When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it)

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s talk about food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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tomatoes 300x224 When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it)

The first tomatoes from our garden this year (and a crab apple that Gavin picked!).

If you are like me, you have to maintain some type of food budget every month. I would love to buy all of my groceries from the farmer’s market and health food store, but I haven’t figured out how to make this possible within our budget. I try to buy organic when it is important, and well, skimp on the organic when it is not nearly as important.

I am going to give you a few caveats first, though. Organic and natural food is always important. Conventional farming is not only bad for our environment, but it can also be bad for the farmers. Corporations like Monsanto have genetically engineered (GM) food like soy beans and corn (and beets, too, I just learned tonight). While many people argue that GM food is no different than conventional food, there is no doubt that GM crops change the environment and the entire culture of farming. Some farmers can even be penalized if they are caught “saving seeds” from their crops to plant the next year. Because these corporations own the genetic make-up of the seeds, farmers are required to buy new seeds every year. This is in stark contrast to the tradition of farming. And the answer isn’t as simple as just using a non-GM seed. Over 90% of soy beans are GM now. Furthermore, genes flow from one crop to the next, so a GM crop can contaminate a non-GM crop, and at that point, it is hard to prove that your seeds are yours and not some corporation’s. (Watch Food, Inc. for more information about this)

Okay, okay…long story, short: organic and natural foods are always best.

However, they can also be expensive.

One more caveat – some people have sensitivities to certain foods, food additives, or pesticides. And for these people, natural and organic foods are also always best.

Also, organic is always better for the environment. Always. Sometimes, though, we have to put our budget and our individual needs above the needs of the environment.

Okay, so back to the story. When eating organic is not always possible, when is it okay to cut corners? Here are some general guidelines I follow. And when I say general, I mean I am very liberal with my own rules. I try not to stress myself too much over these types of things.

Fruits/Vegetables: The Environmental Working Group has a list of “The Dirty Dozen” and also the “Clean 15.” I try to buy organic when I buy The Dirty Dozen, but I am okay with skimping on organic when it comes to the Clean 15. Buy fruits and veggies in season when possible. Try to buy local when possible.

Eggs: Buy organic. Conventional eggs in my area cost about $1.50 per dozen. Organic and free range eggs cost about $3.00 per dozen. The cost per egg is about 12 cents for conventional or 25 cents for organic/free range. This is not a big difference. Yet, the living conditions for the organic/free range chickens are so much better, especially if you buy from a local farm.

Dairy/Meat: Buy organic or local. Conventionally raised animals are often given antibiotics and hormones. Both of these show up in the milk and the FDA recently put out a statement that antibiotics in meat are a major public health threat because it can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases.

Processed food: I personally don’t see the point of eating organic processed foods, but that is probably because I aim to eat few processed foods. Therefore, they just don’t make up a big portion of our diet, and the effect it has on our health is minimal.  

So where should you buy this organic food? If you’ve only looked on the shelves of your grocery store, you might be missing out on a lot of cheaper options. Here are some sources of organic or chemical-free food:

 
gavin in garden 213x300 When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it)

Gavin in the garden.

Grow your own: The best way to know exactly where your food has been is to just grow it yourself. Your biggest concerns will be making sure you have a lead-free hose and healthy soil. The best part about growing your own is that your fruits and veggies won’t lose taste or nutrients during transport.

Raise your own food: You can keep just about anything on your property if you have enough land (or if you rent some land). You will have complete control over the way the animals are treated and what the animals eat. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have access to enough land to raise our own beef or pork (though some cities will allow chickens in your backyard!).

Hunt/fish: If you eat meat, you can’t get much more humane and natural than eating an animal that spent its life frollicking through the woods. Sure, it’s sad to think about eating  Bambi, but it is much more sad to eat an animal that was weaned from its mother at birth, forced to live its life in a dirt pen, shoved against each other, while wading in its own feces.  As for fishing – just make sure the pond/river/lake/ocean is clean and your fish should be relatively clean, too.

Buy from a food co-op or farmer’s market: Both of these options allow you to talk to the farmer/rancher and learn how they have taken care of their food. Some might not be certified organic, but you’ll find that most do not use chemicals. Find local food and farms at Local Harvest.

Health food store: Health food stores have a wide range of organic and natural foods. Some even bring in local organic food.

Shop the organic section of your grocery store:Yep, you can probably find organic food in your local store. I can even buy organic and free-range eggs at my Walmart, as well as other natural and organic foods. Buying from your grocery stores allows you to “vote with your dollar.” Vote for organic, and make it more widely available to others who may not take the time to visit the farmer’s market or grow their own.

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CNPnaturalparent When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it)Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated July 13 with all the carnival links.)

