Eating Organic is not just for the Rich. ~ Cat Delett

Via on Jun 17, 2010

bulk food

This rebuttal to Lasara Allen’s wildly popular, much-debated article Why My Family Doesn’t Eat Organic first appeared on Mindful NJ, and is reprinted here with permission and our appreciation. Click over to Mindful NJ to see the already-robust debate they’ve had over there. One note: while Lasara is one of our favorite, featured columnists, Cat is essentially playing an away game here: so let’s be sure to keep the comments construction and respectful, whatever passion we might feel. ~ ed.

Organic food a luxury?

I’m a fairly calm, rational, and tolerant person, but a certain blog post, Why I Don’t Eat Organic, got under my skin like a stubborn chigger.

The author, Lasara Allen, calls organic food a “luxury” and eating healthy “elitist.” What?!

To call the way I feed my family luxurious and elitist would be laughable if it didn’t piss me off too much to laugh. It’s this “poor me” attitude that perpetuates our poor food culture and abysmal eating habits.

By telling yourself that good, healthy food is a luxury reserved for the elite, you’re telling yourself a lie designed to rationalize your complacency about making hard changes to your lifestyle.

In fact, my lifestyle and meal choices allow me to budget more for organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, and organic poultry and milk.  We’re very thoughtful about other aspects of our lifestyle: We don’t have Gameboys or HBO, our kids don’t have tons of clothes and shoes, most of my kids’ wardrobe is from the consignment shop or hand-me downs, I don’t color my hair or get my nails done—you get the idea. (My dear Ms. Allen, that’s not hubris showing, that’s my gray hairs—the same ones that lead kids to ask if I’m a grandma and wonder aloud why I’m so old, or my favorite, make me the “something black and white” in my kids’ game of I Spy. Hubris? No way.)

We choose how to spend our money and time. I choose to spend more money on quality food and less on processed calories and lifestyle extras. If you are truly worried about not eating organic, or healthier, then adjust your shopping list and the meals your family eats—and maybe other parts of your lifestyle, too.

Here’s a peek into my luxury-elite lifestyle:

• Meatless dinners (with beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs, or cheese) at least twice a week.
• Leftovers for 3-4 meals a week.
• I buy whole chicken, bone-in meats, cheaper beef cuts that get slow-cooked.
• Grains, beans, lentils, etc. come from the bulk food bins.
• Soup for dinner in the winter (and sometimes the summer).
• I try to buy produce in season, which is cheaper. (Sure, I hate not having oranges in the summer and strawberries in the winter, but I hate eating pesticides more.)
• No soda, sports drinks, or juices in the house, except for special occasions.
• I do a lot of baking and cooking from scratch, not because I have gobs of free time and/or love it, but because it’s cheaper and healthier.
• I can count the name brand food products in my house on — hey look: there aren’t any!

Not very luxurious, huh.

I actually think eating non-organics, cheap meat, and crappy processed food is the true “luxury” and “elitist” lifestyle.

For example:

• Buying boneless and skinless chicken, tenders, steaks, and other expensive cuts of meat on a regular basis.
• Drinking soda every day and sports drinks after every practice.
• Eating a meat every day, sometimes twice a day.
• Having a variety of snack foods in the house at any time.
• Buying bottled water.
• Eating dessert every night.
• Giving kids juice boxes every day in their lunch box.
• Eating berries all winter, shipped from far way places.
• Buying individually packaged snack foods for lunches.
• Buying heat-and-eat meals or ready-made foods

I know families who have plenty of money and still choose to eat processed foods and non-organics. I also know families of various incomes that buy organic and wear it like a badge of honor that inducts them into a secret society.

But healthy food isn’t a secret society or reserved for the wealthy. Please let’s not lump everyone who buys organic together. If I had my way, I’d help every family—that includes my new friend Lasara—figure out ways to eat healthier within their budget.

Cat Delett is the voice behind ConsumeThisFirst.com, a blog dedicated to sharing food intelligence with families who eat. She spends her spare time poking her nose into nutrition and wellness issues at her kids’ schools and browsing the supermarket in horrified dismay. You can contact her at cat@consumethisfirst.com with comments, rants, or questions about how you can start eating healthier.

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23 Responses to “Eating Organic is not just for the Rich. ~ Cat Delett”

  1. elaine says:

    I agree that one can eat well and do so economically, even while eating organic.

