Why is organic food so expensive? Does it really cost that much more to produce it? In some cases yes, it does cost more to produce it, and it certainly costs more to become “organic certified.” However the major reason organic is more expensive is due to the subsidies that the agricultural industry receives from the government.
Also, when you have an industry that generated $28 billion in 2012 and is becoming more and more popular you will have those that want a piece of the action. As organic demand and production go up you would think that the prices would go down but that hasn’t been the case in most supermarkets. Why would it? There doesn’t seem to be much competition especially due to the lack of consumer awareness.
The organic brands you find in supermarkets are owned by Big Food, the same corporations that sell the rest of the foods you find. It’s in their financial interest to maintain the price difference. So what alternatives do we have?
Shop local! The only competition for multinational agribusiness is to buy from your local farmers. They can be found at the farmer’s markets and through community supported agriculture (CSA’s). Shopping local not only supports your community, but it also reduces costs such as shipping and packaging. It is also great to be able to talk to the farmers who grow your food to learn more about their process. Becoming “certified organic” is also a costly process that many farmers choose not to participate in. That does not necessarily mean that those farmers provide a lower quality product. Get to know your farmers and their foods and the savings will be passed down to you.
Sometimes we do not have access to a huge variety at our farmer’s markets and CSA’s. Luckily there are many national brands and local health food stores that offer cost-effective organic foods. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Costco actually have a great selection of inexpensive organic foods. Other local health food stores also offer great deals, although some may be even more expensive! You really need to become a price detective and do your research to see which foods are available where, and for how much. Also look out for coupons from your local grocery stores, and sales as well. It also helps to shop seasonally as off-season prices tend to be higher. The deal you are looking for is out there, you just have to find it!
Not all produce you buy must be organic! When it comes to clean eating and produce, the major issue is the use of pesticides. However, pesticides are not used on all produce, and some produce have natural barriers to it. For example, fruits with a hard exterior peel need not be bought organically, such as avocados and citrus fruits. (If you don’t peel the citrus and use wedges in water for example, then you may want to be cautious. Also, cutting through the fruits may expose the protected inside to the pesticide residue on the blade.) The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” produce that can help you navigate the world of organic vs. non-organic. This list does not, however, reflect the inclusion of genetically engineered (GMO) foods.
Another option you can use is a vegetable wash which is said to safely remove pesticides, chemicals, waxes and soil from your produce using only natural ingredients. This is another low-cost alternative. You can find them at most health food stores such as Trader Joe’s already prepared, or you can make your own at home with some simple ingredients. Use a web search to learn more. Keep in mind, this only cleans the exterior of the produce and does nothing for anything contained within, or for GMO’s.
Finally, you can save a lot of money buy avoiding already prepared foods. Cooking at home is the best way to not only eat clean (by managing your ingredients) but also to save money. You save money on the packaging and preparation of these foods, and you are in more control of what is included. Some will say they don’t have the time or don’t know how to cook, but these things can be managed with a little investment. And what is better than investing in your health, especially in the long run?
This post was inspired by this article discussing the cost of organic foods.