Organic Foods: Difficult to Swallow

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I've never been a big "believer" in organic foods.

In reading about them, I kept turning my back on organic for a few reasons:

1) It's always been my understanding that the word "organic" is largely unregulated, meaning that just about anyone can choose to put it on their packaging. It's a "buzz word"--a trend--that people are buying into. Therefore, food manufacturers and suppliers are all trying to compete in this market, and who knows what kind of shenanigans they're pulling in order to do so.

2) Because of the whole unregulated factor, I'm distrustful. How do you really know something is organic? For instance, when I'm in my grocery store, and I see organic pears, they look the same as regular pears. They have an organic sticker on them, but how do I really know? Someone could just be slapping an organic sticker on a piece of regular ol' fruit and charging me a premium for it. I mean, seriously. How do you know?

3) The cost. For crying out loud, THE COST. A regular gallon of milk = $1.89. An organic gallon of milk = $5.99. A quart of regular strawberries (in season) = $1.50. A quart of organic strawberries (in season) = $5.99. I really don't know what else to say about that, except OUCH.

4) Related to the cost, it's like I almost can't bring myself to buy organic because I'm just against the principle of the whole thing. If organic farming is that much better for all of us, WHY ISN'T IT THE STANDARD? If that's truly the case, don't even offer me tainted, hormone-laced milk for $1.89. Honestly. And I know we're in America and it's all about being able to make our own choices, but DAMN. If we don't make it cheaper for people to eat healthy in this country, we are never going to combat the issues we have with our healthcare system. Period.

I will totally admit to not being very educated on this subject. That's kind of the point of this post. I've willingly kept myself in the dark about a lot of this stuff, because truthfully, there is part of me that just doesn't even want to know. To date, I have refused to watch Food Inc. because LA-LA-LA-LA! I'd rather stay here in my little bubble where I do not have to think about how the "healthy" food I'm eating is actually poisoning me.

So, as I said, I've never been a big believer in organics.

But then I had Nora.

And now I'm terrified of hormones and pesticides and antibiotics in food. I guess it's the parental line of thinking that is kicking in--I want the best for my baby. I want her to be healthy. I don't want her to start puberty at the age of 8. I'm interested in knowing why there seems to be this huge increase in the prevalence of cancer, and I want to do my part to FIX it.

Lately, I've found myself in the organic sections at the grocery store. I've found myself prioritizing, figuring out which organic things we can afford, and which we'll have to do without. I've been reading up on the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15." I've been talking to my coworker (a fellow mommy) about the types of organic snack foods she feeds her kids.

Have I made a complete lifestyle change? No. At least not yet. Because I'm still struggling to see how it will be possible with the sky-high prices of organic foods. But I'm interested to check out our local farmer's markets this summer to see what kind of organic treasures we can uncover.

What say you, readers? Are organics a must in your house, or do you still believe it's all hype? Does anyone have any great resources they would recommend for me (and others) to get better educated on the subject?


P.S. For those who read blogs through a reader of some sort, you are probably seeing this post show up twice. Sorry about that, but I was having some problems with my blog feed. I deleted the duplicate post, so if you try to click through to the blog using the second link, it will likely take you to a page that says "Page Not Found." However, if you try the second link, you should be able to click through like normal. I apologize for any inconvenience.

33 comments:

Christina,  March 9, 2011 at 2:33 PM  

Heather,
I hear you. It's tough. After doing insane amounts of research & talking to traditional doctors, homeopaths, nutritionists, etc we decided to buy in, but buy in slow. Cancer, specifically breast cancer, runs rampant in my family. The oncologist we deal with suggested going over to organic milk & eggs first as a small attempt at a preventative measure. Then we committed to buying only the organic version of the dirty dozen, or at least buying from local stands where the grower could show/tell us what type of products they use. Then we switched to organic chicken, and completely organic on the dairy side (cheese, yogurt, etc).
The prices have gotten better...even walmart & bj's (or other wholesale clubs) sell organic food now.
I would never go back...not for me. my husband, or my daughters.
Do I know for sure it's helping? No, but I've read/seen enough research to know that it most likely is, and it's definitely healthier.

