Thursday, March 12, 2009

If You Can't to Spend Your Whole Paycheck on Organics

A number of years ago Chris and I decided to try to buy and eat organic meats. We'd already been members of organic community supported agriculture farms, both in Chicago and Rhode Island, when we heard an NPR story about what made farmers in one northern European country lobby for organics legislation. (Sorry, I have forgotten what country it was, since I heard the story almost 10 years ago now.)

In any case, the thing that struck me at the time was the difference in how the animals were treated in organic farms versus "conventional" ones. The choice to go organic means that the farmer must take steps to avoid disease and other issues for her animals by treating them better. Where conventional farmers can cram animals together in horrid conditions and limit the spread of disease by pumping up the animals with antibiotics, organic farmers can not do this. They need to give the animals more space and take greater care to ensure their health and safety by seemingly obvious methods (keeping their livestock clean, feeding them well, etc.) Related to this, organic farmers do not rely on hormones to make their animals bigger. They feed them well and let them move around.

All this seemed like a good idea. So I was motivated both by a desire to avoid putting unnecessary crap into my body and an interest in treating animals better. It might seem a little odd that someone willing to kill animals for food cares about the animals' well-being, but just because I find them delicious doesn't mean that I don't care that the animals that feed me live decently before they end up on my plate.

So all those years ago, Chris and I decided to eat organic or antibiotic/hormone free meat (and by extension, eggs and dairy, which we buy a ton more of than we do meat), deciding that we were willing to vote with our dollars. It costs more to eat this way, but we think it is worth the money. But - and here is where I make the transition to talk about the thing that got me writing this post - it does cost more money. Luckily, you can do things to reduce the cost. You can grow things yourself, cook from scratch and use up leftovers. And you can buy some organics and some conventional. I know that I started by writing about organics in meat, and now I am going to show you a table about organic veggies, but there is a connection. Though I am not terribly worried about the treatment of veggies at the hands of conventional farmers, but I am concerned about pesticides. As I want to limit the pesticides my family and I ingest through food.

Toward that end, I like to consult the following, a guide recently updated by the Environmental Working Group. There are some obvious items on the list: apples, bell peppers and pears. It makes sense that many fruits and veggies containing a lot of water would be better to buy organic, since the pesticides get sucked up by the water into the food. There are some surprises too. I was happy to see that I can buy conventional avocados and not be too worried about pesticides. (I remember reading that things with thicker skins tend to get contain fewer pesticides.) Getting a free ride on mangoes and kiwi is great, and who would have guessed that water-hogs like watermelon and tomato would be low in pesticides?

You can download the guide at the EWG website.


  1. I haven't eaten meat in years. However my family does and organic is always the best way to go.
    I was amazed years ago by a article I read on hormones. It was tying girls getting menses and breast buds at younger and younger ages. Hormones injected into the meat was likely the culprit. No thanks!

  2. Thanks - I've seen that list before, but it's nice to have a little pocket sized version.

  3. I did some work sourcing organic materials in my previous (work)life, and as part of my job, got to visit an organic milk farm. The most unbelievable thing that happened to me when I was there, was that I (and the group I was touring the farm with) got to watch a cow give birth in the middle of the grazing field. Because unlike the conventional farms, where the cows are pretty much cooped and hooked up all day, these cows were sent out in the fields when it wasn't milking time and allowed a more "natural" existence. It was pretty nifty.

  4. As a whole foods geek, I can't help but note that if you buy non-organic soy, corn, canola (and quite often potatoes and tomatoes), they are more than likely genetically modified. That is as much a problem for me as pesticides for the health and environmental impacts but even more so for the global political impacts.

  5. Cheers for this - seriously useful!