Why I Don’t Eat Organic.

Via on May 28, 2010

Rebuttal here.

Daily Dilemmas of a Householder.

Being this broke was never part of the plan.

Call this a confessional, or an admittance of complicity. I’m going to call it what it is; an honest account of what it means to raise a family on a limited budget. This article is not going to spill onto the page without shame, nor is it likely to be read with complete comfort.

A family of four, living in California, our monthly food expenses run about $500. This is a substantial portion of what we live on. $500 buys us a month’s worth of food at Food Maxx, the California-wide discount food emporium, and covers a rare emergency shopping at a standard, average-priced grocery store.

In other words, we shop with the rest of the plebes.

Food Maxx is an awesome place to find the staples of the “poor person’s diet” – from Mexican family (cotija cheese, corn tortillas, black beans), to starving student (ramen, frozen pizza), to southern style (cornbread ingredients, black eyed peas, collards), and all the raw fruits and veggies you could want.

The Mr. and I lean toward southern, the kids toward college dorm, we all eat Mexican, and we eat fruit and salad by the pound.

What would get us a week’s worth of food at Food Maxx affords us one bag of food at the local natural food store.

* Gala apples at Natural Foods: $2.09/pound.
* Gala apples at Food Maxx: .98/pound.

* Navel oranges at Natural Foods: $1.49/pound.
* Navel oranges at Food Maxx: .78/pound.

* Broccoli at Natural Foods: $2.79/pound.
* Broccoli at Food Maxx: .98/pound.)

My family doesn’t shop organic. We can’t afford to.

One might say “You can’t afford not to!”, but that person is probably from a first world country, and is probably *not* disabled, a single mom living in the inner city, a pink-slipped teacher, or a migrant worker.

When the kids need clothes it’s the thrift store, Ross Dress for Less, or Walmart. When it’s a new backpack for school, there isn’t much choice at all; Walmart it is.

We can’t afford locally crafted. We can’t afford organic hemp clothing, or socks made of eco-safe materials – except for the ones I can get at Walmart..

So, every time this mama reads about the health-costs of eating conventionally produced food, hackles rise; a defending wall protecting the fear and confusion at the heart of my conundrum.

What to do when it’s a choice between eating all month, or eating organic and only having food part of the time? What to do when the cost of educational supplies vie with this week’s choice of food for the table? When it comes down to it, these are not really questions that beg answers.

Do I care about my eco foot print? Yes, I do. Am I against the global impact of companies like Walmart? Yes, I am. Do I worry that the way I’m feeding my kids (and myself) may lead to health issues? Yes, I worry.

But worry is of little use. The health costs of stress are well known, too.

Until organics are no longer a luxury-priced item, I will be feeding my family in a necessary solidarity with the migrant laborers, and the mom in South-Central working two jobs to support her kids and still just breaking even.

Honestly, with the financial climate in the US today and the increasingly rapid disappearance of any true middle class, it’s not just that “poor” mom living in a tough neighborhood who faces this crisis of priorities, but any family living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s most of us.

Until then, there is a built-in elitism in the natural foods movement.

At the end of the day I have to hope against hope that loving my kids with everything I have, raising them as consciously as I am capable of, and forgiving myself where I fall short of my ideals is enough. To this end, I trade hubris for humility, and – sometimes shamefacedly – join the ranks of those who are doing their best with what they have.

About Lasara Allen

Lasara is wife to her true love, and mother to two amazing young women. She’s also a best-selling author, an educator, and an activist. Lasara’s first book, the bestselling Sexy Witch (nonfiction, Llewellyn Worldwide), was published in 2005 under the name LaSara FireFox. As of 3/6/2012, after a coaching sabbatical, Lasara has openings for three three-week, individual, personally tailored coaching and mentoring programs. She also has slots in a cohort-model group coaching program available for a limited amount of time. Lasara is available for one-session commitments as well. Make whatever commitment feels best for you. Lasara offers individual coaching on topics such as; * Mental and Physical Health and Wellness - accepting your diagnosis (or that of a loved one) - learning to live with awareness of strengths and vulnerabilities - Learning to live gracefully within your spectrum of the possible * Mindful Relationships - self as primary partner - loving partnerships, friendships and connections - marriages - parenting - family * Spiritual Contemplation and Alignment - Entering into and committing to your spiritual inquiry - Learning to listen to listen for and hear the divine in your life - Inquiring into the role that faith may play in informing your path - The role of meditation, contemplation, and prayer in your practice For more information and endorsements, visit: http://lasaraallen.com/about-lasara/coaching-services/

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130 Responses to “Why I Don’t Eat Organic.”

  1. J says:

    Health isn’t necessarily about organic vs. non-organic. Organic sugar (along with plenty of other organic foods) will have pretty much the same effect as non-organic. If you have some space where you live, grow a garden (use organic seed if you want). Buy an organic bell pepper and you’ll have more seeds than you know what to do with (same with other seed bearing fruit and veg). Also, ditch the grains, they really have very little nutrient value that could be better obtained from healthier veggies.

    • Ambaa says:

      I garden as much as I can in my apartment (I have no outdoor space), but I find bell peppers extremely difficult. They will not flower for me. What do you suggest?

  2. stacey says:

    Thanks for telling like it is. admiring you as always.