There is tons of information out there; books. movies (I highly rec. Food Inc), magazines...Good luck making the decision(s) that is/are best for your family!

amybyrd March 9, 2011 at 4:08 PM  

We buy the Organic milk, because it lasts way longer. We just picked up a gallon for under 5 bucks that is good til April The O Organics(store brand) on half gallons is usually 2 for 5, so I am willing to spend that. I don't buy fruits and veggies that are organic because of the price and like you mentioned unregulated. Sadly cost is a huge factor and I try hard to get my 5-8 fruits and veggies in and can't afford to eat all organic.

Kristin March 9, 2011 at 4:10 PM  

My thoughts on organics have always been similar to yours - and when we started our daughter on solids, I started to do more research. I'm curious to see the responses - a friend of mine said her doctor had recommended they put the priority on organic meat and dairy products. Another friend buys organic based on the thickness of skin on a fruit/vegetable. I'm still searching for a locally grown, organic option, because I think that would help with a lot of my hesitation on the subject, but I'm still undecided overall. Like you said, there's no regulation. And the cost is high. And is it REALLY that much better? I wasn't able to find a definitive answer, so I'll be checking back to see what others say :)

Heather March 9, 2011 at 4:24 PM  

One of the reasons I really wanted to post this is that I am extremely curious about what others do. Is eating organic really as popular as it seems? Is a concern for other families as it is for us now? So thank you to those who have responded already.

Kristin--I find it interesting that your friend chooses what to buy organic based on the thickness of the skin. I have heard similar reasoning, but I have read that there is really no merit behind that. The counter-argument is that if the farm is using pesticides, they are absorbed by the soil, contaminate the ground water, and are therefore drawn up into the tree/plant and are then obviously drawn INSIDE of the fruit/veggie as well. Based on that, I've come to conclusion that you're damned no matter the thickness of skin!

PhaseThreeOfLife March 9, 2011 at 4:27 PM  

Maybe I'm totally wrong, and I'm certainly no expert on the subject... but it's my understanding that organic foods ARE federally regulated. You just have to pay attention to the specific label and make sure it's got the "USDA Organic" seal. Farms that use these seals must be certified and are regularly inspected. Having said that, I'm sure there are loopholes and farmers who find ways to "cheat." But I think, for the most part, seeing that label is a good indication that you'll be ingesting fewer chemicals and artificial ingredients.

We started off, like you, with focusing just on the dirty dozen. If I eat the skin, I try to buy organic. If I don't eat the skin (a banana or a pineapple), I don't worry about it as much. And if my grocery store doesn't have an organic version or it's WAY too pricey, I don't feel bad about buying regular.

We've also switched to organic milk and try to buy organic eggs and meats when possible. Lately, we've been shopping around for a new grocery store and we found one that is more like a "farmer's market" and sells tons of organic stuff (salad dressings, sauces, etc). I thought it would be way more pricey, but surprisingly, it's really not. We just try to really shop the sales and meal plan so that we're only buying what we really need.

At the end of the day, it's better to eat veggies with pesticides than no veggies at all. If you can find a way to switch to some organic on the "important" stuff, then I think you're even better off. Good luck, this has been on our minds a lot lately, too!

PhaseThreeOfLife March 9, 2011 at 4:30 PM  

Re: the skin - I think the argument is that FEWER chemicals would be absorbed into the fruit/veggie. Not that it would necessarily be totally clean. Tomatoes have very little protection, so they'd be more likely to soak in all those pesticides, whereas a banana's skin would prevent much of that from getting through. Again, that's just my reasoning and not based in scientific fact, but since we can't afford to buy ALL organic all the time, it seems reasonable to me to focus on the produce with the highest concentration of bad stuff. :)

lish March 9, 2011 at 4:32 PM  

My husband and I have been the same way...however this month we have started to purchase through a delivery service Organic Fruits and veggies...we are loving it so far...is it more expensive? Yes a little bit...but for right now we feel that it is worth it. I am so happy you posted this and I look forward to reading some of the other comments! I too want to learn more!

Jenn and Neena Mae March 9, 2011 at 4:47 PM  

Where on earth are you buying your organic food? That's really high-priced! That's just robbery.

