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Dread pesticides; can't afford all-organic diet.

I love fruit and vegetables and, well, hate poison. On my graduate-student budget, however, I would have to considerably reduce the variety and quantity of fresh produce I usually consume if I were to go all-organic. I tried shopping all-organic for a couple of months, but it made such a dent in my funds that I actually regret the indulgence.

Are there certain fruits and veggies that are subject to particularly heavy pesticidal treatment? Are there penny-pinching Chowhounds out there with a master-plan for prioritizing certain riskier items for their farmer's market / Whole Foods forays, and picking up safer items from the local chain supermarket? (I'm asking only about fresh produce here -- realizing that the bigger picture should include meat and grains but deferring the bigger picture until a bigger budget.)

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  1. have you considered joining a csa (community supported agriculture)? i'm not sure where you live, but we really love ours as it's all organic produce and for our plan, works out to about $15.00 a week for a large box (we pick up a new box every two weeks) there are definitely farms that offer small boxes for less as well.

    we needed to switch over to mostly organic when we had our daughter and found the list below what most people agreed were good things to avoid (unless they were organic):

    1. Strawberries
    2. Bell peppers (green and red)
    3. Spinach (tied with number 2)
    4. Cherries (grown in the United States)
    5. Peaches (grown in Chile)
    6. Cantaloupe (grown in Mexico)
    7. Celery
    8. Apples
    9. Apricots
    10. Green beans
    11. Grapes
    12. Cucumbers

    Also, i don't know if you are big into dairy, but milk is apparently something that is somewhat important to buy organic as well.

    hope this helps somewhat!

    14 Replies
    1. re: fudisgud

      i should specify - we pay about $33.00 per box which is why it works out to a little over $15.00 a week for the produce.

      1. re: fudisgud

        A very good question. I googled it and got a similar list to fudisgood. From my childhood surrounded by peaches, I would say they are pretty heavily sprayed whether they come from Chilie or not. The article I read said that melons, especialy watermelon were good choices for going non-organic, as are pineapples, mangos, kiwis and citrus fruit.

        Personally, I think it's MORE important to buy organic meat, dairy and eggs than fruit because not only do you avoid pesticides, you avoid antibiotics and growth hormone. I feel like I'm getting more poison-avoidance for my dollars with these items. I consider organic meat,milk and eggs a necessity, whereas organic veggies are a plus when i can find/afford them.

        1. re: danna

          Learn to properly wash your veggies and you shouldn't worry.

          1. re: dinwiddie

            The list above was developed to inform consumers about fruits and veg from which pesticide residue cannot be washed away.

            1. re: dinwiddie

              How do you properly wash your veggies?

              1. re: silleehillee

                i can only assume dinwiddie's kidding. can't really wash them off, that's the problem.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  not only that, but i would assume that pesticides are *in* the fruit, not just on the fruit. much like meat/dairy.

                  1. re: marina13

                    Better to do some research than to "assume."
                    There are, of course, pesticides that can be "in" plants. They're called "systemics." Generally they're used for ornamentals like flowers and lawns, not produce. This is why home gardeners have to be extremely careful when they use anything on their own gardens and lawns. Read the labels.
                    Commercial agriculture, organic and conventional, using pesticides of any variety, use non-systemics.

            2. re: danna

              If you're interested in organic meats and dairy, and you happen to be in the New York area, may I recommend the following well-priced source of proteins: http://www.csapasturedmeatandpoultry.... I've been really happy with the meats and eggs I've gotten from this farmers' cooperative, and their prices are way below those of Whole Foods. I buy their products through my wonderful organic CSA - which is definitely a great, cheap way to eat organic vegetables and fruit.

              1. re: danna

                Check out www.justfood.org if you're in the New York area for info on CSAs.

                1. re: danna

                  I'd refer you to a recent 10-year University of California led study that concluded that organic tomatoes have significantly higher levels of certain vitamins than tomatoes produced using pesticides.

                  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life...

                  Whatever you may think about the safety of pesticides, this study suggests that there are positive reasons to consider organic produce.

                  1. re: eastvillgirl

                    Even within the article you link to, there is still disagreement:
                    "Lord Krebs, the former chairman of the Food Standards Agency...said that even if such benefits existed, higher flavonoid levels did not make organic food healthier. 'This depends on the relevance of the differences to the human body,' he said."
                    These studies still don't "conclude" that all organics are always better for everybody all the time.

                    The OP could do well with vine-ripened tomatoes from a local farm. Maybe not certified organic but likely to be better and cheaper than something organic shipped from far away.

                2. re: fudisgud

                  fudisgud, second everything you said! very helpful.

                  1. re: gottasay

                    thanks gottasay! haven't had the chance to read this thread in a while ( a lot to digest). but good to know my two very tiny little cents counted for something!

                3. As produce goes, here's a list of high and low pesticide ones:

                  http://www.organicconsumers.org/organ...

                  I try to buy local when possible and would buy non-organic from a small local farm than organic from a large conglomerate. And, it doesn't have to be all organic or nothing--even if you just buy half, you're still cutting your pesticide intake by half. Another thing you can do is buy transitional produce--where the farm has stopped using pesticides but needs to wait (I think it's 5 years) before the produce can be certified organic. Some Whole Foods designate their produce as transitional, the produce is cheaper than organic and it's helping the farms who want to become organic.

                  1. This link, from the Enviromental Working Group website, has some good information, along with a ranking of 43 fruits/vegetables based on pesticide residue:
                    http://www.foodnews.org/

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Anne

                      Great source. I was going to recommend this site as well. In addition, you may also try soaking your nonorganic fruits and vegetables in some water with a bit of vinegar for about half an hour.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        has anyone heard of washing fruit with a little bit of flour? i have a friend whose mother-in-law swears by it - especially for washing grapes and berries, i think.

                      2. re: Anne

                        Thanks for the link.

                        Click on the full data set and see the chart. Even though some may have higher % of pesticides the amount per million is very very small. Cauliflower is an example. So are cantaloupe and tomatoes.

                        1. re: tom porc

                          Oddly, the narrative description only said that "pesticide residue" was present but never gave any quantity. Could be one part per billion? Also never said whether it was the pesticide type used by organic or other growers.
                          Yet EWG still concluded that consumers should purchase what, in their opinion, is best. For them, only one choice: organic.
                          If you gave them you email info, you'll get fund raising letters.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            That's why I clicked on the data set link. I wanted specifics. While they list the ppm they dont identify the specific pesticide residue. The chart said they found as many as 50 different pesticides on apples. That's hard to believe.

                            1. re: tom porc

                              The scores are NOT "parts per million" - they're percentages - the easiest way to get statistics to lie. Percentages of what?
                              Read the methodology. They used a six-way scoring system so that if even one teeny bit of any type of pesticide - even organic - was found, they counted it.
                              Of the 50 pesticide residues on apples, we have no idea if all of those might have been organic pesticides or in totally insignificant concentrations that could be easily washed off. Or they could give you cancer by tomorrow.
                              Tom, you're paying attention to this and it even fooled you. Yet this study made its way into the popular media - no critical questions asked. Everyone bought into the conclusion the group sent along in their press release which was that everybody should buy organics based on the results of this "study."

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                "Yet this study made its way into the popular media - no critical questions asked. Everyone bought into the conclusion the group sent along in their press release..."

                                Print this on the mast head. It's the truth of every story and every report.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  Are we looking at the same chart?

                                  http://www.foodnews.org/fulldataset.php

                                  It says for apples (as an example) 0.894 ppm.

                                  1. re: tom porc

                                    I referred to the percentage list that was widely reported in the media. That is the one that was intended to influence the public's perception.
                                    Using that detailed chart, there are two items (spinach, potatoes) that have higher ppm's than peaches and apples but that level of detail wouldn't have been useful for general media. Even for those who dug for it, it's still impossible to tell what the pesticides are (organic or not) and whether they can be easily removed by simple rinsing.

                        2. there is a great book called "Fresh Choices" that is about your quandry, sequins.

                          http://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Choices-M...

                          it has information about pesticide use, including lists similar to those above, and is pretty non-scary, while still being informative. it has recipes too! you can probably get a copy from the library but the recipes are pretty good & i like being able to splatter my own copy. :)

                          1. The whole thing is a scam to get your money. Wash your veggies, eat less meat, exercise and be happy. The worry will kill you faster than anything in your food.

