Monday, January 2, 2012

Affording Organic - Part I - PRIORITIES

This is a blog post I first started in October 2009. When I was almost done writing it, Blogger had a glitch and deleted the entire post without saving it! In June of 2010, I once again sat down and started writing this post, which I am finally finishing up now in honor of the new year. Maybe someone will make it their goal to switch their family to a more wholesome diet this year after reading this.

I think my great aversion to writing on this subject is due to the fact that there is no easy answer. I would love to give you tips on how to switch to eating 100% organic on your existing grocery budget, but for most people, that is simply not the case. Unless you are currently spending a fortune on eating out and buying processed foods and snacks/sweets/sodas, and are willing to stop all that cold-turkey and start making everything from scratch, you likely will need to increase the amount of money you spend on food if you want to switch to eating all organic. I think that most of my readers already cook many/most things from scratch, and live frugally in general. For these families, short of switching to eating rice and beans, eating organically will mean spending more money. That's the bad news.

The good news is: You will be able to save in other areas, namely doctor bills, and probably add decades to your life or that of your child or spouse. Not a week goes by that I do not hear of yet another (relatively) young person being diagnosed with cancer or another chronic disease. Our family has no health insurance, simply because it would not make sense financially. Between the premiums, deductibles, and co-pays for even a basic PPO, we would be out of $15,000/year before they started covering part of our expenses. It has been at least 8 years since we dropped our health insurance, so you do the math. In all that time, the medical bills we have incurred are only a small fraction  of the premiums we would have had to pay, even after paying for one gall-bladder surgery, 4 births, and a handful of doctor visits. None of our children have ever had to go to the hospital, spent time in the NICU or PICU, etc. While I am certain that this is largely due to God blessing and protecting us, I also do believe it is our responsibility as parents to do everything in our power to keep our families safe from the toxins all around us. Providing nutritionally questionable, even harmful, food just so we can spend more money on a bigger house, newer cars, cable TV, more toys or vacations, etc. is selfish and irresponsible.

Looking at government statistics from 30 years ago, I learned that people used to spend 24% of their income on food, vs. only 16% now. This certainly is not a result of people eating less! Food costs have gone down because irresponsible growing and production methods, combined with government approval, have changed the quality of food on the market for the worse. During that same time period, people have DOUBLED the percentage of their income spent on health care - surely, this is no coincidence.

So maybe at the end of the day, between saving on health care but spending extra on food, we come out even (in terms of money) with those who eat conventional foods and spend more at the doctor. That is simply not a worthwhile trade-off for us. If one of us or our children ever were to become severely or chronically ill, I at least want to be able to have the peace of knowing I did all in my power to provide them with the nutrition they needed, rather than a bunch of expensive toys they didn't need.

I think sometimes eating organic foods is viewed as a luxury - something frivolous for only the rich. The reality is quite different. Food that is grown/produced organically is simply the same as food has been for thousands of years. It is not superior, as in "120%" of "normal food". It is not an added luxury, it is the norm, 100%. Modern conventional foods are substandard. They are less than what food should be, and has been throughout history - probably like 50% and going lower yet.

What if, instead of labeling organic foods, we labeled conventional foods? How would that change people's perceptions? Ground beef could be labeled to say: "Known to contain e. coli and other harmful pathogens, including feces, which are rendered harmless if cooked to the correct internal temperature". Strawberries, apples, peaches, and other dirty produce could bear labels like: "Coated in 12 or more different pesticides, which are known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Please wash in hot water with a mild detergent". Chicken: "Please see your child's pediatrician is (s)he starts developing breasts at age 8, or shows signs of antibiotic resistance". Pasteurized, homogenized milk: "Contains millions of dead pathogens which may cause allergic reactions. The rBST given to the cows may cause your teen acne and mess with their hormones." I could go on. Conventional food is not real food, it just makes an effort to look like it while causing far more harm than good.

Who here would say that they want to drive the cheapest car on the road, even if its safety ratings are terrible? How about living in the worst neighborhood with the highest crime rates because homes are cheaper? You get what you pay for. Food is no different. 

