It's hard to believe that changing the food system can start in your kitchen. But it's true. If you're cooking, you're likely to be eating more healthfully and to be more connected with your food. And the more you know about your food, the more likely you are to eat sustainably.
Of course, as is the case with many decisions in life, what it means to eat sustainably is complicated. We don't only eat locally grown foods (the only way we're giving up our coffee beans is if you pry them from our cold, dead hands), and we don't always shop at the farmers market (but boy do we have fun when we do). We do when we can, and we try to make conscientious decisions that fit into our everyday lives. And that's because we know that every time we make a purchase it's like a vote for what we want to see more of.
A label can't tell you everything there is to know about your food — there is a wide range of farming practices that can all play a part in helping you to be a responsible eater — but they can help us to make a decision when there are a multitude of options.
One way to sort through the noise is with the Environmental Working Group's annual list of the 12 types of produce with the highest concentrations of pesticides relative to other types of produce, dubbed the Dirty Dozen™. For the past few years, they've started highlighting two additional foods that frequently contain insecticides considered to be hazardous, bringing the list up to 14. So if you consume large quantities of any of the types of produce on this list, you might want to consider buying the organic option.
Even better, strike up a conversation with a farmer the next time you're at the farmers market and get to know more about how your food is grown (it's okay if you still don't want learn the name of your chicken).
1. Strawberries and 2. Apples
3. Nectarines and 4. Peaches
5. Celery and 6. Grapes
7. Cherries and 8. Spinach
9. Tomatoes and 10. Sweet bell peppers
11. Cherry tomatoes and 12. Cucumbers
13. Hot peppers and 14. Kale and collard greens