By Tom Karst
Published on 01/14/2011 09:25AM
I first talked to Gen-X mom “Sarah” a couple of months ago, and our conversation about shopping habits turned to organic produce.
The exchange went something like this:
“Where do you shop?
“Mostly Hy-Vee,” she responded.
“Do you buy organic?” I asked.
“I have a list,” she said.
Of course, the “list” is code word for the Dirty Dozen.
The “Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides” list is put out by the Environmental Working Group and purports to identify fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues.
Though Sarah and I didn’t talk about it then, I did later mention to her the industry’s campaign to refute the “Dirty Dozen.”
Sarah’s perspective stirred my curiosity about the extent of the influence of the Environmental Working Group’s campaign with Gen-X moms.
Recently, I asked Sarah to compile some thoughts about how she and other moms she knows shop for organic produce. Sarah and the five or so moms she talked with primarily purchase conventional produce but also scan the organic selection at their supermarkets.
Here is what Gen-X mom Sarah put together in response to some questions I put to her.
Tom: How long have you been buying organic produce and why?
Sarah’s response: Most of us Gen-X’ers have been interested in organic produce since we’ve had our own kids. However, that may coincide with the boom in organic availability?
My “mom sample” say they buy organic produce for health reasons because they assume it’s healthier for their families. We feel virtuous about our “healthy choices.”
After all, the organic fare should be pesticide/chemical free, right?
My friend says: “I just feel better eating it — not that it necessarily tastes better — because I feel there’s less junk on it.”
Everyone I talked to was aware of the “Dirty Dozen” list and tried to keep it in mind.
One friend even has the app on her phone! The mantra seemed to be: If it has a peel or skin (i.e., banana, avocado, orange, etc.) it’s probably fine to skip its organic cousin, otherwise the organic version (“grapes!” “always peaches!” “I look for apples.”) seems to be the more desirable option.
The cons, we said, are the high prices, unpleasant appearance, limited availability, and guilt when it’s wasted (all that expensive fruit down the disposal?)
Other thoughts from Sarah: One thing all the moms commented on … the importance of small farmers markets and backyard gardens. All felt this was the best option and the truest form of “organic eating.”
“Home-grown tomatoes taste the best!” claimed one mom friend.
Local summer-time CSA programs are a fave of mine. Not only does it feel like you’re eating good food, but you’re doing good for the community. These are mindful times!
Sarah shared her mom’s (not a Gen-X’er!) take: I think that there could be some validity in the Dirty Dozen list … because some fruits/veggies with soft skins probably take in more sprayed pesticides than the tougher-skinned ones. And some we peel and others we don’t!
I’d like to hear the reasons why the list is debunked. Will you ask him?
Of course, a question like that last one is akin to a lost soul asking Billy Graham for some spiritual advice.
I sent Sarah the link to the Safe Fruits and Veggies Web site and the “risk calculator.”
After seeing the calculator tool, Sarah exclaimed that a mom would “have to eat 99,000 servings of carrots a day before being affected by harmful pesticides.”
In a conversation later, Sarah remarked, “People are confused about the list and its validity.”
There seems to be no simple or quick fix to the perceptions about pesticides on produce.
Consumer behavior is triggered by a complex mix of socioeconomic factors that are not present in equal measure for all Gen-X moms.
Still, engaging consumers like Sarah and her friends with the science behind the standards for pesticide residues may give Gen-X moms more confidence that any choice for fresh fruits and vegetables is a good choice.
How do you engage consumers about the safety of produce? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.