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Is Eating Organic Food Worth the Money?

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Eating organic food may cost a little more

If you've decided to give organic food a try, the first thing you may notice is the high price tag. Even though it's better for you, the fact is, eating organic can put a serious dent in your wallet. Is it worth the cost? Let's take a logical look at organic food and see what it has to offer.

Why Organic Food Costs More

  • Organic Food Doesn't Scale - The producer is usually not a nameless, faceless conglomerate with money to burn. The average organic farmer or rancher is a mom and pop organization and they just don't have the buying power available or the ability to set low prices like their competitors. Lastly, since they don't have the purchasing power of a big company, the food packaging costs is going to be more expensive.
  • Organic farming is Expensive - The fields used have to be certified organic and this land usually costs more. Most organic foods are not laden with cheap pesticides that endanger the population, and farmers have to spend more getting rid of pests and weeds with alternative solutions.
  • All of this adds up into higher costs for you, the consumer. While some organic food labels just charge more because they know people will pay for it, the average producer is simply trying to stay in business. But is all of this extra money really worth it? First and foremost, you are paying for food that may be safer to eat. Some say you can't really put a price on avoiding ingesting harmful chemicals. However, what if the money saved allows you to get a specialist doctor or lifesaving surgery later in life?

    Many fertilizers and pesticides used in regular food have been found to cause cancer. If you look at the money you would spend treating cancer, suddenly, organic food that is treated with safer pesticides and herbicides doesn't seem so expensive. Another example would be organic milk. I was watching 30 Days and the dairy farms they showed operated under conditions that turned my stomach. Cows stood in filth, the equipment can be dirty and often, packaging is not as sanitary as it could be.

    Compare this with a free range organic dairy where cows are not forced to stand in small pens in their own filth. You won't be drinking that and you'll likely be happier knowing that the milk was harvested in a more humane manner. This is also true of organic meats where conditions for the animals are usually much better.

    The bottom line is that organic food is generally healthier for you to eat. Can put a price on your health? Sure, you may be spending more right now, but you are also facing a lot less risk for developing chemical related illnesses down the road. When it comes to genetically modified foods that may not be entirely safe to eat, you can rest assured that your organic farmer is not using these potential harmful seeds or production methods. Organic food may not be perfect, but to the millions that buy it, it is well worth the cost.

    Make the Most of your Organic Food Budget

    I should mention that not all organic foods are the same. There are some fruits and vegetables that are more resistant to pesticides. One way to think about whether a fruit is susceptible, is to look at the skin. Fruits like apples have thin skin and people generally eat it. It doesn't give you much protection from pesticides. However, avocados have a think shell-like skin that I don't think people eat (maybe a few of you do). So you don't have to guess, Foodnews.org has a list of susceptible foods. One might consider not using their money on organic avocados and instead putting the money on buying organic apples.

    Sound off in the comments. Do you think that organic food is worth the cost?

    Last updated on August 3, 2008.

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    17 Responses to “Is Eating Organic Food Worth the Money?”

    1. Mud Puppy says:

      Unfortunately there are very few out there that aren’t owned by corporate giants.

      Here’s a good chart outlining who owns who in organics:

      http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=109

    2. Ryan says:

      People can definately get caried away and roped into spending way too much on groceries by buying organic. Places like Whole Foods and Lunds (MN local) gouge the high end organic consumer for that peace of mind that comes with pesticide free foods.

      There are, however, ways to eat organic and not feel like a slave to these high end chain grocers.

      1. We buy all of our protien and dairy from a farm buying club. The prices are higher than your average grocery store, but much more reasonable than from an organic chain grocer.

      2. In season, farmers markets have some great organic options. What I love about the market is the ability to negotiate. great prices can be had on Sunday afternoon when it’s time for farmers to start thinking about selling off surplus for cheap vs. having to scrap spoiled produce.

      3. Believe it or not, Target is ofering more and more organic options. As usual, thier prices are better than the Whole Foods types.

      4. Knowing which foods are most affected by pesticides is a good tool. As your article says, some fruits and many vegetables are not affected as much.

