Monday, April 12, 2010

Rant: Organic is Expensive!

Go to Whole Foods and load up your shopping cart with just organic food. When you take your cart to the cashier, you might be in for a big shock when you realize the size of your bill. It will be much higher than if you had not purchased any organic food.

It would be great if everyone ate healthy and organic, if we all could enjoy grass-fed beef and supported local, small farms. But eating organic is generally not cheap, and it is thus very difficult for numerous people to afford to do so. And until the price of organic food drops, it will remain largely out of reach for too many people.

On average, you'll pay 50% more for organic food, and as much as 100% more if you want organic milk or meat. But many proponents of organic food won't tell you that, or will try to minimize the fact that it can be so expensive. They thus do a disservice to the community, failing to provide full disclosure. If they are going to promote organic food, they should be telling consumers the negative aspects as well, especially something as important as price.

There are some ways to reduce part of the added cost but it requires extra effort. You can find some advice in books, magazines or online. For example, Vintage Eats recently posted some good suggestions in her article "Eating Well on a Budget: Recession Eats." But in the end, you are likely to still be paying more overall for your food, your savings mainly helping to reduce the usual increased price of such items.

Consumers have to balance the financial cost with the benefits they can derive from organics. Is it worth it to you to pay extra to avoid the potential dangers of pesticides, hormones, and chemical additives? For some people, the higher prices are an acceptable price for the benefits gained, while others don't accept that rationale. It is a matter of priorities.

Restaurants have to conduct this same balancing act. Though they may want to provide organic, local, sustainable products to their customers, they must balance the added cost to purchase those ingredients. They worry that their customers won't be willing to pay higher food costs, just to have organic ingredients. A restaurant is still a business, and needs to make money to continue operating. I have spoken to a few chefs lately, and they have talked of this dilemma, and it is often a difficult decision for them.

How much more are you willing to pay for organic products? Or do you consider them too expensive? Do you have more suggestions on saving money on organics?


Anonymous said...

Joining a Coop might be an alternative.

Caroline Taylor said...

You could always move to the UK. My local farmers market is mostly organic/free range etc. and because they have no shops, they have smaller overheads and most things are actually cheaper.
They regularly do deals and youo can always haggle.
Not only that but if you take sausages as an example, you are actually getting more food for your money. You are paying for pork, not gristle; herbs, not flavourings.

Amanda Maynard said...

Since moving close to a Trader Joe's, I don't shop anywhere else. I find that their food is usually better (i.e. antibiotic free chicken and beef, or even organic) and it's also far cheaper than what I would pay at a mainstream grocery store or Whole Foods.

The only down side I've seen is that they have far less fresh foods in favor of frozen. I've actually had some bad experiences with buying grapes and finding that when I got home, they were moldy. However, their frozen, canned, dry, and dairy products have all been fine from my experiences.

I suggest you give them a try if there's one local to you.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for the suggestions.

Amanda, I do shop at Trader Joe's and they do have very good prices on numerous items, though there are some items I rarely buy there. For example, I am not a big fan of their baked goods.

Couves said...

Regarding the many designations used for “natural” foods – they can mean very different things and some of them are mutually exclusive. For example, if you live on the East Coast, you may well have trouble finding local wine that’s also organic. Quite simply, there’s nothing “natural” about growing vinifera in our very non-Mediterranean climate. Hence, grape growers find it necessary to use chemical agents and more manipulation in general than is needed in, say, California.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Couves for your comments, and you are spot on concerning local wines. There are wineries trying to be as organic as possible, but they can't be 100$