When it pays to buy organic: 3 questions to ask before you splurge

Official seal of the National Organic Program
Image via Wikipedia

A woman I met in the hills of New York state had a simple view on eating meat.

She only ate animals who lived a happy life.

It’s been a couple of years since I heard this mantra on meat-eating, and I still apply her attitude toward my food purchases. I want meat, veggies and fruit that have lived the good life — no hormones, no pesticides, no unhealthy mass production. This translates to buying organic.

In the perfect world, my cabinets and refrigerator would be dotted with the green and white USDA organic seal. In the real world, my wallet cries each time I reach for the free-range brown eggs plucked from the butts of happy chickens.

I can’t afford to buy exclusively organic. Most folks I know can’t, either. But here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to buy organic:

  • Do you eat the skin of the fruit and vegetable you are buying?
    • Yes: Choose organic. The Environmental Working Group recommends choosing the organic option in this instance to decrease your exposure to pesticides. The group, a non-profit that focuses on public health, reviewed nearly 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine what fruits and vegetables have the highest, and lowest, amounts of chemical residue, according to CNN. All of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides are foods that you eat whole, such as blueberries, lettuce and cherries.
    • No: Regular is fine. Produce with a thick outer layer has a naturally high defense level against pesticide contamination, the Environmental Working Group. These foods include onions, avocados and sweet corn.
  • Are you pregnant or buying food for children?
    • Yes: Choose organic. There’s some debate about the health effects that pesticides have on your health, but children and fetuses face the biggest risk for contaminants, according to this article on organic foods from BusinessWeek.
    • No: Regular is fine.
  • Are you buying meat, dairy products or eggs?
    • Yes: This one’s a toss up. Only 16 percent of grains and 15 percent of meats tested by the USDA in 2002 had detectable pesticide residues, according to BusinessWeek. The main concern for shopping in this category is widespread use of antibiotics and growth hormone. The FDA says the use of hormones is OK, but some consumer groups disagree. This week, I bought non-organic eggs, and I often buy other non-organic meat products because of my budget. FYI — I feel fine.
    • No: Carry on with your fruits and veggies.

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