  3. Xian says:

    I'm totally with you about the affordability factor, built-in elitism, etc. I choose to get the most bang for my buck, and that's usually not in the organic section. Yes, poor, impoverished me. As an organic grower, I can vouch that organics don't cost extra so that your local grower can buy eco-safe socks. Especially at the farmer's market, your extra money is going to keep us in ( extremely labor-intensive) business .

    The sad fact is, non-sustainable ag is easier, cheaper and will continue to be so until the petrol runs out. The organic market exists because there are (thankfully) people who can afford to support it.

    The happy fact is that there is a third way: DIY. It may take more energy than splurging on the organic aisle, and it won't make me any richer, but once you figure out how to do it yourself, growing your own food and sharing it with friends is cheaper, and will be a skill you will be happy your kids have learned when ALL the produce costs what organic does now.

  4. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you, Stacey. <3

    Great points, Xian. I wish wish wish that I could pay a friend to farm my food, and would love to have my own organic garden. Even in that arena, where I live, start-up costs are prohibitive at the moment – our soil is riddled with gopher holes, so either gopher-proofed raised beds, or bucket/bag cultivation is the only viable option for us.

    Start with the cost of supplies for beds, or buckets or bags, then add organic soil and amendments, and you have a tidy little pile of cash needed. I know the savings will outweigh costs, but right now costs preclude the project.

    Next year, we hope!

    All that said, I'm glad to report that our discount food store here in CA DOES offer organic dairy, eggs, and a few other items here and there. A perk of living in one of the most expensive (and progressive) states in the country. These items do cost more than their conventional counterparts, but we "splurge" on hormone free, organic dairy for our growing girls. It's one area that we can.

    We don't eat meat, though we are not vegetarian. The truth is I can't stand the thought of eating conventional meat, and there's no way we can afford organic. So, unless it's a very special occasion, no meat.

  5. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From facebook:

    Melissa Calderon
    I agree with you 100% that there is a built in elitism in the organic food movement. Whole foods has ads at our bustops (lol) Most of us who take the bus live on limited budgets as it is. The ads are shaming people to buy organic. I think if they want us on board make the cost of this stuff reasonable and jack up the price on the junk. The green movement while well intentioned and conscious is probably going to be leaving behind those of us who can't afford it. I feel less is more these days. Simple is the way to go to leave less of a footprint on the earth. I choose to live in a one bedroom and not own a car. You sound like you have a very intimate loving family. This is the goal we should strive for. More does not make you happy. Thank you for writing this blog.

  6. Rachel A. Mitchell says:

    I think this is a very well-written bit about a topic that is avoided, pooh-poohed, or outright dismissed among many organic foods proponents. As always, I admire your gentle straightforwardness.

    I am an ethical vegetarian and, at home, I eat organic products almost exclusively . Because I CAN. I am fortunate enough to have an income that allows me to and, not only do I believe in the organic foods/sustainable farming movement, I understand supply and demand. I truly believe that my continuing to choose organics will eventually make them more affordable to all. As awareness rises, regulations will pass, practices will change and we'll get where we're trying to go; healthy, sustainably grown food for everyone. That being said…

  7. Rachel A. Mitchell says:

    Living an examined life can be exhausting, demoralizing, and stressful. So many things need our attention, energy, love, time, money, passion, support, etc., etc., etc. At the end of the day, we all can only do what we can and it has to be enough. Anyone who judges others' commitment to a given cause or challenges them because they aren't "doing the right thing" it setting themselves above, outside, a judge of the worth of others' paths. We defeat ourselves and demoralize others with this behavior.

    I have a few friends who are young, starving student types. They came to me and said they wanted to eat better and this is what I told them: I will teach you how to cook so you can know what is going into your meals. Always eat fruits and veggies; buy fresh whenever you can afford it, buy frozen when you can't, canned when you're totally tapped out. (cont'd)

  8. Rachel A. Mitchell says:

    When frozen and canned go on sale, stock up if you are able. If you can't afford anything but processed foods, read labels and try to find the least processed items. Stretch those items by adding veggies, beans, grains, etc. Eat a lot more beans and grains (and I'll teach you about 30 different ways to prepare them so you don't get bored) and try to eat less animal protein. Make fast food a once a week or once a month thing, instead of every day; I can feed you for 3 days on that 1 $6 fast food meal

    The word organic never passed my lips because I know it's out of their reach. We've talked about why I eat organic and I think, if they find themselves in a place where it is affordable, they will switch. But how would it have served anyone if I went on a half hour lecture about everyone needed to eat organic RIGHT NOW or they are "complicit in the death of the planet" (someone actually laid that line on me once). (cont'd)

  9. Rachel A Mitchell says:

    OK, enough yammering from me and thanks for giving me a place to put my 2 cents. Be well and keep this good stuff coming.

    Ray
    (Aaaaand DONE!)

  10. elaine says:

    Agree with you wholeheartedly. We only recently have enough income to try to buy organic, and local and vegan and do "slow food". But for years we shopped at exactly the types of places you describe and we still buy about half of our groceries from places like Winco or Costco or Walmart.

    Thanks for being honest about this.

  11. Marjorie Miller says:

    What about growing some of your own food? You can grow potatoes under your sink in plastic bags. Small containers, some dirt, water, love, light and some compost from all those fruits and veggies, and voila you have fresh greens, radishes carrots and many other wonderful organic goodies.

