The other day I found myself listening with a mother’s concern to a radio story about a young woman struggling to get by on a minimum wage income in the Pacific Northwest.
She was living in her parents’ basement after graduating from college, and the only work she could find was low-paying. Meanwhile, she had student debt to pay off. My heart went out to her when she began to weep about how difficult it was to maintain a healthy diet on her budget.
But then I heard her mention that her biggest problem was that she could no longer afford organic produce, and she felt this was ruining her health.
At that point, my sympathy for her evaporated, to be replaced by exasperation.
I don’t know many families who can afford the prices commanded for organic produce -- typically about 2-4 times the cost of regular products. That’s a very steep premium that can eat up a family’s entire food budget in no time.
But I also don’t know a single family in those circumstances who feels deprived for that reason. Much less panic-stricken or teary-eyed about it.
The Safety of Our Food Supply
This may be a news flash for some people, but eating organic is absolutely NOT a birthright. What’s more, our food supply is quite safe, so it’s not even essential to healthy eating. Most families do absolutely fine without it.
I'm not sure when it became the norm to demand organic and gourmet food, but it's quite common these days. Sadly, it is a lifestyle expectation that's quite out of synch with the economic reality most young adults are facing.
Of course, dubious claims about food regularly make an appearance on Facebook feeds, and elsewhere on the internet. And all too often people believe what they read there, even if the authorship is mysterious or suspect, or the writer is completely unqualified to discuss the topic, and the article has no basis in scientific fact.
Most of it is utter hype.
Organic Food Nutrition
Now, there is no question that aside from its often exorbitant cost, organic food is a good thing. But there is absolutely NO scientific basis for the claims that it is more nutritious. And many people don’t realize that organic products do not do a thing to protect them from such things as E. coli or other bacterial contamination that lead to food poisoning.
So, by all means, if you have room in your budget for organic food, feel free to pay the extra money and indulge yourself. But by no means should you feel disadvantaged or guilty if you cannot afford it.
My own family has never relied on organic produce other than what we manage to grow ourselves in our tiny garden during the limited growing season here in New England -- yet we are all very healthy individuals.
In fact, our doctor often expresses amazement at the fact that my husband and I are medication-free at our age.
I attribute that to the fact that we make sure to include a lot of fruits and vegetables in our diet.
And that’s where your focus should be instead of on eating organic. You’ll actually have a far greater impact on your well-being by simply including enough fruits and vegetable portions in your daily menus.
Whether organic or not, those servings are the single best way to make sure that you are getting all the vitamins and minerals your body cannot produce on its own.
Those would be the same vitamins and minerals that help us fight off illness and maintain healthy bones, hair and skin. You don't need to pop a pill to get them if you include them in your meal plans.
In a nutshell, the lion’s share of your caloric intake should come from plant-based food. And the less processed fast food you eat, the better. Whether organic or not.
-So allocate your hard-earned dollars to buying and eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, in general, to accomplish that goal.
-Focus on buying fruits and vegetables in season.
-Buy locally grown, if possible.
-Start your own little garden to experience the divine flavor of a homegrown tomato, or fresh green beans picked from the vine, or tender baby greens grown from your own seeds.
-Learn that there is often little correlation between perfect looks and flavor.
Above all, forget the sense of deprivation about over-hyped organic food. You’ll be better off for it, both financially and mentally.