When I began this journey into the world of real food nutrition, I struggled with the concept of the organic food movement. It was confusing to me. I had a lot of questions. Was this just a clever marketing strategy of the food industry to gain more of my hard-earned dollars? What did organic actually mean? Does it really make a difference? And can I afford it?
Did you know that until the 1920’s essentially all agriculture was, by default, organic? Try talking to your grandparents about organic food and you may witness their collective eye roll. Our grandparent’s generation didn’t have to worry about their food in the ways that we do (or should). Back in their day, the methods farmers used to feed the soil and control pests were more natural and less harmful to humans and the environment than they are today. The days when a young Granny could fix herself some porridge without a second thought are over. In her day, food was still mostly whole and unprocessed and had short trip from the farmers land to her table. Over the years we have seen the development of powerful pesticides, and new ways of farming emerge where the use of chemicals is heavily promoted. Food travels great distances before it reaches our tables and truly “fresh” is hard to find.
Around this same time an industry was born where pre-packaged convenience “foods” began to fill grocery store shelves. These foods did not exist back in Granny’s day; and she would not recognize them as food. As a society we began to eat more and more foods that were made in factories, rather than grown on farms. Can you blame us? These factory made foods are sugar-laden and down-right delicious. The big food corporations know this and they produce foods that are hyper palatable and fairly addicting. It’s true; once you pop, you just can’t stop. Additionally, we are working more than ever and finding the time to prepare healthy meals for our families is becoming harder and harder. These convenience foods provide a solution, but at what cost? As a society we’ve moved from fueling our bodies with nutrient-rich, real whole foods that promote good health, to nutrient poor, synthetic food-like substances that lead to many health problems.
In Granny’s day, people didn’t need to learn what to eat, but it today’s landscape, we do.
So what exactly does organic mean? According to Organic.org, The USDA National Organic Program defines organic as:
“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”
So, why should we be avoiding these pesticides anyway? Pesticides are chemicals designed to KILL. They attack our bodies from many different fronts. Pesticide exposure has been linked to: cancer, obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, infertility, birth defects, autism and ADHD to name a few. In addition pesticides have been linked to digestive issues, asthma, rashes and other skin problems. Do I have your attention yet? These things are bad news.
When I found myself armed with this newfound enlightenment on the toxicity found in our food system, my first inclination was to overhaul my refrigerator and stock it with only locally grown, certified organic produce. Like most people, however, this was not financially feasible for me. The truth is organic food does cost more. One could argue that you are investing in your health, and saving on medical bills, but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
Now, I’m not here to just deliver bad news. If you are like me and with this new information you are feeling inspired to incorporate more organic foods into your diet, but are not motivated enough to get a second job to afford it, here are some practical tips you can use going forward.
First and foremost, eat more real food. The kind Granny would recognize.
The Environmental Working Group has done a lot of research to determine which fruits and veggies are the most contaminated and those which are the least. Check out the graphic below from Good Food for Bad Cooks which lists the “Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.” When making budgeting decisions the Clean Fifteen are usually a safer bet when opting out of organic.
Another tip is to buy local and talk to your local farmer to find out how they manage pests on their farm. Often times, smaller local operations cannot afford to be certified organic, so they are not able to market their products using that terminology. However, if you talk to them, you might find that the methods they are using are not as harmful to humans who consume their produce as methods used in conventionally grown produce are. In addition, local produce purchased directly from the farmer is usually cheaper than the organic stuff you might find at the grocery store. Try visiting the farmers market during the last hour of operation when farmers are more motivated to unload their fare, you may be able to negotiate a better price.
Some additional tips on how to eat organic on a budget:
- Check your favorite companies websites for coupons or special promotions (Whole Foods has coupons every week for items throughout the store)
- Stay organized, plan out your meals for the week based on organic foods that are on sale or that you have coupons for
- DIY – making your own granola bars or smoothies will cost less than store-bought options
- Buy a whole chicken rather than just the parts (it’s less expensive lb. for lb.)
- Buy in bulk where possible, especially if you find an item on sale and can freeze it for later use
- Learn ways to keep from wasting food – for example did you know that if you buy bananas and keep the separate from each other they spoil more slowly?
- Grow your own! Or you could get lucky, like I did, and have neighbors with green thumbs who like to share their veggies with you!
Hungry for more? Try this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes from Fed & Fit. Many of the ingredients are on the Clean Fifteen list, so you’d be ok forgoing the organic variety if you had budgetary concerns. They would also be great at your next football party! Enjoy!