  12. Sue says:

    The Grocery Outlet is a great source for discount organic food, and should not be forgotten. The same item at a natural food store is sometimes 2-3 times what it is at Grocery Outlet.

  13. Marjorie Miller says:

    Foraging for herbs and edibles is another option. Saving seeds(if they are not GMO Monsanto monster seeds). Get involved in a community garden project. Many other options are available.

  14. Nathan Smith smithnd says:

    Love this post, Lasara. This is a hugely important debate. I've been stewing about this for a while and will have more to say.

    My immediate thought is that it is stupid to think that buying organic is either necessary or sufficient to saving the planet. It's like thinking that handing out your cash to every street-corner panhandler is solving world poverty. Purchasing goods is a personal and economic decision. You do what you can and live with what you are able.

    The scandal is the subsidies for commercial farming that have created an agricultural system that neither serves our needs, nor protects our health. Your perspective is so valuable to counteract the privileged knee-jerk conscious consumerism. I'm totally with you.

    Don't know if Trader Joe's is in your area, but I have found that Trader's tends to have pretty cheap prices, though their environmental track record is spotty.

  15. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Ray, thank you for your .02! Good stuff. All of it. ;-)

    Elaine, than you for being honest about it, too!

    Marjorie, we're working towards some organic veggie gardening, and love the small scale idea, though the amount of potatoes we could grow under our sink would be minimal. We for sure want to get a back-yard garden going, but I addressed the issues in an earlier reply – the one to Xian, above.

    As for foraging, we forage for blackberries when in season, but there's not a lot more that easily foraged here without a bit more education than I have. Perhaps eduction worth getting!

    And while I DO live rurally, there are plenty of mamas and daddies who are not afforded the ability to forage as many urban areas are not foraging-friendly, though there are more and more groups and individuals undertaking the task. Resources galore on google: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=fir… – there's also a group I read about that does night time foraging and has canning parties. Super cool urban bonding!

    A community garden project is – ironically – not a very feasible option when living rurally. One must weigh the cost and impact of driving to a community garden site! The nearest semi-urban epicenter is a half-hour's drive, one way. So to save time, money and fuel, my family tried to group as many activities into one visit to town as possible.

    I will see if there's a community garden in Ukiah, though. Perhaps I can pitch in sometime while on an errand day.

    Sue, Grocery Outlet is somewhere I used to shop, until I realized that I spent more money there on inessentials wen I went. I would have better will-power now, as we have even less disposable income than when I used to shop there, but the multiple stops around town thing does wear me down after a while. I will check it out though. My sis-in-law has suggested it a couple of times lately, too. I'm glad to hear they're carrying more organic.

  16. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    smithnd, thank you! I would love to see subsidies go to helping small farmers go organic! I'd also love to see governmental energy programs investing in truly sustainable energy sources. It would be nice if the crisis in the gulf could have an outcome that pushed us in the direction.

    Trader Joe's is nice, but the nearest one is about an hour and a half away. :-(

  17. Sandy Conley says:

    I compromise a bit…some foods are worse than others in regards to their levels of pesticide contamination. Strawberries are about the worst, with peaches and peppers also on the list – those I buy organic when I can. And I don't use much milk, so I can get Stonyfield Farms when I buy it at all. Otherwise, though, I hear you…good foods shouldn't be so expensive! I'm glad the farmers' market here at Berea takes EBT now.

  18. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From facebook:

    Emily Epler
    I read your article. I have to agree and it's just me and my cat that I buy for. The only thing I do a bit differently is buy produce from neighborhood stores. The prices are low and the quality still high. I'm near MacArthur Park.

  19. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you, Emily. Shopping at local stores is great, especially if it doesn't hit the wallet too hard.

  20. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Sandy,
    Wow! A farmers market that takes EBT! Now THAT is super cool.

  21. Marjorie Miller says:

    Cordi Howell did some great radio shows on gardening and wonderful tips on growing food with limited funds, space, soil etc. Unfortunately she has retired for the moment as she just had a baby. You can listen to her archives at: http://www.americanfreedomradio.com/CordiCountry_

    My husband is a big proponent of square foot gardening. We garden on a rock filled hill. Check out the pictures on my fb page. Even after the flood and all the rain our garden is flourishing. Gardening becomes a passion that feeds the body and soul.

    I know all about the elitism of the large corporate Natural Foods stores, as I worked at the corporate headquarters of Wild Oats, and saw it from the bottom all the way to the top, and back down again. It is against the law for a publicly traded company to do anything that does not make money for its stockholders. They do not care about the consumers, unless it increases their bottom line. That is why we own a CSA in a small farm, so we get fresh goats milk , chicken, and eggs every week. If there were co-ops here, we would belong. We shop at the local farmers markets, Trader Joe's (not publicly traded,) and local shops, and grow as much as we can.

  22. DJ Winter says:

    I'm not sure any rational/compassionate person would ever tell someone that eating part time organic would be preferable to eating full time conventional. I'm a hardcore natural foods guy, but I think most of us realize it is a position of privelage. The one thing I have a hard time understanding is the elitism knock…what exactly is the elitism of a whole foods? Is it just because things are expensive there (relative to a foodmaxx)? Does the local coop selling the same items at higher prices not espouse elitism?