All that being said, in almost 3 years of eating 100% organic, as well as only using natural cleaning and body care products, I have come to realize that anyone can afford to eat "real" food. The question is what kind of trade-offs they are willing to make for that. I have seen people pull into the Whole Foods parking lot in 30-year old cars that were hardly drivable, but what they put in their bodies was apparently more important to them than what kind of a car/house/toys they had.

Right now, I can think of several individuals/families (ours included) whose household income per capita is (sometimes much) less than that of the average family eating conventionally grown foods, yet they eat 100% organically grown foods. It is simply a question of PRIORITES. By contrast, people who treat me like I am a high-roller and a food snob for buying organic always turn out to (a) make more money than us per capita, (b) spend more on food overall (when eating out and snacks on the run are included), and (c) are not willing to spend time making stuff from scratch. Which again proves my point that it has nothing to do with money, and is all about priorities. Throwing the "cost card" in is just a cheap cop-out. Our current family income, for 9 people (baby on the way counts) would qualify us for some government assistance programs, such as WIC. We have never used these, and have no intention of doing so in the future. And yet, we can afford not only to eat organic, but to eat a diet of very good meals. If we can do it, you probably can, too!

The Bible tells us that "having food and raiment, let us be content therewith", so as far as taking care of physical needs, our family ranks eating properly as a top priority, right alongside being dressed appropriately.

We simply do not believe that when God said He would provide our necessary food, He was depending on carcinogenic agricultural "advances" such as genetically engineered foods, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and mass-slaughtering of livestock that leads to the meat being tainted with feces, hormones, antibiotics, and other questionable substances. Maybe He intended for us to make cuts in other areas, such as the number of vehicles we own, the size of house we live in, or eliminating expensive sinful habits such as smoking, cable television, prescription drugs, etc. Also, God only promised to provide our daily bread, not our daily filet mignon and Starbucks. If we had to switch to rice and beans seven days a week in order to afford organic, we would do so, before eating conventional hot dogs, chips, cookies, sodas, etc.

To some extent, our switching to organic foods was in faith, because on paper the numbers didn't always seem to add up. We went into it with the determination that, if need be, we were willing to adjust our eating habits radically so long as we would not feed our children something that was labeled food, but really was just a notion of food, and fake as well as toxic. Thankfully, God has used my hard-working husband to continue to provide for our needs, and we eat very well every day.

Eating organic foods is just one small aspect of trying to live healthy, and is in no wise a foolproof safeguard against government-approved toxins all around us making us sick. Eating only organically is simply a wise choice to make in order to reduce our exposure, as well as to increase the nutritional value of our foods in order to be able to fight off other toxins we cannot help being exposed to no matter what. It is not the end-all, be-all of being healthy - but it is impossible to be healthy long-term on conventional foods. There are huge differences in quality between various organic brands, and there are some foods that are not healthy even if they are organic.

With all the disclaimers having been made, I will blog about my actual money-saving strategies in the next post. In the meantime, you can chew on this one! :)

Please click here for Part II.


  1. One can buy organic and hormone free foods and not shop and such high priced stores as whole foods. Fresh and Easy markets also sell all hormone free meats and dairy products and fruit and veggies and their own store brand is all organic (they are all over the Phoenix metro so I'm sure there is one near you in Tempe). Their food is very food and a fraction of the cost of Whole Foods. I can provide organic and healthy foods and save far more money by shopping at a store who's goal it is to provide quality food to all income brackets (especially lower).

  2. Anon,

    like I said, I buy most of our foods at places other than Whole Foods - I agree that their prices on most items are higher than elsewhere.

    Fresh and Easy here has very limited organic produce, and the produce I buy from an organic wholesale produce store is cheaper far than that anyway.

    As far as meat and dairy, "hormone-free" on meat is often a misleading label, meaning only that the hormone and antiobiotics residues in the meat are below safe standards. The of the main differences between organic meat and conventional is that the latter is almost exclusively corn-fed. Not only is this an unnatural diet for cattle, causing them to be sickly, but that corn is also genetically engineered and full of pesticides, making the meat very unhealthy, even if no hormones and/or antibiotics were used. We get our meat from local ranchers and producers who raise and slaughter animals on a small scale.

