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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Making Better Organic Decisions

Environmental Working Group has a good handle on how to manage budget and healthy produce shopping: In short, pick your spots.

With its elegantly simple Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, EWG highlights what edible plants often need the most chemical protection to thrive, and therefore are the best places to purchase organic.

It also evokes something celebrity chef and Iron Chef champ Ming Tsai told the crowd gathered for his cooking demo at Pebble Beach Food & Wine (only seven months off!)

He was asked something to the effect of "When do you invest in purer product?" or "Do you go for organic/free-range chicken?" and he said that certain places paying a little more made a lot of difference.

"This is a place where you want to 'one-up'" he said of chicken. "Dry aged bone in ribeye can be significantly more expensive, but organic, kosher chicken might be $3.50 a pound instead of $2.50. It's worth it."

Similarly, in certain cases paying a little more for organic makes a lot of difference, and for logical reasons, some of which The Organic Center's Chuck Benbrook, who attends Asilomar's EcoFarm every year, broke down for Special Edible.

"The Dirty Dozen don't have a shell or a thick peel that's removed before they're eaten," he says. "They are vulnerable to attack from wide range of insects and plant diseases; and many are relatively short-season crops—like celery, spinach, kale—that traditionally required a lot of pesticides."

Benbrook does add that he's helping publish a report coming soon with a more sophisticated risk assessment that takes into account EPA toxicity rather than what he describes as a simpler EWG system that measures only amounts of residue.

"The biggest change is that their methodology is missing a significant shift in residues and risk with imports," he says. "American produce farmers, especially tree fruits and grapes and vegetable [growers], have reduced risk quite substantially over past decade, while they have not gone down nearly as much or have gone up in imported food.

"If we put out a comparable list, you'd see at least six imported items. Only one on that list is imported grapes. And the have domestic blueberries. We would not single out domestic blueberries."

So with that asterisk, here's the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. I'll post the new report when it becomes available.

And, yes, it's OK to cheer each time you see a fav on the clean list.

The Dirty Dozen (buy these organic)
Bell peppers
Grapes (imported)

The Clean 15
(lowest in pesticides)

Sweet corn
Sweet peas
Sweet potato
Honeydew melon