Friday, June 10, 2011

Is Eating Organic Really Expensive?

We live in a culture that expects food to be cheap.  REALLY cheap.  Shows like Extreme Couponing now have shoppers obsessed with getting the best deals on what they feed their families, but the problem is that you can rarely find a coupon for anything that is actually good for you.  Because of this, people say that eating organic is just not affordable for the average family.  I beg to differ. 

Here are some of the statements people make that I find to be completely untrue.

Eating organic is too expensive for the average American family.

People tell us all the time that they want to eat the way we eat, but they just can't afford it.  I wish they knew that we spend the same amount on organic food as they do on their grocery shopping, we just put a lot of effort into it.  If people are willing to spend hours a week looking online for deals and clipping coupons, they could instead be spending that time preparing food at home, taking care of a garden, and saving money on healthy foods.

Here are some examples of the foods we eat that are just as cheap, if not cheaper, than comparable items you find at the grocery store:
  • Oatmeal - If I go to our local megatore (Meijer) and purchase the store brand 2 lb. 10 oz. container of old-fashioned oats, I spend $3.59 .  Instead, I go to a local health food store that sells bulk grains for 99 cents per pound.  If I were to buy the same amount there (2 lb. 10 oz.) I would only spend $2.52 - that's for organic, non-GMO old-fashioned oats.  THE ORGANIC OATMEAL IS CHEAPER.
  • Chicken - If I go to our locally owned grocery store and purchase chicken breasts for dinner, I am going to pay $5.39/lb.  That is for non-organic chicken that was raised in living conditions that would make the average consumer sick to their stomach.  Instead, I drive to a local farm and get true free-range, organic chicken for $3/lb.  The difference is that the organic chicken is sold whole, so it takes a little more work to prepare it for dinner.  The bonus is that if I roast the chicken whole, I can use the leftover carcass to make my own chicken broth for free (it would cost me $4.29 for that amount of organic broth at Meijer).  THE ORGANIC, FREE-RANGE CHICKEN IS CHEAPER.
  • Eggs - At our local grocery store, a dozen regular non-organic eggs can cost $2.46/dozen (Eggland's Best), but a local farm sells truly organic, cage-free eggs for $2.50/dozen.   THE ORGANIC, CAGE-FREE EGGS COST THE SAME.
  • Milk - I haven't even looked at the milk in the grocery store for so long that I don't know what the average gallon costs (I'm assuming $3/gallon), but I do know that organic milk in the grocery store used to cost well over $4/gallon.  It costs me $3/gallon at our local farm for raw, organic milk from cows that were fed on pasture.  THE ORGANIC MILK COSTS THE SAME.
  • Yogurt - At our local grocery store, a large container of non-organic, plain Greek yogurt costs $5.49.  I take half of the milk we buy and make our own yogurt, so it costs roughly $1.50.  THE ORGANIC YOGURT IS CHEAPER.
  • Jam/Jelly - If you were to buy an 8 oz. jar of Smucker's jelly at the grocery store, you would pay roughly $2.  Organic jams and jellies range from $4 -$7 per jar.  I can buy locally grown strawberries ($14/4 quarts) and organic, free-trade sugar from the store ($4.59/2 pounds) and make my own jam for approximately $1.76 per 8 oz. jar.  THE ORGANIC JAM IS CHEAPER.
  •  Beef - I don't know what grocery store beef costs, because I haven't eaten it in a while, but I do know that my pastured, organic beef is cheaper.  We spend $1200 every January for a half beef ($700 for the meat and $500 for butchering costs).  That amount of beef will last four of us nine months (we eat red meat five days a week).  If you do the math, we spend $6 per meal (that's $1.50 per person) on our beef. THE PASTURED, ORGANIC BEEF IS CHEAPER.
  • Bread - At our local grocery store I would have to pay $4.99 for a loaf of organic bread.  Instead, I can buy flour for $3.99 (that will make 5 loaves) and yeast for $3.19 (that will make 10 loaves).  If I factor in $1 for extra costs (tablespoons of butter, sugar, honey, etc.), I can make a loaf of healthy, organic bread for $2.12.  That's even cheaper than the junky white bread at the grocery store.  THE ORGANIC BREAD IS CHEAPER
  • Produce - I know that grocery prices range depending on the season and availability, so this is a hard one to gauge.  Our CSA costs us $25 per week for a bushel of produce (plus $2 for a pint of local honey per month).  Our first bushel contained two different types of lettuce, mint, radishes, green onions, and other herbs.  Just one large container of Wild Harvest Organic Lettuce at the store costs $5.99, so we definitely save money with the CSA.  Green beans cost me $1.50 per meal from Meijer right now ($1.05/pound), but my tiny garden will grow enough to feed us green beans twice a week for two months out of the summer.  If we eat only in season, shop at Farmer's Markets, and preserve excess for the winter months, THE ORGANIC COSTS THE SAME.
You get the picture.  I could keep going with this list, but the bottom line is  - EATING ORGANIC DOESN'T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE.  But it is going to be work and you have to sacrifice eating your favorite foods anytime you want. 

