Organic vs Not - Dollar Cost Averaging Approach
Of course if you can afford to buy organic produce, there is no downside. But if you are like most people and need to allocate scarce resources, think about applying dollar cost averaging to your produce purchases.
What is dollar cost averaging? DCA is an investment concept where a fixed dollar amount is added to an investment on a regular schedule. The idea is that over time, your average purchase price will be lower than if you timed the market incorrectly.
How does this apply to organic produce? If you spend the same amount of money every week and buy what is local and in season, some weeks you will get a lot for your money and some weeks you will get less. This approach will average your returns and make sure that every week you are eating something that is organic.
Thoughtful spending is still in order. Pesticides do not penetrate all produce to the same degree so there is no reason to squander your fixed dollar investment on fruits and vegetables that do not contain pesticides. There are several lists called the "Dirty Dozen" and the the "Clean Fifteen" and others whose names are not as memorable which more or less agree on which fruits and vegetables contain the most and least pesticides.
Buy from the clean list if you can, and wash other produce you like and want to use with a vegetable brush. You can purchase fruit and vegetable wash products that say they remove 98% more chemicals and wax than water, or you can use a little vinegar in your wash water. Peeling is also effective but will reduce the nutrient value of the product.
Keep in mind that your tax dollars, the ones that you can't keep for personal investment, are used to fund the US Environmental Protection Agency whose Office of Pesticide Programs is charged with regulating the use of pesticides for the sole purpose of protecting consumers. The USDA website chart gives you certified organic farms/producers worldwide.
Everyone has an opinion, so I thought I would include Monsanto. Dr. Daniel Goldstein, Senior Science Fellow and Lead, Medical Sciences Outreach, says "there is no convincing data to suggest that pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables cause harm to health." He points out that even though the risks may be low, Monsanto is developing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs which create pest resistant plants and Genetically Modified (GM) plants which allow for better choice of herbicides.
There is also the issue of whether it is better for you or better for the planet to buy organic produce. Organic produce that is not locally grown has a greater carbon footprint because of the distance it is trucked so that probably is not a good investment.
More important than the organic label is that you buy sufficient fruits and vegetables that half the dinner plate is filled with them.