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      DJ, perhaps elitism is a strong word, and "a position of privelege" is more accurate. I was using the term elitism in the sense of the opposite of populist, or popular. "the term elitism may be used to describe a situation in which power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitism

  23. Jodi says:

    Thank you for your heartening honesty. I'm a Montana girl now living in New York. Growing up, I took for granted the garden I had to weed daily, the cows that gave us milk and loving moos, or the chickens that I had to raise up with a stick so as not to get pecked. My mom traded milk and eggs for money for our clothes. It all worked out back then.
    I ended up in New York as a nanny. Again, I ate well and then I decided to go to college to be Nurse and was so poor I had to borrow friends books as I couldn't even afford them. I felt overwhelmed with guilt that I had ever given my mom a hard time growing up with respect to my country girl life. My mom asked me if there were any organic farms nearby. Turns out there where, and so I traded my time for food. Oddly, my nanny experience was my most useful asset, that and not being afraid to clean a house, a barn, whatever. I'm now married and a mother of a beautiful little boy. I live on Long Island and "go organic" by getting my friends together and buying in bulk directly from the organic food growers. I grow lettuce on my deck in the summer and clip off what I can eat.

  24. DJ Winter says:

    PS, Marjorie: It is far from illegal for a publicly traded company to go strictly after profit! Plenty of good, publicly traded companies pursuing triple bottom line goals. Wild Oats was not all evil, either….

  25. Jodi says:

    I don't have my own yard and live in a condo and our board just proposed that the unused commons area could become a community garden for those that wanted to participate (which is everyone!). It may be the world's smallest garden, but we're all in. I wish I lived closer I would trade my son having some fun with some cool friends to get your garden sowing.=) People are so inventive these days, there are now gardens on Brooklyn rooftops and they supply the local restaurants. Talk about team effort. Families can afford to go out and eat a healthy organic meal to boot. I know it all takes money to start up, but all the same it's inspiring. I know that with a little creativity, we can all find a way to not only eat healthy organic food, but grow closer as a family, as friends and even more importantly as a community. There was a sticky on my door this morning, "will trade work in your garden for food with a number." I smiled and made the call.

  26. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Marjorie,

    Square foot gardening is super cool! We'd still need to get some things to make that happen – gopher wire, wood, and the soil mix. But it's something to work towards.

  27. Tee says:

    I'm loving the respect given here. I'm on both sides of the fence; I'd rather buy local and organic, and do so at every opportunity, but most often, I simply can't afford to do so. I can barely afford to buy real food, as opposed to processed stuff that ceased to be food somewhere down the line. This is another issue; families can eat cheaply on foods that are terribly unhealthy (McDonald's value meals, soda pop, crunchy snacks, frozen dinners, etc.) but to feed a family well, cooking with real, unprocessed ingredients, is much more expensive. Compare that with the the obesity in this country; take a look at what most of us can afford to eat. I believe there's a definite link. Personally, I'm currently on a raw diet of only sprouts I grow myself (for medical reasons). Not many calories, but packed with nutrition and enzymes and they're still alive until I grind them into water. And cheap? Two to three tablespoons of seeds for sprouting will give you sprouts for a week, and cost pennies. A perfect addition to any diet, though I wouldn't recommend it for anyone as exclusive fare (unless, perhaps, you suffer from some sort of colitis or other gastric distress). But, I digress. Lasara, you illustrated perfectly how each of us can try as hard as we can to walk our path, even if that means a necessary step or two off of said path to save a few very necessary dollars. Blessings to you and your family…keep on doing your part where you can. That's all I expect of anyone. Everyone. I have high standards. ;)

  28. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    DJ, perhaps elitism is a strong word, and "a position of privelege" is more accurate. I was using the term elitism in the sense of the opposite of populist, or popular. "the term elitism may be used to describe a situation in which power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elitism

    Jodi 1: I was also raised on a farm, dirt poor. For sure one of the reasons I feel totally overwhelmed with guilt at not growing all my own food for my kids! Glad to hear things have worked out so beautifully for you!

    Jodi 2: I wish you lived nearer, too! Honestly, if I had neighbors, I'd dive whole heartedly into a group gardening endeavor. I love the commons being used as a garden, and the rooftop gardens, and all of it. Totally inspiring. And, cool community building with the note on the car. :-)

  29. Gok Festuf Gearin says:

    There's a built in elitism to people not having land, and to people not being taught permaculture in school.

  30. [...] #yoga.@elephantjournal @yoga_mama latest @elephantjournal http://tinyurl.com/399n9y2 – What are your .02? #yoga.@elephantjournal @yoga_mama health risks, pollution, injustices. V [...]

  31. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From facebook:
    Wm Edward Guffey
    I enjoyed your article and am curious to know if buying produce, meats, and dairy at local farmers markets is equal or less in cost to what you are purchasing in the box stores? I am in VT and am very lucky to also work on a farm so I know where my food comes from. That is not true for most Americans. I am sure the extra time factor of going to farmers mkts can be an issue as well when juggling family schedules. Just curious and keep up the journalism. Peace, Be Well, Be Strong.

    Lasára Allen
    A local CSA offers organic, free range chickens at $108 for 6. That equals $18/bird. Wow! The farmers are friends of mine, and I wish I could support their work, but I haven't spent $18 even on a meal at a restaurant more than once in the past year. Seriously.

