Last week I laid out the basics of organic foods — what they are and how they’re defined. I’m curious — how many of you bought or ate organic produce this past weekend?
Organic foods have become more mainstream over the past few years. According to a market research firm, the Hartman Group, about 70% of Americans purchase organic foods on occasion, and about 25% buy them every week. Why? It’s pretty obvious: We want to eat healthy food and we want to protect the environment. Many people want to support local farmers who practice organic farming, too. Here are some factors to consider when deciding to “go organic” or not.
Open up your wallets, folks. If money were no object, it’s likely that more than 25% of us would be buying organic foods on a regular basis. But most of us need to or choose to spend our dollars wisely. The reality is that organic foods don’t come cheap. And when you have a family to feed and a limited food budget, it can be challenging to justify the cost of organic foods. Organic foods can cost 50% more than regular foods, sometimes even more.
Save the environment. Organic farming reduces pollution in the air, water, and soil. It also improves the quality, or fertility, of the soil, and reduces soil erosion. Birds and animals (and also humans) benefit, too, due to the lack of pesticides. Organic farming also uses about 50% less energy than conventional farming.
Out with antibiotics. Antibiotics come in handy to treat strep throat, but who wants to get a mouthful in their steak? Organically raised animals don’t get antibiotics in their feed, nor are they given growth hormones. They also aren’t fed animal by-products, which reduces the risk of the dreaded Mad Cow disease. However, animals raised organically may be given vaccines against disease.
Fresh is best. Many people find that organically grown foods are fresher and taste better. That’s because they aren’t treated with preservatives to make them last longer. But that also means that they don’t last as long as conventionally produced foods, so you may need to make several trips to the grocery store during the week.
Be healthier (maybe). There’s been much debate as to whether organic produce is more nutritious than conventional produce. Some studies have shown that organic produce contains higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as a result of not being treated with pesticides. But other studies have shown no difference in nutrition between the two kinds of produce. Probably the biggest (and maybe most important) reason to choose organic for health reasons is to avoid chowing down on pesticides, which are particularly harmful to children and pregnant women.
What to Do?
Only you can make the decision as to whether to go organic or not. If you’re concerned that your budget simply won’t allow for it, here are some considerations that may help:
Learn about the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15.” The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit agency that works to promote health policy changes. They’ve published lists of (conventional) produce that are highest and lowest in pesticides. These lists can help you decide what’s worth to buy organic. For example, avocado, sweet peas, and onions are very low in pesticides, so it’s probably not worth it to spend money on organic versions of these foods. Where you might decide to splurge is on strawberries, peaches, and lettuce, for example. See the entire list here.
Buy locally. Take advantage of stores in your town that sell locally grown organic foods. Visit your town or city’s farmer’s markets, too. Locally grown organic foods may be cheaper because there are essentially no transportation costs.
Buy in season. With summer nearly upon us, many more fruits and vegetables are available to us. Seasonal food tends to come cheaper than, say, buying blueberries in January.
Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. With a CSA, a farmer sells shares of his farm, which typically consists of receiving a box of vegetables or other foods, usually every week. It’s kind of like buying a subscription. For more information on CSA’s, check out this Web site.
Don’t worry too much. If you simply can’t afford organic foods, keep in mind that you’ll still reap plenty of nutritional benefits from conventionally grown foods. “Regular” fruits and vegetables contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for good health.