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Friday, January 27, 2012


By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD

Everyone has the one friend you love unconditionally but who knows exactly how to push your buttons, and takes pleasure in doing so often. My button-pusher recently said something along the lines of “organic is a scam.” He also threw the word elitist in there somewhere for good measure. And an argument that came close to a boxing match ensued.

Don’t you worry, I came out the champion by a landslide. But I’ve noticed that a lot of people have misconceptions about or are intimidated by the word “organic.” Typically the biggest issue is price. Like most of the 99%, my bank account has seen better days, so I promise I get it. My fridge is not organic-only by any means. But even if you’re not going to make any changes right now, I still think it’s important to understand it. So here’s a mini-organic 101, part 1: produce, part 2: animal products.


When it comes to fruits and vegetables, organic means, among other things, that no pesticides are used. In conventional produce these pesticides are used to kill weeds and insects that might destroy the crops. But considering they kill things, they bring the risk of some nasty side effects for us too – some have been linked to cancers and other diseases.

As scary as that sounds, I am generally more concerned with people eating fruits and veggies at all than with people eating the organic versions. But some are definitely worse than others. Last year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) did a study on the least and most pesticide-contaminated produce and came up with the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.

The Dirty Dozen. Buy these organic when possible:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens

And the Clean 15. Conventional is okay:

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocados
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

Tip: many of the clean 15 are things you peel or remove the skin from.

Meat, Poultry, Dairy, Eggs

When it comes to animal products, I am a little more opinionated. Conventional animals are given freaky growth hormones (including steroids) so they grow much faster than they should. This means more meat in a shorter amount of time, and triple the egg and milk production. It also means hormone residues in your bowl of cereal. Thanks but no thanks.

Then there are the antibiotics. Conventionally raised animals are given them before they get sick so they don’t spread diseases among themselves in factory farms. That enters our food supply and is contributing to antibiotic resistance which, long story short, is not something we want to mess with.

So when you’re buying meat, poultry, milk or eggs, I think organic is always worth the extra money. If you’re not convinced… organically raised animals are usually treated a bit more humanely. Do it for good karma, people!

Tip: don’t be scared of the freezer aisle, whether it’s for produce or for meat and poultry.

Do you buy organic? Why or why not? And do you have any button-pushers (or are you one)? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Food and Cooking community.

Posted by: Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at 9:48 am


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