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EWG' 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce
June 21, 2011 4:57 PM   Subscribe

The Environmental Working Group has released its 2011 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

"Eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. The Shopper's Guide to Pesticide in Produce will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce." --- EWG
posted by crunchland (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I'm screwed. If I avoided the twelve most contaminated foods, I wouldn't eat very much.

I think I officially give up.
posted by craichead at 5:22 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


You will pry these peaches out of my cold dead hands, internets list.
posted by elizardbits at 5:26 PM on June 21, 2011


craichead: Time to switch to an all cilantro diet (number 13 on their list)
posted by aubilenon at 5:30 PM on June 21, 2011


Ugh, I bought standard apples last time at the store and they taste awful. I can't tell whether it's because I bought Red Delicious and they're just not as tasty as other varieties or whether it's the chemical tang. Now I'll assume it's the latter every time I eat one of them.
posted by immlass at 5:36 PM on June 21, 2011


Red Delicious apples are for most people the least delicious of the apple varieties available to them. But uh, yeah, if you're getting a chemical tang... that's not the apple.
posted by dmz at 5:49 PM on June 21, 2011


Chemical tang is almost certainly all in my head, but sadly it'll be what I think about until I finish off this batch of apples. The real problem is probably closer to "bred to ripen taking transit times into account" plus Red Delicious being kind of blah.
posted by immlass at 5:55 PM on June 21, 2011


You just had to show me this right after I had strawberry shortcake tonight, didn't you?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 PM on June 21, 2011


I have limited dollars to spend on food, so I'm always happy to know which vegetables it actually matters whether I buy organic or not. If I had unlimited resources, I would happily buy all organic. As it is, I want to know when it's a good idea to spend the extra bucks (or skip if I can't).
posted by stoneweaver at 6:03 PM on June 21, 2011


Fantastic news! I can now give up celery forever!
posted by peripathetic at 6:23 PM on June 21, 2011


This is a completely useless infographic as it doesn't tell you how bad "bad" is and it also gives no value for the difference between best and worst. IE: if apples are 1 pesticide unit, sweet corn is .999 pesticide units and onions .995 then the difference is negligible. And if the generally accepted as safe level is 1000 pesticide units per serving then again it is probably not worth worrying about. Or each step could be an order of magnitude and spinach is a thousand times safer than celery.

dmz writes "Red Delicious apples are for most people the least delicious of the apple varieties available to them."

Commercial red delicious apples have had the taste bred out of them in favour of storability. The ancient red delicious in my yard is much better tasting though some of that is because of the freshness.
posted by Mitheral at 6:25 PM on June 21, 2011


i love that their initials spelled out would be "eww- ugh"
posted by liza at 7:17 PM on June 21, 2011


Having whined about this, though, I might actually switch to organic apples. They're not all that much more expensive than conventional apples, and I eat enough apples in the winter that I'm probably totally pickling my insides.
posted by craichead at 7:20 PM on June 21, 2011


It’s too bad they make no distinction between domestic & imported produce.
posted by davel at 7:29 PM on June 21, 2011


(…and I was completely wrong. Sorry.)
posted by davel at 7:31 PM on June 21, 2011


I guess it's time to launch my Onions-and-Corn fad diet.

Mitheral: I've occasionally gotten a good-tasting commercial Red Delicious; I think the problem might be that they haven't been bred for storability, or at least not to the extent that the normal grocery-store shipping chain requires.
posted by hattifattener at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2011


There's no reason to buy red or golden delicious apples. They're not even worth the plastic bag. Around here, summer is a lean time for apples, though the granny smith and the pink lady apples are passable --- though I find them too hard to eat. Luckily, nectarines, peaches and plums are in season, as are watermelon and sweet cherries. Short of that, pineapple and mango.

