So you want to eat organic but you think you can’t afford it. Well, let me tell you, you can’t afford not to eat organic. -Ok, so I don’t really mean that. Honestly, I get exceedingly tired of reading that in all of the elitist “green” publications or hearing it on the yuppy radio shows where the fiscally comfortable can have conversations amongst themselves on the “can’t do without” benefits of all-organic living. You know what I think? (and this is my blog, so you’re about to find out) I think only the well-to-do can have the leisure to even think this thought. Let’s face it, oranic foods cost two, probably more like three times more than “conventional” food, (and the word “conventional” is up for debate). For a family of 5 that spends $500/mos on groceries, (our family of 5 spends $300-400/mos) that means upping it to $1000-$1500/mos. Maybe if you make six figures or more a year you won’t notice that difference. However, looking at statistics, most families of 5 do not make that much and upping a grocery bill three times just isn’t going to fly. So, whether or not organic food is better for the future of the earth and our health, (and I believe it is) it’s a near impossibility for the budgets of average families. So what they heck do we normal people do about this? We all want to do the right thing. We all want what’s best for our families, right? All I can do is tell you how we deal with this. I think we do ok. I’m not going to give you a list of 12 things you must buy organic. I’m not going to tell you to roto-till your front yard or spread dirt on your roof and turn it into a garden, (although I enjoy any opportunity to spread dirt anywhere). I’m going to list a few general guidelines we’ve used for “going organic”.
Buy the most nutrient dense organic foods that happen to be cheap. Bananas, dried beans, (not sure what to do with them, check out this post), brown rice, whole wheat flour, carrots and raisins to name a few. These foods are highly nutritious and inexpensive in both their organic and non-organic forms. For example, non-organic bananas are .49c/lb at our local store. Organic? .69c/lb. Sure, it’s 28% more but the difference in cost for 3lbs of bananas? 60 cents.
Find a local coop to join. There may be people all around you gathering together once a month to order cheap organic pantry staples and you didn’t even know it! A few companies that have buying clubs are Country Life Natural Foods, Frontier Natural Products and Untied Buying Clubs. Basically, it works like this: You get a few people together and order once a month. Together you meet the minimum order requirement and each of these companies delivers the food to a common location where you split it up and bring it home to make it into wonderful meals for your family. Check out these companies and see if they already have a buying group near you or get your friends together and make your own!
Buy in bulk and share with friends. Speaking of friends… Sometimes you may have to order items in bulk to get the best deal. This is especially true if you are ordering from one of the aforementioned coops. No problem. This is a great opportunity to get together with friends and split up your item. Only need 10lbs of flour but you need to order 50lbs to get the best price? Get together with four other people and split it up. If you have proper storage you can just stash shelf-stable items aside until you can use them up yourself. Grains, rice, beans, olive oil and dried fruit store very nicely for quite a while in a cool, dry place. These are also items that you can get significantly cheaper in bulk.
Don’t count-out local foods just because they aren’t “certified organic”. Yes I know, strawberries are on the “dirty dozen” list. But if they are local and in season yet not certified organic, give them a chance! They are very pest-resistant by nature not needing a lot of pesticides to grow and ripen. The problem comes in when these very perishable fruits are shipped from CA to NY in the middle of winter. To keep them from molding, heavy fungicides are used. If you buy them local and in season, there is no reason for the anti-fungal measures. -and they taste much better, of course. That’s just one example. But, as a whole, vegetables and fruits that are grown locally and are in season often have less need for heavy pesticide use. Also, the more the fruits are allowed to ripen where nature intended them to, the more nutritious they are. Did I mention tastier too?. Just ask any kid if they’d rather have a sun-ripened strawberry or a shipped-across-the-country, box-ripened, tasteless, half-green Franken-berry as big as the kids head. One other benefit to buying local when you can: talking to the grower. Want to know what was used to grow your veggies? Ask the farmer. He may not be able to give you an organic label on your carrots but his word may be just as good. Maybe even better.
Grow your own. I know, easier said than done for many. Even those in the city, however, can often grow a simple tomato plant in a container in the window. One thing I just love to see in cities is community gardens. What a great way to get together with others and just get your hands dirty! Buy a small plot this year and just jump in. Start small with just a couple of varieties of easy-to-grow plants, (tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, herbs…). I think you will find that others are more than willing to help you figure it all out.
Don’t think you have to go “all or nothing”. I know, I know, the guilt sets in. I’m poisoning my family with horrible pesticides! I’m contributing to the raping of the earth! What if one day we all get cancer and it’s because we bought those non-organic grapes in December of 08?! I’m sure there are many, many people who would disagree with me, (the “you can’t afford not to (elitist) club” -did I say elitist?). Honestly, though. The bottom line with everything is, something is better than nothing and you have to start somewhere. For some it may be the infamous, (although variant) “dirty dozen” list. For others it may be the cheapest things possible. Some may be able to clear out their pantry and start over in one shopping trip, (I’ll take what you throw out!). Others may just have to replace one thing at a time and make some really careful choices on just what they will and will not buy organic. It’s all good. We all have to be informed consumers and we are all dealing with different circumstances. So, do the best you can with what you have and start with that. -and be willing to re-evaluate often.
So although I would not say going totally organic is affordable for everyone and you’ll never catch me telling someone they can’t afford not to go organic I do believe it can be affordable in part. Do some research, make a plan and figure out how you can best feed your family within your grocery budget. Don’t let others with more padded budgets make you feel less for not buying all organic. Just walk into that health food store, grab your 50 pound bag of organic rolled oats, carry it to the counter with your head-held high, (not too high or you’ll fall over backwards) knowing you just paid as much per pound as you would have for non-organic oats. -And now you can go home and split those oats up with your friends. Oat-splitting with friends, what could be better than that?