Michael on February 25th, 2008
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When I started in on my grocery shopping kick a couple of weeks ago, one of the original questions I posed was:

  • Prefer organic food? Which ones?

Perhaps you expected that when we got to this question I would rant and rave about how costly and irresponsible purchasing organic food has become.

You: Pretty much.

Not going to happen.

You: So you bless people going into Whole Paycheck and spending $75 on four produce items?

Not quite. Like with all financial (and life) matters, the key is balance. Assuming you can afford it, you can clearly benefit from the demonstrated health benefits of certain organic foods. However, studies have also shown that the value of other organic foods is questionable at best, especially so after factoring in the increased cost.

Of course, the stores don’t make it clear which foods fall into the “worth it” and “it isn’t going to hurt you any but it is going to make us good money” categories. So you have to be the one to properly assess both your overall food budget and the importance of buying organic for each food type you purchase.

You: But how do I find out which foods are in either category?

A few years ago, we cut out a similar article to this one I’ve linked to and excerpted from below:

Organic items worth buying as often as possible: Apples, baby food, bell peppers, celery, cherries, dairy, eggs, imported grapes, meat, nectarines, peaches, pears, poultry, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.

Organic items worth buying if money is no object: Asparagus, avocados, bananas, bread, broccoli, cauliflower, cereals, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, oils, onions, papaya, pasta, pineapples, potato chips, and sweet peas. Also included are packaged products such as canned vegetables and dried fruit.

Organic items not worth buying: Seafood and cosmetics.

Source: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/20061201/organic-food-worth-money

We use these lists as our guiding light when determining which organic products to buy. Yet, there are still some fairly negative implications of shopping so responsibly.

You: Ugh. Such as?

Such as when my oldest daughter eats $3.00 of blueberries before I can take a bite of my 15-cent bowl of cereal in the morning and looks at me with those bug puppy dog eyes and says “Strawberries please Daddy?”

Sometimes, it isn’t easy (or cheap) being nutritionally responsible even when you’re being fiscally responsible. Of course, I suppose if we really couldn’t afford it, we’d be eating regular blueberries (like I did growing up) and everything would probably be just fine.

Sometimes I struggle with the organic vs. non-organic decision. Except with cauliflower. The reports suggest that vegetable isn’t worth spending the organic premium and, quite honestly, I don’t like cauliflower in the first place.

You’ll never live Beyond Paycheck to Paycheck if you’re spending money on stuff you don’t value. Even if they are vegetables.

To me, the organic vs. regular food decision isn’t an easy one. What about for you?

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5 Comments to “The 45-cent strawberry: Are organic foods worth it?”

  1. Jeremy says:

    It’s an interesting question — how to balance health/environmental concerns against cost. I like the idea of buying organic more selectively, since going entirely organic isn’t an option for most shoppers.

    A post on the NY Times website from October 2007 recommended spending a little extra for organic milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup and apples. The Times cited Dr. Alan Greene, who labeled these items as a “few ’strategic’ organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet.” You can read the full post here:


  2. Llama Money says:

    I guess that it’s different everywhere, but I don’t even consider buying organic here. The organic fruit & veggies around here all look small and sickly compared to their larger, more delicious looking pesticide-filled brothers. The cost is also hard to justify, especially for what appears to be an inferior product. I’m sure that organic products aren’t this way everywhere, just making a local observation.

  3. Michael says:

    Yes, I suppose in your circumstance there would be far less of a monetary debate: lousy looking beat-up banana for $1 a pound, or beautiful ripe one for 39 cents per lb.? Not a tough call.

    But on this topic, there is often more than meets the eye (not to mention the digestive tract).

  4. Genevive says:

    I recently came down with an infection in my liver. Just one night in the hospital racked up at $5,000 bill. Thankfully, I’m recovering. But eating organic has become a daily requirement, no an option. This is because the liver has to process everything we put into our bodies. Everything, even chemicals in the air. So more chemicals means the liver works harder to clean the blood.

    During my illness, I’ve not been able to work, and you might wonder how I can afford to eat only organic. Excellent question. Here’s my new reality: I’ve cut out all refined and prepared foods, including sugary drinks and pre-packaged items that contain more than 3 ingredients, and eat only fresh local organics. And guess what? My grocery bill is half what it used to be.

    Organics are more expensive in the big picture if you insist on eating them prepared, as a replacement for industrial convenience foods.

  5. Michael says:

    @Genevive – Wow – thank you for sharing your story. I wish you a full and speedy recovery!

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