out volunteer opportunities.

You can also boost your health for free just by thoroughly washing your fruits and vegetables, and buying locally and in season. This, along with some food shopping smarts, should be just what you need to keep your body fit and your bottom line healthy.

3/16/2023 4:00:00 AM
Written by Kelsey Reaves

Once again an article claiming one thing and writing about another. This info is all over the net. No solution, just gripes. One more site I can unsubscribe from,
Posted by Chris
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