Gabe Sanders, PhD, NSCA-CSCS
Have you ever stood in the produce section in the grocery store dazed and confused, wondering whether you should buy organic or conventionally grown? Have you entertained the idea of buying organic but could not overcome the sticker shock between organic food and its non-organic counterpart? If you are like me and most other Americans, a weekly or monthly food budget is a necessity.
Buying organic food has always been out of the question, solely due to its lack of affordability. Conflicting research and viewpoints are frequently being published about the benefits and drawbacks of organic vs. non-organic. This gray area leaves many of us with questions like, Are organic foods worth the high price? Can I buy organic foods on a budget?
What exactly does organic mean, anyways?
The term “organic” refers to the specific process in which produce, meats, and dairy products are raised and cared for by farms all over the world. Organically grown produce comes from farms that use little to no pesticides and only natural fertilizers, whereas conventionally grown produce can be treated with chemicals and pesticides. Farms that raise organic livestock and produce organic dairy products feed their animals hormone-free organic food with no antibiotics.
Consuming organic food is a healthier alternative than consuming foods that have been treated with chemicals and other harmful pesticides and insecticides. The difficulty for many consumers boils down to the inability to foot the hefty grocery bill for organic foods.
While a majority of organic foods are a minimum of 30 percent more expensive than conventionally grown foods, certain organic foods can be relatively inexpensive. For example, an organic item that cost $1.29 would have a non-organic counterpart that cost $0.99. The $0.30 increase in price won’t necessarily break the bank, but you can expect about a $1.50 or more increase when purchasing organic meats, and to spend even as much as three times the price for organic chicken and fish.
Fruits and vegetables such as bananas, carrots, celery, and lettuce are typically going to be the least expensive of the organic produce. When they are in-season, organic foods like apples can be among the least expensive.
Organic fruits and vegetables like strawberries, blackberries, pineapples, peppers, and squash will likely cost relatively more of the same as a non-organic item. Purchasing organically grown meats and poultry is always going to cost you the largest chunk of change, so it may be valuable to find a local farmers market or butcher shop, as opposed to buying meat and poultry products at a chain grocery store.
Purchasing organic food on a limited budget
For consumers wanting to consume organic food on a limited income, stick to purchasing in-season fruits and vegetables. If they are fruits and vegetables that can be frozen, buy them in bulk while they are in-season and freeze them in portions to use later on.
If you cannot afford to buy completely organic food, stick to purchasing those non-organic fruits and vegetables that have a rind or skin that can be removed, such as melons, oranges, zucchini, and cucumbers. Because you will not eat the rind or skin, you are likely not going to ingest any pesticide or insecticide that may have been sprayed on the item.
If you like to purchase pre-packaged organic convenience foods for kids, such as applesauce, you can easily make a large batch of your own when organic apples are in season to reduce the cost of the pre-packaged version.
Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes “The Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that have the highest contamination levels. If switching to fully organic is not in the budget, you might want to consider purchasing at least the organic version of the “Dirty Dozen”.
You can find this year’s “Dirty Dozen” here.
The following is a list of, nutritious, less expensive, organic food items that you may wish to consider this summer:
Spinach or Romaine lettuce, Celery, Avocados, Strawberries, Carrots, Apples, Ground beef, Kale, Tomatoes, and Potatoes
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Environmental Working Group; The Dirty Dozen. http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php