                            34 Replies
                            1. re: wayne keyser

                              Gotta agree with Wayne. This is an example of Follow the Money. The lists of "foods to watch out for" that appear in the media all originate from those with something to gain. Whole Foods wants you to pay their high mark-ups. Organic farmers have a lobbying group and there are other groups as well with their own ideas that benefit by your buying certain foods over others.
                              America's food supply is safe and healthy. You can do just fine at the supermarket where you can often find store brand organics for competitive prices. You might not even need to buy organics. If you do the research, you might find, as I did, that it doesn't make any difference worth paying for in most products.
                              Pesticides? There are biopesticides approved for use in organic agriculture. You wouldn't want to drink those products but they're as harmless as are the ones used in conventional agriculture. Both are long gone by the time they reach market so simple washing as dinwiddie advises will do fine. You're more likely to suffer from dirt and bacteria than pesticides on either type of produce. The trace amounts you consume are statistically insignificant.
                              It is very easy to use studies, statistics and faulty science to scare consumers. As a graduate student, you should be able to research the facts and do an adequate risk assessment of the situation. Your budget shouldn't take a hit because of unfounded fears.
                              A combination of wise supermarket purchases and a good farmers' market should be all you need to live well on a reasonable budget.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                Thank you so much. I am so glad to finally see this voiced in an intelligent, unemotional manner on Chowhound. Too often we all allow the media and groups with something to gain to influence our otherwise rational minds.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  MakingSense, this is an excellent point. I am a licensed pesticide applicator (I don't use it, though, my last job paid for me to get it) and I can tell you that organic food does NOT mean pesticide-free food, and that there are pesticides approved for organic agriculture that are every bit as poisonous as some of those approved for conventional agriculture. Many of the most toxic substances in the world are directly plant-derived (water hemlock (Socrates' undoing), laburnum, and foxglove to name just a few) and hence "organic" in the ag sense (and the chemical sense, too).
                                  Pesticides often have some sort of oil (called a "sticker" or "surfactant") added to help them adhere to the produce and stay on through irrigation and rain. Hence, water alone won't get this off (assuming it remains by the time you buy the product) - use a tiny bit of soap and rinse well if you're worried.
                                  By all means, buy local and organic when you can, but don't believe that its necessarily pesticide-free.

                                  1. re: glorypea

                                    very helpful information about organic pesticides, and we do use a fruit and vegetable rinse on all produce - organic or not. (neurotic tendencies) i have, hoewver, have noticed a mark difference between organic and non-organic foods personally. in fact there are certain foods to which i have a severe reaction to if they are conventional but little to none at all with the organic variety.

                                  2. re: MakingSense

                                    disagree quite a bit with your risk assessment. the levels of carcinogenic materials on & in conventional produce are very significant, as are the links to everything from severe allergies, cancer, reproductive malfunction, brain function disorders, and a gamut of other problems, many of which were not known to exist fifty years ago. it's your own risk, of course, but i can't see how to compare a strain of harmless (to everything but potato bugs) bacillus sprayed onto an organic potato crop to any of the many many carcinogenic chemical preservatives, pesticides, fungicides, and sprout inhibitors dumped onto a conventional crop before and after harvest & transit. the op was asking how to ingest fewer poisons, a wise & educated choice. telling her that she's being "taken in" by what she's obviously researched; that the current science is bunk; or that dirt is more harmful than pesticides is not only untrue, it is not helpful in answering her question. as far as "following the money," to see who profits from consumer food choices, just google "farm subsidies," "monsanto," "cargill," "tyson," etc.

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      The OP didn't give any indication of any particular research. That the assumption was made that it might be necessary to buy expensive organics to avoid "poisons" and "heavy pesticidal treatments" indicated the exact opposite. If the OP had seen any information, it might have been the most cursory material available in the popular media leading to erroneous conclusions such as the ones you have listed in your post.
                                      Carcinogens? Nope. Federal law prohibits that. Poisons? No one would want to drink the chemicals used in either organic or conventional agriculture but by the time the produce is in stores, the chemicals aren't harmful. Links to diseases? Diet is but one contributory factor in disease. Many people with extremely well balanced diets fall ill, while people who live on junk remain healthy. Studies are done as "more/less likely to..." but who's to say? They are not iron-clad predictors.

                                      Science is not bunk but you are unlikely to find serious recent scientific studies or balanced discussions of them by googling. Results on search engines are stacked by popularity, not validity. A large number of "hits" on negative sites on certain topics has the effect of "google bombing" a topic, pushing negative information to the top of the search. This can easily mislead people looking for balanced information.

                                      There are no guarantees in life. All of us have to weigh the best information we can gather and examine it critically. There is no documentable evidence to demonstrate that we are being "poisoned" by our food supply.
                                      The concept of risk assessment is that you weigh the possibility of the likely outcome against your actions. Millions of people still choose to live in California despite the possibility of earthquakes. They have assessed the risk and decided to take that chance.
                                      You can purchase conventional lettuce knowing that the rule of "negligible risk" of 10 parts per billion of trace chemicals is acceptable to you rather than purchase organic lettuce at three times the price. All of the other factors in your life are healthy. You decide it's a reasonable choice.

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        Agree with MakingSense.

                                        You can either die from pesticides; or die from starvation because you've spent all your money on pricey produce.

                                        I'll take the former, and leave the latter to those truly paranoid.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          The only way you'll even get sick from pesticides is if they are used improperly. That's more a problem with lawn chemicals and home gardeners who don't follow directions. Anything can be dangerous - even poor information used to frighten people unnecessarily.

                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                            "The only way you'll even get sick from pesticides is if they are used improperly."

                                            That's one bold statement, with no scientific evidence to back it up.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            Who's dying from starvation? America is, what, about 4-6% hungry and a 40% suffering from illness associated with overeating. We've even got people who are overweight AND malnouorished - figure that one out. Most people would be healthier if they ate less food, and got the majority of their calories from fresh fruits and vegetables.

                                            Who's spending all of their money on pricey produce? On average, and as a percentage of income, American's spend half as much money on food than we did fifty years ago, and at least half as much as any other industrialized country (in some cases it's close to 1/3-1/4).

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                              No, there is certainly not that degree of difference between the US and Canada.

                                              And having lived in a couple of western European countries, while there is a difference (also MUCH better quality, at least in France and Italy) it is not that great.

                                          3. re: MakingSense

                                            Well written post, MS.

                                            Isn't it better to eat more standard fruits and vegetables than 2/3 less of organic ones? A diet full of produce is healthier and can help your body prevent disease.

                                              1. re: tom porc

                                                Depends on the fruits and veggies. Part of what makes fresh produce so healthful are the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which are virtually non-existent in big-ag crops due to poor soil quality. Food takes nutrients from the soil, and when the soil contains nothing but Potassium, Nitrogen and Phosphorous there is no complex base to supply those nutrients. Multiple studies have found that small farm produce has higher concentrations of nutrients than big-ag produce.

                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                  This is just about food, not political buzz words like "big ag." Remember that small farmers grow produce conventionally too.
                                                  Soil naturally contains potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements and can be amended by natural or other means. Produce, organic and conventional is equally healthy and there are no credible objective studies showing otherwise.
                                                  If you research this you will find many conclusions such as this one from the University of California, Davis:
                                                  "Despite findings of higher phenolic content in the foods themselves, consumption of organic produce may not confer any added health benefits to its consumers. As with previous investigations, the results of these recent studies have failed to provide conclusive evidence that consumption of organic produce has a positive affect on the nutritional status of an individual. Research in this field is far from being complete and advances in scientific methods may help to provide concrete answers regarding the nutritional content of organic versus conventional produce."
                                                  http://nutrition.ucdavis.edu/perspect...

                                                  Maybe someday someone will find that there is an overwhelming reason to justify spending more money on organic produce, but as of now there isn't any science to support that.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    "Increased consumption of polyphenols has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer and stroke (5) and it was hypothesized that the absence of pesticides may positively alter the levels of polyphenols in organic produce. This hypothesis proved to be correct. A study completed in 2002 reported higher polyphenol levels in organic peaches and pears when compared to their conventional counterparts (6), and in 2003, researchers found higher polyphenol levels in organic marionberries, strawberries, and corn in comparison to conventional products (7)."

