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the organic dilemma

Probably like many of you, I shop according to sales. Buy one get one free? Sign me up. Grapes for $0.99/lb? Heck yes. 10 for $10? I just peed myself a little bit.

But that being said, I won’t buy just anything. I stay mostly away from pre-packaged stuff, unless it’s healthy-ish snacks for the kids to stash in my purse on the go. There are items where I go full-hippie: cage-free, hormone-free eggs, humanely-raised, organic meat and poultry, wild-caught seafood, milk, etc. There are foods where I’m willing to compromise and go non-organic when the price is right (strawberries, grapes, certain new-crop apples, and some other fruits and veggies, but not all).

At certain points in my life when I’ve insisted on walking to the grocery store and wearing crystal deodorant (which does in no way, shape or form deodorize anything, in case you were wondering. I’m sorry if you were in my company during that phase.), I’ve splurged and gone full organic on everything. And what I’ve found, I’m sorry to say, is that it’s not always worth it. I don’t know the science behind organic farming, but I’m fairly sure that the chemicals that could scare a Deadhead away from a reunion show are there partially for pest control and partially to preserve produce from farm to table. I can count on five hands the number of times I’ve spent double digits on organic fruits and vegetables only to find them spoiled the very next day in my crisper.

This blog post began seeding in my brain when I was out in the garden planting grape starts. Once I had them in the ground, surrounded by organic compost and ready to grow away on their hand built trellis, I needed a way to feed them. The only thing I had in the garage was scary-looking Miracle Grow crystalized all-purpose plant food, which is dyed a shocking electric blue. I use it to feed my potted flowers. Although the package insisted it could be used for fruits and vegetables, there was no way I was going to put that stuff on grapes I was eventually going to eat.

But the very same day I went to the market and purchased a package of non-organic strawberries (on a great sale), which had probably been fed with something akin to the electric-blue Miracle Grow.

Why am I a hypocrite?

It’s partially the distance; I don’t see the pesticides on the strawberry farm. I just know that the berries are sweet and pretty and two pounds for $5.99. Moreover, they won’t go bad in two days, giving my family more time to eat them. The organic ones are not as pretty and maybe as sweet, but twice (or three times) the price, and will go bad if I don’t use them in a very short window, wasting their expensive juiciness.

I suppose we all have choices to make when it comes to quality and budget. Sometimes our values of one override the other, and sometimes the two intermingle, as in my case. In an ideal word I’d shop for everything at the farmer’s market and not have to think twice about paying $15 for apples. But the reality is that our family goes through an enormous amount of food and we’re enormously busy. I make the best choices I can and try to keep the credit card in check.

Tell me in the comments: What do you absolutely buy organic? What do you compromise on?

Comments

  1. Danielle says:

    I always buy my milk, eggs, meat, and breads organic. I figure, for all of the other things I’m eating (like veggies, fruits, snacks, etc.), that aren’t organic….there have to be some things I won’t compromise on. Recently I’ve been switching things like canned beans/veggies, tomato sauces, soups, stocks, over to organic/natural as well. There are so many articles out there and they all have different opinons about what food items you shouldn’t compromise on, I truly never know which articles are the most valid. So my choices are personal choices. :)

  2. Alexandra says:

    While fully admitting to being more “full-hippie” than the average American, another point I consider when considering organic is the effect of pesticides on farm workers, a shamefully marginalized population in our country.

    See here to learn about the impact of pesticides on the people who pick our food: http://www.fwjustice.org/pesticide-safety “farmworkers suffer the highest rate of chemical-related illness of any occupational group: 5.5 per 1,000 workers.”

    The truth is, food is cheaper now than ever (although I don’t know where you’re finding such expensive organic strawberries! although I do live in California . . . ) and there is too much at stake to make saving money my number one priority. I set a budget, and I buy organic. If I can’t afford strawberries, I don’t eat strawberries. That said – I don’t eat meat, so I save a lot of money there!