    Farmer's markets I am honestly not sure about price-wise.

    Another problem; most CSAs … See Moreand farmers' markets don't take EBT, previously known as food stamps. Some 40 million Americans are currently receiving governmental food assistance ( http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/05/26/spendi… ), and those who do live on that assistance can't buy food anywhere that doesn't take the benefits card.

  32. Emily says:

    We are lucky enough to rent a small house with a large yard. This means we have three laying hens who simultaneously fertilize and de-bug our small garden. We don't grow a lot, but we manage a few tomato, pepper, bean, and zucchini plants throughout the summer. I also prefer to shop at the local farmer's market when possible. I feel it's important to support our local farmers if I can. Try shopping towards the end of the market day, when they are trying to get rid of their excess – you can often get two-for-one deals if you're not terribly picky about what you get. Also, ask if they have bruised or otherwise unsightly fruit/veggies, as these will cost less. If you have the time and capability, these can be preserved at home easily (dried, frozen, pickled or canned) with relatively little materials (my dehydrator and canning supplies are primarily from thrift stores and yard sales). We can't afford much at the local health-food stores, and frequently resort to the FoodMaxx, Winco, or Costco routes. We do shop at thrift stores and second-hand baby stores for clothing (check for sales days to maximize savings!). We are progressing towards a more minimalist lifestyle in an effort to do more with less – who really needs all the gadgets and paraphernalia of living large if you cannot feed your family? I am the primary bread-winner with a solid job; my husband picks up work when he can find it, but in the current economy and the glut of unemployed people in our area, the job market in our area is not pretty. As a native to California, I'm used to the high prices of living here – it's just the way it is. We do our best with what we've got. We may live paycheck to paycheck, but we're healthy and happy. Thank you for the article – it helps to know we're not alone!

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      I will for sure try your tactic with farmer's markets. And as far as minimalist lifestyle goes, ours is pretty minimalist!

      And, you are FAR from alone!

  33. Padma Kadag says:

    Lasara….good article. I raised 2 kids on conventional food. Had gardens as well. There is no one feeding their family with a garden. Yes they supplement their diet but not "feeding" the family. There is nothing I do not agree with in your article. If people are feeding their family with a garden it is not a garden but a farm. And with the luxury of having one parent needing to work. then it may be possible to farm for your family. But farmimg is not easy. That is why they "toil" in the fields. In regard to the Green Movement…yes it is rapidly becoming Yuppified and lacking vision from experienced people who have raised children and know what it is to do so in a conventional world. Most of what I see is "fluff" for an elite group with the need for one income. So…while we do yoga for with our kids, and farm our own food, and take green vacations, who will earn the money? When will there be time to enjoy ourselves?

  34. Padma Kadag says:

    One more thing…there is a great more Fossil Fuel (Petroleum) consumed in Organic Farming vs. Conventional farmimg because of the higher rate of labor. Tractors are constantly having to be moving in order to keep up with the weeds and spraying…Sulfur, copper, and topical fertilizers. This would be for a farm that is a business. Independently wealthy people have the luxury of living in self sustained communities. The self sustained communities rarely if ever last.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      I grew up on a land association – I call it a "Hippie Reservation", which it was more like when I was a kid. Now it's a bunch of different classes, with most who have held on to the off-grid lifestyle having afforded to do so by "unconventional" (read: previously illegal) means.

      My family didn't grow weed when I was growing up (not that *everyone* up there did, just most). That left us living off the land for the most part, with government subsidization, aka welfare and foodstamps, as well as food bank food when times got really tough.

      My family *did* farm, not garden. We had goats, chickens, sheep, pigs, ducks, a cow, turkeys. Not all the time, but most of the time. Always goats. We slaughtered our own animals, gardened all day during the summer, had cold boxes for winter, and a small greenhouse.

      Living off/on the land, while many idealize it, is hard, hard work. It's not the life I choose, though I could have chosen it.

      My little brother is a farmer – he has chickens, pigs, a cow, a garden that produces nicely. He farms high quality medical marijuana as well. This is the way he and his wife, and their two kids, afford the off-grid lifestyle, and they live it with a luxury and ease that was not available to my family when I was a kid.

      They love it. And more power to them. Now that medical marijuana cultivation is an option here in CA, it's great to see that some CAN be more or less self-sustaining.

      But you're right: that is what you do with your life, it's not a side-gig.

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Lasara…hard to say what November's election will bring the small time Marijuana grower. May do them good but could very well destroy the market eventually. I went to Humboldt State and resided there many years. I was involved in farming hay and the like. The wealthy families there had made their money in timber and were now running cattle and acting as if the cattle business was their source of income…what a joke. My reason for noting this is because if you really do "follow the money" everything will be explained. The Green movement and Organics and jsut about everything we read on Elephant Journal sounds really good, most of the time, but is it realistic? Is it really sustained by a community. A community which is represenitive of the average American household? I think not. fads come and go. As does money.

        • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

          We'll see what legalization means in the long run. For medical providers who are truly working within the emerging and currently ever-changing medical marijuana (MM) system, it's encouraging specialization in certain strains, as well as a healthy "boutique" market for organic MM.

