Why buy organic?
Organic food is typically grown with fewer pesticides, is free from artificial fertilisers and manufactured herbicides, is GMO free and, in the case of processed foods, will not contain artificial additives or preservatives.
In the UK almost 300 different pesticides are routinely used to produce non-organic food, and traces of these can remain present despite washing and cooking, and have been linked to endocrine system problems, nervous system damage and skin damage. Organic food contains higher levels of polyphenols; the plant-based phytochemicals that could help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and decrease the risks of diabetes and some cancers. There are also serious environmental implications in non-organic, monoculture industrial agriculture, that includes the disruption of local ecosystems, pollution of waterways and the decline of bee populations
In short, buying organic is better for our health and better for the planet. Buying organic is also more expensive than buying industrially farmed, non-organic food (although, I try to remind myself that we pay for cheaper food in other ways, in taxes used to subsidise farmers, and in the increased costs to healthcare systems). One thing I’ve learned is to buy organic when it really matters.
The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen
I haven’t bought a non-organic apple since learning that conventionally grown apples can contain up to 46 chemical residues. However, I will happily buy non-organic avocados, pineapples and sweet potatoes, which have been found to contain few pesticide traces. A good idea is to reference the Environmental Working Group‘s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, published every year and listing the fruit and vegetables that have the most and least pesticide residues. A general rule of thumb is that the thicker the peel, for example melons, kiwis, and mangos, the less likely there is to be traces of chemical pesticides. If you regularly eat the fruit and vegetables in the Dirty Dozen list, you may want to reach for organic, especially if you have children or are pregnant.
2018 Dirty Dozen
2018 Clean Fifteen
You can download a printable of the full list here.
Genetic engineering, where the DNA of a plant, animal or other organism has been modified or altered, is highly controversial, and there is a lack of significant information on how these altered foods affect our long-term health. Luckily, the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic food. Some of the most common genetically modified foods include corn, soy (including tofu), papaya, squashes and courgettes, so if you’re concerned about GMOs then choose organic.
Organic certification is seriously expensive. Talk to the sellers at your local market and ask them how they grow their food and the methods they use, as it may be they’re limiting the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers but are not certified organic. I try to identify small growers by looking for stalls with a small variety of seasonal produce. Local, seasonal food is more nutrient dense than that which is grown and picked outside of its historical season or air-freighted, and is better for the environment. As a bonus, you’re supporting your local community at the same time. We’re lucky in France that we have access to great local markets every day of the week. In the UK The National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association has a list of farm shops, markets and pick your own schemes.
Bulk Buying & Bulk Bins
The organic bulk bins in health food shops tend to be significantly less expensive than buying packets of grains, pulses, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. I’m also a fan of Buy Whole Foods Online, and tend to place an order every month or so on the foods we tend to get through a lot of; brown rice, quinoa, almonds and cashews, dates… Buying these in bulk means I’m not paying extra for unnecessary packaging. You can read more about what I keep in my whole foods pantry here.
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