Is Purchasing Organic Produce Worth the Cost?

The answer to this question can vary. A lot of people believe it is a smart idea to buy organic when it makes sense. For instance, a banana with dense skin that you take off and throw out will retain fewer pesticides when compared to a strawberry, which soaks in nearly every chemical.

Tests performed by the U.S. The Department of Agriculture revealed that some vegetables and fruits still have elevated amounts of pesticides on them, even after scrubbing them clean. The highest levels were found in apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries, so you may consider buying these fruits and vegetables organic. Some of the fruits and vegetables that had the lowest pesticide levels were asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papaya, pineapples, and sweet peas.

Buying organic produce is voting with your wallet; when you choose to buy produce that has been grown organically, you are making a statement against the use of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that can be dispersed into the air, soil, and groundwater. However, these are difficult financial times, and it is not always possible to increase the family food budget just to stand on principle. But the fact remains that organic is probably healthier, and many people simply buy organic food products to reduce their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

It is difficult to know exactly which chemicals have which effects. The data is voluminous and often conflictual. Although we know that some carcinogenic pesticides are harmful and that our bodies store these chemicals over time, we don't have any research to tell us what this means in the long run. In 1996, a federal law made it mandatory for pesticides to measure up to specific safety standards for children; more than 12 pesticides that were extensively used were declared illegal, limited, or eliminated voluntarily.

Children’s bodies are very vulnerable to damage from toxic chemicals. We used to think that pesticides in a pregnant woman's bloodstream could not be passed on to the fetus. Thanks to a study done in 2005, we now know that this is not true. The Red Cross gathered the umbilical-cord blood from babies and tested it, revealing that 21 pesticides had passed through the placenta. Keeping this information in mind, it would seem to be wise for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to eat organic foods.

Presently, the fight in the U.S. continues over whether or not to ban additional pesticides that studies have proven to be harmful, and that are already banned by the European Union. There are many other countries that are exposing consumers to even worse levels of harmful chemicals, Mexico being one of them. Mexican farmers water their crops with water from the sewers, and the Mexican government allows for the use of chemicals that are illegal in the United States. When you are purchasing regular, non-organic produce, you are far better off buying foods that were grown in the United States. No matter which you choose, organic or conventional, it is always best to buy produce that has been grown nearby because it will be fresher. You can support your local farmers and get fresh organic produce at lower prices by shopping your local farmers market. Farmers markets mainly carry in-season produce, meaning it's sure to be fresher and better tasting.

In addition to limiting the amount of chemicals we ingest, organic produce provides the added benefit of having higher amounts of nutrients and antioxidants. A European study done in 2007 proved that organic produce has more antioxidants than conventional produce. The difference, forty percent, was quite impressive. Scientists speculate that organic plants may produce more antioxidants because they are under more stress without chemicals to protect them! They produce the antioxidants as a form of defense.

Everybody has to make their own decision about what proportion of their produce, if any, should be organic. Pregnant women and young children are likely to benefit from eating organic foods. It's also wise to try and buy the organic form when buying produce that is most susceptible to contamination, and to support local farmers markets as well. If you buy non-organic produce, it would be a wise decision to veer away from items grown in third world nations that do not have strict guidelines when it comes to pesticides and chemicals.

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About The Author, Ethan Mantle
As a gourmet chef, Ethan Mantle uses a high level of seasonal and organic ingredients in his Bay Area catering dishes. He currently co-owns Componere Fine Catering, known as one of the top gourmet catering companies in San Francisco.