          The slow trend toward legalization has had a negative economic impact locally already, bringing the per-pound (bulk) price down considerably. In other states, states that don't have easy access to quality weed, medical or otherwise, the price is still steady at pre-legalization prices. But no one I know wants to become a cross-state-lines "trafficker".

          And yes, many ranchers who have been ranching for generations have turned to marijuana production to keep the family farm.

          I hope that things like urban gardening (as has been mentioned in some of the comments), community gardening (the cooperative, free kind), and the such can win out. Ironically, this seems more likely in an urban environment than a rural one!

          But fully self-sustained living? Not an easy goal. For anyone. Actually, for the average American family, IMPOSSIBLE is not too strong a word.

          When we go there, we have to take into account transportation, education, etc. Unless self-contained communities that are economically feasible for low-income families pop up out of nowhere, we're looking at a "pipe dream".

          And my self-contained, I mean home/work/school all in the same place. Or at least within walking distance.

          Even at that, we all wear clothes that were made by someone, somewhere. Generally out of cloth that was made by some one else, some where else.

          Sustainable. Just like in the process of awakening, we are only capable of what measures we are capable of.

          Luckily, with awakening there's no price tag!

  35. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From face book:

    Lorelei LaBella
    I also have a family to feed on too little and yet compelled to buy the best possible. I tend to make compromises and buy mostly from the large chains but also work on growing as much as possible and splurge every so often at the farmers market to support the local food. Surprisingly sometimes much better deals can be had at the farmers market than at the big chains. Every spring I dream of having the funds to get a CSA share but it has never been reachable. Community supported agriculture seems so idyllic and worthwhile but a share runs 5-600 and is a months groceries up front and well I have just not had it.

  36. Put it out on Freecycle for gardening supplies. You might come up with something. Also start a compost pile now with all your kitchen veggie wastes, eggshells, coffee grounds, teabags etc, plus yard waste and that will help your soil situation. You might be able to find wood at a house demo or construction (just the discard bits) site.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      I have a nice compost pile going, and it will help with soil needs. Good idea about freecycle though. Not just for me, either! A nice bit of advice that many can use.

      I love freecycle.

  37. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From face book:

    Leslie Selene
    honestly? i'm just too scared. i was a single inner city mom. okay, i only have one kid. i was on welfare and food stamps for a record five years. i worked my fingers to the bone as a massage therapist, and am currently suffering from RSI from over work. i still can't afford health insurance. but i am scared shitless to eat food that is not … See Morecertified organic.

    and i know that fear alone makes people sick, no matter what they eat.

    when we moved back here from italy after my divorce i tried drinking regular milk and eating iceberg lettuce. we ate about half of the amount we had been eating — and blew up like balloons from god only knows what hormones.

    i tried growing my own food in my back yard in oakland but all of my beautiful red tomatoes tasted like SMOG due to MTBE spillage in the Temescal creek. i know some food labeled organic isn't really any better for me. i know some of the food that is not labeled organic is fine to eat, but i feel like some of it isn't and i won't know which is which.

    now i have my own chickens and my goats are due at the end of the month. i planted some veggies. i can do this now because my kid grew up and moved away and i escaped to the boons.

    it shouldn't be this big a deal

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Leslie,

      Regular milk in indeed gross, as is iceberg lettuce. YUCK! We don't do either of those. We are able to get organic milk and some organic greens at foodmaxx, thank god!

      It's hard to say what is "okay" to eat and what is not. Organics on the national scale in some cases are just packaging and a big racket designed to sell to an emerging market.

      I am psyched you are so happy homesteading. I hope to experience the fruits of your labors at some point!

      And you are totally right; it *shouldn't* be this big a deal.

  38. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From face book:

    Ramona Valentine
    that's some awesome honesty.
    thanks for telling it like it is.

  39. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    From face book:

    Duke Egbert
    BEAUTIFUL, Lasara. You have worded, better than I could, the inherent elitism in the organic foods business. S'why I shop at farmer's markets — the organic price elevation seems to be much less there.

  40. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    from facebook:
    Zack Stentz
    I've definitely been in the "trying to be ethical vs. damn, those raspberries cost HOW much?" boat. We're lucky in that we have a pretty good farmer's market quite close by every Saturday (with pretty competitively priced produce in season). And Costco can be pretty great as well for both grocery staples and clothes (14 dollars for kids' Levis!) and has the added advantage of mostly paying its workers a living wage.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      The "trying to be ethical vs. damn that ________ costs HOW much?" is a hard one, across the board. Clothes, food, cars… And it's a real B*TCH! Is the market you're close to the year-round one that's kinda big? I love that place. It's so cool.

      We don't have a Costco in Ukiah. The nearest one is Santa Rosa. It's just too far for us to drive to make it worthwhile. But I know many who rely on it.

      Target also has great ethics about how they treat workers, but it's one step up cost-wise from the other options we've mentioned, and, again, the nearest is over an hour and a half away from us. :-(

  41. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    from facebook:

    Tom Swiss
    Of course cost is important, and maybe things are different on the other coast. But some organic items can now be found at Costco and Wal-mart and "mundane" grocery chains, at much lower prices than at the slick "Organic, Inc." places like Whole Foods. (Which deserves its nickname "Whole Paycheck"!)

