There’s no doubt about it: organic produce tends to cost more than conventional produce. But studies have shown higher nutrient content in organic produce, and detrimental effects from pesticides in conventional produce. So is the higher price tag worth it?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. But I’ll share with you how I approach the decision.
Get the biggest bang for your buck
One of my favorite resources is the Environmental Working Group’s list of its Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen. Each year, the EWG tests samples of over 35,000 pieces of 48 types of fruits and vegetables. The samples are tested for pesticides after they have been prepared to be eaten. This means the produce is thoroughly washed and, when applicable, peeled. The Clean 15 are those with the least residual pesticides and the Dirty Dozen are those with the most. These lists can help guide you toward the produce that you may feel is more “worth” the added expense.
EWG’s Dirty Dozen (2017)
EWG’s Clean 15 (2017)
- Frozen Sweet Peas
*Some corn and papaya sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.
Scope out your local farms
Many small farms cannot afford the high costs associated with USDA Organic Certification, yet still grow according entirely or mostly according to organic standards. Seek out a farmers market and talk to the folks there. You’ll probably learn something new, and you’ll support your local economy.
To save some coin on organics, I try to buy organic foods in-season, in bulk, or frozen.
Want organic strawberries in the dead of winter? You’re going to pay a lot more than you will in July. So buy frozen strawberries and use them in a smoothie or thawed in some yogurt. They’ll be cheaper and will last longer than fresh. They also won’t have to be shipped thousands of miles to reach you. And when you can have fresh berries in the summer, they’ll taste that much sweeter!
I also buy organic produce in bulk – I love Costco. If the quantities are too much for you, find a friend that wants to split the haul. My mom and I used to do this quite a bit when we lived near each other. You can also freeze what you won’t immediately use.
And finally, keep an eye on sales at Whole Foods and other stores. Sales typically align with produce that is in-season.
You will probably find yourself out a restaurant that you didn’t choose or at a family member’s house and you’re just trying to find the healthiest option there. Just because you think that the spinach and cherry tomatoes in their salad aren’t organic doesn’t mean you should abandon that option. An otherwise healthy salad with conventional veggies is probably still a good option. Just do the best you can given the choices you have. It’s only one meal. Chill out and enjoy your company.
Vote with your dollars
If you’re still struggling to justify the extra expense, try looking at it through this lens: the more organic you buy, the more you support local and organic farmers…and the less you support the big farms who spray your food with all sorts of…crap. Your dollars have the power to communicate what you value. They’re your vote.
So is it worth it?
Only you know can determine your own personal tolerance for the quality and safety of your food, and for the amount of flexibility you have in your budget. Like many decisions, this one involves a trade-off. The choice is entirely yours. Hopefully this will help you think through it!
Still confused or have a question? Ask away in the comments below!