Overcoming Organic Overwhelm

Many years ago -- okay, not that many -- I took a class in economics where I learned the concept of "barriers to entry." I probably learned more than that in that class (surely, right?), but this concept has stuck with me over the years and pops up when I'm considering new ventures. For those not familiar with the term, barriers to entry are exactly what they sound like: obstacles that make it difficult to enter a given market. In economics, this usually refers to starting a business or project.

When it comes to adopting a healthy lifestyle, I've noticed that organic overwhelm -- that is, confusion about what, if anything, to buy organic, and "OMG look at those prices" -- is a huge barrier to entry into the market of good health. So today, to help you overcome this organic overwhelm and help you to make better decisions about what and when to buy organic, I've broken down some myths.

1. Organic is just a label to make you pay more. There are many confusing labels on food these days, and I don't blame you for not knowing which ones actually hold water. Terms such as all natural, no added hormones, and multigrain are intentionally misleading and often mean very little (more about that in another post). However, when it comes to labels, organic is the real deal Holyfield. According to the USDA, organic products must be:

For more information about organic labeling, visit the USDA's National Organic Program site.

2. Organic food is a waste of money. Besides the fact that the production of organic food "integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity," things I'm sure we can all get behind, it has a slew of other benefits, including:

  • No pesticides: I'm sure we can all agree that we don't want to eat pesticides. The image of the bottle of poison with the skull and crossbones on the label comes to mind :-x
  • No antibiotics, growth hormones, or animal byproducts: The use of antibiotics in conventional meat production has been proven to create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, making the eater (you!) less responsive to antibiotic treatment when you get sick. According to the World Health Organization, this is pretty major. Also, the thought of chickens and cows eating other dead chickens and cows (animal byproducts) is just disgusting.
  • No Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): GMOs have been linked to increased food allergens and gastro-intestinal problems, and are thought to have a link to increased chances of developing cancer. While research into the link between GMOs and serious disease has proven inconclusive thus far, don't let that give you reason for pause.
  • Fresher food: Organic foods are preservative-free, meaning they haven't been pumped up with junk to make it have a longer shelf life. As a result, organic food spoils faster, so you know these items haven't been sitting in your grocery store for a long time.
  • Supporting local business: Because the food spoils faster, it is generally sourced from smaller, local vendors to maximize peak freshness. In most cases, buying organic can mean keeping money in your own community.

3. Everything must be organic! Not so. When it comes to meats, yes, I wholeheartedly advocate buying organic for all the reasons mentioned above. While these items may cost more, their value cannot be overstated. If the price of organic meats is restrictive, start with free-range, organic eggs; at $5 or less per dozen, they are a great source of cheap, organic protein.

As for produce -- I'm not gonna lie to you, Glow Getters, I don't always go organic. And thankfully, we don't have to! The Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the produce with the highest and lowest amount of pesticides used, named the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, respectively. Know this list. Love this list. Use this list.

4. Organic is expensive. This one is partly true. If you shop at places like Whole Foods, which I love dearly on a very sparingly basis, then yes, you will spend a small fortune on organic foods. And frankly, you get what you pay for. You can't expect to look and feel like a million bucks when you're feeding your body bottom dollar food. However, there are a couple ways you can save on organics:

  • Trader Joe's. I thank God regularly for this store. It is so reasonably priced -- often cheaper than my neighborhood supermarket -- and has such a huge selection of high quality, awesome stuff. If there is one near you, you better be using it!
  • Farmer's markets. Besides being great for a Sunday morning stroll, farmer's markets are awesome places to find deals. Because the farmers are selling their goods directly to you, they often cut out the price of the middle man -- the grocery store -- and have great bargains. I'm talking like ten tomatoes for $2 bargains. Plus, it's kind of cool to talk to the people that made your food.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and farm shares. Similar to farmer's markets, with CSAs and farm shares you're getting your food directly from a farm. The only difference is that in this case, you're paying for the food upfront. Essentially, you (and the other patrons) pay the money to support the farm before the season starts so that the farmers can spend their time growing and distributing your food. Prices on shares vary, along with the length of seasons, but you're typically looking at spending $15-30 on farm fresh produce each week, which is not bad at all. For more information about CSAs, check out LocalHarvest.org.

Hopefully, busting these myths has given you the courage to fight through organic overwhelm and get on the road to good health. And if you have more tips on how we can eat more organically, and especially save money doing so, let us know!