Can’t Afford Organic Food?

March 6th, 2009

Can't Afford Organic FoodThe most common excuse I hear about not eating organic food is that it’s too expensive. I have a few suggestions for you that will hopefully change your mind.

Investing in Health

There are many ways to make organic food more affordable, but before I get into them, I want to discuss the concept of investing in your health. If you think organic food isn’t worth it’s price, then I highly suggest you read about the benefits of eating organic food to make sure you understand it’s importance.

Disease and poor health are more prevalent than ever, and in most cases, diet is a significant factor. An alarming number of people are making themselves sick by eating processed foods, and with all the chemicals and questionable practices used in modern farming, even the natural and whole foods that we’ve evolved on have become a health risk.

If you want the abundant energy and the strong resistance to disease that are associated with optimal health, then organic food is a must. While you may save a few dollars buying processed and conventionally grown food, the cost of suffering, pain, and disease that you may incur later in life will be far greater. The most devastating aspects of this will be mental and physical, but it will likely include expensive medical bills as well. The choice is yours, but make sure you consider the future and understand the consequences of what you choose!

Eating Organic on a Budget

Many people who complain about the price of organic food also drive expensive cars and live in luxurious houses, perhaps beyond their means. Others simply can’t afford anything beyond the bare essentials. Either way, to live a long and happy life, health needs to be a priority, and this needs to be reflected in your budget. In 10 or 20 years from now, would you rather have excellent health and abundant energy, or memories of all the unnecessary things you spent your money on instead of good food?

Less than a century ago, organic food was the only choice. Now, with big business trying to outsmart nature, we have to pay a premium for organic food and go out of our way to find it. Because of this, it’s important to realize that reducing the cost of organic food will require more effort than simply strolling into the local supermarket. As I said, it needs to be a priority. Once you make this commitment, budgeting for organic food is not as difficult as you might think and the following tips will help you reduce cost.

Reduce Unnecessary Expenses

Many people don’t realize just how much money they spend on junk food and eating out. These are unhealthy habits anyway. By eliminating the majority of low quality snack foods from your diet, and by eating out less often, you’ll free up plenty of money to put towards organic groceries while still being able to occasionally enjoy your favorite treats and restaurants.

Bringing a homemade lunch to work each day is an easy way to save money for organic food. Most people who buy lunch during the workweek spend about $200 per month! Even if this doesn’t apply to you, it shouldn’t be difficult to identify and eliminate other unnecessary expenses that are less important than your health.

Buy from Local Farmers

As I discussed in my articles about toxic meat and the future of organic farming being in danger, small and local farmers produce a large portion of the world’s organic food supply. Not only do they need our support, but they often provide a cost advantage as well.

Many small farmers can’t afford the organic certification process, but still farm according to organic principles. While it may take a little effort to find such farmers, and while it may be less convenient to buy from them, you can often purchase high quality organic food from them directly at a cheaper price than anywhere else. An easy way to find these farmers is at a local farmers’ market.

Another option is to participate in a Community Supported Agriculture group, more commonly referred to as a CSA. When you participate in a CSA, you typically pay a one time seasonal fee and receive a mixed package of food each week or month. Some CSAs only provide vegetables and fruit while others may also include dairy and meat. Although you don’t have much choice of what food you get, CSAs are typically far less expensive than most other options.

An additional benefit of buying from local farmers is that the food is typically more fresh than what’s in the supermarket. And since the food doesn’t need to be shipped across the country, buying from local farmers is also more environmentally friendly.

Two excellent websites that you can use to find local farmers, farmers’ markets, and CSAs are http://www.localharvest.org and http://www.eatwild.com.

Buy in Bulk

As with most products, organic foods can be purchased in bulk at a significant discount. However, any food that’s natural and worth eating also has a limited shelf life and will lose it’s nutrition after sitting around for a few days. The two options you have to avoid this are freezing what you don’t eat right away or splitting the purchase with friends.

Because high quality organic meat can be quite expensive, it’s also one of the best foods to buy in bulk. The price of grass fed beef ranges from about $5 per pound for ground beef to over $10 per pound for popular cuts of steak. Buy splitting a quarter or a side of beef with friends, you’ll end up with a wide variety of cuts, including high end steaks, and it will average to about $5 or $6 per pound. Since meat is easy to freeze, you can stock up so that one purchase will last a long time.

Prioritize Your Foods

Personally, unless I’m enjoying some 20% time, my diet is 100% organic. While this is ideal, I know most people don’t have the desire to be this careful. Furthermore, some people simply can’t afford this no matter how much they’re willing to sacrifice. The solution is to prioritize what you eat.

Most people tend to favor certain foods in their diet, and in addition, some foods are more affected by the unhealthy practices of modern farming. To get the most benefit from the money you have available to spend on organic food, focus on the foods that you eat most often and the foods that are most impacted by conventional farming.

Research has shown that animal products produced from conventionally raised livestock have much higher levels of toxic chemicals than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. As such, meat and dairy should be the top priorities in your organic food budget.

The Environmental Working Group has created a convenient list of 43 fruits and vegetables that are ranked in order from the highest pesticide load to the lowest. Along with animal products, the fruits and vegetables at the top of this list should be priorities as well.

Be Your Own Farmer

The absolute cheapest way possible to get organic food is to grow it yourself. While it’s not practical for most people to raise their own livestock, growing fruits and vegetables in a garden is something that just about anyone can easily do. To make sure the food you grow is of similar quality to organically farmed food, use land that has been chemical free for several years and avoid using pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

In addition to saving money, growing your own food can also be a great learning experience that will increase your appreciation for nature’s involvement in our food supply. Although I’ve never kept a garden, growing organic vegetables is something that I look forward to trying in the future.

Pay Attention to Labels

It’s usually safe to trust a small farmer that claims to farm organically, but once you step foot into a mainstream supermarket, you’re in a completely different world that’s dominated by marketing and big business. While plenty of foods are labeled to make you believe they’re healthy, they’re anything but, and the manufacturers know it.

USDA OrganicIn supermarkets, the only reliable label you can trust is the USDA certified organic seal shown to the right, and even this is beginning to lose it’s credibility. There’s no additional regulation at all for foods labeled as “natural”, so don’t be fooled into believing that you can save money buying these foods and still get good quality. Because food manufacturers are starting to create their own organic certification agencies, the same goes for any food that’s labeled as organic but not certified by the USDA.

The High Cost of Cheap Food

In closing, I’d like to reemphasize the importance of having a long term perspective. Although it’s easy to forget about the future, would you choose less expensive food if you knew it would lead to disease later in life? Think of someone you know who’s unhealthy and picture yourself in their state. Reflect on the limitations you’d have and if you’d regret not focusing more on your health.

More than 1 out of 3 people will suffer from cancer or heart disease in their lifetime. Will you be one of them? With that in mind, consider if you can afford to not eat organic food!

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