Seasonally available, locally grown produce is desirable, especially if it is organic.  Locally grown, non-organic produce may use conventional or sustainable methods.  Although locally grown produce may not be organic, it is often the freshest, has a lower carbon footprint, and supports smaller farms.  Many nutritionists also support eating local, seasonal fruits and vegetables as a way of supporting our body’s natural balance.  Here is a brief comparison of the pros and cons of organic versus conventionally grown produce:

Why This Matters:

Conventional methods of growing produce are different than organic methods and include the use of pesticides and wax coatings.  High pesticide content in food can result in birth defects and chronic disease. 

Understanding consumer expectations is important when a customer is transitioning from more conventional produce to more sustainable and organically grown fruits and vegetables.   Although most people who shop in a natural foods market understand that eating organic is the best way to limit exposure to pesticides; budgetary, availability, and other considerations may cause people to have to make choices about what they purchase.   Knowing what organic alternative will best serve your customers helps them make good choices.

Another issue important to consumers is that wax coatings cannot be washed off and can only be removed by peeling the skin, which contains many of the plant’s nutrients.  Some customers do not want to ingest any wax at all, so it is important that customers are informed about which items are waxed and what kind of wax is used.

Organic Pros:

  • Reduces chemical load on land and in our bodies.
  • Many consumers prefer the taste.
  • Supports surrounding ecosystems.

Organic Cons:

  • Crops may be less resistant to pests/disease.
  • Appearance not always “perfect”.
  • Organic produce may command a higher price point.

Conventional methods for growing produce allow the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides, and GMO seeds.

Conventional Pros:

  • Larger yields allow for greater availability.
  • Higher profits due to cheaper growing methods.

Conventional Cons:

  • Chemicals can harm/destroy ecosystems.
  • Soil erosion and nutrient depletion.

The Dirty Dozen vs. the Clean 15 Fruits & Vegetables

The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.   Eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.  Natural product retailers may need to carry both conventional and organic produce to meet customers’ needs and provide variety.   Many consumers are guided about their choice of organic versus conventional based on the amount of pesticides that are used during the growing period.  The Environmental Working Group updates annual lists of fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic.   These lists change each year based on their testing for toxic pesticides and residues of organophosphates.

Dirty Dozen

Whenever possible, consumers should purchase these items as organic:

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Kale & collard greens
  • Nectarines, imported
  • Peaches
  • Peppers, Hot
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Summer squash

 

The Clean 15

These conventionally grown fruits and vegetables were found to have the lowest levels of pesticides. Most of these have a thicker skin or peel, which naturally protects them better from pests, which also means their production does not require the use of as many pesticides.

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn (sweet)
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Peas (sweet, frozen)
  • Sweet Potatoes

Wax Coatings

Many conventional vegetables and fruits make their own natural waxy coating. After harvest, fresh produce may be washed to clean off dirt and soil - but such washing can also remove the natural wax.   Tiny amounts of wax are applied to some produce to provide a microscopic coating surrounding the entire product to replace the natural waxes that are lost.  The purpose of the wax is to preserve the fresh appearance and prolong shelf life.   Apples, avocados, bell peppers, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplants, grapefruits, lemons, limes, melons, oranges, parsnips, passion fruits, peaches, pineapples, rutabagas, squashes, tomatoes, and turnips are all conventional produce items that are sometimes waxed.

Coatings used on fruits and vegetables must meet FDA food additive regulations for safety.  Stores are required by federal law to label fresh fruits and vegetables that have been waxed so consumers are informed; however, the wax coatings may be mixtures of shellacs, paraffin, palm oil coatings, or synthetic resins and are impossible to remove without peeling.  Organically grown fruits and vegetables may not contain synthetic (petroleum-based) wax coatings; however, certain waxes are permitted in the handling of certified organic fruits and vegetables including shellac (from the lac beetle) and carnauba wax (from carnauba palm).   Customers in natural food stores are typically more concerned about these waxes and prefer produce that has not been waxed. 

 

Words to Remember

CARBON FOOTPRINT

The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Typically, a carbon footprint is calculated as the sum of all emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide) which was used by a person’s or organization’s activities in a given time frame, usually a year.

 

SHELLAC

Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug (Laccifer lacca), on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is used in fruit and vegetable waxes as well as a tablet-coating on nutritional supplements. It is considered appropriate for vegetarians but not for vegans.