Friday, June 25, 2010

Going Organic on a Budget: Know the 'Dirty Dozen'

No, not that Dirty Dozen.  Though, I must admit, whenever I hear about the "dirty dozen" in regard to fruit and vegetables,  I can't help but think of this movie. I come from a military family, what can I say?

One of the main reasons I live frugally is so can afford things that I  think are better. I use baking soda and vinegar to clean certain things so I can buy non-toxic dish soaps and detergents for other aspects of my cleaning routine. We eat vegetarian meals a few times a week so that I can buy all-natural chicken and grass-feed beef when we want meat.  It's all about finding a trade-off that you can live with. You cut back in one area to splurge a little in another that is more important to you.That is one of the reasons I thought the title of my blog worked -- you can still live well (well, maybe not exactly like a princess..) on a budget, as long as you have the right mindset and know exactly what you want.

Anyway, one way that I get my family organic food while still staying on budget is to know (as the Environmental Working Group calls them) "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Clean Fifteen". These are lists of the best and worst fruits and vegetables when it comes to pesticide amounts.

Paying attention to these guidelines is a good starting place for anyone who wants to start eating more naturally without the big sticker shock. I know when I started to buy more natural foods for my family, I went to Whole Foods and got really depressed. How was I going to afford to buy the heathier, more natural foods for my family without spending a ridiculous amount of money?  For me, sticking to the list of twelve fruits and veggies made it seem a little less overwhelming.

The Dirty Dozen
I keep a list of these, in this order, in the notebook I write my shopping lists and menu plans in.  These fruits and vegetables contain about 47-67 pesticides per serving. Many believe these twelve are so heavily laden because the skin of these fruits and vegetables is softer, allowing the pesticides to absorb better. By buying these twelve fruits and vegetables organic, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to 80 percent.

Here is the list, in descending order from the highest amount of pesticides per serving (meaning, #1 is the worst):
  1. Celery
  2. Peaches
  3. Strawberries
  4. Apples
  5. Domestic blueberries
  6. Nectarines
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Spinach, kale and collard greens
  9. Cherries
  10. Potatoes
  11. Imported grapes
  12. Lettuce
It does take a little adjustment in your grocery budget to adapt to the cost difference between organic and conventionally grown produce. However, once you get used to paying a certain amount, you don't notice it. In some cases (like apples), the organic ones are not that much more expensive. But, I'm not going to lie: it does cost more. It was hard at first to pay $2.00 for organic celery when the conventional kind was 99 cents. But now I'm used it and it works in my budget. 

I also use this 'dirty dozen' list as a good guide to planning and planting my garden. I try to grow the things on this list because it's a lot cheaper. Plus, I know I grow mine organically. This year, among other things, I'm growing strawberries, spinach, lettuce, and peppers.  I also considering planting some peach trees in my yard this fall; I'm going to plant grapes along my fence next spring.

The Clean Fifteen 
The upside of this post is that there are more on this list. You can buy these ones conventionally grown, at the prices you're used to.  Like the other list, this one is also in descending order, except #1 is the best (meaning, least amount of pesticides). 
  1. Onions
  2. Avocados (hooray!)
  3. Sweet corn (frozen)
  4. Pineapple
  5. Mangoes
  6. Asparagus
  7. Sweet peas (frozen)
  8. Kiwi
  9. Cabbage
  10. Eggplant
  11. Papaya
  12. Watermelon
  13. Broccoli
  14. Tomatoes
  15. Sweet Potatoes
As you may have noticed there's a few fruits and vegetables (some of my favorites, I might add) that aren't on these lists. They all fall somewhere in the middle. You can find the entire list (includng the middle ranks) from the Environmental Working Group here. Be sure to check back with the EWG list every year since the list changes from year to year.

Choosing whether to buy organic or not is a personal decision -- I don't think that someone is bad or careless for buying anything on the 'dirty dozen' list. Full disclosure: I bought non-organic peaches last week, even though they're at #2 on the 'dirty dozen' list. They were big and beautiful and on sale. I'm happy to report, we're still alive (please catch the sarcasm there). That said, I've made following these guidelines a part of my family's lifestyle. Sure, it costs a little extra but if it keeps us healthier in the long run, I know it will save us money in the end.

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