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One of the most common questions I get is about organics. I understand the apprehension regarding the extra cost of organics especially in economic times like these. I get questions like, are they worth the extra cost? If I have to prioritize for budget reasons, what are the most important foods to buy organic? Let’s start by understanding what organic really means. Below is an excerpt from the USDA‘s brochure on what organic food is:

“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html

So basically, Organic refers to how farmers grow and process food.

 Let’s also take a look at how this contrasts with conventional farming.

  1. Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Organic farming uses manure and compost to fertilize the soil.
  2. Conventional farming uses chemical pesticides to get rid of pests. Organic farmers rely on insects and birds, mating disruption, or traps. NO CHEMICALS!
  3. Conventional farming uses chemical herbicides to manage weeds. Organic farming uses old fashioned hard work to rotate crops, weed by hand and utilizes mulches.
  4. Conventional animal farmers give the animals antibiotics, growth hormones, and medications to speed up growth and avoid the illnesses caused by the conditions under which the animals are raised.  Organic animal farmers feed their animals organic feed and allow them to roam! They also will make sure the animals have a balanced diet and clean housing. Organic and in particular pastured animals (there is a distinction) have a much healthier fatty acid profile. What does that mean? They have far less omega 6 in their tissues. An over abundance of omega 6 has been linked to cardiovascular disease,type 2 diabetes, obesity,metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, cancer, and auto immune diseases just to name a few.  Some Omega 6 is good; too much is very, very bad. 

Some pretty great reasons to choose organics, right? Avoiding the chemicals and reducing exposure to the substances that cause the diseases above are worth the extra cost in my opinion. The chemicals used in conventional farming can increase the risk of birth defects, cancer, hormonal imbalances and much more. Buying organic may cost you a bit more now, but organics may end up saving you more than just money in health benefits down the road. Think about the rising cost of health care as we age. Yikes! As I have said many times, the best way to reduce health care costs is be healthier! If health care is in less demand, costs will come down. We seem to accept the diseases that appear to come with age as normal. THEY ARE NOT NORMAL.  (More on that in another post.) Don’t just believe me; listen to Mark Sisson, Arthur Devany, Robb Wolf and Loren Cordain. They will all tell you type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer does not have to be a fore gone conclusion.

So, how do you know if something is really organic or not? If you pick an item off the shelf and see the “USDA Organic” label, it means that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients were organically produced. The seal is not mandatory, but many organic producers use it. Products that are 100 percent organic are labeled that way specifically and given a small USDA seal. Some product labels may also state that the product was “made with organic ingredients,” which requires the product contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. “All natural” does not mean organic!! When buying produce, look for the little sticker with a number on it. If the number begins with a 9 then it is an organic piece of produce. Conventional produce starts with 3 or 4 and GMO produce (genetically modified-AVOID) starts with an 8.

The barrier to entry for most people buying organic is the higher cost and for some foods, the cost can be a double in some cases. Why is that? Organic farms need to maintain a higher level of adherence to farming practices that cost more. Organic is also more labor intensive. More is done by hand rather than by cheap chemicals. The yields are lower too. An organic farmer can not produce the same amount of carrots for example as a conventional farmer due to the standards required to maintain the organic and sustainable nature of the product and the farm. The organic farmer ends up sacrificing quantity of product for quality of product. Organic animal farmers are also not the beneficiary of government subsidies of corn and soybeans that provide for the cheap feed conventional animals are fed.  (The very feed that makes those conventionally raised animals so sick and in turn requires the use of antibiotics in the first place.) Organic farmers are also not injecting animals with the hormones that make these animals grow faster to provide a faster profit.

That being said, if cost is a factor for you as it is for many, here is some advice on what to prioritize due to their vulnerability to chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hormones.

