We as consumers hear a lot about buying organic fruits and veggies these days. But is organic really better? The answer is a resounding yes! Not only does organic produce tend to taste better, it’s better for our bodies and the environment as well. In order for a food to be deemed “organic,” the USDA set standards for organic agricultural operations and created The National Organic Program, which was put in charge of labeling foods. That means that these foods have to be grown or raised without the use of additives, coloring, preservatives, radiation, genetic manipulation, synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or hormones. Moreover, organic farmers should maintain or improve soil and water quality, and conserve wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. There are several organizations in addition to the USDA that certify a product to be organic, such as “Farm-Verified Organics” and “California Certified Organic Farmer.”
But, while buying organic is an important aspect of choosing the best fruits and vegetables, there’s a lot more to consider while perusing the produce aisle. Many foods that we find in our local grocery stores actually come from other countries. Imports of fresh fruits and vegetables have tripled in the last 30 years. Now, about one in five produce products are shipped to the U.S. from foreign lands. This is an unsavory trend since imported produce is greater than three times more likely to contain illness-causing bacteria like Salmonella and Shigella than its domestic counterpart. It’s also two to four times more likely to have illegal levels of pesticides and pesticide residues. And shockingly, the FDA inspects just one percent of foreign produce shipments coming in at our borders!
Not only do imported fruits and veggies have a higher likelihood of carrying dangerous chemicals, the long-distance transportation of these foods also requires massive amounts of fossil fuels and generates large quantities of carbon dioxide emissions that pollute our environment—while sacrificing freshness and taste. That’s all the more reason to hunt for produce that is organic and locally grown. Grocery stores and farmers’ markets that sell produce grown nearby usually get the ripest bunch of the harvest too. That means fresher and better tasting foods for us, and much less of a negative environmental impact.
Now that we’re looking out for local, organic fruits and vegetables, there are a few things to consider to ensure we’re getting the best-tasting produce possible. Prime produce should feel heavy and sturdy, have taut skin, and be vibrant in color. Choosing fruits and vegetables that are irregularly shaped and blemished signifies that they were allowed to grow in a natural state. For example, a well-defined ground spot or a shriveled vine on a melon means that it was permitted to ripen to its peak before being picked. Some foods, such as avocados, tomatoes, bananas, and pears, will actually continue to ripen past the point of harvest, while others, like berries, citrus, eggplant, and cucumbers, will just begin to ferment. Many fruits can be sniffed for ripeness. Also, make sure to shop seasonally since seasonal produce tastes better and is cheaper too! Don’t forget to check the labels either. Look for “USDA Certified Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” among others.
The Environmental Working Guide’s Dirty Dozen 2016
Conventionally grown versions of the following foods have been found to harbor high levels of pesticide residue. Whenever possible, opt for organic:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes