Buying Organic on a Budget: New Shopping Guides Rank Produce by Pesticide Levels

Sandra Mu/Getty Images

Need strawberries? Try to buy organic if you can.

Buying organic may be better for your health, but it’s not always feasible for those on a budget. Months ago, we posted advice on how to prioritize buying organic. Now, a new list is out detailing which non-organic foods to avoid and which are OK to eat.

The list is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s May report [PDF], rounding up all of the pesticides found in produce. Advocacy organization Environmental Working Group took the data, and created its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15″ lists. The alliteration and rhyming should make the foods easier to remember, right? If not, you can print the EWG’s brochure, posted below.

NPR reports:

The EWG suggests that people buy organically grown fruits and vegetables for the varieties on its list of the most likely to carry pesticide residues. But the group also says the health benefits from produce mean that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.”

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Eating Healthy is not Always an Option

Flickr: mswine

In “If You Haven’t Been On Food Stamps, Stop Trying to Influence Government Policy,” Latoya Peterson leads with a request to bloggers and journalists to “stop the madness” with regards to how we write about government assistance. Further down in her essay, she shares this haunting anecdote:

I have a memory, from long ago, where I am sitting in the parking lot of a McDonalds, with my mom, trying to count out 63 pennies from the floor around the car, the change jar, and the pavement around the car in order to purchase two hamburgers from McDonalds for our evening meal. Cheap food exists for a reason. 63 cents doesn’t go far in the grocery store if you want a hot meal, and have no where for food prep. (Something that people also conveniently forget about – a lot of eating well on a budget requires prep with at least a hot plate, running water, and basic utensils. If you don’t have these things, you have to eat ready made food. Needless to say, living out of a car doesn’t provide you with consistent access to these things.) But a whole hamburger meant a lot to a seven-year-old stomach that was going to go hungry…These are broke people choices.

I’m sure that if I shared this story on the NYT Health blog, there would be people berating my mother for buying me a hamburger and not, say, an apple or something. Or maybe some dried lentils we could have soaked overnight on the carburetor using a car fluid funnel and woken up to a wonderfully healthy and cheap pinch of beans.

Peterson also discusses food deserts, race and class and how unrealistic it is to expect “farmer’s markets to magically replace a missing food infrastructure.” Read the rest, here.

Kavitha Cardoza on “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity”

Credit: Kavitha Cardoza

A student at Beers Elementary in Southeast enjoys Salad and Strawberry day.

First lady Michelle Obama started her “Let’s Move” campaign in part because people under the age of 25 are the first generation of Americans who are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, due to diet-related health issues. Last week, in a five-part series called, “The Heavy Burden Of Childhood Obesity” WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza and Ginger Moored interviewed overweight children, their families and the doctors who are trying to help. I spoke to Kavitha to find out more about how race and class complicate the already challenging task of addressing obesity in some of D.C.’s youngest citizens.

Kavitha, you mentioned a clinic where the patients include a child who can’t bite a carrot because her teeth have rotted from her diet.

That’s an issue. One of the doctors told us they keep telling kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, yet this girl can’t eat carrots because her teeth have rotted and it hurts her. So some of these kids just can’t. It’s really hard for families. There was a 3-year waiting period for one obesity clinic. Meanwhile, a boy is putting on 4 lbs a month, can you imagine what a three year waiting period would mean? Three years x 4 lbs a month, think of how bad his problems will be.

Tell me about the family that did have access to a clinic; they saw a doctor who spent an unusual amount of time with them, right?

The doctor patiently spent 90 minutes with that family, trying to teach them about nutrition…they hadn’t even left her office and they were opening up and eating food. They’re just little children, of course if they see an Oreo, they want to eat it. And there was so much going on during that appointment…the Mom was braiding her kids hair, two little boys were playing, there were babies. After, the Doctor said, “You know, I have relatives who are obese. In my practice, I see single-parent, low-income families like the one I came from. A lot of people give up on families like that and I never want these families to feel like I’ve given up on them.”

What was the purpose of that visit, specifically?

At that appointment, the doctor was trying to explain nutrition labels. She told them not to worry about saturated and unsaturated fats at this point, because it’s too complicated. She said during the last visit, she explained calories. This time it was grams of sugar. She thinks they will get to a point where they do talk about fat. But it’s not just them–many of us are unaware of how unhealthy what we eat can be…5 grams is one spoon of sugar? I certainly didn’t know that. I grew up in an urban city, in Bangalore. Ginger, my producer, grew up on a farm in Virginia, and our connections to food are very different. She eats fruit and I eat chips and chocolate. I felt like a living test case. I’m not overweight, so it didn’t occur to me, how bad some foods can be.

In one story, you met a child who often has to be excused from class to go to the bathroom because his weight is putting pressure on his bladder– so obesity is now affecting that child’s school work, too. I thought, “What is he missing when he’s out of the room?”

He’s definitely missing things. Also, of all the things to be mocked for at that age…going to the bathroom? Anything related to bodily functions is hilarious to these children and this kid is going to the bathroom multiple times during the day.
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The Power of Perception, the Privilege of Passing

On Friday, Elahe published a post about how fluid racial identity is for people who identify as Hispanic or Latino. Recently, the New York Times unintentionally reminded us of such fluidity when it profiled four local pundits who’ve “made it” despite their youth and facility with new media–all of them were male, “white” and friends with each other. The well-circulated piece, which starred Ezra Klein, Brian Beutler, Dave Weigel and Matt Yglesias touched a nerve:

Rebranding myself as Matteo Iglesias to help evade mockery for all-white, all-male NYT profile of "young" pundits.

But wait, there was more, as Elahe pointed out when she quoted Yglesias in her post:

When the New York Times recently did a piece on me, Ezra Klein, Brian Beutler, and Dave Weigel exactly zero people complained about the massive over-representation of people of Latin American ancestry that reflected. People saw it as a profile of four white dudes. Which is what it was. But my dad’s family is from Cuba, Ezra’s dad’s family is from Brazil, and Brian’s mom’s family is from Chile.

DCentric reader Keith posed an interesting question, in response to that clarification:

Isn’t there a difference between being a White-skinned Latino who identifies as Latino first and foremost and having a Latino and White parent and being White-skinned? I don’t know that any of these bloggers self-identify as Latino…

My initial reaction to Keith’s query: “not really”. Every day I am reminded that how I choose to identify myself is largely irrelevant to the people I encounter, because their perception of my appearance trumps–and thus influences–my reality. I may classify myself as a second-generation, South Asian American of Malayalee Christian descent, but that is almost never what others see.
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Confessions of a Privileged Black Gentrifier?


Last week, we took note of the City Paper’s cover story: “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier“. It was written by Shani O. Hilton, who is the associate editor of Campus Progress. Hilton also writes for one of my favorite race and class blogs, PostBourgie, where one of her co-bloggers expands the discussion the City Paper article has generated by highlighting an issue with the piece– it did not include interviews with poorer black residents who have lived in D.C. for a long time.

I’d like to add to that, because it’s an important oversight. It’s akin to writing an piece about nightlife in DC, and then only interviewing your friends about the places in your neighborhood. There are no interviews with neighbors, former residents who have been pushed out of the neighborhood, or really, anyone outside of Shani’s immediate peer group. Those list-servs mentioned in the piece? They are a treasure trove of information and comment from local law enforcement, church leaders, local community activists- none of whom are consulted in the article. There’s no discussion of the different trends in gentrifying across the city (what’s happening in Bloomingdale and Columbia Heights is different from what’s happening in Hill East, H Street or NoMa, which is different from what’s happening in Anacostia and Congress Heights). There is a nod to this in the opening paragraph, but that’s it…

According to this piece, those people being displaced exist in the ether, outside of the realm of the gentrifier, black or otherwise. Gentrification, at its core, is about privilege (Shani admits as much), and I take this as proof that privilege blinds, black or not.

When NOT to Buy Organic: Thick Skins

Flickr: urlgirl

Splurge on organic tomatoes, save money by buying conventional avocados and onions.

Thank you to DCentric reader TP, who sent in this helpful blurb, which was one of the “7 Worst Supermarket Rip-Offs“:

The Environmental Working Group, an organization that studies pesticide contamination, ranks onions and avocados as the most pesticide-free vegetable and fruit, respectively—even when grown conventionally.

In fact, as a general rule, anything you have to peel before you eat (such as bananas or garlic, for example) is relatively low in pesticides. If you want to eat organic, splurge on produce with permeable or edible skin, such as peaches, lettuce, and apples.

So add avocados, onions, bananas and garlic to your list of foods that don’t have to be organic. Since January, DCentric has been thinking about how everyone deserves education about and access to healthy food, regardless of income-level. We’re not the only ones:

…the food justice movement, a burgeoning group of dedicated farmers activists working to ensure that low-income families are included in efforts to promote food sustainability…By promoting CSAs and connecting local farmers to low-income communities, the food justice movement increases access to healthy food while providing community education about healthy eating and hands-on urban gardening programs, fostering a true community approach that allows folks to share family recipes and stretch every dollar.

