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Get Real: Decoding the Dirty Dozen

**This post is part of the Get Real series. Please remember that this is meant as a learning community. We know that many of you are passionate about what you do and we want you to express that, just please do so in a way that will be an encouragement and aid to others making a transition. We want this to be a “safe space” for participants to learn. For that reason, we reserve the right to delete any comments that are not handled in this manner.

One of the hardest parts to making the transition to more real foods is navigating through the produce section of the grocery store. The organic options are growing and becoming more available. In a perfect world, we would all be able to afford organic produce. Reality is, even in my house, is that it comes to an option of what are the best options for us to buy organic and the best to buy conventionally?

I want to share with you my shopping trip from today to show you that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and you can use the tools I provided above to get you what you want and still provide some savings.

First I made a list before I headed out. I am really trying not to go to the store without a list these days, so this is what my list looks like when I make it 30 minutes before I leave.

My chicken scratch list. Written one handed with a squirmy baby in the other.

Now I didn’t have time to really go through my list and see what I should get organic and not, so I broke out my phone and opened up the Dirty Dozen app and set it next to my list. One thing not on the list, was bananas. My husband called me as I was walking in the store and asked me to get them. I told him he was breaking his own rule for me by getting something not on my list as I walk in, but that’s a post for another day. And there they were:

Organic bananas ripe for the taking

That little green label around the bananas says ORGANIC. They look the same as the conventional bananas, but do I need to buy them? What’s the price difference?

Then I consulted my Dirty Dozen app and looked at the full list.

Bananas are ranked #30 on the list, so in the grand scheme of my list from above I knew that I could save a few pennies by buying the conventional bunch for today and I would be okay. It’s another story when it comes to celery. Celery is second on the Dirty Dozen list so I don’t compromise. But I pay the price:

Yes you read that right, it’s a $0.30 difference for organic celery. But being the second on the list for pesticide impact. I’ll gladly pay it. After all I saved $0.14 on the bananas so it’s a wash right?

Here’s what I bought today:

My loot, some organic, some conventional

I saved approximately $25 buy using my Dirty Dozen guide and my store savings card just with this produce alone. I put the items on the counter from best to worst according to the guide. Can you see? The guide is a helpful tool for those who can’t afford to go 100% organic all the time. It also helps to understand what processes our foods really take to get to the grocery store.

The Environmental Working Group is a non profit organization that advocates and protects public health and the environment. They created the wonderful shopper’s guide by testing all the common vegetables and fruits for the amount of pesticides in them. Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, brain and nervous system toxicity, skin, eye and lung irritation. There has also been recent studies linking pesticides to disorders in children like ADD and ADHD.

I want to say right away that just because produce is organic does not mean that it is pesticide free. It means that pesticides, if used, “must be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured. Also, these pesticides must be applied using equipment that has not been used to apply any synthetic materials for the past three years, and the land being planted cannot have been treated with synthetic materials for that period either.” Having an organic certification is costly and quite the process as you can see, but just because your local farm isn’t organically certified, doesn’t mean they are not in process or use these practices already. Just ask the questions! Get to know your farmer.

Is organic produce better than conventional produce? Research is ongoing, however there are recent studies that show that due to farming practices and soil types, that organic produce do contain higher nutritional values than conventional produce.

Start here and down the free short guide to take with you on your next trip to the store. Or check out the full list of produce here. Make a game plan to buy what you can organic.

Do you have a smart phone? There are some great apps out there to help you out as well

  • Dirty Dozen: Has the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list at your fingertips on your phone. (Look in your app store)
  • What’s on My Food?: Goes even further than the EWG list and helps you see the pesticide loads in many foods.
  • Locavore: Helps you to find local and in season food in your areas
  • Honest Label: Helps you to really understand the labels. Whether there are GMO’s or not, and best yet, helps you to flag items that you are trying to avoid and it will tell you right away!
  • Fooducate: Similar to Honest Label but has a bigger database.

April Week One Action Item:

Each week we will try to give you some simple action steps to put this journey into practice. It is important that you start this journey by understanding yourself, your goals and perhaps your obstacles.
  1. Print out the dirty dozen and clean 15 sheet and put them in your wallet or taped to your coupon binder. Or download the app it’s FREE! Make a point to pull it out when you shop this week and let us know what challenges you have and what you’ve learned from seeing this list.

April Get Real:

Please take a moment to thank our guest authors by clicking over to their sites and/or liking them on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Guest Author: Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen


10 Responses to “Get Real: Decoding the Dirty Dozen”

  1. Valerie says:

    I’ve had this app for a while and consult it regularly when at the store. Love it! Another great free app is the Seafood Watch app from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which helps me make sustainable seafood choices.

  2. I buy organic produce if it’s not TOO much higher than conventional. Like, 30 cents/lb more is worth the higher price. But if we’re talking $1/lb more, I usually forego it.

  3. Trina says:

    I’m impressed you got the organic celery for that .99/# – it’s usually more where I live! But I also try to avoid the dirty dozen, so I buy it anyway.

  4. Kayla says:

    Rule of thumb: If you don’t eat the skin, don’t buy it organic!!
    Bananas -you don’t eat the peeling so no need to buy organic
    Apple- I eat the peel, so I buy organic

    • Aimee says:

      You should wash all produce organic or not. But, the sad thing is, some produce is sprayed with pesticides while it’s flowering. That would mean the pesticides are inside, no amount of peeling will get rid of that. whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=372

  5. SarahM says:

    Thank you for this list! We don’t have the budget to do all organic and I was never completely sure what’s better to buy organic anyway. I’ve always done as Kayla mentioned: if we eat the peel I buy organic if not then I opt for non-organic.

    Oh, thank you for mentioning that just because your local farm isn’t organically certified, doesn’t mean they are not in process or use these practices. Two local farms I buy from are not certified organic even though they do grow organically. :)

  6. There is a Dirty Dozen App?!! Girl, you just rocked my world. I printed the list and always forget to take it to the store with me, then I panic and buy all organic because I can’t remember what is sort of kind of ok to buy non-organic.

  7. Paula says:

    I’m so glad you reminded people that organic doesn’t mean pesticide free. Organic pesticides and other poisons just come off the ‘approved’ list. So many of my friends seem to think organic means nothing was applied to them. Organic also doesn’t mean you don’t have to wash your produce (I’ve had that conversation with friends too). Organic pesticides really aren’t much safer than ‘conventional’ ones. A family friend nearly lost their daughter to ‘organic pesticide’. She worked in an organic greenhouse using BT and nearly died.

    Also, just because ‘conventional’ farmers CAN use various sprays and they have appeared on SOME vegetables tested, doesn’t mean all the vegetables are poison. That’s why buying local is best when you can. Talk to the farmer, most small farmers don’t have the time/money to be spraying, etc, all the time.

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