Here's my take on the whole organic thing: Buy Local. We get our milk from a local dairy, our eggs and chicken from a local farmer, and our seasonal veggies are either grown at home or bought at the farmer's market from a local farmer. We visit the farms we buy our products from, I know the farmers' names. I trust them and know that they are using nasty chemical or hormones.

As for the regulation, all USDA organic food is heavily regulated.http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop If it has an USDA Organic label on it, you can rest assured it is organic. Problem is, a lot of small farmers cannot afford the process to become USDA certifed, therefore, you have to take their word. I have a feeling you have some great farms in your area, I highly encourage you to get out and meet them. :-) Plus, it will be a great way for Nora to see where food comes from.

Obvioulsy, we don't buy everything local or organic. But, when I'm in need of a dirty dozen out of season vegetable or fruit I buy organic at TJ's or Costco.

Good luck!

Jenn and Neena Mae March 9, 2011 at 4:50 PM  

the last sentance in my second paragraph should read, " *aren't using nasty chemicals or hormones."

Vanessa March 9, 2011 at 4:53 PM  

Buying organic is so much more expensive that we just don't. I hate the way much of our food is produced, you should check out a book called 'not on the label'. But, for us, it's not practical to buy organic. We eat loads of fruit and veg and very few processed foods, so I think that it a huge bonus already. I'm not worried about it, I have to say. I think there is always a better option, fresher food etc., but for us regular food is the only feasible way.

basebell6 March 9, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

I don't buy organic milk, etc, because I am too cheap, but we grow our own veggies and raise our own beef, pork, and chicken. None of which are organic (to truly be organic there are loads and loads and loads of rules actually) but at least I know where the food is coming from.

Erin March 9, 2011 at 5:12 PM  

We try to buy at local markets and buy fresh milk from local dairies.

We dealt with lead toxins in/around our home since we lived in a home that was 100+ years old in an urban area and learned that the plants in my garden were not in danger of "sucking up" the lead in the yard, they were contaminated by leaded dirt from the soil getting onto them. So, I think the thickness of skins "theory" is something worth exploring further.

I just like to think moderation in all things. Our parents weren't privy to info on organic and perhaps our generation is suffering because of it or perhaps chemicals weren't as rampant? Who knows. I don't think there is a full answer anywhere to satisfy all the questions.

Read some, learn some, make choices, and know you are doing the very best you can.

Pie March 9, 2011 at 5:19 PM  

This topic is just in time, Heather! Thanks to my little baby boy, I, too, am heavily researching into the whole organic world. The USDA Organic seal is in fact very heavily regulated, and most farms claim that is a major reason organic food is way more expensive. However, you can find great organic food from smaller local farms which can't afford to certify their produce, and they are just as good.

We buy organic milk, eggs, and some of the dirty dozen. I do taste the difference, especially the diary products. As much as I want to become "clean", the price tag is still a big deal for us. I can only hope the price of organic food will continue to come down, and ordinary family can afford them without having to break their budget.

Kristin March 9, 2011 at 5:21 PM  

We eat as much organic as possible. To keep the cost down, we joined a local CSA (you basically buy a farm share and get a box of veggies each week. They are organic and local which both reduce your carbon footprint). You can look into one in your area at localharvest.org if you are interested.

Karen,  March 9, 2011 at 5:25 PM  

Heather,
I've been reading your blog for ages and I love it. I had to comment on organics, especially since I've slowly been making the switch to organics at our house since we got married last year. It seems that I've been reading a lot of the same articles you have!
The most basic things to remember have already been mentioned. "Natural" is a word to take with a grain of salt. The most important items to buy organic (provided there is a USDA label) are organic meats and cheeses- the chemicals are more concentrated in animal fats, and while it is best to buy all organic, a local farmer is much more trustworthy than overseas produce. Www.pickyourown.org has a national database of pick your own farms (with lots of organics!) I'm not sure if they have Stop and Shop grocery stores in your area, but they have great sales on organic meat. I just buy in bulk and freeze. A CSA might also be a viable option for you- you buy in at the beginning of the season and have a steady supply all through the summer/fall! I have also started reading up on Square Foot Gardening- low maintenance veggies in my own yard. Good luck! There are plenty of us who believe in it! I hope this helps ;)
Best,
Karen

DerMom March 9, 2011 at 5:32 PM  

I am a lot like you. I didn't buy into the whole thing, until I went to feed my kid. Then, suddenly it was a whole new ballgame. I don't have any info, and I haven't researched anything, but I am trying to buy local as much as possible so I know what's in my child's food.