    Food co-ops are still the best — that's where I… See More first encountered organic produce, back in the 90s, before it was yuppie or "foodie" to eat organic. I was a grad student rolling nickels to get lunch money, but at food co-ops I could still afford some organic choices. There are few of those around, but farmers markets or CSA seem to be a good choice.

    If you can only afford to chose organic some of the time, this is a good guide to which foods to pick to best reduce your exposure to pesticides:
    http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-s

    Also, the Baltimore City Paper had a great article about organic and natural foods on a food-stamp budget a few months ago:
    http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=19079

    And with pesticide exposure now being linked to ADHD [ http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/17/pesticides.a… ], we might have to start thinking about the cost of conventional produce + the cost of ADHD meds vs. the cost of organic (or produce from small local farms which sometimes use less pesticides.)

    No judgment implied: I know that, because our our fucked-up system, a lot of people can't afford to make the up-front investment in organic food. At the moment, I can (though it's tight!), and part of the reason I do is that I hope that by supporting organic and sustainable agriculture, the supply will expand and the price will fall, increasing availability.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Tom,

      Thankfully we do have some organic options availabel at foodmaxx, and we avail ourselves of them, for sure.

      My parents were part of a co-op way back in the '70s, which later became a semi-corporatized local natural foods store, which is super expensive. There is a collective buying endeavor here, but again, out of reach financially for us. farmers markets are a good option, esp. if they take EBT (food stamps), but most don't. CSAs are, unfortunately, as discussed above, way out of reach for the families I'm talking about.

      As far as ADHD, so is food coloring, and a variety of other things. Sugar. If parents were to assiduously adhere to a search to be even "perfectly" diet conscious, there'd be little time for the living and loving part of parenting. You know?

      Not being able to help support my locally producing organic farming friends is one of my big areas of guilt in all this. But, family first. It's gotta be.

      Thanks for sharing the great links.

      And, thanks for doing everything YOU can to support the trending towards organic affordability. :-)

  42. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    from facebook:

    Leigh Austin-Schmidt
    I hear you Lasara. We are 5, and it's a constant balancing act to keep us in organic, sustainable food. I thank the heavens every day that we live around the corner from Trader Joe's, and 5 minutes on the freeway from Costco who have an acceptable menu of organic items these days. Some things are just not organic, and that's just the way it is. But… See More I am perfectly willing to sacrifice any extra money we have, including going to the movies or annual bonuses to get that extra organic produce from the farmer's market (which is definitely NOT cheaper than Trader Joe's from Chile or Mexico, thanks). We have food intolerances here as well, which makes shopping and menu planning a *%$#ing full time job.
    And forget about shopping anywhere but Target for backpacks and school items. You're right, we just can't afford it, and it sucks not to be able to support organic hemp or cotton small businesses, but again, it's just not possible until the prices come down

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      We also sacrifice much to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Movies? Ha! (I agree.)

      Food intolerances must make it exponentially harder. I feel for you.

      And as for as Target (or Walmart) being the only option for backpacks…I have yet to see a hemp wheeled back pack, which is what kids need for schools these days, unless you want to court back injuries. (Seriously.) And yeah, it's hard enough to afford the wheeled variety at a big box store.

      Thank you for your input!

  43. Leigh says:

    I hear you Lasara. We are 5, and it's a constant balancing act to keep us in organic, sustainable food. I thank the heavens every day that we live around the corner from Trader Joe's, and 5 minutes on the freeway from Costco who have an acceptable menu of organic items these days. Some things are just not organic, and that's just the way it is. But… See More I am perfectly willing to sacrifice any extra money we have, including going to the movies or annual bonuses to get that extra organic produce from the farmer's market (which is definitely NOT cheaper than Trader Joe's from Chile or Mexico, thanks). We have food intolerances here as well, which makes shopping and menu planning a *%$#ing full time job.
    And forget about shopping anywhere but Target for backpacks and school items. You're right, we just can't afford it, and it sucks not to be able to support organic hemp or cotton small businesses, but again, it's just not possible until the prices come down.

  44. Durga says:

    F**k, this is a hard one, LaSara. Part of the issue, which I think you point to when you write about the shame aspect, is that we build identities around how we eat, as well.

    We do eat mostly organic, and pastured animal products where possible, and the work I put into it is more and more about buying in bulk with community. It takes a lot of work, and it's not possible year round. Buying in bulk yourself takes having money to put up front, and isn't possible when living from paycheck to paycheck.

    We need to bring our food costs down significantly, although we're not as close to the bone as you are. But savings are dwindling and income isn't rising at a significant rate here, so we're using the luxury we have at the moment to get the garden in place and make the connections necessary to buy our bulk animal products. We are totally blessed, I realize. It feels like a necessity here, though, as our oldest is chemically sensitive and doesn't do well when we stray too far into conventional food land, and our youngest also has a sensitive nervous system in his own way, intermittent seizures and such.

    I'm realizing more and more it's my form of activism. Unhealthy foods being subsidized by the government, and therefore forcing the poor into having to subsist on them is an abomination. I've read this country spends the smallest percentage of income on food.

    No answers here, but lots of love.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Durga,

      Thank you for your input! I totally understand your position (as I know deeply and intimately your situation with the boys), and I think it's lovely and amazing that you have taken on slow food and conscious meal prep and eating as your love and your living. I am so glad to see your passion blossoming into fruition in this way. (Visit Durga's site, folks! http://www.thecookawakening.com/ )

      I respect and admire your commitment to your choices. And you are, as always, graceful in presenting your choices without making anyone else wrong. <3

      Our percentage of what we spend on food is very high…for personal reasons I will not give the exact breakdown, but it's high. And we do buy and eat as much organically produced food as possible, even on our limited income.

