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Monday, April 16, 2012

How To Eat Organic On a Budget

The other day, I made a salad for lunch that involved lettuce and cauliflower with some chopped apple for sweetness.  Pretty healthy, right?  Well...calorically speaking it was.  But, had not most of the ingredients been organic, I would have ingested 109 different hazardous chemicals.  Chemicals that, when transported in a tanker truck, get the privilege of being marked with this symbol:

Those chemicals could have gone into my body.

The USDA found 42 recurring pesticide residues on the average apple.  16 different pesticide residues were found on the average cauliflower.  Pesticide residues on the average head of lettuce numbered 51.  (  These chemical residues include known and suspected carcinogens, known and suspected hormone disrupters, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins.

“BUT E!!!!  ORGANIC FOOD IS SOOOOO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE,”  you whine.  First, remember that organic food is the cost of real food.  The $1 hamburger at McRestaurant is NOT real food...therefore it costs less than a real hamburger does.  This post will outline some tips for buying organic on a budget.  Remember, I am a poor school marm and Z has a less than reliable work schedule.  But we manage to do it WITH money left can you.

Step 1:  Cut the Crap
Part of the idea of eating organic is eating less processed food.  The more processed an item is, the more chemicals are in it.  The closer an item is to its natural state, the better it will be for you.  So stop eating garbage.

Nom Nom Nom!  I love pink slime!

When you cut processed chips, ice cream, cookies, donuts, fake meat, soda, juice, etc out of your grocery bill you will be amazed at how much money you have left over for good food.  For example:  An average container of “fruit juice” at my grocery store is somewhere in the $2-$4 range.  Turn it over and look at the label and you see chemical after chemical after chemical.  Even if it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it, the first ingredient is probably water.  So rather than paying $4 for what is essentially water...we drink...WATER.  It’s FREE.  Let’s say you buy two jugs of juice a week.  That could be $8.  That’s enough to buy 4 organic peppers for the beginnings of a delicious stuffed pepper recipe for dinner one night.

And the same principle applies to all of the processed food filling your cart.  Why buy a box of 100 calorie fake food snacks when you can buy a bag of organic celery?  (And the celery is going to be less than 100 cal/serving anyway)

Do you or I have the money to just ADD organic food to our grocery bill?  Probably not.  But look at your receipt.  How can you move around the existing dollars and cents to make room for more organics?

Step 2:  Know your Stuff
I do not buy ALL organic food.  Now that really is too expensive.  But our friends in cyberspace have come up with a two lists for those of us who don’t have tons of extra cash lying around:

The Dirty Dozen:
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
These are the foods that have the most pesticide residue.  And so these are the foods that I try to ALWAYS buy organic.

The Clean 15
  • onions
  • avocados
  • sweet corn
  • pineapples
  • mango
  • sweet peas
  • asparagus
  • kiwi fruit
  • cabbage
  • eggplant
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • grapefruit
  • sweet potatoes
  • sweet onions
These fifteen foods have the lowest traces of pesticide residue, so with these I skip the organics and just buy conventional produce.

Also in the “know your stuff” category:  Know the difference between an organic label and an all natural label.  A USDA organic label means that product follows USDA organic regulations:  No sewage sludge, irradiation, or gmo in any stage of production and no antibiotics or growth hormones were given to livestock.  Livestock were also fed 100% organic feed.

A “all natural” label means squat.  It’s a marketing technique.  There is no regulation of “all natural” and you might as well save a few bucks and buy the exact same product that doesn’t say “all natural” on it.

Step 3:  Know your Limitations
After you follow step one (cutting the crap) know what you realistically can and can’t afford and go as organic as possible.  Two examples of this from my own shopping cart include meat and milk.

Grass fed organic meat is SUPER expensive where we live.  We realistically can’t afford beef that has not been given hormones and antibiotics and was slaughtered while covered with its own dung.  So we just eat less of it.  We limit our meat consumption (much to Z’s dismay) to about 3 times a week.  I also have the grinder attachment for my stand mixer.  If we want hamburger, I will buy one cut of meat and grind it myself.  Yes, it is probably still chock full of hormones and antibiotics.  But at least I know it all came from one cow, reducing the risk of cross contamination.  It is also all meat...and not pink slime.

Organic milk is another thing we realistically can’t afford.  A half gallon of organic is the same price as a gallon of conventional milk.  I have found one brand, however, of conventional milk in my regular grocery store that claims to only use milk that comes from cows not treated with rBHT (the growth hormone).  I figure that’s the best I can do right now.

What you can afford and what you can’t depends on your income, priorities, and where you live.  Maybe you live next to a farm with grass fed beef that you can get on the cheap from the farmer but organic strawberries are $3 more in the grocery store.  Do what works for you.

Step 4:  Don’t make yourself crazy

Every organic apple you eat is 42 less chemicals that you putting into your body.  If you can afford the apples one week, but not the next, don’t go crazy over it.  Every little bit will help.

And think of it this way...the money you are spending now on organics is money you are saving on future cancer treatments, fertility treatments, and thyroid medication.

Good luck!  Happy shopping.

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