A few weeks ago, my neighborhood welcomed a new arrival: Whole Foods. Yup, it is now possible for me to travel a mere mile and a half from my doorstep to have unlimited access to premade gourmet crab cakes ($5.99 each), chunks of nutty parmesan for $24.99 a pound and an entire island display, right next to the nuts and the olive station, of chocolate.
It's a foodie's heaven, and a cost-conscious shopper's nightmare. And though I love wandering the produce aisle, looking at freshly spritzed leeks and bright orange organic carrots, I can't help wondering if it's really worth it to buy organic zucchini for $1.99 a pound when I know that over in Chinatown I can get the conventional variety for 49 cents. I don't want to eat tons of pesticides, but I also want to be able to afford to feed myself. So when does organic matter, and when does it not?
There's an interesting article in the New York Times's blog Well about this exact question. It seems appropriate for Broadsheet because author Tara Parker-Pope is writing about it from a family perspective -- that is, if you're shopping for your kids, when are organics worth the extra dough?
Parker-Pope makes five suggestions as to foods that it's worth it to buy organic: milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup and apples. Now, putting aside the disturbing message that her choices -- which she based on foods that kids eat the most -- give about modern America's eating habits (30 percent of our daily vegetable intake is from potatoes??), it's still a pretty useful article. I personally wouldn't have thought that organic peanut butter made such a difference, for example, and so was interested to find out that 99 percent of peanut crops are grown conventionally, with the use of mold-treating fungicides. (I don't think that I eat an egregious amount of peanut butter compared with your average third grader, but hey.) And I also was pleased to find out that I don't really have to worry about conventionally grown broccoli, onions or asparagus (along with fruits and vegetables that you have to peel).
Parker-Pope is basing her recommendations on the advice of pediatrician Alan Greene, who just came out with a new book called "Raising Baby Green" (clever, no?) about how to raise your kid in an environmentally friendly fashion. If you want to find out more about what he recommends, check out this list on his Web site.