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July 12, 2012
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EARTHA STEWARD: What to buy organic

A: Many people cite price as the main reason for why they don't buy organic, sustainable or local food. If we take a look at what other countries are spending compared to us, we will see that we have it pretty easy. If anything, we might want to get use to the idea of spending more money on food and a little less on sweet new kicks, or that stylish new ride - neither of which are all that nutritious in the long run.

According to the Economic Research Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we spend around 5.7 percent of our total household expenditures on food. In comparison, people in the UK spend 8.6 percent, residents of Denmark spend 10.7 percent, and in Hong Kong, residents spend 12.5 percent of their income on food. Places such as Indonesia use over 50 percent of their household expenditures on food alone.

That said, our spending habits could be better (or worse). If you are on a budget and want to get the biggest bang for your organic buck, check out the "Dirty Dozen" list updated each year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

This year's list is referred to as the "Dirty Dozen Plus" as it has two additional items that are crucial when purchasing organic. The list is a handy tool for thrifty shoppers who want to make sure they are limiting their pesticide and insecticide intake. Numbered 1-12 are the worst offenders and most important items to get from the organic section when at the grocery store.

1. Apples

2. Bell peppers

3. Blueberries

4. Celery

5. Cucumbers

6. Grapes

7. Lettuce

8. Nectarines

9. Peaches

10. Potatoes

11. Spinach

12. Strawberries

+ Green Beans

+ Kale/cooking greens

The "Plus" section of this year's "Dirty Dozen" was added because these items can contain some of the most harmful of all the pesticides.

Johanna Cogleton, a senior scientist at EWG, reports that even a small amount of the organophosphates (a neurodevelopmental toxin) most likely found on green beans and cooking greens is associated with lower birth weights for infants. Other problems include a decreased gestational age (the time between conception and birth) and cognitive issues. Since green beans and cooking greens are popular, especially in baby food, Dr. Cogleton felt the need to highlight these in the dirty dozen.

On a positive note there is also the "Clean Fifteen" that the EWG list as produce that have the least amount chemicals once they reach your plate. Keep in mind that the "Clean Fifteen" does not mean they are grown without pesticides. Many of the items on the list still get a lethal, industrial dose of chemicals which impact all of us, the ground water, and the environment. These 15 items contain the least amount of pesticide residue:

1. Asparagus

2. Avocado

3. Cabbage

4. Cantaloupe

5. Corn

6. Eggplant

7. Grapefruit

8. Kiwi

9. Mangoes

10. Mushrooms

11. Onions

12. Pineapples

13. Sweet Peas

14. Sweet Potatoes

15. Watermelon

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen are a great transition tools for those looking to buy more sustainable and healthier produce while not completely draining our wallets.

One thing is for certain: We all need our fruits and veggies! What we chose to buy as a consumer not only impacts our health but also the industry. Supporting local, organic farmers can help bring down the prices so healthy food is affordable for everyone.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 12, 2012 03:21PM Published Jul 12, 2012 03:21PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.