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What is the the Dirty Dozen & the Clean Fifteen and How Can the EWG Help Us Consume Fewer Pesticides?

The EWG, or Environmental Working Group, is an organization dedicated to helping people “live healthier lives in a healthier environment.” They conduct meticulous scientific research, lobby the government for public health and environmental concerns, and provide a wealth of information and guidance for folks at home to make smarter, healthier decisions about what products they purchase. They are perhaps best known for producing several annual lists each yer: The Dirty Dozen, and the Clean Fifteen, both designed to help people select the healthiest and least harmful produce. 

What’s the difference between Organic and Conventional?

Fruits are vegetables are generally grown either with synthetic chemical pesticides or without synthetic chemical pesticides. If it is grown with these pesticides, we refer to is as conventional produce. If it is grown using natural, , sustainable, or non-synthetic chemical pesticide methods, it might be labelled organic, pesticide-fee, or “beyond organic.” 

In our ancestor’s day, all crops were grown without heavy synthetic chemical pesticides. It was, in effect, what we think of as organic produce today. While pesticides in some form have been used around the world since the very beginnings of agriculture, synthetic chemical pesticides have only been used since the time of World War II. While in the beginning of this era, pesticides were seen as a way to end hunger by saving thousands of crops from destruction by insects, the world quickly discovered that they were also incredibly harmful to the environment, beneficial insects, animals, and humans.  

Why Pesticides?

There’s far more information about why pesticides are bad than I could possibly fit into one paragraph on one blog post. Please do your own research on this topic if you are interested or would like to learn more about just how devastating pesticides are for humanity and the planet. For now, just understand that pesticides are toxic— their very purpose is to kill life (at least, the life of an insect.) Pesticides disrupt our hormones and contribute to cancer, neurological issues, and a host of other medical problems. Certain classes of pesticides are also fatal for honeybees, who we depend on to pollinate an incredible amount of different crops. Pesticides are also toxic for the farm workers who have to work closely with them, and for the lab animals they are tested on. Pesticide use enables farm owners to grow crops on the land in a way that is not sustainable— with repeated disregard for traditional and indigenous land management techniques, the environment can become arid, depleted of nutrients, and inhospitable for future generations. 

Produce grown without synthetic chemical pesticides is always the best choice for our bodies and for the environment. However, due to the lobbying efforts of companies that produce synthetic chemical pesticides, plus pesticides’ relative ease of use, cost, and short-term effectiveness, the vast majority of the produce grown in this country is conventional. Conventional is almost always significantly less expensive and much more accessible than organic / pesticide-free produce. 

The Dirty Dozen & The Clean Fifteen

So in order to make our choices at the market easier, the EWG has created two lists, that are updated at least annually, called The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen lists the 12 fruits and vegetables that are most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides— if you can only find or afford a few organic selections, these are the ones you should prioritize. The Clean Fifteen lists fifteen different fruits or vegetables that are less likely to harm you from pesticides, and therefore are okay to purchase conventional if you must. 

As of Spring 2020, the Dirty Dozen includes:

Strawberries

Spinach

Kale

Nectarines

Apples

Grapes

Peaches

Cherries

Pears

Tomatoes

Celery

Potatoes

If at all possible, you should only be buying organic versions of these fruits and vegetables. Additionally, very high pesticide concentrations have been found in non-organic rasins, oats, beans & legumes, bell peppers, hot peppers, herbs, rice, and wheat. 

Currently, the Clean Fifteen are:

Avocados

Sweet corn

Pineapple

Onions

Papaya

Sweet peas (frozen)

Eggplant

Asparagus

Cauliflower

Cantaloupe

Broccoli

Mushrooms

Cabbage

Honeydew melon

Kiwi

If you can’t find or buy organic versions of these fruits and vegetables, the conventional selections are going to give you the lowest amount of pesticide concentrations.

I encourage you to wander over to the EWG website— it is absolutely packed to the brim with consumer guides on everything from local drinking water to sunscreens and from cosmetics to children’s cereals. 

https://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides

I also urge you to do your own research about common pesticides, low-tox living, organic certification, how to save the honeybees, etc. Google and Instagram can be your friend— if you look for reputable sources of information and don’t fall too far into any rabbit holes. 

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