Friday, October 31, 2008

Q & A: If You're Only Going to Buy a Little Organic Food, Which Should You Buy?

I got a question on Wednesday's post about organic milk, and I thought this would be a good post. So instead of just answering it in the comments, I thought I'd start doing Q & A's from time to time when a question in the comments section lends itself to an entire post. 

Q: OK, Robin. Here's my issue with organic buying. I'm CHEAP. And organic food is EXPENSIVE! So, if I were to add a little bit to my shopping budget and purchase SOME organic foods, which would you suggest is most important? I'm thinking milk -- the hormone thing with the girls -- but then I'm wondering if they've already been drinking those hormones for a decade or more, will it really make any difference now. What do you think? - gjk

A: I think you're starting with the right frame of mind. Take a small portion of your budget and allocate to organic and/or local foods. Milk is non-negotiable in our house. The boys drink so much that I think organic is paramount. Fortunately, Wegmans has it $4.99/gallon which is still significantly higher than non-organic yet a lot less expensive than other places - even BJ's.

I don't know if it's too late for your girls to start on organic milk as far as the amount of hormones that have built up in their body. If any of the readers can point us to info on that, please let us know where in the comments.

I'm wondering if you've got dairy farms near you. A friend of mine, Susan**, in Maryland just told me she's having hormone free milk delivered in glass bottles from a local farm* and it's not that much more expensive than the store. It's not certified organic, but it's still good stuff. Perhaps there is a farm like that out where you are. Home milk delivery is starting to come back in vogue.

If you're not sure about the milk, I'd probably go with produce next. I'm stealing this next part from one of the posts over at
Green Options
Certain produce, termed the "Dirty Dozen" by the Environmental Working Group, is so highly sprayed with toxic chemicals that, many experts recommend eating them only when they’re organic. These include:

* Apples
* Cherries
* Grapes, imported (Chili)
* Nectarines
* Peaches
* Pears
* Raspberries
* Strawberries
* Bell peppers
* Celery
* Potatoes
* Spinach

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others. The produce you can get away with purchasing as non-organic includes:

* Bananas (though I do recommend purchasing "Fair Trade" bananas)
* Kiwi
* Mangos
* Papaya
* Pineapples
* Asparagus
* Avocado
* Broccoli
* Cauliflower
* Corn
* Onions
* Peas

If you drink a lot of coffee at home then choosing organic coffee for your home brew is a great choice, and it's really not that much more expensive.

Also, if you've got bulk bins in your grocery store and they have organic oatmeal or rice or other dry staple type foods - they are usually a really good value.

Another tip - if your grocery store has an organic meat section, check it every time for those "manager specials." I find that sometimes I can get great deals - even cheaper than the non-organic. I got 10 packages of boneless, skinless thighs once for $1/piece. Wiped out the manager's specials.

Does anyone have any other advice for gjk?

* I never, ever would have imagined that I'd be telling the world one day that I was jealous of a friend getting home milk delivery. Boy, have I changed!

** I've been asked by Susan to amend this post. See, at first, I just wrote a "friend of mine." But Susan says it's "not cool using my life experiences w/o credit." Apparently, if I'm going to tell you all about how much wine Susan and I drink (see link above at her name), she wants credit every time she is referenced in this blog. Fair enough. So, since at least half of the good stories of my adult life include Susan, she'll be popping up from time to time. I think I'll make a specific Susan post just so I can link to it when she's mentioned. 
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Green Me said...

I think your advice is pretty sound! I also second Fair Trade & Organic Bananas (or no bananas at all). I had a friend doing some work in Ecuador and on a regular basis she saw banana fields sprayed with pesticides, from airplanes, with workers in the fields. I haven't bought a non organic banana since she came back and that was over 5 years ago!

Also, if you have the time, I'd check different stores for deals. For example, the health food store we shop at is across town, so we only go once per week, but we live next door to a Super Target and King Soopers. Target for some reason often has the best price on bagged organic apples. And King Soopers always has 10 for $10 sales, so if I stop in for something else, I always check out the organic produce (cereal, coffee, etc.) before I leave!

Robin Shreeves said...

Welcome Green Me.

Thanks for the reminder that buying organic doesn't just effect our health but it supports a healthy work environment for those who do the picking of our produce.

Adam Shake said...

I would also suggest that if you have a smaller budget for organic, then you should buy half a pound of locally grown organic X instead of one pound of organic X from the other side of the world.

A lot of what you are paying for is the gas it took to get it to the store, and miles to market is one thing to consider on an eco scale.


Robin Shreeves said...

Adam - good point. And I would also add to your suggestion that at this time of year, it would be great to spend your allotted organic goods money at the local farmer's market if it's still open. Crowds have thinned way out at my local market since the cooler weather has set in and the corn on the cob has disappeared. But there are still many crops that are producing and spending your money at the local farmer's market or farm stand can give a late season financial boost to local farmers.

GJK said...

Thanks for the advice, all. I just bought my first gallon of organic milk. Yay, me!

Robin Shreeves said...

gjk - yes, yay you!

Lisa Frack said...

Thanks for spreading the word about our shopper's guide! I carry around the wallet card and whip it out regularly when there is a glaring price difference or plastic wrapped on the organic version (gotta pick my issue!).

If your readers are interested, we have tons of other handy guides and environmental health research focused on kids and families here: Great site you have - a good mix of info and real-world guidance. Glad to know about it!