                                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                      The OP asked a simple question about stretching a graduate student's budget. That probably doesn't need to include considerations of polyphenol levels in marionberries. The cost is probably a greater concern.
                                                      If you seek,ye shall find all sorts of arcane studies. Notice however the constant use of qualifiers such as "associated with," "reduced risk," "possibly," "might," "may," "could,"etc. in studies.

                                                      In the end, the only thing that we are pretty darned sure of is that a diet that includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetable is a healthy one and that the more fruits and vegetables you include in your diet the more likely you are to be healthy. Not many people will dispute that such a diet does "reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and possibly cancer and stroke."
                                                      People should be encouraged to buy what they can afford without being frightened by inaccurate information.

                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                        Again, well said, MS.

                                                        And if anyone finds themselves polyphenol deficient (with no access to organic marionberries) a 7-cent grape seed extract supplement may suffice.

                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                          If cost is your primary concern, a weekly CSA box of fresh fruits and vegetables from a local organic farm is significantly cheaper than buying said fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. The idea that organic produce is intrinsically more expensive than conventionally grown is a myth. Just don't shop at Whole Foods.

                                                          Don't marginalize the role of phytonutrients. The more we learn about them (and our understanding of them is marginal at best), the more we learn that they have an important role in longevity.

                                                    2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                      M the M, different fruits and vegetables take up and store in their edible parts different, largely genetically determined, amounts of nutrients. Amounts of soil N, P, and K don't translate directly to similar relative amounts in foods: each has a different role in plant development and growth. Similarly with micro-nutrients, contents are largely determined by inherent plant genetic characteristics--getting more iron of zinc into foods isn't so much the content in soils as the genetic potential for plant uptake. Imagine if soil contents determined plant uptake and food content: you would get fruits and vegetables made of aluminum, iron, silica, and so on depending on the soils. Micronutrients are also needed for plant development: zinc deficiency in rice, for example, is easy to spot, with plant and grain development hindered by grey-white leaves. On the other hand, any grain that does develop will include essentially its genetically determined amount of zinc.

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        This is interesting, Sam. So, there is no difference in the produce itself when it is grown in nutritionally rich soil than in barely minimally rich soil? What is your take on the organic issue?

                                                        1. re: chowser

                                                          Plants grown in nutrient rich soils will develop and grow better than plants grown in depleted soils. Grains, fruits, and vegetables will be healthier and better developed from healthier plants. Differences between food nutrient content from poor and from rich soils will not, however, quantitatively and directly reflect the soil nutrient content differences. Again, using the zinc example, adding zinc to zinc deficient soils will allow for production of a healthy rice or bean crop. Trying to get rices or beans with higher zinc contents to help infant development, however, can only be done through careful plant breeding and improvement.

                                                          Pesticide dangers are essentially from residues left on what is eventually consumed by humans. Most of the pesticides used on fruits and vegetables are water soluble: soaking vegetables rather than washing them per se gets rid of the residues.

                                                          Nutrients taken up by plants end up being essentially the same from organic or inorganic sources. Sustainability and environmental issues, however, need to be considered when comparing use of organic vs petro-chemical based fertilizers (although that calculus is not as simple as it may seem).

                                                          Flavor (a very complex variable) can differ by organic-inorganic not so much because of differences in the nutrient sources but from the differences in plant and fruit development resulting from the nutrient source differences. Nitrogen responsive grains, for example, usually have shorter crop cycles with good foliar development when N is added--resulting in flavors a bit different than those from traditional cultivars.

                                                          Coffee tasters appear to taste differences--but, again, I would think that such differences have as much to do with timing differences in fruit set as with nutrient sources (although, again, flavor is extremely complex).

                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                            Thanks for taking the time for all that. It's very helpful. Apparently, the farmers 100 years ago knew what they were doing with crop rotations to maximize plant growth. I'm sure doctoral theses are written about this and by the time the information gets down to the sound bites that the general population hears, it is skewed. With all I read/discuss (plus having worked for large agribusiness--though mostly on the "how to sell more" end), I think I have a good general base but always learn so much from CHers.

                                                            1. re: chowser

                                                              Farmers still rotate crops. Plants in the legume family fix atmospheric nitrogen, replenishing the nitrogen in soil. It is often planted after a season where wheat or other heavy feeders such as potatoes were grown. It is then tilled into the ground to be used as compost.

                                                              1. re: Shazam

                                                                My comment was more tongue-in-cheek since it seems like we've come so far, and yet the original way works best.

                                                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              I understand that there isn't a direct relationship between mineral content in soil, and mineral content in plants. I didn't meant to imply such a ludicrous notion in my previous post. My point is that healthy, complex soil grows vibrant plants, and vibrant plants produce delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables.

                                                              The term "organic" is misleading. I'm really referring to small farmers who invest time and energy into building soil quality through the use of composting, cover crops, worm castings, etc. These are age-old farming practices that have been abandoned by industrial agriculture at the expense of produce quality.

                                                              Another issue worth raising, since you mentioned the importance of plant potential, is the trend among agribusiness to breed plant species for maximum storage and shipping lifespans, and ease of post-harvest ripening. These breeding practices do not prioritize traits such as flavor and nutritional content. As you live in South America, Sam, I wonder how long it's been since you had a truly tasteless piece of American supermarket fruit.

                                                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                We're lucky here with good vegetables and many kinds of great fruit. As I mentioned elsewhere, I find US beef to be tasteless and without suitable texture.

                                                                We grew, packed, and shipped peaches in the Central Valley of California in the 60s-70s. Not bred for shipping lifespans, the fruit was picked, packed and in cold storage in hours. Then loaded and driven non-stop to places like NYC by young, crazed kamikazi drivers unaware of the then present or certainly future speed limits.

                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                The protein levels of grasses and at least some grains (wheat and corn for sure) are affected by amount of available N in the soil. Low available N cuts total yield and protein percentage. Note that amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins, contain nitrogen.

                                                                For many fruits and vegetables I have to wonder if water supply, whether by rain or irrigation, isn't a major factor in flavor differences and some nutrient concentrations. Higher water content requires lower concentration of everything else because the components cannot add up to more than 100 percent. This has been known for centuries in the case of wine grapes.

                                                                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                                                                  Protein levels of grasses don't vary all that much. If you produce milk, your cows need forage legumes or supplements.

                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                    While the variations are not huge, protein levels in native grasses are quite important in pasture and hay management in the Midwest through plains states for beef cattle as well as dairy cattle in areas where alfalfa does not do well. This is a real issue for grass-fed beef production. Where it grows well, straight alfalfa dominates hay for dairy cows as alfalfa generally produces greater tonnage per acre as well as higher nutrient levels per ton than grass. If you are dealing with a grass-clover mix in a crop rotation, the clover fixes plenty of nitrogen for the grass so you get good protein level without supplemental fertilizer. There is a lot of land from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains (including much of the dairy area of Wisconsin) that is too steep to use for anything but grass for pasture or woodland.

                                                                    1. re: Eldon Kreider

                                                                      Yes, we agree. We work in Central America to get different types of legumes into dual purpose (milk and meat) livestock systems--mostly on marginal lands. Small producers need to raise protein uptake levels to develop milk fats that pay higher returns.

                                                        2. re: tom porc

                                                          huh? nobody was suggesting that the op eat fewer vegetables, only that she can make informed choices knowing which conventional fruit and veggie crops have the greatest amount of pesticides applied to them. for example, she could save money by substituting other vegetables for the dozen "dirtiest" in terms of pesticide residues. the op can choose to make a fennel salad, using conventionally grown fennel (very, very low pesticide expenditure, even in california) rather than eating the considerably riskier conventional spinach.

                                                          the op says she can't afford an all-organic diet. by buying the ten or twelve "dirtiest" fruits and veggies either certified organic, or pesticide-free local farmed, and eating regular produce for the rest, she can reduce the pesticides she consumes by over 90 percent, without blowing her budget.

                                                          tom porc, if you really only think there are 15-18 different kinds of fruits and vegetables in the world, i seriously would break out your copy of "greene on greens" or an encyclopedia set or something.