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31 comments to When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it)

  • Love this info. Thanks! I just found out our local farmer’s market is *not* organic, so I’m bummed. I just somehow assumed they would be. So back to Whole Foods. I pretty much never eat processed and buy everything organic, so our food budget is a little insane, but until we can move to Wyoming! :)

    (Yeah, I get the impression my neighbors wouldn’t be too thrilled if I took out a shotgun and got that deer in their backyard then dragged it home for venison burgers.

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  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • I love the Local Harvest website. I didn’t join a CSA, but belong to a farm delivery service that I adore. It’s a great way to get amazing local and organic foods for $80 a month. And thanks for linking to the clean/dirty food list!

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • Thanks for the great information! I just recently found the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. I also recently read what you had said about talking with local farmers about their growing techniques. I had thought my choices were organic or not, and when I couldn’t make the switch 100%, I felt like I was making mistakes each time I bought conventionally grown food. It’s good to know that if I can’t go 100% there is some in between.

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • I think a lot of people miss part of the point about buying organic food. My mom, for instance, has said “well we’ve never eaten organic and there’s nothing wrong with us.” But such a big part of it is environmental though! They weren’t using the same pesticides when my mom was little. The chemicals weren’t contaminating every part of our environment. Etc., etc. It’s so much more than just a health issue (which, of course, is also big!) – it’s a “Saving the planet for future generations” issue!
    Thanks for participating this month!

  • I think this is great for people making baby steps into buying organic and local. I know it was a huge sticker shock for us when we started changing over our eating habits, because we were used to the overly cheap prices of the conventional stuff. I really like your point of voting with your money, because that’s what finally changed my thinking around about it (within our budget) — that it truly is worth spending more to support local and sustainable food.

    Thanks so much!

    • Yes – when we decided to spend more on our food, we did have to cut certain other things out of our budget. Fortunately, we had some room to decide what was really important to our lives and our values. We really want to put our money where our values are.

  • Great, informative post – thank you! I found the 12 dirty and 15 clean particularly insightful because, like you, I have to watch my budget. I love how you have woven in, not just the organic aspect, but the animal welfare and environmental too. So often we try to isolate things, but they are all part of a bigger picture.

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and when it is okay to skip it) « Becoming Mamas [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • This is great information to have… Our local organic veg shopkeeper also told us that what point in the season you buy produce can make a difference too. Conventional lettuce from early in the season has far less pesticides on it than lettuce from the end of the summer when the insects are around in greater numbers. It would be great to be able to buy organic 100% of the time, but when it’s not possible it is good to know where to cut corners a little more safely.

  • This is great advice for anyone trying to go more organic. Sometimes you just can’t do it all. One saving grace for us has been a company called Azure Standards.

    The egg subject is a really hard one for me. Free range means that the birds have room to move around(a bigger cage or loose in a barn), it doesn’t mean that they are exposed to/allow to free range in the great outdoors. The other major problem with store eggs is the way they clean them. An egg shell is porous and has a protective coating. When the are wash, that coating is wash off and then to keep the eggs fresh they are sprayed with mineral oil with seeps into the pores of the egg. Modern times have totally screwed up our food supply. If it is possible, the best eggs to get are the pasture raised ones from the farmer. Better yet, keep three or four hens in your backyard(some cities do allow this)and have fresh eggs.

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • All great points! I am moving back to buying more organics & free range stuff, which I’ve always WANTED to do, but haven’t felt it was in budget. But then, Food, Inc, got me questioning it all again! What are your thoughts about buying local when its NOT organic? Still better than conventional from far away, right? Better or worse than organics coming a far distance, though? Our milk & egg delivery is local but not totally organic, nor is some farmers market stuff. But it still seems like a decent choice…

    • I think organic is probably still better for you (and probably the environment) than local if its not organic. However, some local food might not be certified, but still not use a lot of chemicals. We have a local farm that does not add hormones to their milk, they let their cows live in large grassy fields under humane conditions, and the milk delivery is like 10 minutes away. However, they still feed their cows conventional food and do some of the other things that conventional farms do. So while they might not be the best possible choice, I do think they are still a good choice, and better than the grocery store milk. I think the bottom line is that there are a lot of great alternatives to the conventional/grocery store/big business options. Our budgets and time constraints do not always allow us to get the “best” – but we can often find a “better” alternative.

  • Cassie @ there's a pickle in my life

    Great post! I am very thankful about your link to your local farm. I found a CSA in my area and am going to give it a shot today! I’m really excited about it. I always wanted to do something like that but never thought/knew where to look that up.

    • I’m so glad that link was useful for you! It’s such a great resource. I’ll be interested to know how your CSA works out for you – I’ve been wanting to try one, but I’m nervous about the investment/return.

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

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  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

  • [...] When to Splurge on Organic (and When It Is Okay to Skip It) — Becoming Mamas tell you what foods to prioritize when buying pricier organic food, and where you can find it cheaper. (@becomingmamas) [...]

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