Last month the Environmental Working Group released their Dirty Dozen list for 2019. This list, in theory, reports the produce that is “highest” in pesticide residue and informs consumers of the top foods that they should buy organic. This list causes a lot of fear and anxiety around food. The bottom line is that eating fruits and vegetables is known to be good for us, they provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, can help protect against heart disease, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer. We also know that most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. So the concern over organic versus conventional really frustrates me, because the main focus should be on eating more vegetables and fruits regardless of whether they’re organic or conventional, frozen or canned or fresh, the bottom line is that more is better.
If you choose to buy organic for sustainability reasons, or because you think it tastes better, that’s great. But the benefits of all produce (organic or conventional) is much greater than any perceived threat of pesticide residue on foods. You can calculate your risk of pesticide exposure at safe fruits and veggies, but even the most devoted fruit-loving child would have a hard time eating over 181 servings of strawberries in a day, the amount calculated by the USDA as safe even with the highest pesticide residue levels. So all the fear about pesticide residue is hype.
Regardless of what type of produce you’re buying, you should still plan on washing it before eating. Washing produce with cold or warm running water is sufficient, you don’t need any special cleaning products, you don’t need to use soap. At most, you can use a scrubbing brush for things like potatoes that may have some hard-packed dirt on them.
This week I went to a great conference and had the opportunity to hear from Common Ground an organization of farmers that help clarify myths and misconceptions around food production. It’s important to recognize that just because something is labeled as organic, doesn’t mean that pesticides are not used. There are over 40 pesticides used in organic farming practices. These pesticides are considered more natural than the pesticides used in conventional farming. I was also fascinated to learn that farmers are required to go to annual trainings on pesticide use and must keep detailed records of when they spray any pesticides, including weather conditions. While organic does mean that the product is non-GMO, GMO is another one of those fear tactics. There are currently only 11 GMO products and not all of them are even available in grocery stores at this time. So again, marketers are taking advantage of something that’s confusing and advertising that this and that aren’t GMO, when really there aren’t that many GMO products to begin with.
The bottom line is that we shouldn’t fear our food. Fruits and vegetables provide a multitude of health benefits. So let’s focus on eating more delicious produce and worry less about what’s on the label.
Do you buy organic or conventional? What’s your favorite spring vegetable/fruit that you can’t wait to eat?