Health & Spirit

Organic or Conventional? Why the Dirty Dozen Matters

Marilynn Preston on

It happens every summer in mid-July. I'm at the farmers market, scooping up the baby tomatoes, the adult kale, the homegrown beets with leafy tops that I should be using but never do. Suddenly, Strawberry Panic Disorder overtakes me, in spite of everything I know.

What? Pay double for strawberries just because they're organic?

It freezes me, for a second. The berries look the same. Sometimes, they even smell the same. Is it really worth it? All food is basically safe, right? Do I really need to pay a premium for organic strawberries?

The answer is yes. It wasn't before, but now it is, ever since I became aware of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. They are not rock groups. The Dirty Dozen is a list created every year by the Environmental Working Group. It tells you which fruits and veggies carry the most pesticides -- as in, harmful to your health -- and should be bought in their organic version. The Clean 15 lists fruits and veggies that can be bought in their conventional version -- although, from personal experience, once you start buying organic, it's a slippery and deeply satisfying slope.

Strawberries, it turns out, carry pesticides the way doughnuts carry sugar. So do apples, grapes and peaches. Buy organic or grow your own.

On a happier note, your asparagus and avocados don't need to be organic. They are on the EWG's Clean 15 list. They carry some risk, but so does everything else in life.


The EWG, you should know, is a reliable research and advocacy nonprofit that "uses the power of information to protect public health and environment."

Isn't that the job of government officials? It may be their job, but it's not the FDA's current occupation. The amount of chemicals and toxins making their way into our environment, our water, our food supply, our cosmetics, our household cleaners is terrifying.

If you're looking for some guidance, I recommend going to and doing some research on the products you buy. What household cleaner is making you sick? What brand of sunscreen is more likely to give you a cancer than prevent one? What is it in your favorite lipstick that is disrupting your hormones?

But I digress. Back to the farmers market, the source of so much good food, real food, the sort of nonprocessed food your body loves the most:


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