                                                        3. re: MakingSense

                                                          it's great that you've made food choices that please you; but you're not the op. many people choose to reduce their consumption of pesticides because of family history of cancer, which is linked to higher levels of pesticides in tissue. exposure to pesticides also weakens the immune system, so many people need to be very careful about their food choices. if the op intends to go through a pregnancy, there's a good chance her doctor may talk to her about reducing the pesticides in her food if not going completely organic, because during fetal development, pesticides can have a lot of pretty unpleasant effects on the baby. let the op make her own decisions about what constitutes a "negligable risk".

                                                          there are also a few serious flaws in your logic. it is not uncommon for pesticides to remain in use in the u.s.a. for thirty years after the first epa reports of harmful effects to humans. the chemicals are often recalled by the manufacturers before the government bans them, because the language in the original 1947 pesticide act has language that states that human and environmental consequences of pesticide use should be "balanced against economic benefits of pesticide use," and the lobbyists for big agribusiness use that passage and the language in several other passages to keep known harmful pesticides circulating. the original pesticides were chemical weapons used to kill & debilitate enemy soldiers during WWII, remember?

                                                          even after a pesticide is pulled from the u.s. market, it's often still used on crops for another few-ten years. overspraying and other improper use is very common, resulting in over a million serious accidental pesticide poisonings each year worldwide. the discontinued pesticide is often still produced, in order to be shipped overseas where there is little or no pesticide regulation whatsoever. then the food crops from those countries are shipped back, to be consumed by u.s. eaters. notice that the "dirty dozen" list includes produce from several countries where these pesticides are shipped.

                                                          basically, certified organic produce is the most heavily regulated foodstuff there is (with the possible exception of some french wines). farmers must provide a meticulous paper trail, and abide by so many regs and rules & inspections that the op can be assured that if and when she purchases that organic bell pepper, that it's as clean as possible. for a bell pepper, the choice is clean and regulated vs. unregulated and ???? for broccoli, eh-- in terms of your own pesticide intake, buy conventional if you want, there's much less poison dumped on cruciferous veggies.

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            The OP asked for objective information about what produce might safely be purchased in a standard supermarket. The answer to that is not what you nor I personally choose to buy. Neither is the answer provided by references to studies the very premises of which are questionable. As has been stated repeatedly, both organic and conventional produce are grown with pesticides, but by the time they reach market the amount that remains is negligible. The types of pesticides used and the amounts allowed on conventional produce in the marketplace are regulated and you should certainly know that. It is not necessary to misrepresent conventional produce just because you prefer organic. Both should be washed well before using. As Sam posted, most of the products used on organic and conventional produce are water soluble and are easily removed. Cooks Illustrated recommends a solution of vinegar and water.

                                                            Regulations are regulations. They are not things that the public arrives at by logic or reasoning, nor are they made on the basis of single studies nor public opinion. There are many stories in the media, sometimes without attribution or substantiation, often unrelated to food crops, that are used to support or discredit certain points of view. By associating unrelated data and the wrong set of facts, the reader can be led to erroneous conclusions.

                                                            We have a real love-hate relationship with the regulators. We want them to give us raw milk cheese because some of us like it but ban all pesticides because others of us hate them. Respect the sovereignty of foreign countries until we think they spray our veggies. Approve a promising drug on a fast track but criticize if there're any side-effect problems because they weren't thorough enough.
                                                            We can't be made happy.

                                                  2. I find shopping at the farmers market is much cheaper than a grocery store and its organic and much fresher. I don't know where you are or if there is a FM near you. I do most of my shopping at the FM and try to avoid supermarkets.

                                                    1. I would also recommed finding rworange's accounts of how he managed to eat healthfully (including using organic food) on $3 a day. Interesting reads whether it is helpful to you or not.

                                                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/429195

                                                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/429348

                                                      1. This is an interesting study on the subject of nutritional quality:

                                                        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/ent...

                                                        "RESULTS: Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops. There were nonsignificant trends showing less protein but of a better quality and a higher content of nutritionally significant minerals with lower amounts of some heavy metals in organic crops compared to conventional ones. CONCLUSIONS: There appear to be genuine differences in the nutrient content of organic and conventional crops."

                                                        And another one:

                                                        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/ent...

                                                        "Organic crops contain a significantly higher amount of certain antioxidants (vitamin C, polyphenols and flavonoids) and minerals, as well as have higher dry matter content than conventional ones. Moreover, there is a lower level of pesticide residues, nitrate and some heavy metal contaminations in organic crops compared to conventional ones...Consequently, it can be concluded that organically produced plant derived food products have a higher nutritional value, including antioxidants than conventional ones. Furthermore, due to the fact that there is a lower level of contamination in organic crops, the risk of diseases caused by contaminated food is significantly reduced."

                                                        Neither study is definitive, and everyone agrees that more research needs to be done. However, I think it is entirely reasonable for a person to seek out organic foods due to health and nutritional concerns

                                                        47 Replies
                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                          That site has lots of articles of which you quoted from two that you cherry-picked to fit your bias. Fortunately, the site is really objective and most of the articles arrive at the same general conclusion: that there is no conclusive answer at this time. Throughout most of them, the same type of language repeats over and over again from scientist after scientist:
                                                          "there are FEW WELL-CONTROLLED STUDIES that are capable of making a valid comparison... with the possible exception of nitrate content, there is NO STRONG EVIDENCE that organic and conventional foods differ in concentrations of various nutrients... considerations of the impact of organic growing systems on nutrient bioavailability and nonnutrient components have received little attention and are important directions for FUTURE RESEARCH...while there are reports indicating that organic and conventional fruits and vegetables may differ on a variety of sensory qualities, the findings are INCONSISTENT... in future studies, the possibility that typical organic distribution or harvesting systems may deliver products differing in freshness or maturity SHOULD BE EVALUATED...there is NO EVIDENCE that organic foods may be more susceptible to microbiological contamination than conventional foods. While it is likely that organically grown foods are lower in pesticide residues, there has been VERY LITTLE DOCUMENTATION of residue levels."

                                                          You have obviously made up your mind. I haven't and continue to buy a mix of products - organic, conventional and other. Most of my "other" is possible because I am fortunate to live in an area of mild winters with good farmers' markets, some of which are supplied by the Amish, and I have the time to shop that way. In a pinch, even my neighborhood chain grocery carries local produce which seems contrary to your expectations based on some of your postings. The quality is usually excellent - far from what you called "truly tasteless...American supermarket" produce.
                                                          Most Americans shop at supermarkets, particularly in areas where CSAs aren't available and farmers' markets are only seasonal. They need balanced general information on produce choices. The best that science still has to offer them is exactly as you say: more research needs to be done. Until that time, they should feel perfectly confident purchasing whichever type of produce they can afford as long as they eat a varied diet with as much fruit and vegetable as they can.

                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                            Morton, you are so right-on about organically grown fruit & vegies containing more antioxidents, vitamins and minerals as compared to conventionally grown products.

                                                            I don't like conventional fruit & vegies as I don't want to ingest chemicals that accumulate in the body. I would rather spend a bit more on organic food now because I'm saving expensive hospital bills in the future. Too many pesticides have been banned in the States that used to be sprayed freely.

                                                            I just don't get it - some men & women will spend hundreds of dollars more annually to buy good clothes and shoes. Their rationale is it looks better and lasts longer. The shoes don't hurt your feet like cheapo brands. Yet, many of these same people just can't seeing eating organic. Too much money they say. Hey, what about the callouses you didn't get by buying expensive comfortable shoes? How about expensive cars?

                                                            The truth of it is we can eat a mostly organic diet if we choose to cut down on other items. It's all a matter of priorities.

                                                            My priority is to eat delicious food and not buy cheaper, underpicked unripe fruit that tastes like cardboard. Viva la organic - that's true chowhounding, IMHO.