  1. Eggs. Pastured and free ranges best. Organic and vegetarian is next.
  2. Meats: Beef, pork, chicken etc. Pastured and grass-fed is best, otherwise organic is next best. When grass-fed or organic is not available, stick with leaner cuts. In healthy animals you want the fat because it stores all the vitamins, minerals and good Omega 3 fatty acids. In unhealthy animals it not only stores fewer vitamins and too much Omega 6 fatty acids, but also the chemicals and antibiotics that were in its feed.
  3. Wild caught over farmed fish. Our farmed salmon are being fed corn! What? In what universe does that make sense?
  4. Dairy (if you are tolerant): Raw and pastured is best if you can get it. Otherwise organic and FULL FAT is best. Low fat dairy is useless!
  5. Veggies and fruits with thin skins, especially if you will eat the skin. Ex: Apples, grapes, pears, peaches, berries, peppers, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, carrots, celery, potatoes, yams, leaf greens. Do you get the picture? Veggies and fruits with thick skins that you do not eat like bananas, oranges, pineapple, avocados, etc. would be better produce to cut corners on.
  6. Melons and squash that are rooted through the ground can pick up the chemicals in the soil like cantaloupe, pumpkin and winter squash.
  7. Coffee and tea if you are drinking it daily.

 Something else to consider is that it is what you eat MOST of the time that matters. If there are foods you only eat once in a while then it probably shouldn’t be a priority. For example I know people who buy organic cookies. Really? I hope cookies are a once in a while treat; I’m not so sure that if cost is a concern, that you should be spending twice as much to buy the organic Oreos! If cost is not a concern then sure, go for it, but if your argument against going organic is cost, this is an area you should be limiting anyway.  If you are a snack food junkie and are eating it everyday then there are other issues involved here that we need to address.

Buying organics is easier than you think. There are several places to consider, some offer better pricing than others. Obviously Whole Foods is the obvious choice and they will have just about everything you can want but you will pay top dollar for it. Some other options are also:

  1. Local farmers markets are my favorite choice. They are local which is always preferred. You are supporting the small farmer and it is also more cost-effective.
  2. Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to get locally farmed and often organic produce and sometimes meat, eggs and dairy. Check out Eatwild.com for a local CSA near you. You can buy meat in bulk, freeze it and save on a per cut basis.
  3. Some local supermarkets are also offering an organic section.
  4. My grocery delivery service (Peapod) offers organics in most of the produce I order. They also offer organic dairy, eggs, cheese as meats.
  5. If you do not have access to grass-fed meats near you, try the internet! I’m convinced you can find everything on the internet these days, grass-fed organic meat is no exception. Check out US Wellness Meats as one option.
  6. Better priced progressive chains like a Trader Joes is also an option.

So, at the end of the day going organic can only help you. Yes it is more expensive but there are ways to manage that and if you are buying less crap at the same time, the net cost increase should not be all that bad. I wish I could say Big Ag and the USDA/FDA were on our side as far as taking the action needed to make buying organic unadulterated foods more affordable, but they are not. This is something we must do for ourselves. My hope is that by speaking LOUDLY with our dollars, the powers-that-be will listen and begin to realize that WE are the powers-that-be. (Wal-Mart is now selling organics….someone is listening!)Without our purchasing dollars, the crap that Agri-business produces will slowly cease to exist. Perhaps our government will eventually begin to subsidize the local farmers to encourage sustainable farming. Unfortunately to do that, first, they must admit they made a mistake in previous policy. Second they need to alienate a large source of political funding and support to take the tough stand against the money machine that is Agri-business and Big-Pharma. And third someone at the USDA and FDA in a high position needs to grow a set of balls, piss off the funding sources and put the general health and happiness of our population first. I’m not betting on that happening anytime soon. So for now, I’ve grown my own set of figurative balls and have chosen to speak with my dollars and my blog and eventually my health coaching practice to encourage people to JUST EAT REAL FOOD!!! Yes, buying Organic is worth it.

Until Next Time,

Laura, MGP

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4 Responses to “Yes! Organic is worth the price.”

  1. Pa-Leo says:

    Remember the automobile filter commercial?

    Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

    Well–

    Pay Me Now is paid for healthy organic foods, organic skin products (you absorb a lot of stuff through your skin), “clean” laundry and cleaning products, and clean water.

    Pay Me Later is paid to the Doctors, Hospitals, Pill Makers, etc.

    YOU have to pay someone…when do YOU pay?

  2. […] Yes! Organic is worth the price. (momgonepaleo.com) […]

  3. Claudia says:

    Very good article, Very eye opening.

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