    In any case, it’s nice to see the topic discussed!

    • rainyd01 says:

      Great point, Alexandra! We’re not a big berry state so they’re very expensive when not in peak season (usually from CA). Organic foods are becoming more mainstream and less expensive as grocery stores start to carry their own brands of things. But food in general, I would argue, is more expensive than ever.

  3. Hey! Love the new look :)

    We always buy our meat from our local butcher shop which in itself here is a rarity. Usually meat is bought from the same place you buy your fruit and veg, clothes, and probably holiday insurance all at once. But we’ve found a butcher’s that sources its meat locally and organically. Not only does it taste better, but for some reason I haven’t figured out yet, it’s not hugely more expensive than the plastic-packed ones in the supermarket. Maybe because they keep stuff local.

    When I first moved to Finland I was really shocked that they differentiate between “broileri” which is kind of the default poulty and “kana” (chicken). The broileri is invariably marinated in something so that you can’t see or smell questionable features in it, and if you buy non-marinated then you will without a doubt be greeted by a chicken fart as you open the package from the gases in the box. That alone was a pretty good motivator to buy organic. But since by eating meat I’m involving another living being in my diet I like to try my best to make sure that the life it has until I decide I wan’t to purchase some meat should be the best life possible. I’ve been to cattle farms here and the cows seemed content and relaxed, so I’m happy to buy my meat from there.

    Other foods which look worse and go rotten quicker are indeed about 3 x as expensive, and it’s usually fruit, so we aren’t so strict about our fruit as with out meat and eggs (free-range all the way).

  4. Neely K-D says:

    Milk, the fruits and veggies that are particularly covered with pesticides, and I’m getting better about meat. The organic label is imperfect, though – if a dairy cow gets sick, the organic dairy farmer may very well send the cow for slaughter because depending on how he treats her illness the milk isn’t organic any more. I used to buy canned organic green beans for my girls – it’s the only vegetable the little weirdos will reliably eat – but what good is an organic green bean if it’s contaminated by the BPA lining of the can? So no more canned green beans for us – now we get frozen in the off season but they’re not organic. Ugh.

    I try for local stuff from small farms, because even if it’s not certified organic, I can ask the farmer about it. I love meat from local small farms, because my dinner was generally a happy animal that didn’t pollute the bejeezus out of my state’s water and air. It’s a little more expensive, but we just eat less. I used to get local eggs but now have my own chickens, which is fabulous. We eat a lot more eggs now, know where they come from, and we don’t need to buy as much meat.

    I do what I can. I also buy Diet Coke and cheese-its, so agree there’s a balance. It’s tough to keep up with the science and the regulations (and I’m a scientist!), plus the family budget and my own moral and ethical values. What kills me is that these issues aren’t limited to food. Don’t even get me started on trying to choose sunblock for my kids…

  5. I always hear mixed review about which vegetables and fruits have the highest amount of pesticides, so it really is difficult to know what to buy. With vegatables, I try to get flash-frozen simply because they have the highest amount of nutrients (they’re not lost when frozen) and if it’s not organic, I try to get as simplified as possible. The less ingredients, the better as far as I am concerned. I think people need to learn how to read labels–they need to understand that a lot of food is indeed genetically modified.

    But to buy completely organic is not economically feasible. The demand, however, for organic food, is making the prices slightly lower. But it’s simply not feasible. I say buy local when possible (especially for milk, eggs, and meat), frozen for vegetables, fruits when they are in season. I would also suggest getting an earth box, or some other type of indoor garden, so that we know exactly what we are putting into our food. But like you said, you had MiracleGro, but couldn’t get the gumption to spray it on because its directly in front of you. That’s why I like an earth box–it’s survival of the fittest. You plant your own food, and the strong ones that survive are the ones we eat. No need for pesticides, but you do get less productivity.

    It’s tough, but I think we should all educate ourselves what is in our food. I don’t think we necessarily need to get organic labeled products all the time, either.

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