Why I Don’t Eat Organic.

Via Lasara Allen
on May 28, 2010
get elephant's newsletter

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/


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

  1. Reagan says:

    Find a Trader Joe's if you can. Best prices with the best ingredients.

  2. I thought more about this— some things I simply can’t afford—but some things I can. We eat a lot of organic oatmeal for breakfast. It gets boring but I can buy it in bulk and its inexpensive. So are lentils and beans. We eat differently. I used to cook a different meal every night. That doesn’t happen any more. Now I might make a vat of chili on Sunday and it will be served several days in a row–the same goes for yellow lentils or black bean soup. Soups go a long way and are cost effective. When I make a soup I make enough to serve for a few days plus enough to freeze. I buy what is on sale at the Co-op which means I have to adapt my menu.
    We eat grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch a lot. I also make banana bread from scratch—several pans at a time. It works well as a snack or for breakfast. We eat organic pasta and sauce when things are tight.
    It’s not simple—but I’m not comfortable with looking at it from the perspective of organic— or not organic. For me it’s organic if I can, and I work hard at making it a can, BUT expenses happen-bills come up—things I didn’t plan on and I have to adapt. I get frustrated with the prices—I despise the elitism that I have seen—but I try to focus on how to nourish my family with the money allotted. It’s a dance—a continual shift. I can’t just plan out meals like I used to and I don’t have the luxury of eating whatever what I want. Like life—it’s complicated.

  3. @hiphopchess says:

    I realized many years ago that many vegan and organic movements were really just rich peoples way of "rebelling". People in the ghetto can hardly afford a gross one dollar burger (that they KNOW is killing them). They are not about to break their banks on wheatgrass…LOL…Yoga, and all the original vegan/organic lifestyles were born from poor people. But now everybody has "yoga" mats, clothes, bodty spray, soap etc. Yoga was born from living natural. Thats all.

  4. Donovan says:

    Your honest comment was refreshing.

    From the land of Organic Valley Farms.

    Southern Wisconsin

  5. […] a fairly calm, rational, and tolerant person, but this blog post, Why I Don’t Eat Organic, got under my skin like a stubborn […]

  6. Carol says:

    Thought you all might find this of interest:

    “The Organic Thrifty Food Plan Challenge”

  7. […] Those more sympathetic and compassionate than I am can tell me from now until the end of time that the poor and uneducated can’t afford or don’t know how to make healthy choices for their kids. (My friend Cat took those folks on yesterday .) […]

  8. Thanks for one more great article. Where else could any person get that type of information in such a great method of writing? I’ve a business presentation next week, and I am on the search for such info.

  9. West says:

    $500 a month for a family of 4? I WISH! This family of 4 easily spends much more than that and we have a garden, shop at ALDIS (discount grocery store in the Midwest), and rarely eats out.

    The price of food has far outpaced inflation and budgets. You are correct about Organic being a Luxury Item. It won’t be long til those people who buy Organic will start looking at their budgets and begin to question “Is this $2 apple REALLY better than this $.50 one?”

  10. sordog1 says:

    One more comment. The great Julia Child recommended, "Never apologize, never explain!" I think she was a Buddha. I think you are too!

  11. Mado says:

    Interestingly the single mother in the project probably qualifies for food stamps and can, if she's careful, afford to buy organic food. I was on food stamps for several years as a single mom and they not only saved my life, but allowed me to eat well (and organic!) no matter how dire my financial circumstances. You have to be good with a budget and the cupboards get cleaned out at the end of the month, but for those in need, it is a wonderful wonderful program. Unfortunately, you have to be pretty much destitute to qualify for them and most 2 income households don't qualify.

    I am sad that food stamps (or EBT as they're now called) get used so often to buy junk food. I disagree that people are already informed and just can't afford it. Some are and some aren't. There are many wonderful initiatives working from different angles, education is a part, EBT has its role, urban gardens, local farms (who might not be certified, but nevertheless follow organic practices), and probably other programs as well. Nutrition for low income families is a complicated and multi-faceted problem that probably won't be solved in an online forum.

    Just like with the other challenges we face, I think it's going to take a whole lot more waking up from the people on this planet in order for us to live on her sustainably. If each of us who is lucky enough to have enough to eat would look at the world through the lens of being of service to the world, I think a snowball of change could occur.

