Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You can afford organic food

When I talk about eating foods grown without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and eating meat from animals grown without hormones or antibiotics, and that lived a life free of unreasonable confinement, the first objection people raise is that eating this way is too expensive. Foods grown naturally are more expensive than food grown conventionally without as much care to the well-being of the animal, plant, or the resulting effects on the environment, but the expense is worth it. Many people believe they cannot afford to buy anything but the cheapest grocery-store fare, but I hope to persuade you that buying better quality food is affordable.

The first way to decrease your grocery bill is to have a garden, even if it is a pot of lettuce in a sunny spot during the winter and a tomato plant in the summer. Properly cared for, even small gardens can help decrease your grocery bill. Next, eat what is in season locally, and buy it from a local farmer. In June, eat locally grown tomatoes; in February, eat collard greens and root vegetables like carrots, beets, and potatoes. For more information on eating foods in season, read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.

According to the Environmental Working Group, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, celery, apples, cherries, nectarines, potatoes, bell peppers, grapes, spinach, and kale contain the most pesticide residues, and, if you have to choose, you should buy the organic version of these vegetables. Eating foods out of season often means that the food was grown in another country with less stringent pesticide regulations, which may mean more pesticide residue is on the food than if it was grown in the US.

When I say “organic”, I do not mean USDA certified organic, because the regulations add prohibitive costs of production to many small farmers and, although they follow organic practices, they do not choose to pay for certification. I buy my meat, dairy, and eggs from Wil-Moore Farms, in Lugoff, and their farm is not certified organic. However, when I visit their home to pick up my food, I see the animals living on pasture, and because I can talk to the farmers directly, I trust that the animals are raised the way they say they are. You may reach Wil-Moore Farms at 803.438.3097.

My first priority, because I have two small children that drink a lot of milk, is to buy organic milk. Happy Cow Creamery, in Pelzer, produces milk from cows that live on pasture, and they do not use hormones. Wil-Moore farms and some smaller stores carry this milk. One reason I like it is because it is minimally processed, which preserves the good fats and vitamins in the milk destroyed by processing. Their cows also live on the pasture and eat grass, instead of hay, grain, and silage like most dairy cows, organic dairy or not. Organic milk does not contain growth hormones, and the cows are not given antibiotics routinely.

Reducing the amount of meat you eat is another way to cut costs. Eat your cchicken in a stir-fry instead of a huge chicken breast, and reserve steaks for special occasions. Try cheaper cuts of meat, like roasts, instead of more expensive cuts. Eat your ground beef in chili beans and spaghetti sauce instead of hamburgers. Buy whole chickens instead of boneless skinless breasts and use every scrap of meat on the bird, and then boil the carcass to make chicken stock. Eating the typical American diet of a huge hunk of meat and a small amount of vegetables is unhealty and expensive.

Before I switched to buying free-range meat, by watching sales, I was able to buy my meat so cheaply at the grocery store that I often wasted it. If we got tired of eating something, I would throw it out. Now that I buy the more expensive meat, I make sure I use every scrap of it. I turn leftovers into stir-fries and pasta dishes. From the carcass of my Thanksgiving turkey, I canned about 14 quarts of turkey stock, which I will use in recipes calling for chicken stock.

If you want to make buying organic foods a priority, you may have to adjust your spending on other things. Processed snack foods, frozen meals, soft drinks, fast foods, and deli foods are usually neither organic nor healthy. They are expensive, though, and overconsumption of these foods will make you unhealthy. Unfortunately, they are a mainstay of most American’s diets.

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