      5. Avoid the exotic and out of season produce. Eat organic banannas at $.59/lb rather than Kiwis or Cumquats at $6.99. Some produce is more radily avaliable as organic and supply and demand pricing will follow.

      6. Eat better foods in smaller portions. You’ll feel better, look better and have more $ left in your pocket.

      7. Worry less about organics and more about ‘whole foods’. Whole grains, foods high in water content, nutrient and antioxidant rich, probiotic cultures and lean meats. Stay away from fats other than unsalted butter and olive oil, processed grains and sugars. They are much more likely to affect your health than a non organic vegetable.

      8. Never put a price on health. Just because that ‘extra value meal’ is $2 is no reason to feel good about eating it. Save money elsewhere. Your gas guzzling SUV won’t be there for the birth of your grandchildren. Will you?

    3. L says:

      “even though it’s better for you” -citation? There is really minimal evidence (if that) that organic food is better for you.
      Many pesticides are rinsed off your produce when you clean them.
      I’d rather spend the money on local produce (fresher tastes infinitely better) and free range, well-fed meat (sentient beings should be well treated).

    4. Lazy Man says:

      Mud Puppy: Is it bad that organic food companies are sometimes owned by bigger conglomerates? If they are certified organic is there a difference?

      L: I realize this is a controversial statement. I was referring to pesticides. I can cite this comment from WebMD:
      “If you’re talking about pesticides, the evidence is pretty conclusive.” – John Reganold, professor of soil science at Washington State University. That is good enough evidence for lay person like me.

      I haven’t seen any conclusive studies that washing removes all pesticides, but if someone can show me a good one, I’ll put an update in the article.

    5. Will says:

      I joined an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) a month or so ago, and I’m eating more veggies now that at any time in my life. At $20/week, it’s pretty cheap for the amount of stuff we get.

      The only downside (if you can call it that) is that you don’t get to pick what you get–they send whatever they’re harvesting that week. My girlfriend and I eat anything, though, so we actually love it. It makes meal-planning surround finding recipes for new vegetables instead of whatever frozen meat we happened to pull out that morning.

    6. KingTut57 says:

      Soloman,
      That is a great policy to live by, but it has to be almost impossible. We ingest all kinds of chemicals all day without even knowing it. Unless you live in a bubble that is.

      I do agree that steering clear of chemicals as much as possible is a good idea, but avoiding all is impossible.

      I agree with Ryan about the whole foods comment. Not enough people are educated on the benefits of a holistic approach to nutrition. The more processed something is, typically the worse off the product turns out as far as nutrition is concerned.

      Doing research about individual products being deemed organic is probably the best thing to do. Some things will make more sense than others. Some products to be called organic don’t really have to pass very strict standards compared to the non-organic product.

      I also agree that there isn’t a price to be put on health.

    7. Steward says:

      I think I am torn on the whole organic thing. The more I read I am not convinced that organic fruits and vegetables are really a must, but organic (or at least free-range) meat looks better and better every day.

      Here’s a link from the Mayo Clinic that asks the question if organic is healthy and essentially answers no: Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious?

    8. Steward says:

      Sorry, my comment above should read “… if organic is healthier …” not healthy. Of course food is healthy.

    9. Lazy Man says:

      Interesting conversation about putting a price on health… I read this on Get Rich Slowly today:
      “As I ferried mom from doctor to hospital on Tuesday… I was focused on her health, on getting her help. In situations like this, money is not an issue.

      But we all know that money is an issue eventually. The vagaries of mom’s insurance and her savings will have a huge impact, not just on her but on the entire family.

      I think people that say that you can’t put a price on health might not be looking at the long term. What if L is right and expensive organic food isn’t giving us the health benefit that we think? Wouldn’t savings now possibly lead to getting a life-saving specialist when there’s a problem down the road?

