Organic Food the Budget Way

There’s no doubt about it – organic food is great for your body, great for your kids, great for the planet – but it isn’t always great for the budget. Mainstream organic grocery stores are known for their expense (“Whole Paycheck Foods” is the joke around my house) and organic groceries from other sources can be just as pricey. Truth is, a lot of health- and environment-minded moms just see the $7.99/lb organic lettuce, throw up their hands, and fill the cart with Twinkies. But it doesn’t have to be that way – there are ways to fit organic foods into any household’s budget. The three key values to remember: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, know what your priorities are, and put your money and your effort where it will count the most.

We let the perfect become the enemy of the good when we quest for perfection, realize that it is difficult or impossible, and give up on the good. It can be hard for parents, moms especially, to realize that – to use a different metaphor – 95% is not a BAD grade, and it’s better to score in the 90s on report card after report card than it is to send three sleepless weeks on a quest for a 100% and then end up having a nervous breakdown and flunking out of school. It’s not an excuse for not trying one’s best, it’s a recognition that there is only so much “best” to go around – sometimes (maybe even always) it’s better to do a good job across the board, than it is to be obsessively perfect on one thing and let a dozen others completely fall off the wayside. How does this apply to organic food?

 

Well, throwing six crates of Twinkies into the shopping cart would be one example. “We can’t afford to eat all-organic so we won’t even try…have a Twinkie!” OK, so you’re not Bill and Melinda Gates, and hand-washed Arugula grown in an artisanal garden by fairy princesses is not going to be the mainstay of your diet. But you do have a budget, whatever level it is at, and you can use that budget to make sensible choices. Some organic foods are available at prices not much higher, or even at the same level, as conventionally-grown foods. Haunt your grocery store and take notes on the prices (or use the supermarket inserts in your local paper, or the company website, for research) in your area to see what conventional crops you’re paying a premium for – odds are good that the organic foods won’t be much more.

 

The second key element is knowing whether you are most concerned about the health and nutrition benefits from eating organic, or are most concerned about the environment. Yes, you can and should care about both, but one or the other is going to be more important to you. If it’s the health and nutrition, then you can focus your budgetary laser on the foods where going organic means the most in terms of health. For example, organic bananas are more expensive than conventional bananas, but offer little difference in terms of taste or nutrition simply because the thick banana peel means most pesticide residue never even gets close to the “good stuff”. Organic meats, on the other hand, are MUCH healthier for you than conventional meat. If health is your main concern, then educate yourself about which types of organic food offer the biggest benefit. If the environment is more your passion, then you’ll want to take into account things beyond just the immediate cost. For example, it’s probably better for the planet to eat a conventionally-grown apple that came from the next town over, than it is to eat an organic pear that came across two continents and an ocean. Locally-grown foods and those that require minimal processing, refining, transportation and refrigerated storage will be your key targets.

 

The third element is to put your time and energy where it does the most good. It doesn’t do your health OR the planet any good if you’re spending 50 minutes each way commuting each day in a car to a high-stress job, so that you can afford to spend extra money on organic spaghetti sauce. Only you know what your proper balance in life is, but one element that many moms have found extremely helpful is to have their own organic garden. (This is also a good way to teach the kids some responsibility and to provide them with some connection to what they eat.) What should you grow? A lot of people grow the foods that they most enjoy – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re gardening to save money, it might be helpful to grow the plants that have the highest cost to buy commercially. A great tool for that information can be found at http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/Organic-Price-Report, which has information on all sorts of organic and conventional products in a wide variety of markets, all available for free. For example, in the San Francisco area, 12 organic cantaloupe cost an average of $26.50, while 12 conventional cantaloupe cost $16.00. But a flat of organic watermelons costs $29.50, while the conventional equivalent is $26.00. The melon-loving family can do the math: it makes a lot more sense to grow their own cantaloupes, but pick up a conventional watermelon at Safeway when the mood strikes.

 

There aren’t any one-size-fits-all solutions. Every family is on a budget, some tighter than others, and you should never let other people make you feel bad about the choices your family needs to make to survive. Organic food is a great health boost and good for the environment, and it’s the kind of thing where you should do as much of it as you can – but you’re the best judge of that. You and your family can do a lot to increase their health and to “green” your family’s eating habits, even with constrained resources – just be smart about your choices, use the information that’s available, and make the choices that make the most sense for you. Happy eating!

 

About the author:

Jason Tunic is the owner of Factory Direct Promos, a manufacturer and distributor that specializes in green promotional items such as eco-friendly reusable bags for groceries, bpa-free water bottles, and seeded paper you can plant and watch grow. Jason has been committed to making the world a greener place to live for the past 15 years, and lives in Coral Springs, Florida, near his customer service office. To learn more visit http://www.factorydirectpromos.com

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