    As far as dairy, again, hormone free says nothing about the animal's feed, or whether or not it was given antibiotics. Even organic milk is not something I recommend, unless it is fresh (not homogenized or pasteurized) and local. No store in AZ sells that, we get it directly from the dairy.

  3. I do try to buy organic on some items for our family, but definitely not all. Often it's for ethical reasons rather than health reasons as well. I mean, "hormone-free meat" is impossible given that livestock produce hormones without any intervention from man. Also, cooking meat properly will denature animal hormones, so you're unlikely to be ingesting active hormone from cooked meat or pasteurized milk.

    But having said that, I do prefer organic milk and meat because I feel that it's kinder for the animals. They suffer less if they're not given additional hormones to increase their milk production or growth rate.

    As for other non-animal foods... I typically don't bother to go for organic produce. Partly because it's not widely available around here and I prefer to shop locally, but also because organic foods don't really differ in nutritional content to conventional food. An organic strawberry has the same nutritional value as a conventional strawberry, it just has additional pesticides, which is a whole separate issue. I wash all my fruit and vegetables anyway so that doesn't really faze me.

  4. Thank you soooo much for this post...I am looking forward to the next one...can it be tomorrow? Haha! Everything was said perfectly, we have been working on this for a year now, but there are still items in our family/diets that we need to get rid of. Also...are you a huge fan of vitamins, I know you take them, but if you have seen Food Matters, I would love to know what you think of that. I really trust your knowledge MOST on this subject, of anyone I know!
    Thanks a bunch!

  5. Ooops, it's Nicole!!! I didn't realize it but I guess I was (and still am) under my husbands account...Haha!) But, just so you know he was also impressed by this post and excited for the next one too!

  6. Just wanted to make a note on something said above - organic and conventional produce do NOT have the same nutritional value (although it's still listed as the same) - organic produce has much better nutrient levels, due mostly to better soil maintenance practices.

  7. Diana J -

    “This study does not mean people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

  8. Of course, any government funded study will come to that conclusion. Also, not sure how indicative the conditions in the UK are of those in the US, where genetic engineered crops are legal (unlike in the rest of the Western world).

    Even common sense will tell you that if fruits and vegetables are allowed to ripen naturally without being pushed on by fertilizers and harvested unripe for better cross-country shipping, they will have more time to absorb nutrients from the soil.

    Anyone who has ever tasted organic food, especially produce, knows that it tastes 100 times better. It's not just full of water, it actually grows slowly and develops flavor.

  9. Anonymous - The data I was going off of is contained in a book called "Green for Life" - it has all the stats on nutrient content of organic v. conventional produce. Unfortunately I can't reproduce that here, but you can check the book for the data. Cheers! :)

  10. I agree with this post a 100 percent and I am only at around 60 percent organic, which still makes me about 95 percent ahead of everyone I know. It IS all about priorities. I feed my family of six on about $600 per month. All our produce is organic. Although I do feel guilty sometimes shopping at Sunflower Market because they are not unionized and I support people making a liveable wage and am willing to show that support by not shopping at stores like Walmart. However, Mama needs her organic greens, gosh darn it. So I scab on over to Sunflower. Anyway, it can be done. We don't eat out. (Okay, I lunch about once a week with my girlfriends when the kids are at school, but that is a sanity break.)

  11. Irelands farming newspaper just ran a story this week, detailing the awful conditions that US cattle are kept in. The article focused quite a bit on the GM corn they are being fed. All I can say is...YUCK! We were shocked, as was every other farmer we know who read that article!

    Our family consider ourselves very blessed, to be able to raise our own beef, turkey and chicken.

    Peoples attitudes to organic produce is very funny. My husbands family think organic food is disgusting?!?? ...Although they think "soup" is stuff you get from a packet!

    Great post!

  12. Happy new year! Interesting post...But I'm confused - what is wrong with organic milk??? I am spending all this extra money buying it!! (Raw milk is illegal in Ontario, where I live, and I haven't really done any research to determine if it's safe or not.)