    10. L says:

      I followed your link to WebMD, on the very next page the same professor states “Is it going to make a difference? I don’t know”.
      Really your statement should be “even though they have less pesticide residue…” not as catchy but factually accurate.
      If you want to invest in your health and your future then a healthy diet, without processed foods, plus exercise, is the way to go.
      There is certainly not enough evidence to say that organic food is going to reduce your risk of developing any medical conditions. To try and convince yourself that paying more for organic produce now is likely to limit your need for, say cancer care, in the future would be doing yourself a great disservice.
      Of course even a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee against developing medical conditions, you still have to contend with bad luck and unfortunate genes.

    11. deepali says:

      I think there is a factor being left out here – the environmental impact. I live in the Chesapeake watershed, where there is a immense push to remove pesticide and petroleum-based inputs. Why? Because this type of farming has wrecked the bay – we are finding all sorts of nasties in there (including a dead zone). Since we also fish out of the bay, you have to consider bioaccumulation as well.
      And then there’s the intake of pesticides into the plants themselves from the soil.

      The other appeal that organic has is that the waste is less toxic too. I don’t have to worry about arsenic in the chicken feed (fine for chickens, not so good in my drinking water!). This type of production is virtually unregulated.

      But I don’t think “organic” is enough. USDA regulations are stringent, but not monitored. Anyone can slap an organic sticker on their products and it’s up to a watchdog org to find them out.

      There’s a saying in ag work – “know your farmer”. Best and healthiest bet is to go to your local producer. He’s generally organic (but too small to certify) and you are always welcome to take a trip out there to see for yourself.

      And @ Ryan – Whole Foods does not actually gouge. If you want organic produce, they have some of the cheapest around (I did a pricing analysis project on this). The other thing WF has is trust – they verify the standards of their suppliers. They are also very responsive to consumers. My Whole Foods sources most of their produce locally too.

    12. Lazy Man says:

      L: I realize he says he doesn’t know. It’s very difficult (maybe even impossible) to prove one way or the other, so he doesn’t want to get in that argument. He does say that “Your chances of getting pesticide residues are much less with organic food…” That to me tells me that if you are going non-organic your changes of getting pesticide residues are greater (the inverse).

      If it turns out that pesticides have health benefits or more pesticides aren’t necessarily bad for you, then I’d say it doesn’t matter. I don’t know of any research on either of those, so I feel comfortable by taking the leap of organic foods = fewer pesticides = healthier.

      @deepali, Money Magazine says that “Whole Foods offers only a limited supply of local produce.” I don’t know how researched their article is, but putting it out there that they might not source most of their produce locally.

    13. deepali says:

      re: whole foods and local – it depends on the individual store. they are all fairly independent, so it’s up to the customers to demand more local produce (also dependent on where you live). at the one i shop at – the greens are almost entirely local. we also get local meats and dairy. other things vary by season – but what is in season is local. and obviously by climate – no local bananas, sadly. :)
      everything is labeled with the name of the farm it comes from. very handy.

    14. Emily says:

      I face this dilemma every time I visit the grocery store. I badly want to be able to buy all organic, mainly because of concern for my health — I don’t want all those chemicals in my body! But also because the animals are treated better. I hate that it usually costs double the price, though. I’m only a year out of college and buying organic food is making me go through my budget too fast. I’m thinking about not buying organic anymore, though I really don’t like the thought of ingesting pesticides. I’ve read that there are certain foods where buying organic makes a huge difference (thin-skinned fruits) but others where it’s not that important (crackers). Especially in this economy, it’s a tough call.

    15. In order of preference,I would choose a farmers market over local, local over organic, and organic over conventional. however, this really is only when I have additional money to spend, and additional calories I need. Otherwise, I tend to stick to meat.

      However, meat is one thing that I am going to buy local and grass fed if I can. After I move and get settled, I want to buy a quarter steer to get high quality beef. I would choose grass fed beef and milk over organic produce as the better choice of my food dollars.

    16. Anonymous says:

      It’s a smart expenditure of funds, but people can take it too far. Many times local is going to be better than organic because it doesn’t lose as much vitamin content. It’s also important to balance what you eat, financially speaking. If you eat a lot of beans (which are cheap), buying organic peppers and apples is easier. It costs a fortune to eat 100% organic, so I think it’s unfeasible for most.

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