                                                            1. re: Beau711

                                                              You've set this up as only your choice or a single bad choice. Organic vs. your view of how conventional is. There are lots of other choices out there. IMP, farmers who just don't get certification, small truck farms, etc.
                                                              If you want delicious food, consider this. You go to Whole Foods for eggs. They're organic but you have no idea where they came from or how long ago they were laid. You like that. Not for me because I prefer fresh eggs so I walk over to the local market and buy eggs from any of several vendors. The local eggs were laid within the past several days on their farms. Not organic which is a problem for you. But they're fresher. So is the butter and cream.
                                                              Whole Foods had organic peaches which were still partially green, hard as rocks, and had no scent. The Virginia farmer at the local market had perfect ripe peaches I could smell from 20 feet away. He had sprayed the trees early in the year before they set fruit so I wasn't worried. BTW, the neighborhood Safeway had local Maryland peaches on sale that were also ripe and delicious. No brainer to go for flavor over cardboard, cottony organic.
                                                              The Amish farmer sells fabulous lettuces and uses no sprays of any kind so I always prefer that to organic because organic standards allow use of biopesticides. And there was that little problem with organic spinach...

                                                              Pretty soon, your organic produce in the Northeast will come from far away when winter sets in. Some from very, very far away. Produce loses nutrients as it ages. Everything in your stores will be a week or so old by the time you get it, especially the organic produce since there are so few growers. Big commercial growers. A lot of it will have to be picked before it is ripe so it can withstand shipping from other continents.
                                                              Fortunately, many of the local suppliers I buy from in the mid-Atlantic have been stretching their seasons by using hoop-houses. If we have a reasonably mild winter, I'll have good produce pretty much year round. All local, fresh and seasonal. No, they're not certified organic. But they're responsible and my food is very fresh and wholesome.

                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                Nobody is questioning the safety or nutritional value of something grown by the Amish, or a small peach farmer. We're defending produce grown using traditional methods on small, local farms, as opposed to produce grown on 10,000 acre plots by agribusiness corporations. USDA Organic Certification is completely irrelevant.

                                                                When you say organic food is the same as non-organic food, most people read this as industrial food is the same as traditional food. This, in turn, is interpreted to mean that you support Monsanto, seed patents, GMOs, etc.

                                                                The E Coli spinach crisis was eventually traced to conventionally grown spinach from the Dole corporation. It was processed in a plant that also processes Earthbound "Organic" spinach, but organic spinach was not the culprit despite early reports to the contrary.

                                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                  See, there's the problem. You still see this as "organic" vs those you have deemed the "enemy" and you don't trust other people to make the decisions you want them to make.
                                                                  I don't agree with your assumption that "most people read" something one way or the other. I think most are still looking for balanced information, not propaganda.
                                                                  You may be grudgingly satisfied that I'm not poisoning myself because I'm eating food from the Amish but then you kick into the "buzz words": 10,000 acre plots by agribusiness corporations (aren't some organic companies just like that?), "industrial food," and the entire litany of demons such as Monsanto, seed patents and GMO.
                                                                  What I personally support or not isn't relevant. These things exist and will continue to grow as science develops their potential or be banned if it is discovered that they are indeed harmful. But either will be done based on a consensus of sound science, not on single incidents, buzz words, emotions and public polls.

                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                    Yes, I do see industrial agriculture as the enemy. I've studied this issue in depth, and learned a great deal about the lives it has ruined and the damage it has done to our planet.

                                                                    I think the passionate replies to your posts clearly indicate that people interpret your position to be in favor of industrialized agriculture.

                                                                    Buzz words are useful in an on-line forum when statements are best kept succinct. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Monsanto et al can find detailed information elsewhere.

                                                                    What you personally support is entirely relevant. You eat primarily organic (little o) foods yourself, yet you tell others not to. I'm not likely to take advice from someone who doesn't practice what they preach.

                                                                    History shows us that regulations are rarely made on either consensus or sound science. If sound science dictated national policy, then climate change would be a national priority. Look at the history of American compulsory sterilization programs that were influenced by the Eugenics movement.

                                                                    Ecologists have proved conclusively that industrial agriculture harms the planet, and harms farm workers. In consideration of this evidence, discussion of nutritional value is almost irrelevant.

                                                                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                      There you go again. Misrepresenting the facts.
                                                                      I never said what others should or should not eat. Unlike many of the proponents of organics who forecast dire personal and global consequences from the conventional choices of others.
                                                                      I did say that the US food supply is generally safe and that there was no scientific consensus to indicate that there was a significant reason to choose organics over conventionally grown produce.
                                                                      I only used the example of my own food selections as an example of a marketbasket that included foods from a variety of sources. I do realize however that, like you, I am extraordinarily fortunate to live in a large city in a moderate climate which affords me the luxury of choices that many don't have. I also have the time and desire to shop at many stores.
                                                                      I realize that and tried to give an objective view of US food safety, beyond certified organic, scary stories, single study results and arcane studies. Organics proponents never seem able to say, "yeah, the regular stuff is fine but I decided that I prefer..." They always seem to launch into a political diatribe.

                                                                      What is the average American supposed to do? Middle of the US, snow on the ground. There are more than 35,000 supermarkets in the US with annual sales over $2 million and the majority of our 300 million people buy their food there. Organics still represent only a very small portion of that market. Consumers know that the system is far from perfect but they basically trust it to provide safe, clean food. There is a growing market and desire for organic foods - for many good reasons - but it should not be from unfounded fear.
                                                                      Regulations are made by consensus and science - perhaps not yours, and sometimes they are wrong and need to be changed. When "science" is poorly defined and some accept opinion as "evidence" and fact, there will be no consensus. It becomes impossible when an amorphous group of boogeymen is lumped together as "industrial agriculture."
                                                                      Organic food is a good example. You are still free to eat it and espouse it but the general population should not be frightened into thinking that the alternative is unsafe and unhealthy when there is no valid evidence to that effect.

                                                                2. re: MakingSense

                                                                  And we havent even mentioned the pollution and CO2 generated by shipping the produce across the country or around the world. While I enjoyed my certified organic apple from New Zealand and my certified organic pear from Chile, I wonder how much I contributed to global warming or foreign oil dependency by shipping the fruit here. What is more harmful to me? Trace pesticides or fossil fuel pollution? And depending on where one lives CSAs and farm markets may not be available locally (esp in winter). So I believe MakSense's advice is the most reasonable namely eat a variety of foods that include many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, etc from local sources (if available) and shop wisely to stay within one's budget.

                                                                  1. re: tom porc

                                                                    i doubt you'll want to hear it, tom porc, but it's almost a gimmie that your organic apple choice is better for the environment than if you had chosen conventionally grown apples, regardless of how far the fruits were shipped.

                                                                    organic/sustainable ag uses about 30 percent less fossil fuel to produce crops than conventional. you aren't shipping the pesticides to the farm and processor, using fossil fuels, for starters. the production of chemical nitrate fertilizers used in conventional agriculture also consumes an enormous amount of both petroleum and natural gas. the manufacture and transportation of 1 kg of nitrate fertilizer releases 1 kg of carbon into the air. no comparable fuel expenditures exist in organic/sustainable agriculture.

                                                                    the nitrate fertilizers have another direct effect on conventional produce-- it increases water in cells, causing the fruits to grow bigger without adding any nutritional value. this is one reason the conventional fruit or vegetable tastes "weak" compared to a smaller organic/sustainably farmed one. so if you are shipping produce, let's say apples, from any area of the world to another, and have conventional apples and organic ones, the organic apple, being a smaller, lighter "package" as opposed to the larger conventional one, is a better use of shipping fuel. the same or better nutrition, in a smaller, lighter package.

                                                                    re global warming: the soil carbon in organic farming systems is 15-30% higher than in conventional farming systems-- & the carbon increases and is retained-- the equivalent of taking about 3,500 pounds of carbon per hectare out of the air.

                                                                    problematic practices in conventional ag is a major contributor to global warming. however, a very tenable position can be held for sustainable ag's ability to slow and reverse the trend.

                                                                    congratulations, tom porc-- as far as apples are concerned, you are both a patriot and an environmental warrior.

                                                                  2. re: MakingSense

                                                                    I frequent the local farmers market too at Union Square in Manhattan but I still go to the organic stands there. I have nothing against local farmers - what I dislike is bad-tasting sprayed food so I stay away from it. That's my choice and I feel much better than when I used to eat tasteless fruit & veggies that were conventionally grown and sprayed.

                                                                    What's scary is buying produce in the winter when it's delivered from countries that are known for heavy spraying. They may look good but your body still ingests chemicals.

