Similarly to most young people in Vancouver, I try eating healthy. That includes buying organic produce. I always had sort of an idea what “organic” means but was curious about the exact definition. The reason is that organic produce in local supermarkets is quite expensive. Yes, paying a top dollar to eat organic is hard on my monthly budget, especially in a city like Vancouver which is already very expensive. I am trying to save money to become financially independent (without the need to work for money) as soon as possible. That means also trying to save money on produce while not limiting how much veggies and fruit I eat and how healthy that produce is for my body. That’s why I wanted to know if buying organic is worth it.
So, what does it mean “organic” in Canada?
I found out that in order to be sold as organic in Canada, produce requires a label “certified organic” from the Government of Canada, Food Inspection Agency. Certified Organic means that a food or fibre product has been grown and made without the use of GMOs or nanotechnology, artificial preservatives, and colours, synthetic chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, sewage sludge or irradiation.
Does the label “certified organic” really means what it is promising?
Every time I spend extra money on organic produce this little voice in my head starts questioning whether the label “certified organic” really means what it is promising. I did some online research and found an article from 2014 at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy saying that “the Canadian Food Inspection Agency allows any producer to use their organic labels as long as fees are paid and the paperwork is done. The government does not require actual testing to ensure that the food is free of things like pesticide or growth hormones.” (https://fcpp.org/2014/01/17/canada-should-test-its-certified-organic-food/). Yes, the article is older so the procedures might have changed, also the article might not be true.
What happens if I don’t eat organic?
According to some studies, organic produce does not necessarily mean more nutritious or healthier choice (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22944875). On the other hand, there are studies that, high exposure to pesticides can harm unborn babies by decreasing their future IQ and alter their stress responses (https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a458/). For born children and adults, exposure to pesticides can cause antibiotic resistance, chronic diseases and cancer down the road (https://wakeup-world.com/2015/06/12/heres-what-happens-when-you-eat-100-percent-organic/).
Another study (https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2017/11/study-eating-foods-fewer-pesticides-boosts-women-s-chances-conceive#.WtqGGNPwat8) shows that women who eat fewer pesticides have better chances to conceive. The same applies to men. Higher amounts of consumed pesticides mean poorer semen quality (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023).
I am not planning to get pregnant anytime soon, but I certainly don’t want to end up stupider or with a chronic disease, an antibiotic resistance or cancer.
Is all the conventionally grown produce bad?
Environmental Working Group, EWG, tests conventionally grown produce every year to find out which fruits and veggies have the highest content of pesticides (https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php). In 2018, the worst produce includes, in descending order, strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. Each of these foods tested positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. According to EWG, “a single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides and spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop”.
On the other hand, EWG also makes a list (Clean Fifteen) of produce least likely to contain pesticide residues included avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli. Relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues. “Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides”. “More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions, and cabbages had no pesticide residues”.
My solution for cheap and healthy (low pesticides) eating
Based on the research above, I buy produce from Clean Fifteen from the non-organic produce aisle. My favorites are broccoli, Brussels sprouts (little cabbages), and asparagus. I rarely eat them raw, but rather steam them to kill any chemical residues. I try to avoid conventionally grown Dirty Dozen. I generally don’t eat much fruit as it contains a lot of sugar. However, if I feel like fruit I choose the kind which I can peel like oranges, pineapple and kiwis. My all-time favourite fruit/berries are raspberries though. Will have to switch to organic ones as the conventionally grown are full pesticides, unfortunately (https://eluxemagazine.com/magazine/worst-foods-for-pesticides/). The same applies to tomatoes- only organic and hope they are really organic.
I make super veggie smoothies for breakfast and lunch which means a lot of leafy vegetables. I buy only organic spinach, kale and celery. I also add bok choy to my smoothies. That one I buy conventionally grown as it is part of the cabbage family and as such is low in pesticides (cabbages face relatives few threats from pests and therefore require fewer pesticides to grow). Other smoothie ingredients I use (like carrots, ginger, turmeric, lemon, and avocado) are also conventionally grown as they are not on the Dirty Dozen list. This way I am limiting my pesticides intake and not “over-emptying” my wallet.
Aaand, I started my own little organic garden on my balcony! I am growing kale, spinach, and swiss chard. My initial investment was $50, so will see how much I will save in summer 2018.