How to Afford Organic Food on a Budget

12 Feb, 2014

Guest Article by Robyn O’Brien, cross posted from Prevention.com

Organic is a loaded term. For some, it conjures up ideas of lifestyles of the rich and famous, and for others, it is a food play. 

Organic is an adjective used to describe food that has been grown without the use of certain artificial ingredients: things like high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial growth hormones and genetically engineered ingredients. By law, none of these things are allowed in the production of “organic” food. But all of these ingredients are new to our food supply, introduced in the last 30 years, which is why we now call food that doesn’t contain them “organic.”

But with so many Americans struggling to pay bills, talking about “organic” foods, produced without the use of all kinds of additives and ingredients, can often sound like a luxury that few can afford.

Why is it so expensive? Because right now, at the federal level, we’ve got an uneven playing field. Farmers that choose to grow food, genetically engineered to be saturated in chemicals, receive financial aid called “subsidies.” They also get marketing support and crop insurance. While farmers growing things organically, don’t, making their products more costly to produce.

Clean and safe food is a right that should be afforded to all Americans, not just those in certain zip codes, especially since it’s our tax dollars going into the farming programs. With organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the President’s Cancer Panel encouraging us to reduce our exposure to all kinds of ingredients now found in our food supply that weren’t there when we were kids, the best way to do that is to buy organic. And until that is the affordable choice for all Americans, not just those in certain socioeconomic brackets, we have our work cut out for us in reforming the financing of our food system.

The bottom line is that all Americans should all be able to feed our families foods that are free-from additives not used in foods in other countries and those that are increasingly being shown to cause harm.

So here are a few tips for those who want to start buying organic food but don’t want to pay the high price:

  1. Go Orgo-Generic: Major grocery store chains like Safeway and Kroger, and big box food retailers like Costco and even Wal-Mart, now carry their own organic foods. And all foods labeled “USDA organic” are created equal, no matter where you find them. No need to upscale your grocery store when Wal-Mart gets it done.
  2. Buy Frozen: Frozen foods (like strawberries and fish) are cheaper than those that are delivered fresh. So if the prices on fresh produce are eye-popping, cruise on over to the frozen food aisle for a discount.
  3. Eat with the Season: Retrain your taste buds to think like your grandmother did. She didn’t eat strawberries in the middle of winter. Locally grown foods are usually cheaper than those flown in from another hemisphere so if you eat with the season, you’ll be eating more affordably.
  4. Skip the Box, Embrace the Bulk: Food that comes in boxes costs more because of the packaging costs associated with designing those pretty pictures! When you buy in bulk, you’re not paying for all of the packaging, you’re paying for the food which is what you want anyway. So slide on over to that bulk food aisle in Safeway and look for noodles, cereals, rice and beans in your local grocery store.
  5. Support the US economy and Buy Local: You can save money by becoming a member of a local farm (just like you became a member at Safeway or Costco!). How do you find a local farm, you ask? Well, thankfully, the USDA now has a list of online sites to help you find the closest farm near you, so click here to log onto the USDA site.
  6. Comparison Shop: You wouldn’t buy a car without comparison shopping, so before you even head out the door, you can compare the prices of organic foods at different retailers from the safety of your own computer at www.eatwellguide.org
  7. Coupons, coupons, coupons: Organic bargains are everywhere so click on About.com’s Frugal Living page where you will find All Organic Links.
  8. Grow One Thing: If you’re as busy as we are, there’s not a chance in creation that you are going to be able to feed your family off of your home-grown harvest, but you will find that growing a tomato plant can be incredibly inspiring. And it’s not as intimidating as it seems. So pick one thing to grow – you can do it (we all grew lima beans in cups as kids, right?)

And find a friend. It is way more fun to have someone cheering you on as you begin to make these changes. And remember, just as our little ones learn to walk by taking baby steps, you can do the same thing here. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. Take those baby steps. Because before you know it, you’ll be off and running.

