Are Organics Worth the Cost?

16 12 2010

Wow, that’s a loaded question, huh?MP910221057

There are so many angles to examine to determine the true value versus cost of organic meat and produce, and my merely average brain cannot begin to process them all. But, I thought I’d share some of my own personal thoughts that I use to make our shopping decisions.

I’m not a scientist or a nutritionist, or anything ending in “ist.” Really. I’m a writer. So, take my opinions just as they are: opinions from someone who is trying to find a balance between doing the right thing and being able to afford the food on our table.

Prior to this year, I pretty much never bought organics. And, never thought twice about it. I bought on price point alone, not considering the source of my food. I also bought way too many processed packaged goods. American grocery stores have a way of spoiling us into just assuming whatever it is we need or want will just “be there.” I admit to not thinking about all of the things that had to happen upstream of my food being well-stocked and pretty-looking. I reckon I was a fairly average American when it came to these considerations (or rather, lack thereof).

In about March of this year, I was frustrated with my inability to lose some weight, no matter how I tried. I didn’t really “need” to lose weight, and my doctor insisted I was perfectly healthy and in a normal zone, but I just wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. No amount of calorie counting and exercise really made a difference. One day, I marched to the bookstore and bought a few books about nutrition. Holy cow. There are more books on nutrition than I ever imagined.

Once I sorted through the racks and racks of books, I picked up Jillian’ Michaels’ Master Your Metabolism, as well as The Metabolism Advantage, Core Performance Women and The Eat-Clean Diet. These books had a lot of the same things to say, namely: less processed food, more fruit, veggies, grains, and legumes. Message heard.

Of all the books, only one of them really went into detail on the importance of organics, and that was Master Your Metabolism. The others just basically wanted you to eat “food” not “processed food.” Eating real food was a good start, and MYM lit a fire under my feet to figure out the organics issue, at least at the individual level for our house.

For the record, I never thought organics would contribute to my ability to lose weight, and still do not think that. I lost the weight I wanted to lose by eating whole foods in reasonable portions, by learning how to cook at home, and, by getting serious about weight training. I have always worked out, but was a “cardio queen.” Adding structured strength training made a big difference! Oh, and I wore a GoWearFit device as well, which was very enlightening and I’ll write about at some point in the future.

To Go Organic or Not

When considering this dilemma, I think you have to ask yourself why you want to buy organics over traditionally-grown foods. Are you concerned about pesticide or hormone levels in the actual end product? Are you troubled by the environmental impacts of non-organic farming and ranching? Do you think more about animal welfare when it comes to animal products?

For me, I am concerned about all three. I want to put the most nutritious food possible in my body. I want to do so in a way that does not leave a lasting impact on the earth, and lets animals be raised in a humane way. I also have to balance a personal budget. It’s the dietary equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube – nearly impossible to get all the same-color squares to line up properly, unless you are some sort of super puzzle solver, or, just move the stickers around and live in denial hoping no one calls you out on it.

Getting the Squares to Line Up

Once I realized we needed to seriously improve our fruits and veggie intake, the first thing I did was join a Community Supported Agriculture farm, called Full Circle Farm. A friend of mine from work suggested it, and it was a great first step.

For $35 every other week, we get a box full of organic goodness delivered to our doorstep, and I feel happy to support a local farm. Sometimes the items inside are items I would buy organic at the store, sometimes they’re not. And, I can always add items to our order, making it super easy to buy organic without really thinking much about it, at prices that are pretty darn reasonable. 2Chili’s role in this is fairly minimal – he gives me free reign to take care of figuring out what we’ll eat and where it comes from, which makes life simpler for both of us (and boy, is he trusting!).

Here’s where we stack up when it comes to buying organics:

  • Milk, Cheese, and Meat. Yes, this is the category where items can cost almost twice as much as their non-organic counterparts. It’s also the one I feel best about changing to, because there are animal rights at stake.
  • Anything where we eat the peel, like: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines and bell peppers. I only buy these in-season and organic, since they are some of the most highly treated crops when it comes to pesticides. I’ll also freeze peaches, strawberries, and blueberries when they’re fresh and in season to have later in smoothies or for cooking.
  • Spinach, Kale, Lettuces. These guys are on the top 20 list of most pesticides, but they’re out of the top 10. I get a lot of these in my produce box that are organic, but if I need to buy them, I still consider price point, because it’s rare that I’m buying them. If I buy non-organic, I’m just careful to wash them extra well. In the summer, I grew a lot of lettuces in my garden, and it just doesn’t get much better or fresher than that.
  • Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes: These pretty much come solely from our produce box, but if I buy them at the store, I shop on price point. If they’re non-organic, I wash them very well, and sometimes peel them.

Other items, like melons, squash, citrus and bananas I don’t worry too much about. I do wash them thoroughly before I cut them, so as not to transfer any potential pesticides from the knife to the fruit.

Do What’s Best for You

For us, this is what works. In many cases, when fruits and veggies are in season, organics are nearly the same price or sometimes even less expensive than their traditional counterparts. Many articles I’ve read assert that this trend will only increase as organic farming becomes more and more prevalent in our society. It’s sort of an everything that’s old is new again, with more and more farmers getting back to their roots (pun intended).

Because we hardly buy any packaged goods now, our grocery bill hasn’t really been impacted by buying organics. I think there is an argument to be made that traditionally grown crops are better than nothing, and if I am at a restaurant, someone’s house, or on vacation, I don’t stress too much about organics at all. I eat what is provided or available.

The bottom line is that organics are worth the cost if you believe they are. You set their ultimate value to your family based on getting the squares in your proverbial Rubik’s Cube of nutrition to line up.

Now, I want your opinion! What is your stance on organics? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to know.

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4 responses

21 12 2010
Laura

Honestly? I know that I SHOULD buy organic, especially since I go through a ton of produce (I mostly shop the produce/meat aisles at my grocery, sometimes dairy, rarely processed inner aisles). However, the grocery right next to my apartment doesn’t have almost anything organic (and those items that are organic are marked up an insane amount). That’s by far the most convenient place for me to shop, so I rarely buy organic. But whenever I do stop at Whole Foods, I buy organic if it’s on sale and fairly comparable to conventionally grown prices.

21 12 2010
Angela

Hi Laura,
It sounds like you are doing the best with what you have access to, and honestly, isn’t that all we can all do? Sadly, I think your situation is not uncommon and grocery stores see organics as a way to improve their margins, even if they are not paying farmers/ranchers much of a difference for traditional vs. organic foods. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

21 12 2010
Cathy

Your strategies pretty much line up with mine. Honestly, I think I break even on the cost, since we eat less meat and now I’m a more careful shopper. Thanks for laying it out so concisely.

21 12 2010
Angela

Hi Cathy,

Oh, that is good to hear! I agree wtih you that careful shopping is key. It’s amazing how much farther your grocery dollar can go when you are informed (and stop buying as much in the way of processed convenience foods). Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience. I look forward to checking out your blog tonight as well!

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