On the Table

A caveat for strawberry season

May 7, 2013 

There’s a strawberry season conundrum confronting some of you.

The U-pick farms are about to open for another year of wholesome family fun. Who doesn’t enjoy bringing home gallons of sweet-tasting berries for shortcake and jam?

The problem is that killjoy columnists like me have to mention that strawberries rank high on the pesticide-o-meter, unless you buy organic. And many growers don’t use organic farming methods.

But there’s a way to salvage your strawberry pie. It requires a judgment call, and when it comes to organics, this isn’t the only time you’ll need to make one.

I’ve covered this in past columns, but it’s been awhile, and it’s worth repeating. So let’s put organics in perspective – again.

The first rule is that, in general, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic, is better than eating too few. That’s why, when I’m away from home and find a bowl of apples at the motel check-in counter, I take one or two.

They’re probably not organic, and they probably haven’t been washed. But I eat them anyway, because – organic or not – they’re better for me than a cookie or a bag of chips from a vending machine.

Once your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, you can think about refinement. Buy organic when you can, especially for foods most likely to contain higher amounts of pesticide residues.

I wrote last week about the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list. It’s especially important if you’re feeding young children.

Be practical. If the only organic produce available at the supermarket is ridiculously expensive, shriveled or turning to mush, skip it. Buy what’s fresh, even if it’s conventional. These are the trade-offs all of us face.

So I’ll eat the grapes and celery sticks at the office party, but I’ll buy organic when I shop. I’ll order a spinach salad at a restaurant, but I’ll be sure the spinach is organic when I buy it for home.

I took my kids strawberry picking and got great pleasure washing bucketsful of berries in the kitchen sink. But I only put organic berries into my basket at the supermarket.

Once in a while never hurts. It’s what you do consistently that counts. Remember that, and eat your fruits and vegetables.

All of them.

Suzanne Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management and nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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