We are conditioned to want more for less. Frequently I hear people complain about the price of organic food and they let that initial reaction keep them from buying it. We have heard that organic is healthier, so why do we let price alone be the deciding factor. Is it worth the perceived extra price? I say yes and the key to keeping costs down is a little forethought.

There are myriad studies on organic food versus conventional food with regards to vitamin and mineral content. Some conclude that organic food is more nutritious and some are inconclusive. What is indisputable, however, is that when you eat organic food you are ingesting fewer petroleum based chemicals from pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. These chemicals are mostly made from recycled hazardous waste have been shown to cause problems not only for humans but for the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides, depending on the type, can negatively affect the nervous system, irritate the skin, affect hormone and endocrine function, and increase cancer risks. It’s not just what is on the food that causes issues. 95-98% of all sprayed insecticides and herbicides don’t reach their intended target, but end up coating our soil, draining into our water or floating in the air.

Organic food, according the USDA Consumer brochure titled Organic Food Standards and Labels, is defined as “produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”

The value to your long term health when eating food that is not coated in carcinogens or hormone and endocrine disruptors is incalculable. In addition eating something ecologically grown in turn impacts the environment and the animals that depend on the environment for food and shelter. If you also buy local then you are decreasing environmental impacts on long distance transportation, refrigeration, trucking maintenance, and storage facilities etc. all of which have a cost to our planet. All of these reasons add up to a non-comparable value-add for buying organic.

Budgeting Tips:
• Go to a grocery store that specializes in organic foods. A local co-op is a great choice – they have the food you want without the fancy frills and are cheaper than conventional store organic sections and cheaper than Whole Foods.
• Look for sales and buy in bulk. Last week I found organic avocados 5 for $5 so I bought 25 and froze them; peeled and quartered. Organic avocados for $1 each is a steal and I can use them in smoothies, to make guacamole, to make raw key lime pie… the recipe options are endless.
• Store any grains or nuts you buy in bulk in air tight containers, in your freezer if possible.
• I split the price of an organic cow with three others this year. I have enough meat to last me a long while and it was much cheaper than buying it through a grocery store.
• Find local and seasonal food for the best prices. Join a CSA or shop at a Farmers market. I have learned a little tip for the farmers market – shop at the end of their day, they may be out of some items, but they don’t want to take what they brought back home so they often drop prices. In my area the farmers market 30 minutes outside of the city is cheaper.
• Create a meal plan and make your own food. Meal planning helps you buy what you need and reduces waste.
• Shop wisely. If you can’t afford everything to be organic then prioritize your purchases. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) estimates that consumers could reduce their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent if they avoid the most contaminated foods and ate the least contaminated foods instead. Their “dirty dozen” is listed on their website (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/)

Going organic alone won’t save you from every disease but it does reduce your risks. You have to still read labels and choose wisely. Just because a food is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. There are plenty of highly processed organic foods; from organic white-flour, white-sugar cookies to organic soy hotdogs. Choose whole foods, local, sustainably grown and organic.