                                                                    I remember when tomatoes were solely sold in supermarkets - 3 little globs sealed in a hermetic plastic carton. Tasteless with no nutritional value. We've come a long way in the States where we can buy delicious heirloom tomatoes at farmers markets and even some supermarkets.

                                                                    Why does MakingSense seem to have a grudge against Whole Foods? Their prices are high but everything I've bought there is usually very good. Some prices (like cereals and toiletries) are lower than you'd find anywhere else.

                                                                    1. re: Beau711

                                                                      You are free to patronize WF. I refer to them as an easy shorthand for an organic purveyor as they have done so much of the marketing to establish consumer demand for organic goods of all kinds.
                                                                      Michael Pollan has already made an excellent argument against many of WF's practices in the Omnivore's Dilemma which gave many people serious cause for concern. The Federal Trade Commission is engaged in a major anti-trust action against them. Many WF supporters might feel differently were these same charges made against another supermarket chain such as Safeway/Von's instead of WF which they support.
                                                                      I don't personally shop at WF because I purchase very little processed food such as cereal or frozen meals. I also prefer to trade with local bakers, butchers, cheesemongers and butchers who know their stock and give personalized service. Their stock is fresher, better quality and generally less expensive.

                                                                      What continues to be scary is your frightening people with incorrect assumptions that produce in stores carries heavy residues of pesticides and has little or no nutritional value. This is contrary to fact. Much of the produce in supermarkets in winter comes from Florida, Texas and California where it is subject to stringent US laws.

                                                                      Good Chowhounding is knowing how to pick out good food. Someone who knows how to choose great August tomatoes could likely shop NYC markets and supermarkets this weekend and bring a dozen tomatoes of all kinds to your home. It's unlikely that you could identify which were from which sources, organic or not, local or shipped, sprayed or not, hybrid or heirloom. If you're not sure how to select produce on your own, pay for the validation. Union Square organic or WF. Breath a sigh of relief.
                                                                      But people all over America who grew up with backyard gardens or on farms know how to pick good stuff. They find it in stores and markets, it tastes good and it's not loaded with chemicals. Don't assume they're buying crap because it's not from NYC and they don't make the same choices you do.

                                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                                        Omnivore's Dilemma was an eye opener. Where I learned that WF gets most of its produce from 2 companies and they no longer purchase from local farmers. Also the truth about organic dairy, free range chickens and range fed beef.
                                                                        And the practices of the big agri- businesses are almost shameful. But they are controlled by Wall Street which is beholden to stockholders (us). A big profiteering cycle.

                                                                        1. re: tom porc

                                                                          WF does purchase from local farmers and clearly marks on the produce, meat, and dairy products. While I prefer to buy from farmers markets, sometimes it's hard for me to get to them. And, if I'm buying coffee, flour, etc., just easier (and less driving) to make one stop. I just bought locally grown peaches, mushrooms, onions, milk and eggs (humanely certified) there. I have other issues with WF in general but for a lot of people, that's the only option, other than conventional from Safeway or whatever large store. The organics at other large grocery stores have such slow turnover, compared to WF, that the produce is wilted and old. But, this is a rich person's dilemma because people in the inner cities don't even have access to that.

                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                            Fashion and trends have their cycles. WF started adding local foods in response to heavy criticism. Local foods started as a big trend in the past year or two when many realized that there was a limit to the number of small organic producers. Large corporations were getting into the organic act, producing in ways that many considered hardly better than the conventional agriculture they had been trying to avoid. Mass market retailers were adding organics. Many of the products were suspect.
                                                                            Even standard supermarket chains offer selections of locally-grown produce today. That's a good step in the right direction for consumers and smaller growers.
                                                                            Check out this week's sale circular from Safeway, Chowser. The majority of their promotions are from the Delmarva. They've been doing this for some time.
                                                                            It's even more pronounced in some areas of the country where people are loyal to local and regional brands. This isn't new.

                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                              Not the Safeways or Giants near me. They have a small, poor organics section with produce from around the world. I haven't seen decent locally grown produce at either. Wegmans is better but too much of a hike for day to day shopping. WF identifies the farm and location. Regardless of why WF added it, they did and I was responding to tom porc's assertion that they only have 2 producers which is untrue. They also carry dairy that have been certified humane, which is a very rigorous process (as a friend of mine who went through it told me--it was very difficult). I'm not a huge fan of WF, I do have issues with it, but it's not as bad as tom asserts.

                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                Tom didn't say WF bought from 2 producers. He said from 2 companies.
                                                                                Big difference. WF is a giant corporate supermarket chain. They can't and don't deal with thousands of small farmers. Brokers aggregate production from farms and coops and sell it to corporations, sometimes having contracts with them to produce to order. Niman Ranch has small farms produce pork for it on their own property scattered all over. Sunkist is a growers coop. WF, like other chains has buyers for all their goods, who shop the wholesalers. They attend the fish auctions, etc.
                                                                                Why is anyone surprised that WF functions like any other profit-oriented mega-chain? They just buy a different stock mix to fit their marketing niche. Like the difference between Macy's and Nordstrom.

                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                  WF also doesn't buy from 2 producers. Tom Porc's statement was incorrect. It involved a misreading of Pollan's work which, in turn, misrepresented WF's buying practices. Anyone interested in the WF/OD debate should read the ongoing dialogu on Mackey and Pollan's blogs.

                                                                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                    Do you have the sites' addresses handy? Is it the NY Times one? I'm not a member so can't tell.

                                                                                    I found this letter from WF to Michael Pollan to be interesting. Many comments are also informative.

                                                                                    http://www.wholefoods.com/blogs/jm/ar...

                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                      Sure.

                                                                                      Look at Mackey's Blog archives (recent entries) for three entries regarding Pollan

                                                                                      http://www.wholefoods.com/blogs/jm/

                                                                                      Look at Pollan's archives:

                                                                                      http://www.michaelpollan.com/write.php

                                                                                      for two entries regarding WF

                                                                                      Notes on their public debate here with link to event webcast:

                                                                                      http://www.chewswise.com/chews/2007/0...

                                                                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                        Thanks for the links. Reading those exchanges, I'm also "cautiously optimistic" that WF can make changes on a larger scale and is headed in the right direction. I'm going to try to find the exchange, written (easier, for me, than trying to listen to it). At the same time, I still miss the small old Fresh Fields and Bread and Circus stores I used to frequent and Mackey really needs to get involved in the service/knowledge of employees at their stores. In comparison to Wal-Mart, this is one of the places where they're very much alike, at least in my experience.

                                                                                      2. re: chowser

                                                                                        The most interesting thing about that letter is that his attorneys let him post it. Doesn't he expect that someone will fact-check it? He doesn't even use rational qualifiers like "potentially" cancer-causing...

                                                                                      3. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                        I'm assuming your correction meant to say "WF doesn't buy from 2 companies."
                                                                                        Frankly, that would be pretty unbelievable for a huge grocery chain of their size. The MBAs wouldn't let them do that.

                                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                          Mackey really likes to buck the conventional MBA advice. Given the financial success of his company, the approach works.

                                                                                          --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                                                                          Local Procurement

                                                                                          For example, in 2005 in the produce category alone, 45% of our suppliers were considered to be local (within 200 miles) and 34% were regional (within 400 miles) only 21% would fall into your category of "Big Organic" national producers. Of our top 150 suppliers/brokers in the produce category, 22% of our purchases are from large corporate farms and 78% are from independent and family farms (some of these smaller farms pool together under one brand name to help improve marketing and distribution). 60% of these 150 suppliers grow organically, and/or represent growers who do so.

                                                                                          As a decentralized company with 11 operational regions and 8 distribution centers, Whole Foods Market is highly unusual when compared to the average "industrial" operation. Regional distribution helps suppliers gain access to all stores within the region, a benefit to their bottom line that otherwise would not occur in a conventional grocery operation. Whole Foods Market continues to build distribution centers, which increases our ability to support regional and local production. Our individual stores are not prohibited from purchasing from local farmers, and, in fact, all of our 184 stores purchase regularly from local growers. Many growers, likely the ones you profiled as "missing in action" at the Berkeley store, are probably using our distribution center on their own volition to take advantage of distribution economies of scale. As a result, the growers spend less time on the road, and place their product in front of a much larger customer base.