  12. Amber says:

    I often find myself in conversations about the "To vaccinate or not to vaccinate" conundrum and I feel the same way about what you are saying as I do these and other polarized subjects. That is, when a mother makes decisions for her family out of love for her family, THAT is what matters. In the work that I do, what has been learned is that food is less of a concern than a nervous system that is full of interference. A nervous system that responds and reorganizes itself easily has a MUCH larger impact than the food someone consumes. The perceptions of a person actually plays a much larger role than nutrition does. I like to eat organic food. I often eat less as a result. I find it refreshing to read your perspective. Not having children myself, I can skimp more easily. I have no idea where I might be if I were a mom! Sounds to me like you are doing a fabulous job! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Shannon says:

    I know how it is to try and feed your family on a budget! I make just enough a month to cover the bills, put gas in the car and sometimes buy groceries! 🙂 So Trust me, I know how it is. But I have really made an effort over the last year to phase out HFCS, MSG and processed foods from our diets. I believe that factory farming is harmful in so many ways, so I have made a consciuos decision to only buy organic meat. This means a lot of trips to the store, hoping to find mark downs and bargains. Mostly we eat dark meat organic chicken, and when Im lucky enough to find it: organic beef. I usually feeds my girls the meat and I will eat mostly grains & veggies. If I have a choice between eating the chicken myself or stretching for another meal by passing it by, seems like a no brainer. We eat almost vegetarian as well, having switched to a vegetable based diet. Many meals I can prepare with no meat, but still find a protein such as beans ro eggs to substitute.

  14. Shannon says:

    (cont) Eggs I buy local when I can, from the store when I can't, so its not always organic. I try to focus on the main foods that are bad for you when non-organic: apples, celelry, green peppers. I also try to always choose non-GMO edamame, soy milk and organic corn b/c of the hazards of GMO foods. Maybe its easier for me b/c both my girls had a dairy allergy when they were younger and I had to learn how to afford foods for them that were vegan (so they were dairy free). Its a lot of reading labels and creative thinking. BUt I made my choice: the girls health is my number one priority. Its no secret that organic food is expensive. But I have really tried to stop buying the filler foods (such as chips, cookies, etc) and focus on good food. Also, I try never to waste anything.

  15. Shannon says:

    (cont) MAshed potatoes one night = potato soup the next, and so on. I used to waste so much food.. well when you pay twice as much for it, I find it means more to you and you treat with more respect. I cant afford everything organic, but I try my best to make certain things a priority and stick to them. Your principles don't mean anything when you follow them during the easy times, its when its a sacrifice to stick to your guns that you discover what you are really made of: are you all talk or action? I refuse to let a higher price make me a victim of the society we live in. If you really want something (even if its just to eat a healthier diet) you find a way to make it happen. Its unfair that processed & chemical laden foods are subsidized by our government, while life sustaining organic produce is not.. but there is no use whining and complaining about it. If we want it to change, we have to change it–we cant wait around for someone to make organic produce cheaper so we can buyit–reprioritize your life if its important to you & MAKE IT HAPPEN.

  16. Alexis says:

    Bravo! This is such a wonderful perspective. Boiled down, isn't providing for your family above all other interest in the world? Wal-Mart, corrupt as they may be, offers some financial solace to those of us struggling. I would offer up that perhaps upon greater investigation we may find downfalls in the organic food supply chain itself. I also subscribe to the notion that the body, in general, is a machine and we should give it some credit for being able to tolerate some amazing things while maintaining health. I applaud you for providing for your children!

    • LasaraAllen says:

      Thank you!

      And an update. I stopped shopping at Walmart over a year ago on a dare from a dear friend. I've found I can do it, though I end up ordering a lot of stuff off amazon, ebay, and discount websites. (For example, the backpacks for the girls.)

      Peace on your path.

  17. Remy C. says:

    Maybe you should pick another health food store besides Natural Foods to price compare. They seems to be fleecing their upscale customers. They sound like a Gourmet Galley. Try more affordadle organic alternatives like Trader Joe's or even Whole Foods, which have very comparable prices on most items. Seriously!

    • LasaraAllen says:

      Um, well…Trader Joe's is a nearly two-hour drive. Whole Foods is 3 hours plus. (Also, many of my friends who shop there call it whole-paycheck.)

      Rural living has its upside, but access to a variety of options is not one of them.

      Thanks for your input though.

    • Ambaa says:

      Whole Foods is super expensive! At least where I've ever seen them :-/

  18. Chip says:

    Mrs. Allen, you have a family of four and you, admittedly, can only provide for them by supporting companies and industries that are contaminating the environment, that provide terrible working conditions and low wages, produce unsafe products and unhealthy foods, and place profit above the well-being of society? Maybe you should feel defensive. I'm sick and tired of people claiming that having kids is an inalienable right. This past week the world population reached 7 billion people and, still, there are those like yourself who don't seem to understand supply and demand. Organic food IS a luxury because it costs more to produce… the price of it isn't kept artificially low like all the subsidized corn syrup laden processed crap that American's feel entitled to eat. I don't have any kids and it saddens me when I see people like yourself, who toss their hands in the air and say "Well, guess there's nothing I can do about it. The whole world is against me. I can only be the best parent I can be!". Maybe you and the other 6 billion people in the world who can't afford to take care of their kids properly shouldn't have had them. When are people going to understand that having kids should be considered a "luxury"? There I said it. Let the hateful responses start. I have completely had it with people calling me an "elitist" because I actually put the health of the earth and society ahead of some of my personal "wants". There isn't a "built-in elitism in the natural foods movement"… there is a built-in sense of responsibility. And I wish that more people would understand it and take it seriously.