But that's still too expensive.

Get out of the grocery store.  When you shop there you are paying for convenience and advertising, and with that convenience there is also an added price - additives and preservatives to make the food shelf stable and which take a toll on your body and the Earth.  Go directly to the source of your food and buy in bulk if you want to save money.  Don't get caught in the green-washing trap in the grocery stores.

Eating organic is a lifestyle choice.  When someone decides to eat this way they are usually saying that they don't feel comfortable feeding their family pesticides, antibiotics, chemicals, or inhumanely raised animal products.  They may worry about the environmental implications of it all.  This is why you usually find that families who eat organic food also make other similar lifestyle choices, like cloth diapering, green cleaning, no-poo, etc.  It makes little sense to worry about chemicals in the foods you eat, but then fill your environment with them through the use of toxic cleaners, candles, air fresheners, and cosmetics. 

You can save lots of money by making other "green" lifestyle changes.  For example, cloth diapering saves my family over $800 per year.  That's an extra $67 per month for groceries.  We don't but expensive, conventional cleaning products or even the "green washed" eco-friendly versions in the store.  Vinegar and baking soda can handle all of your household cleaning and clear space in your budget for food.

Cosmetics are the worst.  Families spend insane amounts of money on these items and they are full of chemicals that are just being absorbed through your skin, instead of through your digestive system.  If you're going to cut it out of your food for your family's health, get it out of your bathroom too.  It will save you more money.

If you're uncomfortable with going no-poo or ditching your deodorant, there are other ways to save money.  Ditch your cable (you'll need to free up time in your schedule for your garden anyways).  Without cable there really isn't a reason for a new fancy television, so why not spend that $1000 on some pastured meat for the upcoming year.  Then you can set aside the money you would have spent on meat during your grocery shopping for organic produce.

Aside from the extra money you will have from ridding your shopping list of this stuff, you will also benefit from lower healthcare costs.  Eating good food and avoiding toxins can keep you from getting sick.  Less money spent at the doctor or pharmacy means more money for good food.

The best way to make room for organic food in your grocery budget is to change your eating habits.  Processed organic foods are EXPENSIVE.  If you try to eat from boxed organic food you're going to spend over double what you would on conventional groceries.  You have to change the way you eat.  Instead of giving your children cookies and crackers for snacks, give them some veggies from your garden.  Ditch the juice that isn't good for them anways and give them water in their sippy cups.  They may resisit you at first, but eventually they too will change their eating habits.

Also, think about how much food you waste.  If you add up all of the money spent on the food thrown away from plates that were overfilled, leftovers that don't get eaten, or food that has expired, you realize that there is a lot of room for savings if you just use what you already have.

But I live in a city.

There are farmer's markets everywhere.  You can also drive to get to a farm.  I know many people who are willing to travel an hour to get to a desirable mall to buy a new outfit.  Isn't your food just as important?

If you don't want to travel, you can grow a container garden on your patio or even plant a rooftop garden.  Urban gardening is becoming very popular and there are tons of resources out there to help you learn.

Some families have built self-sufficient homesteads in the middle of the city!

But I don't have the time to do all of that work.

Once again, it's a lifestyle choice.  You can spend your evenings watching television or clipping coupons, or you can use it to bake some bread or care for a garden.  If eating organic food is a priority, you can always find the time for it.

If you involve your children in the work, it stops feeling like chores and it becomes a family lesson in health.  When you teach your children where their food really comes from, they learn to respect it and become conscious of what they are putting in their bodies.  Making yogurt or sourdough bread can become a science lesson for children, as they learn how fermentation works.  Sprouting grains or planting seeds becomes an experiment for a child.  Baking bread becomes a lesson in math as you measure ingredients.  Children love to be involved.

We take our children to the farms to pick up our groceries and the farmers are always willing to let us roam around.  My kids have gotten to play with baby pigs, chase chickens, pet the cows, and interact with the animals that will one day become their food.  Who needs a zoo membership when you get to enjoy a free petting zoo every week?  Plus, your children learn to respect and not to waste the food they are eating, because they may have been playing with that chicken before it became part of their soup.

If you look at your life and decide that the lifestyle changes necessary to afford organic food aren't something you're willing to do, I completely understand.  It's hard work and very time consuming.  Just remember that the "organic food is too expensive for the average family" line just isn't true!