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. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you, Ms. Valentine.

  2. 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.

  3. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you. I will for sure be trying to hit the farmers market when it's in season this year.

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 🙁

  6. LasaraAllen says:

    And, thanks for your comment, Zack!

  7. 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:

    Also, the Baltimore City Paper had a great article about organic and natural foods on a food-stamp budget a few months ago:

    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.

  8. LasaraAllen says:


    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. 🙂

  9. 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

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. LasaraAllen says:


    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!


  14. 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.

  15. Mahita Devi says:

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

  16. LasaraAllen says:


    You are welcome. It's a topic I think a lot of us are dealing with!

  17. LasaraAllen says:

    Nathan, I agree with you…and, the way I was using the word elitism is this (copied and pasted from a response to an earlier comment):

    "…perhaps elitism is a strong word, and "a position of privilege" 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 "

    I do not in any way believe that the "good food" movement is consciously working towards or engaging in elitism. However, even the luxury of having this dialogue comes from "a position of privilege", to quote DJ (comment on page one). And I am of this privileged class too – the one with a computer, internet access, and the time to have the conversation.

    It's all degrees.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. LasaraAllen says:

    Claire, excellent point of view, and one that's not been addressed here yet. Thank you!

  21. LasaraAllen says:

    Thank you, Amanda! I agree with you totally.

  22. LasaraAllen says:

    Thanks, Amanda!

  23. 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!

  24. Liz says:

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

  25. 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.

  26. Reagan says:

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

  27. LasaraAllen says:

    We're rural. Nearest TJ's is about 100 miles away. But a good choice for many urban and suburban folks.

  28. 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.

  29. LasaraAllen says:

    TJ's is a great option for those proximal to one of their stores.

  30. LasaraAllen says:

    I hear you, and agree, which is why admitting that I shop at Walmart was probably the hardest part of writing that article. Glad you and yours won out against them building in an ecologically sensitive area.

    My community was alarmed when Walmart was built. And yes, they are pretty much from hell. And yes, it is a huge compromise of my values to shop there.

    I also ate government cheese, and was raised on welfare. My parents did their best to create a self-sustaining life in the back to the land movement, but we still ended up subsidizing with food bank visits, soup kitchen meals, dumpster diving, and other tactics to keep the wolf from the door.

    Big Box stores suck, and I wish I had another option. in some case, I just don't. In those cases, I shop at Walmart.

    I wish I could buy exclusively locally grown, organic food for my family. I wish I could afford organic beauty products, too. I wish my kid's text books were printed on recycled paper. And I wish I could support more local businesses.

    But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

  31. 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.

  32. @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.

  33. LasaraAllen says:

    Beautiful. But that would have been a much longer name for the article, don't you think? 😉

  34. LasaraAllen says:

    Thanks for coming on over from Twitter! I love seeing you here. Thank you for bringing your .02. And that's all. 🙂

  35. Donovan says:

    Your honest comment was refreshing.

    From the land of Organic Valley Farms.

    Southern Wisconsin

  36. LasaraAllen says:

    Thanks, Donovan.

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

  38. Carol says:

    Thought you all might find this of interest:

    “The Organic Thrifty Food Plan Challenge”

  39. LasaraAllen says:

    Very interesting! Thanks.

  40. […] 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 .) […]

  41. LasaraAllen says:

    Does that mean you enjoyed the article? Hope so! 🙂

  42. Tanya says:

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

  43. 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.

  44. 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?”

  45. 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!

  46. 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.

  47. 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!

  48. 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.

  49. 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.