Robyn is former equity analyst that covered the food industry and author of \”The Unhealthy Truth.\” She is also the founder of AllergyKids, whose mission is to restore the health of American families by addressing the needs of the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma and the role that additives in our food supply are having on our health.

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  • Carol

    Regarding #7 – those links take you to a new website, there are no coupons.

  • thoomfoote

    At the risk of sounding cynical, try going organic on SNAP for a family of 3 or 4.

  • http://naturalrevolution.org/ Natural Revolution

    Most all farmers’ markets accept SNAP, and you can save a boatload of money shopping organic there. The alternative – have you priced cancer lately? It’s caused from the enormous amounts of pesticides on commercial crops. Go the cheaper, healthier route.

  • mkassowitz

    That’s been fixed.

  • colleenwhalen

    I’m receiving SNAP. Annual income is $14,000 and I eat 100% organic, whole food, nutrient dense meal plans. I buy 80% of my food at Farmers Market and stick to a plant based diet.

    I am not vegetarian nor vegan but just 20$ of my groceries are animal protein. I buy lower cost organic animal protein – sardines packed in spring water for $1.00 a tin – pastured organic eggs are very low priced good quality protein – for $7.00 a box for pastured eggs that is just 50 cents per serving of protein. The stuff I can’t get at Farmers Market – I buy at Trader Joes and clip coupons all the time for Whole Foods and Sprouts Market. I also buy organic food low priced on Amazon Subscribe & Save – nope, Amazon does not take SNAP – but Trader Joe’s my local coop and Sprouts Market takes food stamps. My farmers market in my city takes SNAP benefits. I only go to Whole Foods 2 or 3 times a year because it is Whole Paycheck – but Sprouts Market and Trader Joes take SNAP and have rock bottom prices.

    Yes, the Dollar Meal at McDonalds may seem like a “bargain” but not such a bargain if you get diabetes, cancer, obesity. It is possible to feast like a prince on a paupers budget. 65% of my Social Security monthly benefit goes to my rent – after I pay my basic bills like utilties, bus pass and rent – i have only $388 a month of disposalbe income. My SNAP benefit is $80 a month – which is just barely enough to keep a kitten alive – but it can be done!

    When I make a meal – 50% of the plate is fresh produce. 25% of plate is dried beans, the rest of the plate is whole grains – and never more than 20% is animal protein – and that is ORGANIC animal protein – yes it is possible. All you need is a few ounces of animal protein in a meal. Stick to yogurt, eggs, sardines in spring water – I make my own kefir and buy raw milk at Sprouts Market and the farmers market. If you make homemade cheese it is a LOT cheaper than at the store prices. Check out Cultured Kitchen and Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked” there are a zillion recipies online how to make homemade cheese – it is easy to do.

    http://www.About.Me/EcoGastronomy.com

  • thoomfoote

    I was not commenting for myself. I already own a small farm and grow my own. I buy organic at my grocery store. In answer to your observations, farmer’s markets are seasonal, cancer is long term and for the poor, who need it most, dinner is tonight. Organic food has got to come down in price to be reasonable to the poor.

  • thoomfoote

    Thank you for your question about having priced cancer lately. Yes, I have priced cancer. It costs $2.35 per week. Fuck you and your snipey little comments. You are not poor so the point I was trying to make was lost on you. Goodbye and one less site I follow.

  • Erin Klepeis

    exactly, shopping local saves a ton, if you do your research you can pay the same if not cheaper then getting less healthier options.

  • http://naturalrevolution.org/ Natural Revolution

    You make very good points.

    One way organic food could come down in price is for the government to stop subsidizing commercially grown foods so much and fossil fuels, and put money into places where it will actually be for the betterment of mankind.

    But sadly, it’s seemly not the role of government to do such a thing.

  • Simone

    Hi Robyn, the #7 link allorganiclinks.com shows only a green page with the title, could you check again about this link? Thank You :)

  • mkassowitz

    It is a REALLY slow site.