  13. DO you really consider prescription drugs to be a sin?

  14. One of the best ways to get organic produce is to grow your own :-D. I started a backyard garden when we moved into a house with a good sized backyard a couple of years ago. It was very small the first year and I increased the size last year. This year I will allocate about 2/3 of my yard to the garden and I am purchasing all organic heirloom seeds. I had never grown a garden before and I found that I love gardening so much. I also bought some chickens, they will be old enough for laying fresh eggs in the spring. I would love to be able to buy raw milk and cheese but I live in the People's Republic of Kalifornia and the few stores that I have found that sell raw milk sell it only in half gallon sizes to the tune of $8.99 and that's just way to expensive. I used to shop at Fresh and Easy when I lived in AZ and I did like them a lot.

  15. Wow... the Lord has really been tugging at my heart on this issue. We are currently a low budget family, but wholesome hasn't been a priority either. We love fresh produce and can as much as possible and I make a lot from scratch, but when money is tight food is the first thing we cut back on. I watched Food Matters this afternoon during the kids' naps and boy, was I floored! Just like you said in your post, our focus as a society is on rent and other bills rather than what we put in our bodies. Through prayer and careful consideration, I look forward to taking steps in the organic direction.

  16. That should have been Amanda ( and!)

  17. While it is encouraging that you feed your family a healthy diet (though I don't believe it is as healthy as you may think), I want to ask you about your own health, Zsuzsanna. You are a very pretty woman, but in recent photos of yourself, you look bloated, tired and much older than you are.

    Please know that I am not saying this to be cruel and insulting. I think you are a very attractive woman, but I feel that your lifestyle is taking its toll on your body. Running a household with six, almost seven, children is no easy feat, and I fear that you take on way too much. Eating 100% organic cannot fix shear exhaustion, which you seem to have. Please take better care of yourself, so you can care better for your family.

  18. Renee- I'm not sure what's 'wrong' with organic milk, but I am also from Canada (Ontario and Saskatchewan) and I don't bother with organic milk. It is extrememly expensive, and hormones like rBST are illegal here, so I don't think it's really that worth it to buy organic.

    Now, if raw milk were available, we would buy that in an instant!

  19. Anon,

    No, I only consider being addicted to prescription drugs a sin. I should have worded that more clearly.

    Anon in CA,

    you may be able to get milk cheaper buying directly from a dairy. Ours is $10 a gallon, and at that price the dairy is not operating at a profit. The elderly lady who runs it sees it as her ministry to provide milk to young families in the area at the lowest cost she can operate at.

    Even so, you would be better off to buy one gallon of real milk instead of 4 gallons of the pasteurized/homogenized kind, and it would cost the same. Please see my comment in Part II for the reasons why.

    There are several raw cheese dairies in CA. We get our cheese from them through Azure Standard, and the prices are around $6 per lb - not bad at all for raw and organic! Tastes great, too!!


    glad you enjoyed the post.

  20. I love this series. Thank you so much for writing it. I wish Azure Standard was available in our area. Only 1 store sells organics in my area, and they are a small fortune.

  21. I am CERTAINLY not an all-organic eater, nor is my family, but I do agree with this post. It was very well written and informative.

    I DO have to say to "Annie", are going to comment on Zsuzsanna's appearance? A full time mother of six children, a woman responsible for the lesson plans and the carrying out of the lessons for six children on a daily basis, a pastor's wife (which can be a full time position in and of itself)my hat's off to her for even being able to dress herself in the mornings!

    I'm glad my picture is not posted on the blog. I would hate for someone to critique my looks!

  22. I am so glad that you did this post , I wish we could be 100 percent organic , but we can't find raw milk and dairy products in our area .

  23. "Looking at government statistics from 30 years ago, I learned that people used to spend 24% of their income on food, vs. only 16% now. This certainly is not a result of people eating less! Food costs have gone down because irresponsible growing and production methods, combined with government approval, have changed the quality of food on the market for the worse. During that same time period, people have DOUBLED the percentage of their income spent on health care - surely, this is no coincidence."
    That can be explained by increasing government regulation into the health care industry but what can't be explained is this graph
    According your hypothesis, the closer we get to "pure,untainted" food, the longer life expectancy we should have. However, the graph shows life expectancies have risen steadily as "toxic" food has been universally available. Perhaps the advances which have made more and more varieties of foods available have also increased life expectancy? A little food for thought


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