You want to start a debate, ask any group of moms how important organic food is, really. You can bet one mom will act as if you're feeding your baby poison if you let him have a cupcake at a birthday party without checking if everything down to the paper wrapper is organic, and another who happily shoves store-brand chicken nuggets into their child's mouth and thinks this organic thing is just pure hype.
But most of us are kind of in the middle. Organic food is more expensive, sometimes a lot more expensive, and it's hard to know if it's making that much of a difference anyway.
A few organic food basics:
Understand what "organic" really means. It's a government certification indicating that the food has been grown without pesticides and is not genetically modified (GMO). Organic dairy is produced without the synthetic bovine growth hormone rGBH and no antibiotics are given to the animal; they must also eat organic feed. Standards are similar for organic meat. It doesn't mean the animals are raised any more humanely or that the food isn't produced on factory farms.
Peeled or not doesn't matter. We've probably all heard that an easy rule of thumb for whether to spring for organic produce is to buy organic if you eat the peel. This isn't necessarily true, as it turns out; pesticides are absorbed by the whole plant. Peeling will reduce your exposure, but not eliminate it.
Buy whole foods, not packaged ones. Whole, unprocessed foods are cheaper and healthier, so you get more for your money. Peeling a few organic carrots versus buying the prepared "baby" organic carrots takes just a few minutes, saves money, and the carrots taste like carrots, not the plastic bag they come in.
Know where you're going to get the most bang for your organic buck. The Environmental Working Group has a list of the "dirty dozen" foods with the most pesticide residue and the "Clean 15" that are lowest in pesticides (you can get it as a PDF or smartphone app). Choosing organic for the "dirty dozen" makes the most sense if you have to watch your food budget.
Make friends with your local farmer. You can join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program that brings a box of organic produce right to you, or shop near the end of the day at your local farmer's market. Ask for a deal on whatever they have left; they don't want to have to truck that leftover perishable food all the way home, so you can stock up on the good stuff for cheap.
It's also a great place to get humanely raised meat; buy half a cow or a quarter of a pig and they will butcher the meat to your specifications. You will score a huge deal. We split a half a pig with friends and pay $2 a pound for humanely raised, pasture-fed, delicious pork.
Learn to preserve. If you luck into, say, a cheap flat of organic strawberries from the farmer's market, you can freeze them or make them into jam; same thing with just about any kind of produce. Ball Jars has a ton of information on freezing and canning food.
Buy in bulk. Many health food stores have bulk bins where you can stock up on pantry staples like grains and dried fruits; even wholesale club stores carry a fair amount of organic items.
Be willing to adapt. Maybe you can't afford organic steak, but a cheaper cut of meat would be more doable. Organic chicken breasts might be jaw-droppingly expensive, but a whole chicken to roast or pop in the slow cooker is only a couple dollars a pound.
For more tips, check out this episode of MomEd: Green Living.
Do you prefer organic foods?
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