Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dilemma: Go Organic or Save Money?

On Saturday night, I found myself staying up way too late to watch the compelling documentary Food, Inc. I could not pull myself away from it. The movie explores the current U.S. food industry, its (often unscrupulous and truly disgusting) practices, its degrading treatment of animals, and its influence on public health. Clearly, the movie had an effect on me, because I marched to the breakfast table on Sunday morning with a new eating manifesto for our household:

*No more high fructose corn syrup. Anything containing HFCS is automatically banned from the pantry and refrigerator. That includes the ketchup. And the wheat thins. And the tomato paste.

*All meat and cheese must be organic. We're not eating anything that contains hormones, antibiotics, etc. Preferably, we'll also purchase organic produce.

*If we go out to eat, we'll go to restaurants that list all of their ingredients in the menu and that purchase much of their food locally.

*We'll plan meals on a weekly basis and go grocery shopping once a week (something we've slacked off on over the last two months). Planning ahead will allow us to use our money wisely and avoid purchasing food we don't need and/or that isn't healthy.

We've always been pretty careful about what we eat. We don't consume many processed foods, and over the last year, we've started eating most of our meals at home. Because I have dietary restrictions related to GERD and food intolerances, we're conscientious  label readers.

However, going organic is taking how we eat to a new and more expensive level. Trent went to Whole Foods today (we're normally Kroger customers) and shopped according to the new rules. We bought some local organic beef for about $8 a pound and some organic chicken for $3.90 a pound. He also bought some nuts, fruit, veggies, broth, and cheese, all organic. The total came out to over $150, which is much more than what we've spent on food in the past.

What's difficult is that food is one area where you can see major savings if you make the effort. By checking the supermarket ads, clipping coupons, and buying products that are on sale in bulk, you can cut costs in a significant way. But the thing is, a lot of the food on sale is also the food that's not particularly healthy: sugary cereals, pre-made meals, salty boxed pastas and rices, and so on.

I figure that spending more for local, organic food is worth it. It's worth the benefits to our health. It's worth the benefits to our environment, which suffers at the hands of factory farming. It's worth the message that it sends to supercorporations that care more about the bottom line than they do about their consumers or the animals and crops they raise.

I realize that not everyone has the luxury of going organic. Sometimes, people just need calories, and purchasing a value meal from a fast food restaurant or eating a packet of Ramen is a lot cheaper than piecing together a complete, healthy, home-cooked meal from a fancy organic grocery store. But if people who do have the option to buy organic do it, then perhaps prices will drop over time and eventually allow everyone, regardless of income level, to buy healthier food.


  1. I agree completely! In addition to the fact that our health is highly dependent on the food we eat, there is a bigger picture, as you know. By buying locally and organic whenever possible, we are taking our dollars from companies that pollute the environment, harm living creatures, and pay non-living wages to workers; and giving them instead to companies with more humane practices across the board.

    My husband and I have been food co-op members for years, and although we are by no means perfect, we try to do the right thing where food is concerned. Shopping at your local farmer's market is another excellent thing to do, or try a CSA farm!

  2. We have a wonderful farmer's market in our town from May through November. I'm looking forward to another season of purchasing fresh produce from local growers!

    Our local Whole Foods is kind of expensive, but they do have a good selection of local items, including beef, chicken, and cheese.