Grocery cart filled with organic vegetables in a supermarket
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Given the choice between two apples with the same outward appearance, would you be willing to pick the one that's 30 cents more just because it's labeled organic?
For most people, that additional 30 cents an apple can add up to a lot of money over time, and going organic can seem a pricey venture. And in light of a recent study funded by Britain's Food Standards Agency that claims there is no nutritional difference between organics and conventionally grown produce, consumers are wondering where the benefit is in buying organic produce.

For proponents of organic living, the question isn't as much about cost as it is health and environmental impact. "If you can choose organics, if they are accessible and affordable for you, we recommend you make the organic choice as often as possible," says Amy Rosenthal of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental health organization. The yearlong study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reviewed 162 scientific papers published in the past 50 years. The authors concluded there is no evidence to suggest that organic foods are nutritionally superior to those grown by conventional methods.

Find out why people eat organically. 
Organic Choices 

"At first blush, [nutrition] isn't the only reason people go organic," says Libba Letton, spokesperson for Whole Foods Market. "Our customers don't buy organic produce for what's in it, but for what's not in it." 

What's not in organic food, Letton says, are the synthetic pesticides and herbicides used in the process of growing conventional produce. Organic farming relies on crop rotation, green-friendly manure and biological pest control. Rosenthal says the Food Standards Agency study that claims there's no nutritional benefit says nothing about how many potential toxic chemicals are in nonorganic food. 

Letton points out that Whole Foods customers are not only buying organics to avoid ingesting toxic chemicals, but are also touting the benefits to the environment that come from supporting organic farming. "With organic food production, there isn't anything that goes into the soil or contaminates water supply during the growing process," she says. "Organic farming also is better for the workers by not exposing them to chemicals in the fields." 

Is it worth it to go organic?
Small Steps 

So is it worth it to go organic? According to Rosenthal, consumers can reap the benefits of organic eating by knowing which products are worth the extra cash and which types of conventionally grown produce contain the lowest amounts of pesticides. 

The EWG created The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides PDF, a printable list that ranks pesticide contamination levels for 47 popular fruits and vegetables based on 87,000 tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The list contains produce that the EWG recommends you buy organic, as well as those that contain the lowest amount of pesticides and can be purchased in a non-organic state.

"We created the list so you can prioritize what you're going to spend your organic dollars on," Rosenthal says. "This way you can buy organic apples but save money by buying conventionally grown peas because you know they contain fewer pesticides."

More ways to save money on organic produce
Money-Saving Tips 
No matter your goal when buying organic, there are ways to save money. Letton suggests the following:
  • Buy your items in season. Even organic food is going to be priced cheaper when it's in season, and this advice applies whether you're buying conventionally or organically grown produce.
  • Talk to the staff in the produce department of your local grocery store. Ask where the produce comes from, if it's in season and if you can sample it. Make sure you're spending on something worth it.
  • Buy things in bulk. At Whole Foods, customers who buy in volume are offered up to a 10 percent discount.
  • Buy only as much as you need. Food bought in large portions often goes to waste. If your store offers a bulk bin option, you can take as much or as little as you need, which also means less packaging.
  • Make your grocery list and stick to it.
  • Compare organic-to-organic prices. In stores where there are less organic items, those items tend to be much more expensive. 
What does the future of organic buying hold?
Final Tally 

Though the organic food market only accounts for 3 percent of the food products in America, Letton says awareness is increasing, as is access to affordable organic products. 

Rosenthal agrees. "We're really reaching a sea change," she says. "People are becoming more and more aware of avoiding toxic chemicals, whether it's in their food or in water bottles. We're starting to think a little bit more about what they're ingesting in a way we didn't necessarily think about before." 

Which of your favorite stars has gone organic?

For dinner tonight, consider an organic salad with fresh herbs followed by Wolfgang Puck's pan-roasted organic chicken with black truffle risotto!

If you're curious to learn more about what products mean when they're labeled "USDA Organic," we've got the answers and a few organic-friendly products for you.

Control garden pests with Barbara Ellis' recipe for organic soap-and-oil spray!


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