Why conventional food is more expensive than organic. Really.

I just got my oil changed. I had a coupon so I was psyched up. “I’m going to save $8.00!” When all was said and done, though, my grand total was over $150. (The oil change included a new cabin air filter, tire rotation, and more.) The oil change company tossed in a free car wash, but I was still experiencing sticker shock. I couldn't help but wonder if I'd been hoodwinked into spending more than necessary. Not my car, but doesn't it look happy?

As I was stewing over the hefty price tag, the service manager came up to me and said, “If you are good to your car, it will be good to you." Obviously this was a line intended to make me feel better, but, to my surprise, it actually worked. He had a good point. If we neglect oil changes and regular maintenance we put our car at risk. We may be penny-wise but pound-foolish. Cars that are not maintained well seem okay in the short-run but in the long-run, they  become sluggish and eventually irreparably damaged.

When it comes to eating and our health, there is a similar relationship. If we feed ourselves on the cheap, with foods that fill but don't nourish us, we will save money in the short-run but we will later pay the price with our diminishing health. Conversely, if we fill ourselves with the best food we can afford, including, yes, organic veggies and fruit, and hormone-free and antibiotic-free meats, we will pay more up front, but we save ourselves the pain (often physical) and expense of health care costs.

When we look at our food budget, we forget to take this into account. It is expensive to eat well. You will spend more in the short-term. Your wallet will feel the pinch. But would you rather feel pain now, monetarily, or later, both physically and monetarily? This is why I say that conventional food is more expensive than organic. One costs more at the register, but there are hidden, more serious, costs with the other.

The best food---you know where it comes from and what's in it!

Conventional veggies and fruit are grown with pesticides sprayed on them (and sometimes are even genetically modified to contain pesticides). Pesticides are bug-killers and chemicals meant to kill aren't good for any living beings. Packaged and processed foods contain preservatives, colorings, and flavorings that our bodies cannot recognize or assimilate easily. Non-food products in our food are difficult for our bodies to digest and can hurt us, from the inside out.

What do  you think? Am I off base here? Is conventional more costly than organic, really? Do you agree or disagree? I'm eager to hear your thoughts!


Organic on a budget

I gave a nutrition presentation to a group of young moms this week. it was entitled:

"Seven heavenly tips for healthy, happy families."

(Okay, okay, I confess I got carried away by the rhyming and alliteration. I'm not sure what made the tips "heavenly" other than the fact that they came from me.) Toward the end of the talk, one mom commented, "Hilda, I really aspire to this. But I just don't see how my family can afford to eat this way." Many moms nodded in agreement and talked about the common phenomenon of spending their "whole paycheck" at Whole Foods.


I could empathize. As a mother of four, and an avowed foodie, I have seen my fair share of grocery bills that looked like luxury car payments! So I appreciated the money-saving tips that came up in the course of our conversation. Especially at this time of year, when money is tight, few of us can afford to splurge on groceries. I love the tips that the moms shared and I hope you do, too!

1. Eat less meat. High-quality meat (grass-fed, and antibiotic- and hormone-free) has a host of benefits, including being a vital source of vitamins B, D, and iron. But its price is higher than the ground beef that's on sale at your typical Safeway or Giant. One mom said that she justifies paying, say, $10 for quality ground beef versus $3 for the "regular" ground beef, by simply serving it less often. In other words, instead of having meat with dinner 4 or 5 times a week, she might just prepare it once or twice. But when she does, she is serving her family the best---meat that is both delectable and deeply nourishing, with none of the side effects of conventional meat.

Talk about paleo!

2. Shop around. Yes, buying organic is expensive if you do one-stop shopping at the high-end stores. But now organic produce and other natural foods are often available at places as varied as CostCo, Target, Wal-Mart and even your local grocery store. (Kombucha is cheaper at my neighborhood Safeway, for example.) Finding the deals takes a little more time, obviously, and you may have to go out of your way to get them, but if you plan it right, you can come away with some decent savings.

3. Know your "clean 15 and dirty dozen." If you want to ease into your organic purchases, start here. This handy-dandy chart from the Environmental Working Group is a guide that distinguishes "clean" produce---that which has the least amount of pesticide residue and chemicals---and "dirty" produce--that which frequently has significant amounts. The "dirty" ones are the ones you should avoid, obviously. Choose organic the next time you want to buy something off the "dirty" list. And feel free to buy the less expensive conventional "clean" produce next time you go shopping, guilt-free.

clean and dirty

4. Farmers markets - When I brought this up, the moms began to murmur and shake their heads. It's true--farmers markets aren't known for their low prices, but I see buying fresh greens there as a great deal. Even if they are pricier than their store-bought counterparts, they will taste freshKale-2er and better, making it more likely that your family will actually eat them. The outcome? Less science experiments in the produce drawer of your fridge and more yummy nutritious food in your tummies. Here are two sources to find awesome markets in the DC metro area: first, a map compiled by the Washington Post in April of this year, and second, a list of FRESHFARM markets in the area. Kale never tasted so good!

5. Buy bulk - I'm not talking toilet paper or laundry detergent (though I suppose that's great, too). I'm talking sides of beef. This is especially easy to do if you have freezer space to spare. Right off the bat, here are two farms I can recommend that sell meat in bulk: Black Diamond Meats in Blacksburg and Polyface Farm in Shenandoah, VA. Black Diamond will ship meat. For Polyface Farm meats, you need to be a part of their buying club. Both are worth looking into, but I have to warn you. You will be spoiled. One taste of these high-quality, mouth-watering cuts and you will never go back to the mystery meat on pink styrofoam trays in your grocer's freezer.

Hope these tips give you a little more spending money for Christmas presents this season. I am certain that if you follow them,  you will find yourself nourished and happy and more able to cope with all of the challenges and busyness that come with this time of year.