How the $*@! do I Eat Organic?

Hi everyone!  Was it just me, or did that weekend fly by?  Nevertheless, it’s time to start another week, and that means another blog post!

Since I started my nutrition studies and got more serious about eating a more natural diet, Shea and I have had a couple of hot Friday night dates at the local Whole Foods Market (We like to rotate between there, Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond!).  We’ll go and take our time perusing the aisles and eat dinner at the salad/hot bar.  Somehow, we always manage to spend around $100 for about ten items and leave shaking our heads.  Like most people, we just can’t afford to spend that kind of money on groceries on a weekly basis, so it’s reserved for special occasions.

In an ideal world, everyone would have the time and resources to be eating an all-organic, all-natural diet.  But let’s get real – we’re all so busy and we’re in a recession people!  Sometimes you barely have enough time to run into the Kroger to try to throw something together for that night.

After discussing this with a friend of mine over the weekend, I decided to do a little research on the world of organic food and share my findings with you. I think to many people, the term organic just translates to mean EXPENSIVE!  So how important is it that we eat organic and is it possible to do it without breaking the bank?

What exactly does it mean when a food item is labeled organic? The USDA’s Organic Foods Production Act went into effect in 1990 and has been updated many times since.  Certified organic production and handling prohibit the use of most conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Organic meats, chicken and turkey come from animals that are fed organic feed, have access to the outdoors and aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones.  Before a product can be labeled “organic”, an inspector visits the farm where the food is produced to make sure the farm meets USDA standards.

Are organic foods really superior? YES! Organic foods been proven to contain a higher percentage of nutrients, have no pesticide residue, generally taste better and have positive benefits on the environment and the people who farm them.

How popular are organic foods in the U.S.? Organic foods are the fastest growing segment of the food business in the United States.  Currently, organic food is a 14 billion dollar business, expected to grow to 23 billion dollars in the next several years.

Why are organic foods so flippin’ expensive? Yep, it costs an average of 30% more for organic goods than for regular products, and that’s because production is much more labor intensive. In addition, conventionally grown foods are often produced under subsidies from the government and chemical companies. Although priced lower at the grocery store, the regular food is produced at the expense of our health (not to mention the environment) and we’ll end up paying for it later!

Is it more important that we go organic with some foods over others? Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group released an updated report that identified foods in the conventional, non-organic food supply that contained the highest number of pesticide residues. The worst offenders, which were nicknamed the “Dirty Dozen,” are listed below.  If you can only afford to buy a couple of organic items each week, make sure you pick from these.

Bell Peppers

You have less to worry about when it comes to the “Clean Fifteen.”

Sweet Corn
Sweet Peas
Sweet Potato
Honeydew Melon

Summer is the perfect time to bulk up on organic strawberries!

How can we regularly purchase organic foods without having to take out a second mortgage?

  • With produce, prioritize buying the organically grown version of the items featured in the Dirty Dozen.
  • Bulk up on the items that are in season, and take advantage of sales and coupons.
  • Buy locally whenever you can to save on the distribution costs of the food.  If you have a farmer’s market in your area, try to purchase your produce from there as often as possible. Even if farmer’s market produce is not labeled organic, (due to the expense of having a farm certified organic),  it is often grown using the same guidelines.
  • Prioritize the items that you think would benefit you and your family the most. For me, dairy products, produce and meat take precedence, and sometimes that’s at the expense of things like condiments, dressings and grains.

I’ll be the first to admit that Shea and I haven’t gotten our system down perfectly for buying organic foods.  Some weeks I only have time to make it to Kroger for our groceries, but luckily the one near our house has a huge natural foods section (but it’s definitely expensive).  I think it’s awesome that grocery stores have expanded their organic selections so much over the last few years.  I try my best to buy as much as I can from Trader Joe’s, since their prices on produce, cereals, condiments and cheeses are so much more reasonable (And you can’t beat the Two-Buck Chuck!)

The area where I think it’s the most difficult to buy organic is with meats.  It’s already so expensive to buy steak, and I’m often tempted to just get the regular kind.  I’m pretty good about getting the hormone/antibiotic-free chicken and eggs.  Ever since I read the book Omnivore’s Dilemma, this has become a bigger priority for me. I’ve also been meaning to watch Food Inc., but I keep moving it down my Netflix queue in order to watch old Lost episodes!  High-quality protein is crucial for building and supporting healthy cells, tissues, nerves, hormones, bones and muscles.  We have to select grass-fed organic animal protein whenever possible. It’s higher in beneficial fatty acids and vitamins and is just cleaner, leaner and much more humane.

If you want to learn more, this is a great resource for everything organic! I’m really interested in this topic and am still learning, so please feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions or tips for buying organic on a budget!


Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

2 responses to “How the $*@! do I Eat Organic?

  1. To help us buy organic without too much of an expense we split a share from our local CSA (community supported agriculture) with another family. Another cheaper way people can go organic is to get involved in a community garden. Many cities and communities are offering these green spaces to citizens. You can rent a plot and grow your own or volunteer at one and negotiate to get some of the harvest in return. This is a great activity for a “date night” to do with loved ones or to do as a family for those couples with children. A less involved concept of this would be to grow a fruit/vegetable garden with your neighbor – you can split the labor involved as well as the fruits of your labor plus get in some healthy exercise at the same time.

  2. GREAT Suggestions, Cindy. Thanks very much!

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