                                                                                          Here are additional examples of how Whole Foods Market supports local growers and producers:

                                                                                          * In our South Region, consisting of Georgia and the Carolinas, we set up a mini co-op to consolidate product from local vendors. Whole Foods Market also provided a market for the row crops produced by former tobacco growers (who were part of a government project to grow alternative crops instead of tobacco).

                                                                                          * In the still-recovering New Orleans market, local shrimpers rely heavily on the two Whole Foods Markets to buy their catch.

                                                                                          * In New England, Whole Foods Market works with many small farms that supply a single store, several stores, or many stores through our distribution center. Some specific examples are:

                                                                                          o Our Hadley store in western Massachusetts sits in the Connecticut River Valley amid many small farms, and has authority to buy from local producers. During the season, Hadley buys local produce from over 25 small local farms.

                                                                                          o Whole Foods Market stores in eastern Massachusetts are encouraged to source from local growers; this results in many stores having their own individual growers from the local community.

                                                                                          o In the Tri-State area of New York, customers define "local" in a very narrow geographical area. Customers in northern New Jersey do not consider product from Connecticut or Long Island "local," even though the farms might be geographically closer to them than farms in southern New Jersey. Our customers in Jersey want Jersey produce in season. Whole Foods Market developed a complicated system that distributes Jersey produce to the Jersey stores, Long Island produce to our two Long Island stores, upstate New York produce to our NYC stores and Connecticut produce to our Connecticut stores.

                                                                                          * Our flagship store in Austin supports local growers and encourages in-store product demonstrations and samplings. Our local Texas growers, like the Goodwins from Buda, Carol Ann and Larry from Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, and the folks from Bella Verdi farms in Dripping Springs, are frequent guests at the store. Whole Foods Market and these growers see our businesses as a part of each other's on-going success.

                                                                                          In addition, Whole Foods Market works with local food artisans on a market by market basis. Scratch bakers and dessert makers, tortilla producers and fresh salsa crafters, hummus experts and falafel sandwich purveyors, gourmet dog biscuit peddlers and handmade jewelry artists all have shelf-space. Products offered at Whole Foods Market vary store by store, thus supporting the local producers in each market. We most decidedly do not have a cookie cutter model for our stores, other than our model for celebrating local foods and producers.

                                                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                                                                          Consider yourself in disbelief.

                                                                                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                            You just posted some of the stuff from the letter that Chowser linked to.
                                                                                            I read it. And I do consider myself in disbelief - that WF didn't think that someone wouldn't fact-check this.

                                                                                            You really should read UnSpun, a new book by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, founder of FactCheck.org, a project of the highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Completely non-partisan, they started out debunking political ads but became so successful that they have written this guide teaching people how to spot "mixed messages, half-truths, misleading statements, and out-and-out fabrications masquerading as facts."
                                                                                            After you learn the signs, it becomes very easy to spot spin, spin, spin. This one made me dizzy.

                                                                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                              His letters were so self-righteous and full of PR that it was hard to pick out actual info from the double-speak. He played the wounded victim for an Oscar nomination (or at least a Golden Globe).
                                                                                              I was surprised to learn he follows a vegan diet. But not surprised that he's a strong supporter of globalization. He went too syrupy sweet, though, by stating, "A strictly local foods philosophy is not a very compassionate philosophy." He continues,"Do you not feel any ethical obligation to help poor people around the world? What better way to help them, than to be willing to buy their agricultural products?" Almost makes you feel guilty buying peppers from your local farmer instead of asparagus (that tastes like cardboard) from the poor Argentinian farmer. Almost.

                                                                                              And as for the "local" procurement. They consider local <200 miles. That would be 4 states away for me. I wouldnt consider a 7 hour RT drive as "local." WF could make one purchase a year from a local farm and claim they purchase locally grown produce.
                                                                                              He generalized about most of what he said. The CEO did say they extensively use 2 big companies to provide their produce. Now these companies may have many brokers/suppliers but a company of WF size (184+ stores) cannot solely rely on local small farmers so they must use other sources.
                                                                                              Again, I'm not knocking WF but one must be an "educated consumer" to gain the most benefit shopping there.
                                                                                              A final thought: His letter stated,"60% of these 150 suppliers grow organically, and/or represent growers who do so." So how do the other 40% grow?

                                                                                      4. re: chowser

                                                                                        I hope I didnt imply that WF is bad. Just that one needs to be well educated or informed before shopping. There are loopholes in terms like "organic", "free range", "all natural", etc. Items may not be what they seem or represent and when you and I are paying a premium for those items we need to make sure of what it is we are purchasing.

                                                                                        Back to the OP question. She couldnt afford an all organic diet. But by shopping wisely she could still eat a healthy diet with a variety of foods. It may take a bit of research and more time but it is possible.

                                                                                        1. re: tom porc

                                                                                          Definitely, I agree w/ being an informed consumer. It's far too easy for someone to assume everything at WF is sustainable and good for you when it's not. One of the issues I have had w/ WF is knowledge from the staff. I was looking at the certified humane chicken from a closer farm and the guy putting the meat out tried to convince me to buy the WF "all natural" chicken because it was cheaper. I asked him what "all natural" meant. He couldn't say but didn't think there was a difference in the two chickens. But, at the same time, an educated shopped can make good choices there and where I am, at least, much better choices than at a larger conventional store.

                                                                                          As the OP question goes, if you're trying to be healthy and sustainable, it does take research. Picking up a list of the most and least produce w/ pesticides is a start. But, not doing enough research leads people to buy "all natural" chicken not knowing what they're getting and why they're paying more for it.

                                                                                          1. re: chowser

                                                                                            Too many have come to assume that anything in WF is special and worth paying the extra price. Sometimes those fancy words don't mean much.
                                                                                            "All natural" chickens are available at standard supermarkets. Just means a regular, minimally-processed, non-marinated bird. Even a Tyson's chicken. http://www.thenextbigthingfromtyson.c...

                                                                                            "Sustainable" is a word that city people love. Many conventional farms have been in families for generations and have "sustained" farming since the 1800s. Failure was generally due to economic factors, which include weather-related crop-failures. Well-run farms have gotten even healthier because of modern farming techniques and the interest in local foods has finally made small farms near cities profitable in addition to "sustainable."

                                                                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                              My point was the person at WF had no idea that "all natural" was not comparable to an organic, certified humane chicken. I think someone working at the meat department at WF should know. There is no official definition of "all natural" and I'm not paying for something when there's nothing more to it.

                                                                                              Conventional farms today aren't the same as conventional farms were in the 1800's. There were obviously no mass produced cows, eggs, bagged salads, etc. so "sustainable" has more of a meaning today then back then. No one is arguing at Pa Ingalls didn't farm sustainably but Dole? Not in the same camp.

                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                Why isn't that field "sustainable"? Will it become "scorched earth" that will become unusable and unfit for growing crops? No. Even the large growers rotate crops, use soil amendments, and care for the land. It's a valuable asset. Very little farm land is abandoned because it becomes un-"sustainable" due to poor growing methods. It might get switched to other uses that make better economic sense.

                                                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                  i think that you are going off of the dictionary definition of "sustainable" while chowser is referring to the definition of "sustainable agriculture, sustainable ecology, etc." as these terms are commonly used by those fluent in the common lingo of these fields. sustainability encompasses land stewardship as well as the profitability of a particular farm and a farming community. industrial, conventional agriculture is not considered to be sustainable due to its high input, low output nature.

                                                                                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustaina...

                                                                                                  as to the second part of your post:
                                                                                                  http://www.botany.uwc.ac.za/Envfacts/...

                                                                                                  this problem is being taken quite seriously worldwide:
                                                                                                  http://enviroscope.iges.or.jp/html2rs...

                                                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                                                              Organic is big business and now trendy. A dangerous combination.

                                                                                              Glad to hear you spoke up and asked about the "all natural" label. Perhaps, the WF website has more info on their chickens.

                                                                              2. re: MakingSense

                                                                                Your peach farmer probably used dormant spray. There are organic dormant sprays. Really, anything that's, um, sprayed on the plants while they're, um, dormant is a dormant spray.

