Each year the Environmental Working Group puts out a list of the fruits and vegetables that are most and least likely to be seriously contaminated by pesticides. The idea behind this list is so that if you cannot afford to buy all of your produce organic then at least you know which produce is very contaminated and should be avoided if not organic and which produce is generally not treated too heavily with pesticides making the choice to eat organic less critical. They call these lists The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen.

Now, in general produce is at the bottom of the list of things always to eat organic. Here is a more complete list of what you need to get organic, wild or otherwise and why.

It is as simple as this, I do not eat chicken at restaurants unless I know the owner and know its organic. Here is why. In addition to being fed antibiotics, chickens are frequently fed arsenic. It is put in their feed as it makes their meat that pinkish color that people like and it kills insects. Interestingly, chickens are supposed to eat insects. Insects are an important part of a chicken’s diet. Also interesting is that while arsenic kills people and there is no safe dose for humans, it somehow appears not to hurt the chickens (this may be due to the fact that they don’t live anywhere near a normal lifespan when they are bred for meat). Organic chickens cannot be fed arsenic. So I avoid non-organic chickens.

I also avoid red meat that is not grass fed. Cows get very ill in feedlots because cows struggle to digest corn. That study that showed no meaningful difference in vitamin levels from organic and non-organic produce also showed that scary e coli (the kind that kills people) is much higher on non-organic non-grass fed meat. The e coli that exists in your intestines right now doing you no harm is higher on grass fed meat. I know which e coli I want to eat. This is a no brainer for me.

If you find it challenging to avoid eating meat in restaurants, there are documentaries free on Hulu that show how meat in this country is made. I could not watch more than five minutes. It did not make me a vegetarian but it did make me someone who only wants to get meat from farmers she knows personally. So what do I eat when I eat out?

I eat fish all the time. Although if you know how tilapia are raised it might gross you out, the truth is that they are well suited for aquaculture. Crowding does not harm them as it does other fish. Salmon are not as suited for aquaculture. I eat wild fish that are on the sustainable list and… I eat tilapia.

I don’t consume dairy. When I did, it was milk from grass-fed cows. Same reasons as the meat.

Chickens are omnivores. They do poorly on a diet of soy and corn. Left to their own devices they eat grass and bugs as well. I eat pastured eggs only. Chicken egg yolks are supposed to be orange, not yellow, which they are when the chicken actually eats fresh grass and grubs. You can find pastured eggs under the name Vital Farms at Whole Foods nationwide.

I do not eat wheat for obvious reasons. If somehow you can eat wheat, know that virtually all wheat is powerfully genetically modified albeit by old fashioned crossbreeding. Read Wheatbelly for more info on that topic. There is, however no big advantage to organic wheat. There is a huge one for organic corn. Corn is typically either GMO (over 80% of all corn grown in America is GMO per the USDA) or heavily treated with pesticides. So for us its organic or nothing. We generally do not eat it at all as my son reacts to it. That said, no one eats corn that is not organic. Rice contains arsenic whether organic or not. Rice is never GMO (yet). Conventional soy however is either GMO or heavily sprayed. So we only eat organic soy.

Beans and Lentils (Pulses)
I prefer organic but not all that strongly. Lentils and garbanzos are good either way. I do prefer dried to canned. Too much MSG in the cans. Not a lot of pesticide on the pulses and they are so much healthier than meat that this is an easy way to recover from the sticker shock of the meat.

Organic and fair trade only. Trader Joes sells it for about $8 a pound that way making it an easy choice for me./

So then we get to fruits and veggies. And I use the EWG list to help me shop.
You can find the list for 2013 right here

I hope this makes your shopping a little easier. Its a bit scary at first, but as a rule of thumb you first want to make sure that your animal products are at least organic, then you need to avoid GMOs and heavily sprayed crops and then avoid the dirty dozen.

This won’t protect against all pesticides, but it will help.