Monday, January 9, 2012

"Organic" on a Budget


Have ever watched the documentary, Food Inc? If you haven’t, I definitely recommend it. (http://www.foodincmovie.com/)  It’s a mind broadening experience.  Because of Food Inc, and other documentaries like it (The Future of Food, Food Matters, Ingredients, Home Grown Revolution) I began to think about food in a whole new light.

Mike and I went on a fast food boycott, near vegetarian and all organic everything else-mission. We became flextarians, eating an exclusive home diet (what we ate in our household) of fruits and vegetables, breads, nuts, fish, eggs, and occasional organic chicken or beef. But when I left work to be a stay at home mom, the reality of our budget (and the limited items that I could eat on my youngest daughter Naomi’s allergen diet) made us reconfigure things a bit. I knew it was important to eat as organic as possible (check out this website for details: http://www.organicfoodinfo.net/) but I couldn’t afford the high prices of a lot of organic foods.
So, like I do for just about everything in my life, I decided to research more on the topic.  I found out that the Environmental Working Group has a frequently updated fruit and vegetable list with information on the items that have the most chemicals. The fruits and vegetables on “The Dirty Dozen” list tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67. For the 12 fruits and vegetables on the list you should definitely go organic. “The Dirty Dozen” list (http://ewg.org/foodnews/) includes:
·         celery
·         peaches
·         strawberries
·         apples
·         domestic blueberries
·         nectarines
·         sweet bell peppers
·         spinach, kale and collard greens
·         cherries
·         potatoes
·         imported grapes
·         lettuce

Apparently the USDA has three different types of labeling for organic products: 
100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients
Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms).   
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package. http://ofrf.org/resources/organicfaqs.html
Conventional farmers
Organic farmers
Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
Use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use chemical herbicides to manage weeds.
Rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.
Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Skimming the surface research I figured my conclusion would be simple: Organic=Good J, Conventional Farming= BAD L. In my mind the idea of organic always created this image of a little blond girl in braids and a sun dress skipping through pristine fields of blueberries and clover in a  happy Swiss Alps like valley. But as my research continued I discovered organic doesn’t exactly mean organic like I thought.  That little prairie girl in my mind got bombed with clouds of Rotenone and knocked face down in the contaminated mud when I read one article claiming there are over 20 chemicals commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops that are approved by the US Organic Standards. (Some are listed here: http://organic.lovetoknow.com/Permitted_Chemicals_List_for_Organic_Farming)
 I researched some more and found out that Organic farmers are actually allowed to use pesticides derived from natural sources and processed lightly, if at all, before use. This is different than the current pesticides used by conventional agriculture, which are generally synthetic. But both natural and synthetic chemicals can be detrimental to human health. As I stared at my computer screen I felt like a little kid who just discovered that his favorite super hero was a Pyromaniac who burned down the apartment building he just saved 6 people from. Great! Now what am I supposed to do with that?  
I did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that large scale production of organic products are more than likely one step less evil than conventional farming. They still ship all over the world producing a high carbon foot print and when production gets large- quality and company integrity often take a hit. So in place of looking for only “organic”, I configured a list of what was important to my family in our food choices, a target for what we were looking for at the grocery store or produce stand:

1. Nutrient dense

2. No persistent harmful pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

3. No synthetic growth or breeding hormones.

4. No antibiotics.

5. Animal Quality of Life & Humane Treatment. (I’d love to say that I’m totally vegetarian but I gotta be honest-I love me a burger or juicy steak every now and then :)


My husband and I started looking closer at labels to see where our food comes from. Local is great, organic and local even better, organic and local and on clearance-OH HAPPY DAY!!! J  But for days when the sales are in hiding I found out that the Environmental Working Group also has “The Clean 15” list of produce with little to no traces of pesticides, and is safe to consume in non-organic form. This list includes:
·         onions
·         avocados
·         sweet corn
·         pineapples
·         mango
·         sweet peas
·         asparagus
·         kiwi fruit
·         cabbage
·         eggplant
·         cantaloupe
·         watermelon
·         grapefruit
·         sweet potatoes
·         sweet onions
·          
(You can check out this website for both the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/health/the-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-of-produce/616/http://ewg.org/foodnews/)
A lot of the veggies we buy at Kroegel Homestead Produce stand (http://kroegelproduce.us/) are locally grown.  Local foods are packed full of nutrients and as far as non organic goes they are probably your safest bet if you can’t afford the organic prices. Kroegel’s sells a lot of local hydroponic lettuce and fruit surplus from people’s gardens so they are consistently less contaminated than conventionally grown produce.

