If you are reading a blog about living more sustainably, I’m going to guess that I don’t need to preface this post with an introduction about all the reasons WHY we started thinking about buying more organic food…this is about how we made that transition and encourage you to do the same.
The first items we started buying organic were the ones that, at the time, seemed most important…a commitment to buying organic milk was our first step. It is difficult to swallow the price tag on organic milk when it is sitting right next to non organic milk (and we did this quite a number of years ago, so the impact was even more apparent since the organic milk demand was low and prices very high) But we chose to buy it because we really thought it was a health risk to drink milk with antibiotics and hormones.
So my tip for the first step, pick one thing…like milk…and ALWAYS buy it organic. Just don’t even ever look at the price of the non organic alternative, just act like it isn’t even there. Picking one item helps concentrate your “vote with your dollar” effect because it consistently helps that item have a higher demand. I know it costs more, I’ll get to that in a minute…but for now I’ll say, just do it.
Second, we started buying more organic food…here and there. But the price was an issue every time, so every time I went shopping I had this stress associated with buying almost everything if there was an organic option. I hated this stress.
So I came up with the idea to just start with the alphabet…the letter A. anything that started with A I bought organic…apples, apple sauce, etc. And that quickly spread to about half way through the alphabet. It made it so much less stressful to make each individual choice, but the overall cost was still an issue.
So then there was this turning point…I won’t go into details, but I was privy to a conversation between one of the most well known natural food advocates, and some other people who are deeply involved at a corporate level with one of the most un-natural large agricultural businesses. A lot was said, and they disagreed on everything…except for one thing that both sides agreed on….and it hit me hard and reverberated through my consciousness….They agreed that the large agro businesses would respond to market demand!!!!!
This made me realize, there is no need to fight them on paper, or in the voting booth, or through legislation, fundamentally speaking, if absolutely everyone believed that they will respond to the market demand, then we as consumers hold all the cards. This isn’t a new idea, and I’m sure there is a lot of discussion about this topic, but I decided right there and then, even before leaving that room, that I would buy EVERYTHING organic (as best as I could…I am human) I would vote with my dollar!
So that solved a couple of problems…no more stress over every single item to buy…I realized that the organic food wasn’t “too” expensive, it is the cost that food is supposed to be (this is where I could go off for another two pages quoting the evidence for artificially low prices on non organic food, but ‘ll spare you).
But yes, it is more costly…so what did I do? Since we were in 100% in terms of commitment, it helped because we knew we wouldn’t compromise on the quality of our food, so we found other things to give up that weren’t as important as the food we put onto our bodies…things like hair cuts, clothes, entertainment. We basically increased our food budget by about 10% by cutting back in other areas.
Then we looked at the other side of the equation, how to buy all organic food for only 10% more than our regular food budget. (as a disclosure, our “regular” food budget was not exceptionally tight, but not on the high end either, we cooked more than half the time from scratch, ate out at fast food about 1x or 2x per week and out for dinner about 2x or 3x a month. One thing was easy…most food at restaurants is not organic, fast food definitely isn’t. So we gave up all fast food, and very close to all other dining out, only maybe 1x per month (And if we do dine out we try to choose local family owned restaurants or natural food cafe’s) Oh, and our Starbucks’s visits went from about 1x per week to 1x every other month or less (and when we do go for business meetings, we stick to a cheap house brew).
So now we aren’t eating out…that saves money, but means we eat more at home. How do you cut back on that? After looking at the options, we realized that the most expensive food is convenience foods (we didn’t have to think about it much to come to that conclusion, it is so obvious) So our grocery list switched from what used to be about 35% convenience items (frozen pizza, frozen toasted ravioli, crackers, chips, mac and cheese…etc) to about 95% whole foods…fruit, vegetables, meat, grain. I realized I was cooking and eating a lot more like past generations…chicken soup to get the most out of a whole chicken (no more boneless skinless, tasteless chicken breasts because they cost more per pound), roasted vegetables, bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal, etc. Basically we did most of the typical tips and tricks you see when researching feeding a family on a budget. We bought our grass fed beef all at once, half a cow…and it took about a year for my husband and I to get through it all and we bought whole pasture raised chickens and pork when it was on sale. One thing we do “splurge” on is natural bacon…I love bacon and just bite the bullet, even when it isn’t on sale. (update – we just ordered half a pasture raised pig, so bacon is coming!)
I hear people say “oh I can’t afford it”…and I realize this is absolutely true for some people…some day I may be one of those people…it is a hard place to be in and I hope that If you are one of those people you can cope and get back on your feet soon…I’m sending you some positive energy as I type this, but when I hear that same comment from someone who just came back from a vacation to Florida (I’ve never been) or who is answering their smart phone (I don’t have one), or driving around in a new or newer car (my car is 17 years old and I paid it off years ago) or all three, well that kind of steams me….that isn’t about the cost, that is about choices. With the choices we have made, I estimate we are spending about $600 more per year for organic food for our family of 2 plus being more creative/frugal in the kitchen, how much does your Starbucks and McD cost per year?
We have given things up to eat this way because, voting with your dollar takes commitment, and everyone working together. We are doing it for the very same people who say they can’t afford it when they just choose not to, and for those who actually can’t afford it, because as demand for natural foods, real natural foods, not just green washed pseudo natural foods, rises, the prices will come down, the quality will go up, the benefits to our health and environment will become exponential…That’s why we buy organic food and don’t take expensive vacations, why my kitchen has never been made over and why I encourage you to join us with the same commitment. It has been such a positive change in our lives in ways I didn’t expect…cooking together, feeling better, becoming a better person…who knew?
And last but not least…guess what not eating fast food, not eating Dorito’s, not eating Cheese It’s, not drinking soda or other convenience food has done as a by product? I’ve lost a lot of weight…I never went on a diet to lose weight, I just started eating actual good food, like fruit and vegetables as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted…really never thinking about weight loss in any way…the weight just started coming off. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t lived it…I would have sworn that I didn’t eat “that” much junk food, much less than I saw other people eating, but….the proof is in the apples I guess you can say…because after going organic only…with no additional exercise (and before I made some other dietary changes for health reasons) I lost 25lbs in one year.
So if you made it to the bottom of this long post and you have wiggle room in your budget by making some sacrifice, even if it is a little tight like ours, I hope you will consider just jumping in with both feet and going ALL organic. In so many ways it is a lot easier than just doing it halfway, and it is healthy, and good for the environment, and changes the tide of consumer demand towards better agricultural practices, tastes better (in my opinion) and is the right and ethical and responsible thing to do.
Update – I did our accounting one year after switching to all organic food and we spent LESS on food than we did before going all organic!!!!!!!!!!!!! How? We ate out less and cooked from scratch more, bought more in bulk and ate a lot less junk!!!!