As I walk through my local Whole Paycheck, I am dazzled, if momentarily, by gleaming aisles with beautifully packaged organics. Then I stop and look at the prices; I bristle. On average, organic dairy products cost close to 50 percent more than conventional foods; fruit and vegetables are close to 20 percent higher. Buying organic continues to be far too expensive for my pocketbook. Luckily the farmers’ market in my area (when it’s open) is a good alternative, although as I’ve learned, not all the food here is both organic and local.
Still, I’m increasingly disturbed to learn about the pesticides in my food, some of which have harmful health risks—and some of the risks continue to be unknown. Must I pay up to feel safe? I decided to stop fretting and learned to love organics, or at least some of them. Here’s a list of must-have organics:
1. Milk. For several years now I’ve been buying organic milk ever since I learned about rBGH, an artificial growth hormone used to increase milk production in cows. But even the organic label is getting tricky, depending on the brand. Larger organic retailers like Horizon and Aurora have come under fire recently, selling milk and dairy products that are “USDA Organic,” despite the fact that the milk is still from factory farms. National organic standards continue to be in dispute by the USDA. Ideally local organic milk is best, but if I can’t find organic, I opt for milk that is rBGH-free.
2. Meat. Whenever possible, I opt for organic beef, chicken, and pork. It’s worth the extra few dollars. Ever since I became aware of mad-cow disease, I re-thought my choices. Though the percentage of people who have come down with mad-cow is low, it’s disturbing enough to warrant buying organic meat, never mind the pesticides, antibiotics, and chemicals prevalent in non-organic meat. And although the verdict may still be out on how harmful non-organic meat really is compared to organic, what’s the harm in avoiding antibiotics and pesticides altogether?
There are several fruit and vegetables that are worth buying organic, too—those that contain the highest levels of pesticides, chemicals, additives, and hormones. These are my fruit and veggie must-haves, based on the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) analysis of 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (between 2000 and 2004):
5. Sweet Bell Peppers
11. Grapes (imported)
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