Readers: thank you so much for your tips and story ideas. We love getting your emails, comments and tweets!

Why Ignoring Race Fails Everyone

Flickr: Susan NYC

Child playing in NYC.

Yesterday, the Motherlode blog from the New York Times featured a guest post called “Talking About Race (Etc.)” by Amanda Freeman, a white woman who parents two African-American step-kids along with her half-Asian biological daughter.

Freeman narrated two recent experiences which made her think critically about racism. In the first, a black cop rounds up “unattended” children at a playground, including–much to her shock and dismay–her step-children; the second anecdote is about a coffee date with another mother, who mentioned how Freeman’s African-American children had a better chance at being admitted to college than her half-Asian daughter.

Because we live in this new America that celebrates diversity, I have to remind myself not to forget these little happenings. The real danger lies in being lulled into complacency, erasing race from our national dialogue, checking off the completed box.  Racial stereotypes in America run deep; they are woven into our everyday expectations. And we can’t let them go unexamined.

What I do know is that ignoring the subtext of these situations fails everyone involved. The more we try to process our complicated feelings about race, the less likely they are to erupt in ugly ways.

Tomorrow on Kojo: Organic Food


Organic Onions at Whole Foods. Not to be confused with Organic Funyuns.

For those of you who are passionate about Organic food or examining issues like privilege, access and health– make sure you listen to tomorrow’s edition of The Kojo Nnamdi Show, which will “explore where chains like Walmart and Whole Foods fit into the healthy food movement and how their strategies compare with government efforts”.

The first hour of the show is devoted to “The Walmart Diet”; panelists include WaPo Reporter Lyndsey Layton and Corby Kummer, a Senior editor at The Atlantic.

After writing two posts about how Organic Food is often out of reach for many Americans, I’m looking forward to Kojo’s thoughtful take on the politics of buying pesticide-free food.

If you are outside of the D.C. area or you can’t tune in to hear the discussion live at Noon, look for the “Listen” link here, and enjoy it whenever.

On Being Complicit, “Black Trash” and Reverse Racism

Flickr: xcode

Oh, *you* try and find an appropriate image for this post which won't anger someone.

I try to encourage commenting on DCentric because when readers share their perspectives, it can be edifying. For example, check out the comment Molly W. left under my last post, “Gray, Lanier and Thomas Tour North Capitol After Murders“. It deserves to be seen (emphasis mine):

In my own neighborhood (east of Capitol Hill), crime against white residents consistently seem to provoke an outcry that we just don’t hear when there are crimes against black residents.

However, it often comes across poorly to imply people are overreacting to a crime against a white person — it seems like an attempt to dismiss the white victim. Ideally, instead of making less fuss about white victims, we’d make just as much fuss about black victims. Sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I think a small part of it is access — I hear about many of these crimes on the neighborhood e-mail list, which seems to be whiter than the community at large (though that’s just my guess, I can’t say for sure).

More than that, I think it’s a lot easier for white residents to imagine that black victims of crime are somehow complicit — attacked b/c they’re in the drug trade or dating criminals or whatever. When a white person (or even someone who isn’t white, as long as s/he isn’t black) is attacked, there seems to be a much stronger, visceral sense of “that could’ve been *me*” among white neighbors.

(I’m white myself, don’t know if that makes a difference.)

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About George Washington’s Teeth…

Flickr: wally g

The next time I pass this statue on H street, all I will think of is, "His teeth"!

Now reading about the man my Alma mater is named for…and his disturbing dental work, via Jamelle Bouie over at TAPPED:

Indeed, we laud George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for their private opposition to slavery, but they never challenged the system and took advantage of its benefits when it suited them…As for Washington? This anecdote stands out:

In 1784, five years before he became president of the United States, George Washington, 52, was nearly toothless. So he hired a dentist to transplant nine teeth into his jaw–having extracted them from the mouths of his slaves.

This is not to condemn the Founders are horrible, terrible human beings but to situate them as men of their time, filled with the prejudices of their class, and unwilling — or unable — to transcend them. If we’re out to respect the Founding Fathers, then we should acknowledge their flaws and try to remember them as they lived, not as demigods in a morality play.

It’s a peculiar historical detail, but it’s so memorable that going forward, I will always think of it when I consider our first President.