    You didn't mention one thing, though — veganism. Many vegan advocates say that going vegan SAVES money, though in my experience (a little over a year), it does not (it actually comes out a bit higher, though perhaps because prior to this we were buying some stuff that is so mass produced that it's incredibly cheap). Any opinion on that? (It seems that many "bad" calories are actually very cheap, so that people can feed themselves on crap but spend very little money. If you go vegan and organic and cease to buy prepackaged processed foods you may indeed be spending more, though in my opinion, for the right reasons.) I agree that people spend money on things they don't need, though for people with limited incomes, doing the organic thing AND the homemade thing AND the vegan thing may indeed NOT save money.

    • catdelett says:

      I don't know enough about veganism to speak intelligently on the subject, but thank you bringing it up. Maybe someone with more knowledge on the subject can chime in. I do agree, however, that the cheapest calories aren't usually the most nutritious. Of course, there are exceptions — such as popcorn, where organic kernels are cheaper than conventional microwave popcorn.

      • Krys says:

        I am vegan, and I almost never buy "made for vegans" food items. In other words, we buy fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. And no, we can't afford to buy organic. Being vegan, unprocessed food eaters does save us a LOT on groceries, but even so, unless an organic item is comparable in price, we can rarely afford the splurge. And short of giving up our phones or internet, there's not a corner we could cut.

  2. Christy says:

    Great post. I do the same thing, I spend less money on other luxuries so that I can feed myself the best food possible. My health is worth every penny, and I never get sick, go to the doctor, or pay for prescription meds, which in turns saves even more money. I do it vegan style though which IS less expensive than the same organic diet that includes animal products.

  3. Blake says:

    FYI, "organic" means that the crap they spray on it is not synthetic. It doesn't mean that crap is not sprayed on it.

  4. Marcus says:

    Great article! Sounds like the author has very clealy re-arranged her priorties for her family in such a way that supports health. I do the same, and I also just expect to pay a lot for organics than most peolple in this country typically spend on typical supermarket fare. I heard recently that in the U.S., a typical family spend 10% of its budget on food. In Europe, it is 30%. Why is that? Because MOST food in this country is cheaply produces and processed CRAP. In Europe, the food is generally of a higher quality.

  5. Colleen says:

    This is fabulous. 100% agree!

  6. Mari says:

    It's all about perspective and priorities. I have read both women's posts, and both have some valid points. I tend to I agree with Cat. I'm what I refer to as "dirt poor," but I manage to eat fairly healthy and buy certain items organic when I can, which is often. Sure, everyone's situation is different. For instance, I don't eat meat so don't have to work that into my budget, and I don't have a family to feed. But if I can do it, then many others who see this healthier way of living as out of their means, can do it too.

    Despite my meager income, my morale stays in tact because it’s true what your mamma told ya… you are what you eat! And that’s priceless.

  7. Erin Ely says:

    the problem is that "cheap" food is subsidized by the government, that's why it's cheap, it's not because its truly less expensive to produce. In the long the cheap food is MUCH more expensive to your health and to the environment so it's either pay now or pay later.

    I choose to spend my money on good food. I work full time, and make all my meals from scratch. It just takes some planning ahead but it's not that difficult…. before industrialized society and food came into play, other people were also working full time and cooking from scratch, they just were not working in factories.

    it's a cop out to say you don't have time to feed your family healthy food. I buy and shop as much as I can local and organic. We don't have cable, we don't buy a lot of stuff, it's a matter of priorities. It's always been a matter of priority…. where and how people spend their money.

    Cheap food is only "cheap" because it is subsidized by the US government, ie our tax dollars

  8. Randall Smith says:

    The unintended self righteousness between Ms. Allen and Ms. Delett is unfortunate. Both have valid points, of course, but it seems in the attempt to be "right", a lot of negative energy is being expended.

    Essentially the food I eat is my health insurance. I can't even afford the COBRA version offered to the unemployed. I choose certified OG domestically grown if I shop at the supermarket…when I buy at the local farmers' market I ask what fertilizers/pesticides are being used. If the vendor is offended by my question, I go to someone else.

    Right now I'm living on about $240 a week. I spend about $40 of that on food: fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, and seeds from the bulk section. I ride my bike to work most everywhere else I need to go. Yes, I'm tired at the end of the day, but it's a *good* tired. You either improvise, adapt, and overcome, and share your knowledge, or you despair.