      I wish I could afford to do a lot more to support organic, local ag. Someday, I hope!

      love.

  45. Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

    Thanks, Tee. I agree there's a relationship with obesity and poverty. The reasons that obesity and poverty often go hand in hand are not just food, but also a lack of exercise (gym memberships are expensive, running or walking in poverty stricken areas not always a good idea – not always a bad idea, either, but you get my point, right? – working two jobs at minimum wage to keep ends together AND raising kids, etc.).

    Thanks again.

  46. Mahita Devi says:

    Thank you for addressing this. It is an issue my family deals with each time we shop.

  47. Claire says:

    Thank you for sharing this; it is a great post. I don’t eat organic either but for slightly different reasons (although budgets are also tight in my home). I work for a general farm organization in Canada and I work with farmers of all types (conventional and organic) and I really don’t believe that organic is inheritantly better. I know lots of conventional farmers that care for their land and their food just as much as their organic counterparts. They work hard to reduce their pesticide and fertilizer use becuase it makes sense for the environment, human health and their bottom lines. But, when they do use those products, they use them very carefully and very cautiously and I don’t believe their use is a risk to human health.

    I do think it’s great that we live in a world when organic and local are options for some people. I hope that they become options for more people (like yourself) soon. But, personally, I’ll always choose conventional products that are produced locally.

  48. Organic also isn't fit as a diet "for a small planet," unfortunately. Organic produces much lower yields per acre. "Conventional" agriculture has many, many problems of course, including massive topsoil erosion that will screw us in the long term. But there are many arguments nowadays in favor of continuing these farming practices so that we can allow the developing nations to get to a place where global population will stabilize. So in a way, eating "conventional" could almost be seen as an act of solidarity with our poor brothers and sisters.

    One could argue that there is already enough food in the world, but it's a problem of allocation of resources and/or meat consumption. I agree, but there are few good solutions to the former, and few people in the "conscious consumer" demographic seem to care about vegetarianism (or lowered meat consumption) anymore.

    All of this makes me think more and more that the "conscious consumer" movement is really about whatever is most profitable. Whole Foods largely promotes organics and free range not as an ethical choice, but as a luxury good, a way to signal your social status.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      No simple answers, huh? We can each only do so much. But we do what we can.

      In my circles, many have lowered meat consumption. But you're right, it's topic that could be talked about more.

      I just hope for a day where everyone – 1st world and 3rd – has enough to eat, and what a great day that would be if all that food were locally grown and organic!

    • Tanya says:

      There is nothing wrong with "lower yields" in America: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Financial-Indust

    • Monkey says:

      Only because conventional organic farmers (yes intentional label) are still trying to farm with monocultural practices, or at best different plants in one area yet still in rows by type.

      Life just doesn't grow this way on the planet… if we look at reducing our laziness and the sheer size of what we are attempting to grow on, add in some incredibly efficient gardening principles (ala permaculture) we can grow multiple crops organically with a significantly higher TOTAL yield than any conventional shit out there, plus we will be rebuilding the soil as we go and as a result the produce will be becoming MORE nutrient rich over time rather than less.

      It's actually not difficult at all, nature is designed to create surplus.

      Think about this… using free floating carbon dioxide in the air, sunlight and water… plus a healthy soil structure, growth is made. A large part of that comes out of the air!

      What do we do instead? Turn over the soil, burn all the remains and add ridiculous amounts of chemical fertilisers which add to destruction of soil. Sure we get big stuff yet nutrient content is ridiculously small.

  49. Liz says:

    I hear ya, but if you have a Trader Joe's in your area try them for healthy groceries on the cheap.

  50. cat delett says:

    I find it sad and a bit disturbing that organic is considered by so many people to be a luxury and/or elitist.

    That said, eating healthy is all about degrees. If you can't afford organic, at least you can eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies and less processed food. Any small improvement can have a big impact on your health. The most important thing is knowing what is in your food to help make decisions — understanding about additives, chemicals, and dyes. Plenty of foods are healthier *and* cheaper once you focus on buying ingredients and not meals.

    However, while I know people who genuinely can't afford to eat organic, I also know people who simply choose to spend their money on other things, like gameboys, ipods, super-fancy phones, Wii etc. For some (not necessarily the author of this post) cost is an excuse to not change.

    • Lasara Allen LasaraAllen says:

      Yes, of course there are those who use cost and/or convenience as an excuse.

      My house is gameboy, wii, and fancy-phone free. (Though honestly, my whole family would LOVE to be able to afford a Wii.) But one also must take into account how "status" and symbols of status are different in different socio-economic groups. There's a larger picture at play there, and education is needed across the board (and across the country) about "buying ingredients instead of meals".

      However, often enough, convenience is not just an excuse, either. And until one has spent time in the homes of those who buy for convenience, judge not – lest ye be judged. Those (mostly) mamas are not trying to poison their babies, but are trying to get the kids fed between day job and night job.

      I commend these parents (again, mostly mamas) for getting a meal on the table at all.

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