June 17, 2010

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

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 [email protected] with comments, rants, or questions about how you can start eating healthier.

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