Alana March 9, 2011 at 5:44 PM  

I would recommend not going to the organics section in your grocery store and instead going to a market (I go to one that only has local and organic produce, tortilla chips, some damn good string cheese, etc. and so easy on the conscience!) or somewhere like trader joes (do they have those in ny?) where you have the option to get organic foods for a decent price, as well as food thats, well...just less processed but not organic for low prices. I'm 22, broke, a college student and I always come home with a ton of food and almost all of it is organic.

The food industry is insane, and your money isnt really going to the farmers as much as it is Big Food. Their equipment is horrible for the environment, and your food is doused in pesticides and hormones that are already having proven long-term effects on people (often cancer, as you said). Its cheaper, but you get exactly what you pay for. Lazy farming and sub-par food.

There are a lot of flaws already in the USDA ORGANIC CERT. process, but organic farmers use compost as fertilizer, and natural pest control. You'll even smell your food differently.

Leanne March 9, 2011 at 6:29 PM  

I would highly recommend the book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan to you and anyone else questioning the whole organic vs. non-organic vs. local vs. whatever. The title refers to the exact thing you're questioning- what exactly ARE we eating? Is organic actually better for us? What goes into producing the food we're eating? I just finished reading it and it is shockingly informative. The author compares conventional (i.e non-organic) food and organic food by actually visiting farms and feedlots and getting a first hand experience of what goes in to producing these foods. I was like you before- a little hesitant to buy organic,if for no other reason that the cost, but it has totally changed the way I think about food, buying food and the ramifications of it all. The author is also featured prominently in the movie "Food, Inc." Highly, highly recommend!! (Just a warning- the book is kind of long and seems a bit daunting at first, but coming from someone who does not typically read non-fiction books, I found it very easy to get through).

Krystie March 9, 2011 at 6:46 PM  

I love this post because I was exactly like you.

I never wanted to spend the extra money on things I didn't "know" were organic and the proof of the benefits. Then I started questioning myself and did lots of research and found out just how many chemicals are in our food.

We started at upick farms. We buy fruit that's in season. ( most upick farms are organic) Google one closest to you.

Then we switched to all organic meat and dairy.

We're working on finding a local meat supplier, and farm fresh eggs, but for now we buy at our grocery store. I'd say our bill went up by about $20 which we're okay with. But generally I'm hoping by buying things in bulk through farmers it will all equal out.

Tiffany March 9, 2011 at 7:07 PM  

i highly recommend the book "skinny b*tch". the authors recommend a vegan diet overall, and there are many sources for their reasons in the appendix(stressing the importance for choosing to eat organic only). the authors also point out that they only chose the title to increase sales of their book and to get their message out to others. and while the rest of the book may not be as relevant to you, they go into a lot of scientifically backed up reasons for eating organic (especially in a country that has verrrry lax regulations about our "regular" food.) you can probably get a cheap copy on amazon or borrow it from the library.

i also recommend spending a lot of time at your local farmers market. i am fortunate enough to have an aunt an uncle who have a farm so i know where my eggs come from (they're in darien, ny - probably too far for you!) so, like others have suggested....home grown is your best option for a healthy little family!

Melissa March 9, 2011 at 8:18 PM  

We buy organic produce and milk. I also try to buy local foods as much as possible. I do this because of the chemical factor. Like you, I am concerned that kids are going through puberty earlier and cancer is more widespread... there has to be a reason. I grew up having a garden and we didn't use chemicals or pesticides, so I want to do the same for Rowan.