In a few months, though, honeycrisps will start hitting the stores and farmer's market. And they'll last from September through February, if we're lucky.
posted by crunchland at 9:47 PM on June 21, 2011


I've been disappointed by honeycrisps. Contrary to the hype I'd read, they seem to be decent, pretty good apples. Not particularly amazing, though. Did something in the cultivar get lost as plantings were expanded?
posted by ryanrs at 10:09 PM on June 21, 2011


Well, I've read that honeycrisps don't store well, and they also bruise easily, and their quality diminishes pretty greatly if they've been badly handled. (I've taken a bite out of one only to find an internal bruise running throughout the entire apple.) Also, if the farmer doesn't thin the crop on each of his trees, the quality of the fruit declines ... but they're so popular, there's a financial disincentive to limit the amount he produces. I've also read that if they're harvested too late and are allowed to over-ripen on the tree, their high sugar content causes them to actually start to ferment and end up tasting nasty. Finally, they're really best when grown in cooler climates, so you're taking your chances with any that are grown further south than the Great Lakes region, though I've had good luck with apples grown in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. All that said, when the organic honeycrisps first hit my local markets, they're huge, weighing more than a pound a piece. I usually find them at the Whole Foods before I find them elsewhere. Late in the season this past winter, the best place we found them was at Target, sold singly, refrigerated (as opposed to the ones sold in boxes, kept at room temperature).
posted by crunchland at 10:24 PM on June 21, 2011


The food your looking for has this word on it...

"Organic"
posted by Windopaene at 10:27 PM on June 21, 2011


The food your looking for has this word on it...

"Organic"
Golly. Thanks for introducing me to that new, scary word! I hadn't heard that word before!

The point of this exercise is that not everyone can afford to buy 100% organic. If your budget doesn't allow you to buy all organic produce, you can reduce your pesticide exposure without limiting your fruit and vegetable consumption by buying organic versions of high-pesticide produce and sticking to conventional for produce that doesn't have a lot of pesticide residue. So you would buy organic apples and strawberries but stick with the cheaper conventional asparagus and onions.

I get that some people think that everyone should only buy organic. But my budget doesn't allow that, and the people who say that generally do not then volunteer to pay my rent. So this kind of information is actually pretty useful to me. After I got over my initial "aw, fuck, I'm screwed, and I don't want another lecture about what I should eat," I did some price checking and realized that I could actually make some pretty minor changes that wouldn't break the bank and would reduce my pesticide exposure.

(I'm going to have a hard time saying no to cheap strawberries this time of year, though.)
posted by craichead at 5:58 AM on June 22, 2011


>The point of this exercise is that not everyone can afford to buy 100% organic.

I find this to be sort of a lame excuse.

The key to saving/spending appropriate amounts on food is understanding that certain things labelled as food, certain meat options say, in the meat section of a grocery store, are not in fact food. Three dollar chickens, four dollar steaks. These things are so abstracted from the very real twelve dollar organic chicken or the fifteen dollar organic steak that you'd buy from a butcher or a farmer's market that they don't even deserve the label of food. They're like the really unhealthy idea of meat, on sale cheap to satisfy the backward tastes of someone with little or no idea of how to eat properly.

This is a really reductive and simple declaration, but making quality meat about 10% of your diet, understanding that food costs as a whole are and ought to be a real and substantial aspect of your monthly budget (a cost that precludes buying new televisions or cheap steaks), allows you to buy organic, healthy produce and meat.

(I had this epiphany when eating a real strawberry for the first time, realizing that all other strawberries I'd had up to that point merely looked and sort of tasted like strawberries. They cost a bit, but good things do.)

Note: I am very poor.
posted by gracchus at 6:31 AM on June 22, 2011


I've always wondered the % of farmer's market produce that is either organic or functionally organic (uncertified.)
posted by Vhanudux at 6:43 AM on June 22, 2011


Ooh! Is "cheap steaks and new TVs" the new "your daily latte" of the sanctimonious food judgment world?

So do you never think that you could be spending some of that money you're spending on $12 chickens paying off your student loans or saving for retirement or establishing an emergency fund so that you're not screwed if you break a leg or something? Because while people tend to point to luxuries in these discussions, I can think of a lot of worthy things I could be doing with the money that other people spend on fifteen dollar organic steaks.

(I'm actually not much of a meat eater, but whatever.)
posted by craichead at 6:43 AM on June 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting. It's a useful list.

It could so easily be a more useful list, though. Would it kill them to show the data their rank ordering is based on? That would answer Mitheral's objection.


