Thursday, June 19, 2008

Veggie Might: Organic Foods - When to Splurge

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Everyone knows that organic is the way to go, but let’s be practical. Organic foods can be pretty cost-prohibitive and, depending on your locus, hard to come by. Take a quick tool around the natural foods store or even a mainstream grocery chain, and you’ll see a huge price disparity between the organic and “conventional” produce. Shopping at local farm stands, farmer’s markets, and food coops are the wisest options—and very often the cheapest—but, what do you do in a pinch or when you live in an underserved area?

I remember reading (or seeing on the tube) somewhere that fruits and veggies with inedible rinds are safer than those without, pesticide-wise. That makes sense. Peel of the bad stuff on the outside; eat the good stuff on the inside. But is it true or did I imagine it? On a fun vegetarian blog, Veggie Chic, I found a link to a colorful list with handy wallet card that (kind of) confirmed my waking dream, but carried the notion even further.

Compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the produce shopping guide is a list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that tested highest for pesticide residue. The Cleanest 12 are the iron-clad garden varieties that scored the lowest. The complete list tops out at 43.

Buy These Organic
Sweet Bell Peppers
Grapes (Imported)

Lowest in Pesticides
Sweet Corn (Frozen)
Sweet Peas (Frozen)

EWG, the awesome Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) that brings us Skin Deep: the Cosmetic Safety Database, has done research that is extensively cited in several other articles, including an amazingly comprehensive piece from Consumer Reports, When It Pays to Buy Organic.

In addition to in-depth reporting on organic standards and a great breakdown of labeling, the CR article also has great tips for finding real organic deals. A neighbor of mine told me months ago about a community-supported farm (CSA) that delivers to our ‘hood, and I promptly forgot about it. Then through Local Harvest, I discovered that the very same farm was still taking members this season.

Just days away from the registration deadline, I did some quick math and realized that for around $17.00 a week, I can have a bounty of locally grown (northern NJ), seasonal, organic produce all summer and fall. That’s the same or less than I spend on produce now—and most of what I buy is conventional. If I’d joined earlier, I would have started reaping the benefits two weeks ago, for even more savings.

It’s a big commitment to pay for five months of groceries in one chunk (gulp!)—not something I would have been able to do months ago. But cutting corners on things like lunches out, cable, and subway fare (I cycle most places in the city) have added up to more than realized. Now I can put that savings into affordable, healthful food, and local, sustainable agriculture.

How do you balance your budget and organics? Are any city (or suburban or country) folk part of a food coop or CSA? What are your experiences? I’m curious about the community part, especially for city dwellers. There is a volunteer aspect to my membership that sounds like fun too. Plus, each week’s farm offering will be somewhat of a surprise. Oh, the organic culinary adventures we will have!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members monitorpop, idp05, and graygoosie.)


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