When I close my eyes I can still see Daddy working in his garden.
I have rich memories from childhood of my southern-born father proudly plowing,
planting, tending and reaping a bountiful harvest each year–right in our suburban backyard.
I reminisce about the pleasures we shared like picking and eating fresh cucumbers
sprinkled lightly with just a bit a salt.
No store bought tomato could compare with dad’s bright red, garden fresh tomatoes.
We simply sliced them and gobbled them up like candy. No dressing required.
Our summer suppers starred Dad’s fresh, ripe abundance: sweet corn on the cob,
string beans, collard greens, turnip greens, lettuce , zucchini and peppers.
His little garden was as nice as the one in Lumberton, North Carolina, where he came from.
Living was sweet and easy. Life was good.
But our garden was not organic.
Now, decades later, my father is suffering from a neurological disease which has
confined him to a wheelchair, limited his mobility and sentenced him to a life of pain,
disappointment and frustration.
And I wonder if all of the dusty, toxic, chemical pesticides that he inhaled and touched
while fighting one garden “plague” after another–based upon advice from a well-meaning,
garden shop” expert”–may have harmed this beautiful man for the rest of his days.
I cannot say definitively that my father’s health and vigor was destroyed by years and years
of intimate exposure to pesticides, but I am not going to take any chances.
Now, as an older, wiser, better-informed consumer–thanks to reams of research as well as
consumer advocacy and education by the Environmental Working Group and related
organizations–I am keenly aware of the perils of pesticides–and I strive to limit my
exposure as much as possible.
The Dangers of Pesticides in Foods
This information does not come as a surprise, but it is important to reiterate the dangers of pesticides
in our foods.
So many of us take the risks and consequences of repeated exposure to toxins, for granted.
According to the Environmental Working Group:
“Pesticides are toxic by design.
They are created expressly to kill living organisms —
insects, plants and fungi that are considered ‘pests.’
Many pesticides pose health dangers to people.
These risks have been confirmed by independent research
scientists and physicians across the world.
As acknowledged by U.S. and international government agencies,
different pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems,
*brain and nervous system toxicity
*skin, eye and lung irritation”
Beware The Dirty Dozen + More…
The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™
is designed help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide
residues and are therefore, the most important to buy organic.
In short: you can lower your pesticide intake by avoiding
the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables
and choosing the least contaminated produce.
But, eating organic is the best defense.
Since EWG realizes that organics are not always accessible or affordable for everyone,
they created the Shopper’s Guide™ to help us make the healthiest choices given our
It is important to note that for the second year, EWG expanded the Dirty Dozen™
with a plus category to highlight two crops--domestically-grown summer squash
and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards, which are very popular foods.
According to EWG, “these crops did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria
but were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the
nervous system–including organophosphate and organochlorine pesticides.”
It is also very important to note that the “Clean 15” produce contained a lower
level of toxic pesticides–but pesticides none the less.
Want the Guide?
You can click the link for your own handy, pocketsize pdf of EWG’s Shopper’s Guide™.
The Sad Truth: Pesticides Will Not Wash Out
Oh, by the way–just in case you considered it–you can’t wash the dirty dozen
“clean” because the produce was tested for pesticide levels after being thoroughly
washed and peeled, where applicable–and they were still ‘dirty’!
For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed.
“Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis,
washing a a fruit or vegetable would not change
its ranking in the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide™.
Remember, if you don’t wash conventional produce,
the risk of ingesting pesticides
is even greater than reflected by USDA test data.”
And because many plants systematically absorb pesticides, a produce wash would
probably have limited impact.
To define the rankings for 48 popular fresh produce items, EWG analyzed pesticide
testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.
Domestic and imported versions of nectarines, blueberries and snap peas showed
showed sharply different results, so they ranked those domestic and imported items
As a result, the full list of foods ranked by the Shopper’s Guide displays 51 entries.
See the full list of 51 items on EWG’s website.
The Verdict: Buy Organic as Much as Possible
The safest choice is to use the Shopper’s Guide™ to avoid conventional
versions of those fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues.
Not surprisingly, EWG recommends buying organic whenever possible.
“Not only is it smart to reduce your exposure to pesticides,
but buying organic sends a message that you support
environmentally-friendly farming practices that minimize soil
erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife.”
Knowledge Is Power If We Use It
Access to this kind of knowledge has given me–and, hopefully, all of us–significant power:
*The power to choose to eat organic foods as much as possible.
*The power to avoid heavily-contaminated conventional foods.
*The power to avoid genetically-modified foods and products which
are made from or contain GMO ingredients.
*The power to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
I realize that I can’t turn back the hands of time or change what is, but I can use this data
and common sense to reduce exposure to harmful pesticides and other contaminants
by choosing organic foods as much as possible.
So, download the pdf of the EWG Shopper’s Guide and keep it in your purse
as a handy reference.
Let’s put this knowledge to work for the sake of ourselves and our loved ones.
The Environmental Working Group
How do you feel about the EWG Shopper’s Guide and findings? Do you buy organic produce?
Share your thoughts, suggestions and comments with us.
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