> I've always wondered the % of farmer's market produce that is either organic or functionally
> organic (uncertified.)
> posted by Vhanudux at 9:43 AM on June 22>

Me too; and also what loopholes there are in the rules for getting certified, analogous to all the loopholes in the rules that allow tagging your stuff "Made in USA" when it largely isn't.
posted by jfuller at 6:49 AM on June 22, 2011


>>fifteen dollar organic steaks

Real food has real costs that aren't reflected in inexpensive meat products. Things like fossil fuels and factory farm processes allow for deflated costs that are unsustainable, immoral, unhealthy. That's all I meant.

>>"your daily latte" of the sanctimonious food judgment world?

I'm not sure what this means otherwise I'd answer it. Don't know if it's sanctimonious to point out that something seems to be wrong with the way meat is consumed in this country, when it seems like it is.

>>paying off your student loans or saving for retirement or establishing an emergency fund

I have all of these outlays too, that's why I hardly eat any meat. It's a luxury, as it should be.
posted by gracchus at 7:08 AM on June 22, 2011


The nice thing about living in the internet-based post-expert world is we can look at websites uncritically and take every thing they say at face value. No need to look for primary sources- if it's on the web it's 100% accurate!
posted by happyroach at 7:09 AM on June 22, 2011


Pro tip from those who grew up in apple country: any apple whose varietal name contains the word "Delicious" isn't.
posted by foldedfish at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2011


I'm not sure what this means otherwise I'd answer it.
Usually in these discussions, someone chimes in to inform us all that we could afford organic everything if we'd just forgo our daily lattes. "Your daily latte" is the straw luxury that we are all assumed to be spending money on and that we could easily forgo to buy the things that the food-purist thinks we should be buying.
Don't know if it's sanctimonious to point out that something seems to be wrong with the way meat is consumed in this country, when it seems like it is.
I would say it's not so much sanctimonious as irrelevant, since the link is about produce.
I have all of these outlays too, that's why I hardly eat any meat.
If you're paying off student loans, saving for retirement, and putting aside money for an emergency fund, than I would submit that you're probably not "very poor."
posted by craichead at 8:05 AM on June 22, 2011


Yes, There Are Pesticides on Organic Lettuce, a rebuttal of the EWG "Dirty Dozen" List. "I'd rather buy food from someone who used Roundup once than someone who uses organic pesticides all the time."
posted by crunchland at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2011


(although, now that I think about it, Roundup is an herbicide, not a pesticide.)
posted by crunchland at 11:16 AM on June 22, 2011


I have to wonder what effect WASHING the produce first has on these things. Seems to me there isn't really a mechanism for the plant to uptake the pesticide and incorporate it into the fruit (or plant, whatever you eat) because if they did the farmers could spray once, early and then the plant itself becomes toxic to the insect. Farmers tend to spray multiple times to keep the bugs off which tells me that the stuff wears off the fruit and is not *part* of the fruit.

Anyways I also remember reading that simple washing will remove most of the pesticides on anything. herbicides are different. I admit to using roundup to clear my garden area when I switched from lawn/ornamental garden to vegetable garden. After that initial kill i mechanically weed (hoeing) so I ain't really worried about roundup residue from a mild application years ago. Using the right tool for the right job at the right time is the way to go.

Another way to thing about the desirability of pesticide/herbicide use is I would much rather die of some malady from pesticides at 50, 60 or 70 than from starvation as a child. The use of these chemicals have a lot to do with our modern era of plenty of calories available for human consumption.
posted by bartonlong at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2011


I have to wonder what effect WASHING the produce first has on these things.

Near zero. Pesticides are designed to adhere. Also that "veggie wash" stuff some health food stores sell is snake oil. But washing is good to remove dirt and possibly bacteria.

Bottom line is buy organic (if you can afford it) for fruits and vegetables you can't peel, and buy regular for what you can peel. Who cares about pesticide levels on cantaloupe, if you're not going to eat the rind?

Interesting that blueberries are on the list. I heard from a doctor just a few days ago that they don't use pesticides on blueberries. Depressing to find out he was wrong -- my kids eat the hell out of blueberries.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2011


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