The Dirty Difference Between Organic and Conventional Food

Picking our produce at the market

By Barb Biagioli

Deciding whether or not to buy organic food at the grocery store often comes down to one thing for consumers: cost. But what if the price you are paying for your produce is bigger than the grocery bill?

What if the price you are paying is your health?

Choosing organic food isn’t exclusively for the elite with deep pockets, and it’s not reserved for those that frequent Whole Foods Market. Buying organic means that you are making a choice to support your health, your family’s health, and the health of the planet. If you are a consumer that likes to make conscious decisions about what is on or in your food, listen up.

Conventional produce and packaged foods are swimming in artificial colors, synthetic flavors, preservatives, pesticides, carcinogens and chemicals that cause issues ranging from hormone disruption to an increased risk of cancer. These synthetic chemicals are allowed in conventional food products or sprayed onto conventional produce, without regulation. An estimated 2,000 synthetic chemicals can be used in conventional packaged foods and nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, according to the Environmental Working Group. From their 2019 analysis they found:

· More than 92% of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues.

· The USDA found 225 different pesticides on popular fruits and vegetables.

· More than 90% of strawberry, apple, cherry, spinach, nectarine, and kale samples tested positive for pesticide residues.

· Multiple samples of kale showed 18 different pesticides.

The Bad News

The most recent data suggests that these pesticides and chemicals are toxic to human health. Those with a higher intake of organic food consumption had 25% fewer cancers than individual who do not eat organic food. Additionally, data from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health Environment and Reproductive Health, found that the consumption of foods high in pesticide residues correlated to fertility problems. And to drive it home, the American Academy of Pediatrics linked pesticide exposures in early life to pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.

The truth is, we don’t know enough about how these pesticides are hurting our health on both a micro and macro level. Foods including oats, baby formula and baby food are not even tested for pesticide residues. This is especially problematic for the health of our babies since the Environmental Protection Agency has not banned chlorpyrifos – a pesticide linked to increased rates of autism, learning disabilities and reduced IQ in children. And to top it off, the consumption of conventional produce has been negatively linked to human health outcomes, associated with neurodevelopment, reproductive, immunological and endocrine disorders.

The Good News

When you eat organic food, you lower your risk of consuming these toxins in excess and harming your health. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a chemical free world, but having the option to choose organic produce is a luxury that quite frankly, we deserve.

When you buy organic products, look for the USDA label to ensure that your food is free of chemicals. The USDA organic label ensures that there are:

· No toxic pesticides

· No sewage sludge or synthetic fertilizers


· No antibiotics

· No synthetic growth hormones

· No irradiation

When you consume organic produce and purchase organic food, you are voting with your wallet. In support of your health and the planet, here are 5 more reasons you should eat organic food.

1. Organic Foods are More Nutrient Dense

Organic produce that is grown in rich organic soil will absorb its nutrient from the dirt. Because there are no synthetic fertilizers used, the dirt is often healthier and contains healthy bacteria promoting the nutrient quality of the vegetable or fruit, allowing it to thrive naturally.

2. Organic Foods are More Flavorful

When you buy organic food, you can taste the difference, especially when you get it from your farmer’s market. With no pesticides or chemicals to contend with, organic produce absorbs its flavor from the soil and neighboring plants, yielding ripe fruits and vegetables that are picked at prime time.

3. Organic Foods are Good for the Soil

When you buy organic produce, the soil is protected from pesticides and fertilizers that kill everything in their path. Because organic food doesn’t employ the use of toxic chemicals, the soil is free from synthetic chemicals, allowing the microorganisms to thrive and grow nutrient rich food.

4. Organic Foods Support Local Farmers

Growing organic food is not only better for your health, but the health of the farmer and the community! When you purchase organic food at the farmer’s market, you are supporting your local economy, reducing transportation costs and getting the freshest produce possible – picked just the day before or even the morning of.

5. Organic Foods are GMO Free

The USDA organic certification ensures that there are no harmful chemicals on our food and guarantees that there are no GMOS – genetically modified organisms. GMOs are engineered organisms made in a lab to be used in conjunction with harmful chemicals.

Eating Organic Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

Don’t worry. You can buy organic produce without breaking up with your budget. It may take a bit of trial and error, but buying organic produce is worth it. Start by printing the EWG’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list – you can use this list as a guide and roadmap as you navigate the conventional and organic produce in your grocery store – making it easier for you to decide which fruits and vegetables you MUST buy organic and which fruits and vegetables you may consider buying conventional if need be.

If you are buying on a budget, trying to cut costs, and want to be conscientious and resourceful about how you spend your money on food, then head to your local farmer’s market. You can often SAVE money by buying local organic produce from your farmer. It’s a great routine to adopt for yourself and/or your family – a good opportunity to learn more about who grows your food, get to know your neighbor and farmer, and reap the rewards of the most nutrient dense food available to you in your local ‘hood. It doesn’t get more organic than that.