Affording Organic: Can You Afford Not to?

By Carol Laliberte
Originally published on Vegetarian Baby & Child Online Magazine


Organic food, or food grown without the use of chemicals such as pesticides, is in most cases more expensive than food grown with pesticides and chemicals, or conventional food, as it is commonly referred to. So do you buy less food and go organic? Pick and choose which organic foods you buy? Or ignore the current thinking on the harmful effects of eating non-organic foods and buy conventionally? There are really no easy answers but there are facts you should be aware of and strategies to cut down on pesticide consumption and danger, which can help you to both eat organic and remain on a realistic budget.

The Poisoned Produce Problem

Infants and children are more vulnerable to the toxins in conventionally grown foods than adults. Pound for pound, children eat more fruits and vegetables than adults do. Their bodies are also less able to filter out harmful substances, and they are still growing and developing. Baby's major organs are in their earliest days. Food choices you make today for your children today can greatly impact their well being far into the future. Pesticides contaminate ground water in 38 states in the U.S., polluting the primary source of drinking water for more than half the U.S. population. Pesticides are poisons; their purpose is killing living organisms. They are harmful for human consumption. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 60percent of all herbicides, 90percent of all fungicides, and 30 percent of all insecticides are carcinogenic. Pesticides annually poison one million people.

So if it's true that non-organic food is not as good for you as organic food, why is organic food still so hard to find, particularly in large chain supermarkets? Organic food products constitute less than 2percent of the total food industry, yet this area is the fastest growing of that industry. Six in ten shoppers say they buy organic foods or beverages at least sometimes when they shop; others do not do so regularly because they can't find organic foods in mainstream grocery stores. Simon Harris, Organic Field Coordinator of Organic Consumers Association says, "Milk is probably the biggest seller of organic foods, because people are concerned about bovine growth hormones, followed by infant formula and baby food." (www.purefood.org). Even with increased popularity of organic foods, the United States is far behind Europe, where nearly all supermarkets carry organic products and governments are subsidizing the changeover from conventional farming to organic farming.

The Misinformation Problem

Skeptics of organic food say that organic farming can mean that crops are exposed to e-coli bacteria and other risks from manure used in organic farming, and therefore organic foods can be equally as harmful as exposure to pesticides in foods. Simon Harris responds that, "Manure is strictly regulated for organic food, it cannot be placed 120 days before a food product is harvested. Most manure is composted and as a result the high temperatures kill the pathogens and bacteria is incorporated into the soil before planting, however, raw manure can be placed on food products in conventional farming." (http://www.purefood.com)

The Affordability Problem

A national survey showed that 79percent of Americans are concerned about the safety of the food they eat but more than 68percent do not regularly buy organic products because of higher costs. (www.fresnobee.com) It is true that organic produce does cost more, but the price depends largely on the product. Sometimes the difference between organic food and conventionally grown produce is a matter of cents, other times it can be dollars. You may be convinced that organic food is the best option for you and your family. But the reality is that you have only a finite amount of funds to apply towards food every week. So is there anything you can do to afford organic? Absolutely!

Healthy Solutions

Breastfeed to protect your child from ingesting any unnecessary chemicals that might be found in formula. You will also save money by not having to buy formula. Once your child begins to eat solid foods, you can make your own
organic baby food or try one of the popular store bought brands like Earth's Best. Infants' bodies are especially vulnerable to toxins since their organs are not yet mature. The potency of these chemicals for them is much greater than it is for adults. If you use formula, use only organic whenever possible.

Join a co-op or start a buying club. Often, for a membership fee and a commitment of volunteer hours you can get organic food for less. Co-ops are run by their members. Becoming a co-op member is also a great way to meet
like-minded people. Find one in your area at http://www.prairienet.org/co-op/directory.

Become a shareholder in a Community Supported Agriculture (csa) farm. My family visits "our farm" from early June through October weekly to gather produce, pick crops, herbs, and flowers, and eat the freshest food we have ever tasted. We pay an annual membership fee for our family share, and a portion of that fee goes towards the regional food bank in our area to help reduce hunger. Monthly potluck suppers bring members together to share in the many creations from our community harvest. Membership in a csa is about much more than choosing organic
produce; it is a wonderful experience for young children to watch the changing seasons at a farm and begin to understand and appreciate the cycles of life. My four-year-old has an appreciation of the food that is on his plate, because he has watched much of it growing at our farm.

Grow your own produce. You can grow your favorites even in a small garden. You can order organic seeds from companies like The Cook's Garden at 1-800-457-9703 and begin in containers or in a spot in your yard. If you can't grow your own, some local farmer's markets are becoming more environmentally conscious and growing organic produce. For CSA's, local farms, and farmers markets in your area check out http://www.localharvest.org.

Be picky. There are times when I just can't find the produce I need in organic form. So as a last resort, I only buy fruit and vegetables that are known to have the lowest amounts of toxins. That isn't a perfect solution but there have been times when that is my only option. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the most contaminated foods on the market are peaches, pears, spinach, green beans, apples, Chilean grapes, Mexican cantaloupes, strawberries, apricots and cherries, celery, spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, peanuts, green beans, potatoes, winter squash, wheat flour. The wax on the outside of apples, cucumbers and green peppers usually contain fungicides so they should be peeled to remove these toxins. This same study found that just one serving of winter
squash would expose most 5-year-olds to dangerous levels of pesticides. Just one peach could put almost half of children the same age at risk of poisoning. Eating these contaminated foods would cause flu-like symptoms, and there are studies which link chronic exposure to brain damage. Watch out for juices as well, most of which are made with apple juice as a base. If your children are not drinking organic juice, then chances are the fruit in the juice has been tainted with pesticides.

Minimize the risks whenever possible. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests you wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly in soapy water. Vinegar and water also works well to reduce pesticide residue. Peel any fruits that can be peeled. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. You should be aware, however, that none of these practices have been proven to eliminate pesticide residue entirely.

Clip coupons and watch for sales. Even health food stores have sales, so stock up on whatever you can. Go to the store with a meal plan in mind so that you are not wasting the food that you buy. Organic produce tends to spoil more rapidly, so keep that in mind when planning your grocery list.

Recognize that you might be paying more to invest in the long term for your family's good health. What can you give up in trade? Most weeks, in my house, we opt for fewer treats and choose more untainted fresh produce instead. At times, affording organic foods means cutting back somewhere else in our budget.

I wouldn't knowingly give poison to my family. Likewise, I have made a conscious choice to figure out a way to serve only organic foods whenever possible. There are ways, with a bit of creative thinking and with your family's involvement, that you too can afford organic foods. Given the alternative, given all that is
known about the harmful contaminants used in conventional foods, do we really have a choice?

For more information on organic foods please visit:

Organic Consumers Association

CNN Interactive Food Page

Alternative Farmins Systems Information Center

Posted August 2005 | Permanent Link

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