Affording organics: How to choose wisely


We all want to do the right thing. We want to buy organic exclusively. We’d love to buy grass-fed beef regularly. And we’d like nothing more than to eat wild seafood all the time.

But I know I’m not alone when I do a double-take at the seafood counter. I blink when I see wild shrimp selling for $15.99 a pound versus farm-raised for $5.99 pound. I gulp when I stop at a farmers’ market to find grass-fed rib-eyes priced at least three times higher than conventionally-raised ones.

What’s a budget-conscious, environmentally-concerned consumer to do, other than bolt to the dried pasta aisle and call it a day?

The answer is surprisingly simple, according to champions of sustainability:
Eat what’s best for you, but eat less of it.

With one third of all adult Americans now obese, that’s not such a bad lifestyle change to make. You might think twice about buying grass-fed ground beef at $9 a pound. But half a pound of it at $4.50 is doable for most budgets. After all, there’s no real reason each of us has to gorge ourselves on 6 ounces of beef at dinner. Try 3 ounces instead. Same with wild seafood. There’s no requirement that we must have a dozen shrimp in a serving of paella, when six shrimp is more than generous.

It’s easier than you think to get by with smaller servings of wild seafood, grass-fed beef because they generally have more flavor and plenty of protein, and are thus more satisfying. Put simply, it doesn’t take as much to feel satiated.

Round out meals with more whole grains and produce, which health experts always scold us to consuming too little of anyway.

How else can you better allocate your shrinking budget when organic items, on average, cost 50 to 70 percent more than conventional ones? The consumer guide, the Daily Green, has compiled a handy list of the top 12 foods to buy organic whenever possible, based on considerations of pesticides, chemicals, additives, and hormones. Its top picks for organic are:

  1. Beef
  2. Milk
  3. Coffee
  4. Peaches
  5. Apples
  6. Sweet bell peppers
  7. Celery
  8. Strawberries
  9. Lettuces
  10. Grapes
  11. Potatoes
  12. Tomatoes

When gas prices skyrocket, you don’t stop filling up. You just drive less. When the price of movie tickets soars, you don’t stop patronizing your local multiplex. You just become choosier about which movies to see. Organic and sustainable foods may carry higher price tags, but you can afford to enjoy them in some form or quantity. Given today’s health and environmental concerns, you can’t afford not to.

Photo by framboise

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  1. Ethel White
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
    This is certainly "food for thought", and I must say I have not considered this rationale in the past. I will, however, take it into consideration the next time I go grocery shopping.

    Thank you so much for your most helpful insight into an alternative way for us Americans to eat healthier on an environmentally-friendly, cost-comparatively sustainable budget.
  2. daniel
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
    chicken doesn't even make the top 12?
  3. SP
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
    Excellent post. I love the advice! Creative but, sustainable.
  4. Orangina
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
    It is an interesting thought, and I agree that we eat too much meat in one meal.

    But the price argument doesn't fly. You can also cut your cheap meat and cheap shrimp portions in half, leaving the organic options still twice to three time as expensive.

    Just buy organic for the flavor and your health! Feel good about making the world a better place!
  5. Brenda
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008
    This seems to be focused on singles, but what if you have a family, are you supposed to give them 1.5 shrimp each and tell them they are full?
  6. Josh
    Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
    I'm just curious when we're gonna drop the organic trend. It has become this amazing marketing campaign for many companies. Take coffee for instance. In most parts of the world you will find farmers producing coffees that are organic at least in standard but they then choose to work with roasters small enough to convey the standards to their consumers the farmers make more for the effort the consumer is happy because they purchase well grown sustainable beans and nobody had to drop a fortune on the certification. There are plenty of products out there grown free of chemicals in a sustainable way but most small farmers can't certify them. By from the farm or talk to people at your farmers market. I live in a low income inner city setting and I'm able to find fresh produce and I get to talk to the farmer so I know how it was grown and then I can actually afford to buy it.
  7. Wednesday, August 27th, 2008
    I'll have to keep that list in mind next time I head to the store or farmers market. But honestly, if you have to start cutting back because of costs...I'm going to be buying that value pack of hamburger from the standard grocery store instead of that fresh organic ground round that costs a fortune....