YES! But How? :: Affording Organics

If you’re looking for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.


I’d like to buy all organic food all the time, but sometimes I just can’t afford it. Which products are important to buy in organic form?

The problem with buying non-organic produce is that much of it is treated with pesticides that may be harmful to human health. There is some variation in the ranking of which fruits and vegetables are the most harmful, but overall, there is broad agreement.

Peaches, which are frequently treated with the fungicides captan and ipridione, rate in the top 10 on nearly all dangerous-produce lists. They are often sprayed with up to nine different pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Other frequent chart-toppers are strawberries, apples, grapes (and raisins), red and green bell peppers, potatoes, and celery. Apricots, nectarines, pears, cherries, spinach, green beans, and lettuce are rated slightly less harmful, but still buy organic when you have the option.

But there are foods you can be a little less afraid of if you’re shopping on a budget. Onions, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, winter squash, cauliflower, asparagus, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, and mangoes are usually exposed to far fewer pesticides than their more dangerous cousins.

There is some debate surrounding certain foods, like corn and bananas. These items make appearances on both “safe” and “unsafe” lists.

Bananas are sprayed with chemicals linked to birth defects and neurological damage, but some researchers claim that these pesticides lodge in the peel, leaving the fruit safe.

Corn appears on many lists, not because it is particularly full of pesticides but because 75-90 percent of U.S. corn has been genetically modified (therefore, this warning also applies to corn syrup, corn oil, and other corn products).

Small, local farms typically use fewer pesticides than commercial growers, even if they don’t sell their produce as “organic.” And of course, you can always grow your own!

—Catherine Bailey

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Our Issue 50 Researchers:
Catherine Bailey wrote this article as part of The New Economy, the Summer 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. After finishing her second amazing internship with YES!, Catherine, on the right in the photo, plans to live the (eco-friendly) bohemian dream until it’s time for grad school.
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