Chelsey March 10, 2011 at 12:38 AM  

I second everything Jenn said, she really hit the nail on the head. Please read Michael Pollen's book Omnivore's Dilemma, it is so good and truly an eye opener. Eating local has become priority for us, it may not be USDA but it is often better. We also buy all our meat in bulk once a year from local farmers and freeze it, this actually saves me money and the meat is so much better. When you cut that out and join a csa for fruit/veg it's really not bad. Also we cut out all processed foods so when I go to the store I really don't spend that much. Watch for organic things to go on sale and stock up (like on organic canned tomatoes for example). Since eating organic and cutting out processed food you would not believe how good I feel and how much energy I have. I could go on and on but I think you know where I stand on the subject. :)

Jacki March 10, 2011 at 8:57 AM  

Heather,
We've made a lot of switches in our house. Generally, anything that is peeled (bananas, oranges, onions, garlic, etc.) I don't buy organic. Pesticides will come off with this outer layer(s). But for things like apples, pears, lettuce, broccoli, etc. we've been buying more and more organic.
And milk definitely. Always organic. We get it from Costco because it's cheaper. (BTW- I WISH I could get any milk for $1.89 in NYC! Even regular milk is $3!)
I haven't switched over to organic meats yet, because (even at Costco) it's twice the price. But I'm thnking that's next.

My husband and I watched Food Inc. It was SO enlightening. And really changed my views on what I eat. Especially after my parents went to Kauai, which was covered in Montsanto's "farms" where they do bio-research. They said these places were locked up like Fort Knox with 12 foot fences all around. What the hell are they hiding in there? THAT freaks me out!
Watch it.

bluewhitelife March 10, 2011 at 9:10 AM  

I don't have any kids. I think that is important to know, since most of your commenters DO have kids and switched to organic primarily because of them.
As for the "increases in cancer", I'm in biology and have never heard any reasons other than a) we're detecting cancer better and b) people are living older, their cells are dividing more, and thus, there are more chances for cancer to develop. On a personal level, I don't think you can really "stop" cancer, though. I think early detection is the key.
That being said, we do buy local produce when we have the chance. It's a bit more expensive, but being able to put a face on the people that grow the food is a pretty nice option. We also have a huge farmer's market here (which should start back up soon!)

Katie P March 10, 2011 at 12:44 PM  

I do hope you make the switch!! I want to comment here, but, truly, I am an extremist when it comes to where my food comes from. We started out by simply eliminating high fructose corn syrup from our diet and buying organic milk for our son. That has spiraled into milk delivery, local food only, and only pasture raised beef (organic does not provide the same benefits and can still be corn fed). I make the bulk of our essentials - bread, graham crackers, tortillas and salad dressings. Honestly we save on average $20/week now vs. when we were shopping at a Kroger store.

There are 3 of us in my family (our son is 3 and eats more than I do) and I feed us on less than $100/week. Some weeks I only spend $60.

It's great to feel great about where your food comes from and know that you are directly giving back to your community!!!

Erin O. March 10, 2011 at 4:23 PM  

Heather-

When I first switched to organic, I too was overwhelmed. But then I started researching brands and why things are organic and well, that could take me all day to tell you about it. But suffice to say, I was appalled at the gov't regulations and really started buying everything organic(except paper towels, toilet paper, etc...) But I also started comparing pricing at all the local shops in my area to find the cheapest organic-yes, it took some leg work, but I know exactly what stores carry what and where I can get them. And I don't spend all day driving around getting food. Oh, and one more thing. Read the labels. You can get by on non organic food without all that crap-read the labels. Hope this helps.

Lisa March 10, 2011 at 6:29 PM  

Organics are regulated by the USDA Organics program. It is unlawful for a food to say "organic" if it hasn't been certified. Now, if you go to your local farmer's market, you may see things like "pesticide free" or "no spray". That means the food was grown with no pesticides but the grower has decided against certification (or is in the process of getting certified). There are some things that I buy organic because they simply aren't much more expensive than their conventional counterparts. But, in general, no, I am not spending an extra $2 a poiund for something. I am too cheap for that. There are certain foods that "experts" recommend you buy organic if possible. I am sure a quick google search would be helpful. I do know that celery retains pesticide residues more than most other veggies, so I would recommend always buying organic celery.

I also give less value to something that is organic but was grown in New Zealand. I'd rather get something "no spray" from down the road than somethiing that has travelled a million miles.

Chelsey March 11, 2011 at 12:49 AM  

Funny, I left a lengthy comment yesterday and now I'm not sure what happened to it...

Anyways, you must read the book Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen. It is a huge eye opener and so, so good. It will make you think and answer a lot of the questions you have about organic foods.

