Featured, Food, Health

The Best Choices for Your Money in the Produce Aisle

Photo: Kate Ter Haar

It’s November, and many of us are trickling back to the grocery store for produce. I’d like to share some tips about making the best of what’s available in wintertime Alaska. 

The Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™

Let’s say you want to avoid exposing yourself, farm workers, and the planet to pesticides. However, maybe you don’t have the budget for 100% organic. Maybe the only organic produce at the store looks really sad from its trip. You can do a lot by considering the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™. These lists are compiled, and trademarked, by the Environmental Working Group.

The Dirty Dozen™ are the twelve vegetables and fruits that have the highest loads of pesticide residues. These are measured at the time a consumer would purchase them. Conversely, the Clean Fifteen™ are conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the lowest loads. These lists are updated every year and available here. 

If something on your shopping list is in the Dirty Dozen™, try substituting something from the Clean Fifteen™. Or, consider seeking out organics for at least the twelve most contaminated conventional foods. Seek out the Clean Fifteen™ for a low pesticide choice without the organic price tag.

An Indispensable Resource

Photo: Josh Larios

I fanatically consult Jo Robinson’s book “Eating on the Wild Side” when I have to buy fruits and vegetables. This fascinating book has a lot of information about how to get the most out of grocery store produce without spending any more money.

I learned from Robinson that there are huge differences between fruit and vegetable varieties. For example, some apples are so high in sugar and low in nutrients they aren’t particularly healthy. However, others are loaded with antioxidants. Robinson lists recommended varieties for a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

Vegetable storage and preparation also has a huge impact on nutrition. For example, broccoli respires quickly after it is cut. Much of its nutrition is lost. This means pre-cut florets are less healthy than whole heads. Conversely, if you cut up head lettuce before storing, you will induce it to produce more nutrients. The book contains hundreds of similar tips.

“Eating on the Wild Side” also traces our common fruits and vegetables back to their wild ancestors. These stories are truly fascinating.

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Safeway Strategies- Know Thy Grocer

Conventional vegetable varieties are bred to withstand the rigors of shipping. Conventional growers often treat their produce to keep it looking nicer for longer. This extends these products’ shelf lives, sometimes at the expense of taste and nutrition.

Heirloom and organic varieties, on the other hand, typically have a shorter shelf life.

If you are looking for heirloom or organic produce, it’s a good idea to get to the store as soon after it arrives as possible. I asked Seward Safeway produce manager, Jillian Beuttrey, for some tips on this. 

Beuttrey told me that organic produce typically arrives in Seward on trucks on Sunday and Tuesday nights. Therefore, Mondays and Wednesdays are the days likely to have the best selection of organic produce.

The staff starts sorting the pallets in the morning, and it can take all day. Beuttrey told me that it is absolutely fine to ask if you don’t see what you want on the shelves. It might be upstairs on a pallet. Staff should be able to find it for you. “We do it all the time,” said Beuttrey.

Beuttrey would also like the Seward community to know she appreciates your business and asks for some “patience” for winter conditions. Produce goes through a lot to get here. One difficulty Beuttrey encounters is produce freezing in transit. Sometimes it is in such bad condition straight off the barge that she cannot put it out for sale. This is as disappointing for her as it is for customers.

Wherever you are in Alaska, it is unlikely that your local grocery store receives organic produce every day. However, the produce manager there should be happy to share the best days to look for organics.

Don’t Give Up on Growing

Years ago, I started sprouting as my New Year’s Resolution. Last year, I wrote an article sharing my tips for sprouting.

Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest is an excellent reference for extending your own outdoor produce into the winter.

Eat Your Vegetables!

Fruits and vegetables are essential to our health and well being. I hope this article will help you to find healthy choices on any budget. I wish you a quiet and wakeful winter.

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