I love tomatoes. I don’t think many people will argue with me when I say there is nothing better than a fresh-picked home-grown ‘mater.
I love them so much I usually grow tomatoes in the backyard every summer. However, for some stupid reason, this year I just never got around to it.
Anyway, the other day I was picking up a bunch of fruits and vegetables at my local grocery store and, of course, tomatoes were on my list.
Grocery store tomatoes can be such a tease. I find the grocery store ‘maters to always be visually appealing, perfectly round with a nice red color, but every time I bite into one I am terribly disappointed by the lack of flavor. In fact, they are practically tasteless – especially when compared to the home-grown ones.
For that reason – and with no home-grown tomatoes waiting for me at home – I briefly considered picking up some organic tomatoes. That is, until I noticed that the price premium being commanded by the organics was almost 100 percent over the non-organic varieties.
Outrageous? I definitely thought so; tomatoes are expensive enough without the added organic premium.
According to Mint, organic produce costs so much more because today’s large conventional farms enjoy economies of scale and subsidies that smaller organic farms can’t exploit.
So what’s driving the market? Well, when it comes to fruits and veggies most people buy organics to avoid pesticides that farmers use on their crops to increase yields. In the United States, any produce certified as “organic” must be grown without most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
The thing is, when it comes to tainted fruits and vegetables, not all conventionally farmed produce is created equally. It turns out that many non-organic fruits and vegetables are grown with significantly lower pesticide loads than others, which suggests some organic fruits and vegetables may not be worth those steep price premiums.
So which non-organic fruits and veggies are typically grown with the lowest pesticide loads?
A non-profit consumer organization known as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed pesticide test data gleaned from nearly 100,000 reports conducted by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food and Drug Administration. From that data they identified the 15 cleanest fruits and vegetables, which they call the “Clean 15.” In order, they are:
3. Sweet Corn
6. Sweet Peas
14. Sweet Potatoes
15. Honeydew Melons
You can download their latest report here.
The take-away here is that for those who worry about pesticides on their fruits and veggies, but are trying to stay within the bounds of a tight grocery budget, it makes little sense to pay the extra money for the organically grown varieties listed above.
Instead, buy the conventionally grown varieties and make sure you wash them well. That will free up your money to buy organic produce with the highest pesticide loads that EWG has identified from their “Dirty Dozen” list. Those 12 items are, in order: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, collard greens, potatoes, and imported grapes.
I know what you’re thinking: Hey, Len, tomatoes didn’t make either of those lists!
You’re right, which is why I will continue to buy the beautiful-but-boring non-organic ones. Well, that is until I can grow some of my own again next summer.