5.7
May 28, 2010

Why I Don’t Eat Organic.

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.

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