You Say Tomato, I Say “Tomahto”

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Does it really matter if we eat organic, or should we just “call the whole thing off?”


You know the feeling—we’ve all been there. You’re in the produce aisle at the grocery store. Organic bell peppers are $4.49 per pound and conventional bell peppers are $3.49 per pound. You think, “Does it really matter if I buy the organic peppers?”

You think about the other things you could potentially buy with that dollar (a pack of gum?), and about how that dollar could really add up over time. Then, you think about the adorable organic farmer in overalls who could probably use that dollar more than you. You go back and forth. Finally, defeated, you sulk your way over to the frozen food section.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t care about buying organic. I was on a college budget and buying healthy food wasn’t a priority. But, after reading Michael Pollan and watching “Food, Inc.,” my relationship with food completely changed. I couldn’t believe that so many of the food-like substances I grew up on were not food at all. I began to understand the importance of eating unprocessed, whole and natural foods and fell in love with the slow food movement (making a meal from scratch using local and sustainable ingredients). But, one thing was missing: I wanted to know how to grow my own food. So, I decided to travel to New Zealand and Australia with my partner, Robbie, where we worked on organic farms. When we got back, I found a job teaching Chicago teens how to farm using organic methods. Food became my passion and a way of life. Now, Robbie and I own and operate a food truck in St. Louis called Lulu’s Local Eatery, where we serve food that celebrates fresh, organic and local vegetables wherever possible. Simply put, we only serve food that we want to eat.

So, does it really matter if we eat organic? Here’s the skinny: Eating conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables is far better than eating none at all. However, conventional growers use toxic chemicals and pesticides to cut down on pests and weeds, which are permanently absorbed into the food. Unfortunately, washing produce only removes surface dirt—not chemicals. We end up ingesting those chemicals, which can be extremely harmful to our health and to the environment.

In a perfect world, everyone could buy 100 percent of their food from the organic farmer up the road. But, for those of us who live in the real world, there’s the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. These handy classifications can cut down your consumption of chemicals and pesticides by up to 80 percent. The 12 “dirtiest” crops are the most contaminated. When grown conventionally, the Dirty Dozen tested positive for 47 different chemicals and pesticides! You should definitely buy these crops organic whenever possible. The Clean Fifteen are the least contaminated with pesticides. Most of these crops test low because they have an outer layer that protects the edible part.

So, tear out this handy guide and use it the next time you’re in the produce aisle. If you want to eat organic, but need to save some cash, go ahead and buy the crops listed on the Clean Fifteen conventionally. With some smart shopping, you can find a way to keep your wallet, your body and your planet happy.



The Clean Fifteen

The Clean Fifteen


The Dirty Dozen


Photo credit: Illustration by Sarah Quatrano

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