Monday, March 10, 2014
wholefood step-by-step: # 10 transition to organic
Transition is the key word in this step. The word organic has become such a loaded word in our modern world. In my grandmother's childhood food was organic, there was no need to label it as such and make it exclusive. How times have changed. Organics have become big business and that means that as consumers we need to keep our wits about us and not be lured in by marketing and packaging! And to do our research and work out what is most important and achievable for our family.
Rather than feel overwhelmed at the expense of organic food, or that you are 'poisoning' your family if you can't afford to buy wholly and solely organic, there is a common sense way to approach this step.
Read on and I'll break it down for you...
Why eat organic food?
Sadly, the use of chemical laden pesticides and fertilizers, and antibiotics is standard practice in conventional farming and despite research and government authorities that declare the levels of chemicals used produce food safe for consumption, I'm not buying their declaration or the food!
The cumulative effect of eating foods with chemical residue concerns me, especially feeding this food to babies and young children. Having said that, I don't want anyone reading this to feel like they are failing their children if 100% of the fruit and vegetables that you feed them aren't organic, the most important thing is that they eat fruit and vegetables!! Further down I will explain which fruit & veg to focus on if budget is an issue.
Then there are the environmental consequences of conventional farming including water pollution from chemical run off and soil and land degradation. You can read in more detail about this on the Sustainable Table page.
Last but definitely not least - the flavour! The flavour of good quality, fresh, organic produce is unbeatable.
But it's so expensive!
Let's consider first why there is a price difference between conventional and organic food.
Firstly, there's the cost of organic certification. In Australia certified organic food producers and manufacturers must comply with stringent requirements to be given certification, this may mean the producer has to spend money to adjust how they operate their farm/business to meet the requirements. The benefit of certification to you the consumer is that you are guaranteed that the organic food you are buying is in fact truly organic.
Next thing to consider is that organic farming is more labour intensive and often the yield is lower, therefore consumers pay a premium price. I am happy to pay more for people power over pesticide power!
Supply and demand plays a role, as the demand for organics grows we will hopefully see a reduction in price as the scale of organic farming grows to meet increased demand.
For a more detailed explanation read 10 Reasons Why Organic Food Costs More
So, what to do?
Anyone devoted to eating organic food will tell you that making the choice to spend your money on organic food comes down, in part, to your values and priorities.
I value organic food over new clothes and shoes every season (in fact I am consciously trying to only buy second hand clothes, in an effort to do my bit to conserve the Earth's precious resources), we eat in restaurants as a family maybe six times a year, I don't spend money on expensive cosmetics and skin care or hair cuts/colours. That doesn't mean I don't want to look my best - I do! It just means that I spend my money very consciously and make different choices.
Once you make the decision to buy organic food you will naturally become more aware of the best places to source it (tip:not fancy organic foodstores!), you will hear people talking about particular shops, markets and farms, you will find blogs and websites that will point you in the right direction to buy things at a good price.
I'll now break it down by food group how I approach eating organic on a budget...
I stock up on organic meat when I see it on special at my local supermarket and my local greengrocer. Often I can pick up a whole chicken for around $12 and I get about three meals out of that including soup. My local health food store also stocks organic meat, I don't buy meat from there because it is more expensive than at the other two places but I do order organic chicken carcasses and lamb shanks for soup at the health food store.
Money saving tip: consider the quantity of meat your family eats and see if there is room to reduce it. Also, buy cheaper cuts of meat and get into slow cooking.
Fruit & Veg
We have a very productive little veggie plot in our backyard that Pete lovingly tends. This summer we have not paid for corn, tomatoes, lettuce, spring onions, silverbeet, parsley or coriander.
We are very fortunate living outside of the city to have local farms to purchase the rest of our fruit and veggie supplies, they are not certified organic but I buy the food direct from the farmers I can see where they grow the food, they are small scale and I trust them.
When I lived in the city I loved shopping at the CERES market.
There are now a growing number of organic produce home-delivery services available. For those in Melbourne interested in this check out my friend Josh Aitken's business Organic Origins and on the Mornington Peninsula my friends Robin and Peter have Transition Farm a community supported agriculture model. (these mentions are not sponsored, my friends do a great job and I thought it may be helpful for people to know about what they offer).
And finally, when I do go to the supermarket (yes I go to the supermarket) if I see reduced organic fruit and veg I will buy it, this is not ideal because a) it is always heavily packaged in plastic and b) it is not local but it does save me money from time to time.
Here's a great list of the top fruit and veg to buy organic and those that you can get away with buying conventional.
Money saving tip: grow some of your own, join a community garden, buy in season.
Organic bread is expensive there is just no way around it. The good thing though is that it may lead to you eating less bread! We order organic bread in at our local health food store, we buy either rice or millet sourdough at $6.45 a loaf or I buy Healthy Bake bread, made in a variety of grains except wheat and that ranges in price from $6.50 - $7.50 per loaf.
Money saving tip: consider reducing the amount of bread your family eats, bake your own, look out for half price loaves to put in the freezer for toast.
The only dairy we eat is natural or Greek yoghurt and parmesan. We buy the five:am brand from the supermarket which is around $6 for 700grams. Sometimes I buy Organic Dairy Farmers pecorino at the supermarket which is about $6 for 150grams - use it sparingly!
This category is the one to be most careful about. Many people fall into the trap of spending big dollars on processed food with the word 'organic' on the box - yes it is certified organic but it is still processed food and can still be high in sugar, salt and fats that are of no value to your body. Always read the ingredients list to see what's in it and where possible stick with fresh real food and homemade snacks.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this step. How strict are you with buying organic? What are your tips for favorite places to shop or ways to save? Leave your tips in the comments.