Every year, this lovely organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their epic “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” report. Basically, they take a good, hard look at the food available to you in your local grocery store, test it and determine which items of produce are the “dirtiest” and which are the “cleanest.”
What does it mean to be dirty or clean?
In this case, it’s mostly a matter of pesticides. The more pesticides found on or in the produce, the dirtier it is.
This is particularly useful for people who want to eat clean but are on a budget. It helps to prioritize which foods absolutely must be purchased organic and which ones you can let slide in a pinch. So, without further delay, here’s the list!
Dirty Dozen (listed “dirtiest” to “cleanest”)
- Strawberries (average of 20 different pesticides)
- Spinach (double the amount of pesticide – by weight – than any other produce tested)
- Nectarines (average of 5 different pesticides – doubled in pesticide contamination since 2010)
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- For a baker’s dozen, they threw in hot peppers as number 13
Clean 15 (listed “cleanest” to “dirtiest”)
- Sweet corn
- Frozen Sweet Peas
There are a few things to be aware of. First of all, notice how almost half of the Dirty Dozen are fruits that grow on trees. Orchards in general tend to be heavily dusted with pesticides. Plus, the danger is that we like to just pick up an apple (or nectarine, pear, peach or cherry) and take a big bite, skin and all. Of course, this offers maximal exposure to the absolute boat-load of pesticides. Also, take note of the grapes. This little fruit is one of the most heavily-dosed fruit on the planet when it comes to pesticides. So this includes your wine. If you’re a wine drinker, think about going organic. One of our favorite winemakers is Dry Farm Wines.
On the flip side, notice how a great many of the Clean 15 have a layer or shell that you peel or cut away. It’s an automatic layer of protection against pesticides.
That being said, if you can afford it, it’s always better to buy organic for several reasons.
- Pesticides seep into the soil, so even if your produce has a protective layer (like an avocado for example), the chemicals in pesticides still make it into the soil, in the water, up through the roots and into the plant.
- When you buy non-organic, you support the market for non-organic food. In an ideal world, so many MORE people would buy organic that farmers and food companies would just give up on synthetic pesticides altogether–which would be a massive boost for public health–and all of those lovely organic farmers would become saturated with capital and expand and feed us all with healthy, untainted food.
- A lot of food (especially corn and soy), despite being grown without pesticides, is still genetically modified. Unless you go organic, your food has been tampered with.
Dangers of pesticides
Pesticides are among the most ubiquitous, yet dangerous, substances we regularly consume. They are really nasty little chemicals. Studies on the dangers of pesticides have turned up links to all sorts of cancer. Consuming pesticides raises your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There’s a link to ADHD in children. And it’s been shown to be extremely dangerous to pregnant moms and their babies.
Dangers of GMO
This can be a touchy subject. Some argue that we have been “genetically modifying” crops since the Agricultural Revolution. And indeed that’s true in that we tend to use seeds this year from our strongest, best-producing crops from last year. Doing that over several millennia certainly has an effect on the genetics of a species. Or, you know… just look at dogs. They used to all be wolves. Isn’t that crazy???
Anyway, in this sense, we’re talking about the manipulation of the genetic code in a laboratory. It’s not so evil in theory. If you can make a better crop, why not? That’s what we’ve always tried to do. The problem is, when we get so specific about it, splicing genes from other plants (and animals!) into the genetic code, we have to be honest with ourselves as a species: we really can’t predict all of the consequences. We just don’t know enough about this stuff to be so sure of ourselves.
And studies AFTER THE FACT have turned up some disturbing evidence. For example, studies have found definitive links between GMO consumption and everything from organ failure to infertility to autoimmune conditions. And even though no clear links have been found, we can observe that since the widespread use of GM crops in mid-90s, chronic diseases in America have doubled, and food-related allergies are through the roof.
All in all, why take the risk? Just go organic.