“O” or “No”?

Seeing as how I’m a pusher of “real food,” I must surely be fully on board the organic bandwagon, right?

Well, I am…sort of.

Let me put it this way. A huge chunk of my food purchases are organic. But I’ve moved past the word “organic.” In a world where the big junk food conglomerates have bought up a hefty proportion of what used to be small producer of healthy organic food (Would you like your Odwalla with a side of Coke?), organic just doesn’t mean mean what it used to mean.

In an ideal world, every morsel of food that I put in my mouth would be local and sustainably grown. This is not an ideal world.

Let’s start with fruits and veggies. I eat a lot of them. I eat more than the five-a-day or nine-a-day or whatever the heck the current catchy recommendation is. Fruits and veggies are great. They are colorful, they are delicious, they are versatile, they are packed with vitamins and minerals and fiber and phytochemicals and flavonoids and any number of those mysterious components that contribute to good health even though they have yet to be identified by someone wearing a lab coat.

I buy organic produce when it’s readily available (which it is during farmers market season, and Costco carries more and more of it year round), good quality (usually not a problem) and a reasonable price. The price differential between organic and non-organic produce tends to be greater with some items than others.

I wish money doesn’t matter, but it does. I’ll spend for quality food, because I consider it an investment in present and future health (“Save money by eating off the dollar menu now, have a heart attack later,” I always say), but sometimes I have to decide on which portion of the food budget to allocate those dollars. This is even more important that I am now a cash-strapped, tuition-paying, nutrition grad school hopeful (yes, I do see the irony there).

Where I choose to consistently invest my local, sustainably grown, (mostly) organic dollars is in milk, meat and eggs, a decision I will write about later this week.

If you are inclined to go organic with your fruits and vegetables, a good place to focus would be on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen,” the 12 most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. Starting with the worst, they are:

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

You can get the full list of 49 fruits and veggies, ranked from best to worst, here.

I would submit that, even though I believe that each of us should reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals whenever and wherever possible, we also need to eat more real food and less processed food. Let’s tackle that issue first. Much better to eat conventionally raised apples and spinach and limit sweets and snacks to occasional indulgences than to freely partake of organic potato chips and organic cupcakes because, well, you know, they’re organic!

This point was every so nicely made by the New York Time’s Mark Bittman in an article last year. (Love that man!) And I quote:

“No matter how carefully I avoided using the word “organic” when I spoke to groups of food enthusiasts about how to eat better, someone in the audience would inevitably ask, “What if I can’t afford to buy organic food?” It seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically.

“But eating “organic” offers no guarantee of any of that. And the truth is that most Americans eat so badly — we get 7 percent of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is “sweets”; and one-third of nation’s adults are now obese — that the organic question is a secondary one. It’s not unimportant, but it’s not the primary issue in the way Americans eat.”

The full article is “Eating Food That’s Better for you, Organic or Not.” Furthermore, the NY Times has a whole page devoted to news related to organic food. Enjoy!