Whether it is through unfair European Union and government subsidies, or through the taxpayer having to underwrite the cost of cleaning up the environmental damage their growing methods can cause, fruit and vegetables grown using non-organic, chemical interventions such as pesticides often end up cheaper in the supermarkets than their organic equivalents.
Being lured by the artificially lower prices of such produce can, however, mean exposing ourselves to greater risk. Pesticides are poisonous, which is why there are legally prescribed “safe” levels for their human consumption, and there is plenty of scientific evidence to show their long term harmful effects on human health.
The best way to avoid eating pesticides in the food we eat is to eat only organic. However, thanks to that skewed system of unfair subsidies, not all of us feel we can afford to go fully organic. If you fall into that category then you may find it helpful to know which fresh fruit and vegetables are the most and least safe to eat.
Here in the UK, the government’s Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC), part of the Health and Safety Executive, is tasked with regularly monitoring the levels of pesticides in the fresh food we eat. Other countries around the world have similar monitoring bodies.
PRC tests show that some non-organic fresh foods routinely have far higher concentrations of pesticides than others.
Pears are one of the worst offenders, with 90% of samples tested by the PRC found to contain pesticide residues. Other fruit with high pesticide levels include apples (89% of samples), grapes (88%), strawberries (86%), peaches (83%) and nectarines (83%). When it comes to these fruits, organic is definitely the wiser choice.
Fruits with lower pesticide residue rates include star fruit (17%), plums (23%), kiwi fruit (44%) and bananas (57%).
When it comes to vegetables, the worst offenders for pesticide residues are parsnips (77%), followed by cucumber (64%), carrots (63%) and lettuce (59%), whilst the safest are corn on the cob (0%), leeks (8%), chilli (9%), aubergine (20%), onions (29%) and potatoes (44%).
Tomatoes and avocados, both technically fruit but usually used as vegetables, come in at opposite ends of the spectrum, with non-organic tomatoes having a whopping 81% of samples containing pesticide residues, whereas avocado has virtually none, probably due to its protective skin.
If you do buy non-organic fruit and vegetables then it is very likely that they will contain pesticide residues. If you are shopping on a budget then knowing which are the safer and less safe non-organic products at least means being able to make informed choices about when it is best to choose organic.
For this quick, simple but really tasty salad I have used home-grown organic conference pears from my own garden. Pomegranates, which are currently in season, are often regarded as a bit of a challenge when it comes to deseeding them, but here is a brilliant Youtube video showing a quick and easy way to do it.
If your pears are not organic I would advise peeling them before putting them in the salad.
pear, walnut and pomegranate salad
2 organic pears
50 g walnuts, roughly chopped
seeds from ½ pomegranate
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 organic little gem or similar small lettuce, shredded
for the dressing
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
20 ml raspberry or other fruit vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1. For the dressing, put the olive oil, vinegar and Dijon mustard into a bowl and whisk until emulsified.
2. Toast the chopped walnuts in a hot, dry frying pan for a couple of minutes to release their aroma, but avoid burning them. Tip out onto a cold plate and leave to cool.
3. Release the seeds from the pomegranate. Slice the pears lengthways into quarters, and then cut each quarter lengthways again into four. To assemble, place the pears, walnuts, pomegranate, red onion and lettuce in a bowl. Add the dressing and toss thoroughly to distribute evenly throughout the salad.