As for us, we focus more on eating local and real foods (nothing processed, not even breakfast cereal). I do spend more than the average person I'm sure but to be honest I don't even think twice about the money, our health and well-being are worth it. We get all our meat in bulk and freeze it and for fruit and veg we joined a CSA. It's actually nice to have everything on hand and when I go to the grocery store it's usually just for a few things. I plan meals around what fruit and veg we get that week and what meat I have in the freezer that needs used up. Start googling for local farms where you can do the same in your area. Even check on Craiglist for people trying to get co-ops going and local farmers advertising. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised about how good your body will feel when you make the switch. Start slow, like we did and then just keep buying more and more organic and pretty soon you'll just be used to it.

nikinikinine March 11, 2011 at 5:45 AM  

Getting educated, no. Saving money, yes! Google CSA and find out which farms in your area offer a cooperative. We have one in our area that is an organic farm. For around $360 we get a (large) box of fruits and veggies each week from May through the end of October. Our farm allows you to pick up a box at a set location - there is very little choice in what you get with this option - or you can pick up at the farmers market - here you have five things you must take and a choice of x number of other things to choose from. It's great because it's cheap, it's forced us to try new veggies we had never tried before, it's local/organic/sustainable, and most of all convenient for us! Good luck!

Erin O. March 11, 2011 at 8:59 AM  

Oh, I almost forgot. Watch Food, INC-you can watch it on netfix streaming. That is an eye opening documentary on organic, non organic, etc. But I'm just warning you it might make your blood pressure rise at bit-I was a bit upset to see the crap that goes into our food.

Heather March 11, 2011 at 4:26 PM  

Thank you all so much for your insight. It has been really interesting to read all of the comments on this, and I hope that they will keep coming!

We definitely want to watch Food Inc. now, and I hope to have a chance to pick up Michael Pollan's book soon, too. For now, like a lot of you have mentioned, we're interested in making small changes and easing ourselves into it. Hopefully from there, we'll gain experience and knowledge and start to make the best choices for our family.

I did a bit of initial research the other night and it really doesn't appear that we have a lot of organic farms around. I found one, but it's quite a bit of a drive away. However, I like the advice to not worry so much about organic as we do local. We already do visit some farm markets and stands, we pick our own apples every late summer/fall, and I think we'll just increase that activity more and more. Thankfully, our supermarket is also really good about using local farmers--so a lot of the in season produce there is actually locally grown. While I would prefer to buy directly from the farmers when possible, it is nice to know that when we have to buy for convenience at the grocery store, we can also be supporting local farmers. (And, for what it's worth, our grocery store is a locally-based company, so even though they are big and rich, we are still supporting our community by shopping there.)

@Chelsey--I'm sorry, when I logged into Blogger this afternoon I saw that your original comment actually got flagged as spam by the Blogger system, so it was waiting for me to review and approve it before it posted to the site. I didn't realize that had happened because it came through in my e-mail as normal, so when I read it I just automatically assumed it was up on here as well! Anyway, I really appreciate you coming back to post a second time, and I really admire your dedication to such a healthy diet. To be totally honest, when you say you don't eat ANYTHING processed, I find myself wondering, "What the heck does she eat?!" You should blog about your food, woman!

Megan,  March 11, 2011 at 7:50 PM  

Heather, have you looked into a Farm Share? We do a farm share that is organic and we save a lot of money on organic fruits and vegetables. It costs us $450 for about 22 weeks, but for my husband and I it is perfect, we only have to supplement small items from our grocery store and it saves tons. I even froze carrots and squash last fall when I was pregnant and now I thaw the veggies to make his food, I didn't really want to use frozen, but for the first month of feedings before our share starts again I am ok with it, since he will wear most of it anyways!

Sara March 18, 2011 at 9:15 PM  

My daughter is a few months older than yours and I, like you, suddenly became much more aware of what went into food, where it came from, etc. when she was transitioning to solids. I found it difficult at times to find a wide variety of fresh organic produce (that was in decent condition) so I also relied on organic frozen fruit/vegetables. If you look in the Nature's Marketplace section of the store, there are a few more organic options so that you can provide more of a variety of foods than you would have if you solely shopped the fresh produce. Another advantage of buying frozen is that the fruit/vegetables are often flash frozen at source. Also, it's nice to have a stash in the freezer that can be easily thawed, steamed and pureed :)

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