    Food grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides is compassion- for the grower, for the planet, for the consumer.

  9. [...] Eating Organic is not just for the Rich. ~ Cat Delett | elephant journal [...]

  10. Charlotte says:

    Thanks, everybody, for your comments. I've been living paycheck to-paycheck most of my adult life, but I too feel that eating healthy, organic food is a priority. I drive a 17-year-old car, live in a small house in a walkable neighborhood, cook from scratch while working two jobs, grow my own veggies and fruits in the summer, and don't buy luxuries. I buy only organic, whole fruits and vegetables and grains and beans from the bulk bins. It is NOT expensive. As Randall said above, eating organic food is my health insurance. In the past 30 years since I stopped eating meat and started eating healthy foods, I've had to see a doctor only twice to help me deal with a genetic condition.

    I feel fortunate that I live in a place where it is easy to get healthy, organic food. I realize that not everyone does. But the idea that eating well is elitist or only for the well-heeled is just not true. Each of us has the power to choose our priorities. For me, it's eating organic.

  11. Kimberly says:

    It would be wonderful to think we could all afford to eat organic. I was born and raised in the housing projects – and if you would tell my mom, a single-parent who worked two jobs that she should feed her children organic food, she would probably laugh. You might say to prioritize and spend less on luxeries, but I don't recall any luxeries period. Now that I put myself through school and graduate school and I live in a place where where people are health-conscious and very intelligent when it comes to alternative ways of living, I've been eduated about living healthier. Yes, it's made a wonderful difference in my life.
    But seriously, tell that to someone who has forty dollars to their name. Poverty does exist – yes, even in America. And yes, that effects what you are able to put in your mouth. Go to the 9th Ward in NOLA, you'll see, yes, organic is a bit of a luxery. I just think there are some people, even cities so far removed from the reality outside places like Boulder. They don't understand there are families that live off of food stamps. Organic? Ideal, certainly, tangible for EVERYONE, no.

  12. Tor says:

    Hi Cat Delett,

    I just wanted to write and congratulate you on your fantastic 'eating organic is not just for the rich', thank you for mentioning our work.
    As I’m sure you are aware Compassion in World Farming is the only charity working specifically to end factory farming. We are a small but dedicated team who work tirelessly to promote better treatment of farm animals. We receive no government funding and as such are not in the position to fund large media campaigns; therefore we greatly value your work to promote our cause. It is fantastic to have eloquent advocates such as yourself onboard working as virtual ambassadors, spreading the word about farm animal welfare. Digital online technology has made it possible to reach an audience of millions using the peaceful weapon of the word. It is amazing to note the impact that just one person can have!
    If we can be of any future assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch and we'll help you in any way we can.

    Thank you for your support.

    Kind regards,

    Tor

  13. Tor says:

    You may be interested to know that Compassion in World Farming are hosting an upcoming memorial lecture titled "BEEF, BREAD AND WATER: ETHICAL FOOD IN A WARM AND THIRSTY WORLD". We would like to offer you two complimentary tickets for you and a companion to attend as a token of our gratitude for blogging about our work. If you are at all interested please contact me on Tor.Bailey@ciwf.org
    I would appreciate if you confirm your attendance asap to guarantee your space and to help us with event planning.

    Kind Regards,

    Tor

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  15. Julie says:

    Thank you for your rebuttal. I believe every person has to decide what they would like their money to mean, and I am working on moving towards making conscious purchases from conscious companies (environmentally, socially, economically, etc.) And, yes, sometimes this means evaluating my priorities. But, I started by purchasing organic cleaners, and ingredients to make my own (lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda), and moved on to finding more sustainable options for sheets (bamboo, organic Egyptian cotton, eucalyptus). Now, I findmove into buying organic farmers in my area to purchase large amounts of fruits (cheaper by the bushel), can them and eat them throughout the winter months when berries are more expensive. This does take up an inordinate amount of Saturdays, but is well worth it to me because time is money, too. But, paying myself to do the work is free!!
    I also get lots of info from Freebie websites and get all kinds of organic freebies!! I buy organic store brands when possible, which, by the way, are sometimes cheaper than mainstream brands, and I am slowly working my way to becoming more green!! All at once is just as wasteful….

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