    • Chip says:

      In addition, I see no reason for your use of the phrase "I trade hubris for humility"… just say you trade pride for humility, the term "hubris" has absolutely nothing to do with anything you're saying. Thank you.

      • Wow, Chip! I totally read the article way different than you did. I am a single adult female, college educated, no children, live very modestly, and have average income…I myself cannot afford to buy organic. I did for sometime and almost put myself in debt and had to reconsider. There IS an elitist mentality with some of these organic shoppers. Maybe not all, but many. As a matter of fact, you have an elitist mentality in your response. I often wonder when I read comments from people much like yourself, if you have ever really suffered financial strain. Such as wondering where you may get your next meal; organic, non organic, meat, no meat, etc….just food to eat PERIOD. I doubt it. Have you ever worried about how your were going to make ends meet, put gas in your car to get to work, etc. You get my point. How can you be a mindful person, be a participant of a blog like Elephant Journal, and say, "I actually put the health of the earth and society ahead of some of my personal "wants". Putting down and judging another human being's choices to try to do what they think is best in their current circumstances does not agree with your statement. I wish that I could afford to buy organic as you do and I appreciate your efforts. I can also see where Lasara Allen is coming from, children or not. She does make the best decisions for her circumstances. I don't believe that she is feeding her children poorly as you imply. Anyways, you should not only be mindful of the food you eat, but the negative energy that you put out in this earth and society that you speak of caring about. The way you treated Ms. Allen in your response is treating another being poorly just as Wal-Mart may not treat their employees well. Have some compassion. We all can't be as great as you, Sir.

        • Ambaa says:

          Same here. There's two of us, no kids yet, and we can't afford organic (And yes, I do mean "can't." We live extremely frugally and go without most luxuries in life). Apparently it would be better if we just starved to death.

    • LasaraAllen says:

      Well, not that I already *have* the kids, do you suggest that I murder them to make the load lighter? I won't get more hateful that that. You already did it for me.

  19. Monkey says:

    Have you looked into growing your own food to supplement?
    It aint that difficult… look up hydroponics, or even better… aquaponics and grow fish and veggies that feed each other, require very little input and have the highest possible yield of any kind of farming known to man currently.

  20. Sachin says:

    Anam Brahma Raso Vishnu
    Pakto Devo Maheshvara
    Evam Jnatva Tu-yo-bhunkte
    Anadosho Na Lipyate

    (The food is consciousness (Brahma), the plasma in the body is the Protector (Vishnu), the fire which digests the food is the destroyer (Maheshvasa) of the impurities in the food. If I know this, the food in me will become pure consciousness)

    a.k.a. it’s all about the attitude! 🙂

  21. dave says:

    Grow your own, then. Seedbomb public spaces, plant enough for others. What goes around comes around.
    pEACE and fULL bELLIES 🙂

  22. Ambaa says:

    Thank you for this. I struggle every time I need to shop for food with needing to save money and wanting to buy the most eco friendly things.

    I think we do the best we can and forgive ourselves for not meeting our own really high expectations of ourselves.

    I garden a little hydroponically, but there still a lot I need that I can't grow and I still can't afford to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joes or even Wegman's!

  23. Anonymous says:

    That statement about being from a "first world country" is 100% full of shit. There were 10,000 poor Haitians that protested against Monsanto's GMO food. There were also poor people in Africa and India, as well as many other places in the world who protested against food that is not organic, so I just have to say that was quite ignorant on your part. At least if you eat organic, you won't have to pay for all the health problems in the future. You might also want to scope out a few other places that don't have such ridiculous prices because I live in the land of homogenized fried chicken and even I can find better prices than that. I suppose if you want your children to have cancer at 30, that's your prerogative.

  24. Rachel says:

    One positive trend that I’m seeing is that the grocery stores are getting more and more organic products. As the competition increases, the prices of theses organics (or maybe it’s the difference in price between the organic and the conventional) decreases. I don’t know how far this trend will go, and I don’t really know if it’s a real thing, outside of my area. I hope that more of us will be able to have access to affordable and fresh, good quality food in the future.

Leave a Reply