When Should We Buy Organic?

Baby Eating An AppleI try to eat organic foods when possible. I believe we need to lobby for organically, sustainably produced whole foods and that it’s important to put my money where my mouth is but it can be challenging to follow my ideals and still stay within our grocery budget ($240/month). There are times when cheap and healthy align well (oatmeal is cheaper than PopTarts) and times when they conflict (organic cheese costs a lot more than Velveeta).

I was excited to read what Get Rich Slowly had to say about An Easy Way to Go Organic. J.D. referenced a New York Times article that suggested switching to the organic version of five common foods – milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup, and apples.

I love the list but would change it a bit myself. I am currently taking a cooking class called “Healing With Whole Foods” that is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and the idea that eating the right foods can strengthen the body and immune system, while eating the wrong foods can tear us apart. The instructor, Andy Reed, is very good about constantly reminding us that nobody’s perfect and it’s all about compromise. He tries to eat mostly organic but can’t afford to, like many of us, so he suggested prioritizing which items we buy organic. His number one suggestion?

Buy organic butter. This was a new concept for me but it really made sense when he started to explain. Conventional butter comes from cows that have been given antibiotics, growth hormones, and feed made from pesticide-filled grain. Most pesticides are lipophyllic, meaning they bioaccumulate in fat, so butter is one of the most important things to buy organically.

He also suggested buying only organic meats and dairy products for the same reason. Most of my motivation for buying organically raised meat comes from my belief that we should treat animals well but I also enjoy eating meat that is free of pesticides and antibiotics. I am currently reading “My Year of Meats,” which is a fictional novel by Ruth Ozeki but it includes some factual and disturbing information about the dark side of conventional meat production (thanks, Dana).

Get Rich Slowly had another post about Organics versus Ethics and how to decide how much environmental health or personal health or food quality is worth to us, in dollars, and how to tell if organic is really “worth” it.  That’s a big question that I personally am not quite ready to tackle.  I believe we need to move towards a food system that produces nutritious, affordable food while keeping our environment in good shape, and the organic label is at least one step in that direction, so I’ll do what I can.

We buy organic butter, meat, peanut butter, rice, beans and a random assortment of other products. (Sometimes I wonder if there’s really much of a difference between organic crackers and conventional crackers – I definitely doubt the benefits of choosing organic Cheetoes.) We buy a mix of organic and conventional produce. And so far we seem to be fairly healthy and happy.

I think the next step will be switching to organic cheese. We looove cheese and it’s hard to afford buying the quantities we want at organic prices. Anybody know of any good sources of cheap organic cheese? And ice cream? Mmmmm, ice cream….

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6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Linnea said,

    February 29, 2008 @ 6:29 am

    you could always make your own ice cream. I dunno about cheese, tho. A good way to keep quantity down is to use sharper, more distinct cheeses. Then you can use less in your cooking without losing flavor.

  2. 2

    Dana said,

    March 4, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

    Glad you’re enjoying the book! I really like her stuff. I wish she’d write more.

    You can make your own cheese, at least soft cheese. I know a friend who does it. But hard cheese would be much more difficult. Mmmmm, cheese.

  3. 3

    Beat the heat treats | GreenCouple.com said,

    July 7, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

    […] and I have been looking for a good source of organic ice cream since February. For some reason, getting an ice cream maker hadn’t really occurred to us […]

  4. 4

    TwinToddlersDad said,

    October 29, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

    In a recent blog post, I offer some more ideas for buying organic on a budget. Check it out and let me know what you think


  5. 5

    Organic Products Online said,

    March 14, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

    Loved your insight!! For once someone got everything correct!! Would you mind if I put a blogroll link back to your post? 🙂

  6. 6

    Maggie said,

    March 17, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

    I would be delighted for you to put a blogroll link up! Good luck with all you’re working on!

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