Like all parents, my husband and I want the very best for our child. We’re not perfect, but we strive to make the best, informed decisions when it comes to our daughter. But one thing we can’t agree on: bananas! It causes a kerfuffle in the produce aisle each time we shop.
So why do bananas drive us bananas? We can never agree on whether to buy organic vs. non-organic. While my husband believes that organic fruits and veggies are healthier (and thus only wants to feed our daughter organic produce), I am content with giving her conventional fruits and vegetables as long as they’re washed and scrubbed thoroughly under running water. In my opinion, non-organic produce is healthy and a much more affordable option.
To avoid making a scene at the grocery store next time, I need to know: is organic better?
What is organic?
First things first — what does organic really mean?
Organic refers to the way farmers grow, handle, and process food. To be classified as organic, foods must meet national standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As part of these standards, organic crops must be produced without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.
The process for producing organic fruits and vegetables includes using natural fertilizers such as manure or compost, controlling weeds naturally through methods such as crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling, and controlling pests using natural methods and naturally-derived pesticides.
Benefits of Organic
Organic food advocates believe that these farming practices produce better fruits and veggies. Here are some of the benefits of going organic:
- Better nutrition. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce, including higher levels of vitamin C, certain minerals, and antioxidants.
- Safety. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. One study found that organically grown crops had about one-third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown versions.
- Better taste. Organic food often tastes fresher because it is often (but not always) produced on smaller farms near where it is sold and it doesn’t contain preservatives to make it last longer.
- Better for the environment. Organic farming practices reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy.
The Downside of Organic
Here is my concern (and that of many other consumers) with going organic: it’s expensive. Organic foods typically cost more than their non-organic counterparts. The USDA found that organic fruits and vegetables can cost more than 20 percent higher than conventional produce. Higher prices are due, in part, to more expensive farming practices.
While organic produce may cost more, that’s not stopping some shoppers. Sales of organic food are steadily increasing. But some experts aren’t convinced that going organic is worth the cost. Here’s why:
- The amount of man-made pesticide residues found in non-organic foods is still well below the level that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed unsafe.
- Manure fertilizers used in organic farming raise safety concerns because they may increase the risk of contamination by dangerous organisms, like E. coli.
- Another concern is that organic plants may produce more natural toxins, which can be harmful to humans.
Best Fruits and Veggies to Buy Organic
So, what’s the solution? Should we buy organic produce or not?
If you’re sold on the idea of going organic (like my husband) but aren’t ready to go completely organic (like me), you can always pick and choose. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list, known as the Dirty Dozen, of conventionally grown foods most likely to contain pesticide residue. To help reduce your exposure to pesticides, consider buying organic versions of these produce items: apples, celery, cherries, grapes, kale, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Produce You Don’t Need to Buy Organic
The EWG also produces the Clean Fifteen, a list of non-organic fruits and vegetables that are low in pesticide residues. The 2019 list includes: asparagus, avocadoes, broccoli, cantaloupes, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, frozen sweet peas, honeydew melons, kiwis, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, and sweet corn.
A Balancing Act
Balancing the health of our family is a top priority. While I may not be 100 percent sold on the idea of going organic like my husband is, I think we can find a compromise by purchasing a mix of organic and non-organic produce. That goes for the bananas, too.
By Veronica Serrano, Independence Blue Cross