Another Earth Day has come and gone, and with it the release of a new "Dirty Dozen" list from the Environmental Work Group. Each year, the EWG analyzes the USDA's redisual pesticide tests, and generates a list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables most likely to have significant amounts of residues on them. They conversely add on a "Clean 15" outlining those that are least likely to have resides.
It's an imperfect report, and has been criticized for opacity in its methodology. A UC Davis professor published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology casting aspersions on the EWG's methods, and claiming that the risks of consuming conventional produce are no greater than organic.
The question of conventional versus organic has become more confusing than ever. Consumers are led to believe that organic means free of pesticides and chemicals, but anyone who's read The Omnivore's Dilemma knows differently (disclosure: Amazon affiliate link). In fact, today capital-O Organic is a highly industrialized and regulated industry, and any perceived benefits in health to yourself or the planet may be false.
That said, I do believe that we should be entitled to knowing when our food has been exposed to pesticides, just as I believe we should know when we are consuming genetically modified (GMO) foods. I'm no scientist, and I make no claims that any food is inherently good or bad, but I do believe we should be allowed to make our own choices based on the greatest amount of information available.
So what's an eater to do?
Last year we were invited to San Luis Obispo along with a few other bloggers to visit some farms. This initiative, dubbed Know a California Farmer, is an effort on the part of Ad Farm, a PR and marketing group whose mission it is to create more awareness and exposure for farmers.
I was skeptical when I first received the invitation, expecting a slanted display of big-ag farms hawking the safety of their chemicals. But that's not what we got.