Since her husband's salary was gutted, Jilann Spitzmiller has begun openly voicing the questions that bedevil many of us when we shop in the pricey organics aisle: "Does our milk really need to be organic?" she wonders. "If we can afford only some organic produce, which?"
In answer, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group, annually publishes a list of the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce, using data from the USDA.
This year peaches head the "dirty dozen," followed by, in order: apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears. The least contaminated vegetables are onions, frozen sweet corn and peas, and asparagus. Avocados, pineapples, and mangoes are the cleanest fruit. (For the complete list, visit FoodNews.org.)
As for milk, the direct health benefit of buying organic remains unclear. However, Consumer Reports recommends that families with babies or small children stick with organic when they can to avoid any unnecessary exposure to antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, and most synthetic pesticides.
But if, even with careful shopping, organics are still too costly, "have a traditionally grown apple," says Richard Wiles, executive director of EWG. "Better to have some fruit than none."
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Gretchen Reynolds, a fitness columnist for the New York Times Magazine and a frequent contributor to O, is currently at work on a book about the frontiers of human performance. She lives in Santa Fe.