Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Organic on a budget

Organic food is becoming more and more popular, as people ask for it, even demand it. I am happy to report that just about everybody I know goes to a farmer's market fairly regularly. 

But a lot of people still aren't convinced that organic food is necessary. I find a lot of the older generation isn’t. Maybe it’s because many of them lived on farms where fruits, vegetables and meats were from neighboring farms and a lot of food was organic to begin with. Depending on their age, the widespread use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are so prevalent today were not as publicized as they are now. Most people are completely in the dark about how their food is really produced.

In fact, it was less than 100 years ago that farming became less about feeding one’s community and more about feeding the world. Today huge agricultural companies through their industrialized farming, and all this genetically-modified food, have altered the way in which food is produced. In an era in which technology is so advanced it is sad that our food supply is so tarnished. Food quality has certainly headed downhill

Maybe you don’t eat organically because you think there’s nothing wrong with "regular" food. Well, there actually is a lot wrong with regular food. It isn't so regular anymore. Conventional foods, as opposed to organic ones, rely on chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides because of the quantities in which we are producing them and the distance they need to be driven (from farm to market). The adoption of novel proteins engineered into our food supply - in particular the Bt/HT “proteins” produced in genetically-modified crops such as soybean, corn and cotton - should be of major concern to anyone interested in their health. By taking in these toxins, how can we be sure that they aren’t causing cancer and a host of other maladies? How can we be so sure that we are able to process these chemicals that were never meant to be ingested?  In fact, there’s already plenty of evidence from research studies that the Bt-toxin produced in GM (genetically-modified) crops is toxic to humans and mammals and triggers immune system responses, not to mention the huge toxic load on the environment and soil.

Maybe you believe in organic but you don’t buy it because of the cost.  In actuality, Americans spend less for food than any other industrialized country. The reason for this is government subsidies. If it weren't for those, we’d actually be spending moreThere seems to be this mentality that cheaper is better. Well, this just isn't true. “You get what you pay for” applies to food as well. The cheaper, the worse, not the better. The cheaper foods are usually the worst for our health: processed, chemically-laden foods are cheaper than their whole food counterparts. These are exactly the things we should NOT be eating.

But as more of us buy organic, prices will come down. It’s already happening. Not long ago I bought a bag of organic carrots on sale for less than the conventional ones.  Sometimes deals can be had. One thing you can do is to head to the farmer's market about 1/2 hour before it wraps up. A lot of vendors will offer "happy hour" where they slash their prices to move produce. This is a good time to get things at a discount. It's also a great way to practice your negotiating skills.

But enough of my rambling. What I wanted to share with you today was this. One way you can keep your food costs low and still eat well is to be cognizant of which produce has the highest levels of pesticides and which has the least and buy accordingly. One place to go for this information is the Environmental Working Group. Here you can download a guide, updated annually, that summarizes the organization's findings of toxic levels in common produce. The “Dirty Dozen” are those 12 that you should buy organically because they are, well, the "dirtiest", and the “Clean Fifteen” are those that you can save some money on by buying conventionally because they have the least amount of pesticidesYou can print out the EWG guide and take it with you so you have a list handy when food shopping. That's been very helpful for me.

Missing from the list is coffee. Coffee beans are a heavily sprayed crop, worldwide, so it should also be on your organic list.

If your budget doesn't allow for 100% organic everything, at least buy them when you can. You'll be taking in a lot less toxins than if you made no changes at all.

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