Still the biggest challenge for my family was to find alternative proteins. When you take into consideration that 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animal agriculture for non-therapeutic purposes (such as promoting growth and compensating for the effects of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions) it really makes you look for sales on organic meat and other animal products.  If you can’t afford to eat everything organic all of the time there are some things that people really shouldn’t skimp on like eggs and milk, and anything made with milk like cheeses and butter. 


Milk and milk based products weren’t issues for us (because of Naomi’s milk protein intolerance we were already excluding them). In place of milk we opted for Organic Rice Milk fortified with calcium and other necessary vitamins. However, when it comes to eggs I am fiercely stubborn with my organic purchases. Many people think brown eggs equals organic, but egg color is based on the breed of chicken! Either our ducks Fluffy and Baron give us our eggs or I buy organic.  They may be expensive in comparison with regular eggs but it is very worth it. The yolks are a brighter orange and the shells are thicker and harder to break, not paper thin like other non organic eggs. Plus the taste is just delicious and far superior to other eggs on the market.
For a while I considered raising our own meat too. But I soon learned that my local ordinances prohibit the raising of animals for meat in my neighborhood-not that I’d be all that thrilled with the idea of having to butcher any of our feathered friends.  (Jenna would never forgive us!) I checked my local markets and asked where they got their meat from and how it was raised.  Most meat department employees blinked at me with a blank expression on their face. One guy took a stab at it but his answer was far from reassuring, “Ummm, Texas…I think?” In the end the conclusion was the same in all our major grocery stores: most of the meat originated from numerous states, raised in multiple feed lots, processed in one of a few facilities, and then shipped to the store I was standing in to be cut up, ground up, and Saran wrapped to fill the refrigerated cases before me. Yucky! We knew that online organic distributors were too expensive for our pocket books so we had to find local distributors that met all our requirements.  BJ’s and Publix were two stores that carried these products at prices we could live with. 
Tyson and Perdue chicken were and are still on a permanent ban list from our household but surprisingly I found Publix Green Wise chicken was very affordable when on sale (at least twice a month).  What makes organic food so expensive is buying it prepackaged and processed. At $1.99 a pound I was able to purchase an entire free range organic chicken roast for about $8. I’d make a mini Thanksgiving like meal from it for one night and then strip the carcass and use the remainder of the meat to make chicken soup. Jenna and I would eat chicken soup for lunch and Mike, Jenna, and I would have it for dinner for two days before everything was gone.  So that $8 of chicken had quite a run life. 
With about 11 servings over 4 days it equates to around $0.72 per chicken protein serving.  
If you include *vegetables, *Organic Chicken Broth and the Organic chicken roast it ran about $16 total. 
 $16 to feed three people (Naomi is mainly breast fed at the moment) for four days, that’s $4 a day! Now who says that eating healthy isn’t affordable? Want to save even more money on organic food-grow or raise it yourself! Your family's tummy and your wallet will thank you :)


Favorite Organic on a Budget Finds
Item
What Makes it a Safer Choice for Your Family
Most Affordable Location
Price (Current prices at time of writing)
Publix Green Wise Whole Young Chicken Roast Without Giblets

USDA GRAE A Raised without antibiotics, no added hormones, vegetarian diet, air-chilled, no artificial ingredients or preservatives. 
Publix
Net Wt: 3.76 lb, Unit Price $1.99/ lb
Total Price: $7.48
Publix Green Wise Organic Grade A Large Brown Eggs
USDA Organic, Quality Certification Services, No hormones or antibiotics, zero transfasts, 5 g Carb per egg, and Cage Free
Publix
$3.74 per dozen
Bunny-Luv Organic Juice Carrots
 Certified Organic by California Certified Organic Famers
Publix
Net WT 25 lb at about $0.60 a pound
Total Price $14.99
Rice Dream Organic Rice Milk
USDA Organic, Enriched with Vitamins A, D, B12 & Calcium Lactose, gluten, & dairy free
You don’t have to worry about the treatment of cows-no hormone or antibiotic worries! Plus it does not have to be refrigerated until it’s open so it is great for stocking your pantry.
Walmart
64 FL OZ (1/2 Gallon) $3.50 a container
Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth

USDA Organic Free Range, gluten free, Certified Organic by Oregon Tilth, grain fed chickens raised without hormones or antibiotics in an environment where they can roam freely.  All organic ingredients. 
BJ’s
32 FL OZ (1 QT)
6 pack costs $10.99 so 1 32 FL OZ at $1.83 is way cheaper than regular non organic brands.
*vegetables (either grown in our garden for free, harvested by Mike at the farm he volunteers at, or purchased for $1 at Kroegel Homestead Produce’s clearance bins http://kroegelproduce.us/
*Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free Range Chicken Broth (available at BJ’s for under $2 for a 32oz container)

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