                                                                                Inorganic dormant spray is mineral oil and lime-sulphur. I don't really consider those things very harmful to humans in the method and concentrations used, if at all.

                                                                            2. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                              M the M, from a plant physiological and human nutritional view, the results are highly unlikely--unless "significantly" is being used in some useless level of confidence statistical sense.

                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                Sorry for sounding harsh here, but I am sick to death of folks claiming that organic food is a hoax or a scam. Research things thouroughly enough and you will eat your words. i'm not in the mood to debate everyone here on this board, but let me simply say that those of you who do not wish to eat organic are simply too lazy to be bothered to learn and care about your health and the "healthcare" system.

                                                                                To the OP:
                                                                                I was struggling financially when I made the switch from the SAD (standard american diet) to organic. I made it work by cutting out EVERYTHING that was man made or processed. I only ate fresh meat, fish, poultry, and /fruit veggies Along with a bag or two of whole grains, I enjoyed a varied menu that was 100% organic. Because I was no longer buying things like soda, or ketchup, or anything on a regular, grocery list the cost of organic foods was balanced out by absence of these items in my shopping cart.

                                                                                Also, start making soup. Make a huge pot of organic soup and it will last you for days. That was another money saving trick.

                                                                                1. re: OrganicLife

                                                                                  Mr. Fujisaka is a respected scientist, and extremely well informed on these issues. The truth is, it is extremely difficult for scientists to conclusively prove that organic food is healthier than conventional food. Conversely, it is equally difficult to prove that conventional food is as healthy as organic food. Given that conventional food is a 20th century invention, and organic food has been a staple of the human diet for millennia, I choose to err on the side of caution and eat the foods that my ancestors ate. Others are welcome to offer themselves up as guinea pigs for the food scientists.

                                                                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                    You all make me fear for my life--from either virtual rocks or a bludgeon of sarcasm--if I put in some thoughts. So, I'll just try to clarify my own thinking:

                                                                                    1. Pesticide residues are a bad thing. I do stay away from some vegetables in Asia that I know carry heavy residue loads. The vegetables I do eat and that I suspect to have residues (e.g., I can't find any live bugs or worms), I soak. Most pesticides used on food crops are water soluble.

                                                                                    2. MakingSense and her detractors are right and wrong: you would be surprised at the relative safety of US foods. Yes, the inspectors don't come around as often as they should; and, yes, "bad" foods do get to your market shelves; but, by-and-large you are all quite well protected. Why? It makes economic sense for private industry to give you safe products because you as consumers are the most entitled and litigous people on the planet since the dawn of time. Even rumors of food safety problems can bring agri-businesses to their knees.

                                                                                    3. Organic production is often, but far from always, better for the planet. Organic production in Europe and the US is now big agribusiness; and the carbon footprint of such production can far surpass that of inorganic production.

                                                                                    4. You should be willing to pay much more for things like certified organic coffee. So far, small coffee farmers with flat parcels next to roads can benefit. Those with steep plots way up the hill who have to haul huge quantities of compost or other organic forms of fertilizer up steep slopes are out of luck. And they are the poorest of the poor.

                                                                                    5. If you think globally, sorry, organic-only is not an option for the billions of poor and hungry. Yes, you can build up soil organic matter levels in your gardens in temperate climates; but producing basic staples for the Asian sub-continent and for sub-Saharan Africa will continue to require certain levels of agricultural inputs.

                                                                                    6. No need to take pot shots at agricultural scientists: we show that we care about small, poor farmers and the environment by working to help solve real and pressing problems. We do use scientific methods, however, to make progress. Loud and repetitive arguing in favor of one's opinions has not been found to be all that useful.

                                                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                      Sam, I want to be clear that my comment was not facetious. I always look forward to your informed and well reasoned input on food politics and food science.

                                                                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                        Thanks, M the M. This thread is kind of like Sunnis and Shi'ites--sometimes the bystanders don't know if they've been targeted or are being saved bodily injury by the gunfire in the vicinity.

                                                                                        This thread is also very important to CHers and others out there. Food safety/food and health is no joke. All of the posters above share the same goal of access to good and healthy food at reasonable prices.

                                                                                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                                                          i like your posts too, Sam. i think we're all trying to learn something here, so it's helpful that you have a good scientific basis for your comments re environmental impact to global ag.

                                                                                          according to studies i've looked at in kenya, indonesia, south america, etc, a lot of conservation farming actually does the most for the poorest farmers, who can't necessarily afford the cash outlays for ag inputs like chem fertilizers. individual family farmers' small-scale food stores increase, so that they no longer have to outsource their labor during off-season and accumulate debt to pay for chem treatments. the problem with these chem programs, from the farmers' point of view, is that they must keep buying the chem once they start treatments. from a poor nation's perspective, the chem programs make the country beholden to aid from foreign nations, or worse, multinational corporations, and their food is shipped out of country rather than feeding their own populace. there are more serious economic repercussions which tend to follow. what is your take on this phenomenon?

                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                            Couple of examples:

                                                                                            Irrigated rice farmers in Asia can double or triple their yields using inorganic N fertilizers and nothing else at a 7% increase in their variable costs of production. Should they not do that when urban populations depend on them?

                                                                                            Organic coffee farmers in Nicaragua (got these figures from them last week) get 1/6 th yield at the same cost of production while certified organic pays them virtually nothing as a premium. Many organic farmers are shifting back to conventional. Those that stay are doing so because of beneficial micro-credit programs. The problem is how to effectively produce organic fertilizers. Soils need nutrients or they can't care for plants.

                                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                              Sam, i have a couple of things i want to say that i don't have time to--i'll have to come back in a day or so. i do want to clarify that i don't espouse worldwide organic certification-- i'm arguing in favor of sustainable, non industrial ag, which certified organic can be part of--far from the whole. as you know, in the forty-something poorest nations worldwide, ninety percent of the ag is subsistence-- primarily feeding the farmer's family and their immediate neighbors. folks are living off of the land and get very little foodstuff from abroad (with the possible exception of food aid). in these situations, totally outside of the world marketplace, organic certification is obviously unnecessary.

                                                                                              organic certification also makes no sense in nations in economic straits similar to zimbabwe's for the same reasons that conventional ag is totally inappropriate-- in either case there is no way that a poor farmer can come up with cash to pay for seed and inputs when the national currency is practically worthless. sustainable (traditional) ag or conservation ag are much better choices for these situations-- the farmer saves seeds year to year rather than purchasing them and has the majority of the rest of her agricultural materials at hand; she can build up her local soils naturally over time, and her farm remains a self-sustaining and independent source of food for her family and neighbors rather than relying on foreign aid sources.

                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                What do they use in tropical countries to control pests? I cant imagine the types of insects that are found there.

                                                                                                1. re: tom porc

                                                                                                  Lots of pests and diseases, lots of natural enemies, but often no (winter) period of dormancy that helps cut back pest, vector, and disease populations.

                                                                                                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                  It is important to buy "Fair Trade Organic Coffee", which is even available at Starbucks. "Fair Trade" is the initiative to combat and fairly compensate coffee farmers.

                                                                                                3. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                  I use organic fertilizers. They are very expensive. A 500ml bottle of Wegener's lasts me one season. It's $24. I also have a jar of Plant-Prod that cost me $5 that lasted me four years! I have never, ever seen organic products cheaper than their synthetic counterparts. I have a very hard time believing that organic fertilizers would be cheaper than "chemical" fertilizers (synthetic should be the proper word used) for these farmers.

                                                                                                  Compost is murderously expensive - and I live in Canada, where compost is available very readily. Being on other gardening forums, it seems that compost is not so available even in parts of the USA.

                                                                                                  And products like compost are not one-shot deals. Compost, peat moss, etc must be replenished every growing season - these products basically disintegrate into nothing.

                                                                                                  Even making compost on a large scale is harmful. The manufacture of compost does indeed produce runoff of nitrogen, phosphates and potassium, among other chemicals.

                                                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                thank you sam, for shedding some light in an otherwise dark (emotionally and factually) discussion without accessory browbeating.

                                                                                      2. definitely research joining a co-op. or get a job at your local whole foods part time for the discount! i mix organic and regular. honestly, organic is (of course) better but the benefits of fruits and veggies are still active no matter what. just make sure you buy what is in season and local.