What If I Can’t Afford Organic Food?
The year was 2008. Through a series of events, I was introduced for the first time to the concept of “health food”.
We were living in Dallas, Texas, at the time while my husband was a college student. Our lives were full of change. Not only had we uprooted our young family and moved over 350 miles away from our hometown, we also went from small-town living to life in a busy metropolis. Just learning to drive in our new surroundings was a huge challenge.
As it happens with most college students, our budget was also experiencing some, ahem, challenges. To give you an idea of the type of adjustment I’m talking about here: We moved on campus in January 2007. Two weeks later, we filed our 2006 income tax.
Our total income for 2006? Just shy of $45,000. Not too bad for a couple of kids in their mid-twenties — oh, and I was a stay-at-home-mama too. We were very blessed indeed.
Fast forward to January 2008, when it was time to file our 2007 income tax. Our total income for 2007? $17,000. Not even joking.
It was also early in 2008 that we began our health journey and were convinced that it was time to change just about everything about our lives. (You can read more about that here.)
Here we were, poor college kids with two kids ourselves, learning about the crappy food we’d been filling our bodies with and realizing that we had to change our lifestyle completely in order to start buying healthy food. It was absolutely miraculous that we were able to make it through 2007 in a new (and way more expensive!) city, pay cash for David’s schooling, and somehow make a few
small itty bitty steps toward eating healthier with a 38% decrease in our income.
My First Whole
Paycheck Foods Experience
The only word in my healthy food vocabulary was organic; the only place I knew to look in the concrete jungle was Whole Foods.
I vividly remember the first time I stepped food in Whole Foods. Just walking through the silent automatic doors made me feel healthier. It’s like they’re piping something through the vents in there! Browsing the pristine aisles, the pastoral-looking wooden crates full of the most beautiful produce, the largest cheese selection I’d ever seen was my first real experience in Real Food shopping.
I wanted alllllllll the things.
I was sure this was it: I would shop at this store, and my family would be healthy. That’s all there was to it.
The visions of organic coconut-rolled dates that were dancing in my head were crushed in about 45 seconds.
You want what for organic apples?!
I bet I pushed my cart around for an hour, searching high and low, believing it was all somehow a mistake and that I would stumble upon the realistically priced food at any moment.
I walked out of Whole Foods with just a handful of items in my cart, my head hanging low and my dreams of feeding my family organic foods squashed like a bug on a hot Dallas sidewalk.
I’m sorry, y’all: Whole Foods (the store) and a tiny budget just don’t mesh well.
I was so discouraged. And I bet you know the feeling. Although my food budget is leaps and bounds above what it used to be, it is possible to eat Real Food, even if you can’t afford organic food.
Do the Best You Can; It’s Not All or Nothing
For the person on a super limited budget, it probably isn’t possible to buy produce that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. Even more probable is that you’re not able to afford meat products that are raised in a sustainable way, let alone beef that’s been pasture-raised or eggs from chickens who’ve never seen the inside of a confinement operation.
I think it’s a common misconception that if you’re not buying organic, pasture-raised, farmer’s market food, then the only alternative is processed crap.
That’s just not true.
Even if you can’t afford organic apples, that doesn’t mean you should whip your cart around and buy boxed mac-and-cheese instead just because it’s cheaper. It means that you should buy the best apples you can afford, even if they’re conventional and were grown in Chile.
Because here’s the deal: a conventionally grown Chilean apple still surpasses a box of cereal or mac-and-cheese when it comes to the nutrition it provides.
Is organic better? Maybe. Maybe not. An organic Chilean apple isn’t necessarily better for the environment than a sprayed Washington, USA apple because of the cost of the fuel to get it to your American grocery store and because of the environmental cost that fossil fuel has on the world. (We’re NOT going into that today! Whole other subject!)
The bottom line is this: DO THE BEST YOU CAN. If your best is buying non-organic produce instead of Hot Pockets and Pop Tarts, then I’m sure not going to tell you that your best isn’t good enough.
There Is Middle Ground.
Despite what some activist groups or bloggers might say…
It doesn’t have to be local/beyond organic/environmentally sustainable/hippie or nothing.
Dear Momma, you’ve been scouring Pinterest and Instagram and mommy blogs for years, praying your heart out to be able to afford the foods you see on those sites and heaping guilt on your head because you can’t. You felt like your kid’s ear infection or your husband’s indigestion have come about because you’ve been feeding them inferior, non-organic foods. You presume that your family will never be as healthy as all those families on Facebook who can afford to shop at Whole Foods and who rave at how Real Food has transformed their lives.
Well, I give you permission to let the guilt go. Have a good cry as you wave goodbye to it. It’s time to stop looking through the lens of what you can’t do/buy/afford, and start looking with fresh vision at what you CAN do!
Here’s What You Can Do
You can change the way you shop.
You can choose to spend your hard-earned money on carrots and sweet potatoes and fresh green beans and broccoli instead of juice boxes and pudding cups and saltine crackers and canned biscuits.
Eating veggies will always, always, ALWAYS be a better choice than Bagel Bites and Captain Crunch. There are ways to wash your produce to remove as much pesticide residue as possible, and though they may not be completely pesticide-free, they’re guaranteed not to contain HFCS, MSG, or artificial flavors and colors.
You can buy eggs. Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and they make a heck of a lot better breakfast than instant oatmeal. Are pastured eggs better than regular ol’ store eggs? I’m not gonna lie — they are. But is a Toaster Strudel better than a regular ol’ store egg? Nope.
You can swap your margarine for butter.
You can buy plain yogurt instead of sweetened and flavored. (Bonus! Plain yogurt’s cheaper!)
You can bake your own bread. You can make your own salad dressing.
You can make bone broth from a conventional chicken, and it will always have less junk than a bouillon cube or a can of broth.
You can pack your kids’ lunches with fresh veggies and fruit, a soup made with homemade bone broth, and a homemade muffin instead of a Lunchable.
You can drink water and not soda or juice.
You can buy blocks of cheese to grate instead of buying pre-grated.
You can grow a few herbs on a windowsill or some zucchini in a container on your porch.
You can snack on apples and peanut butter instead of Wheat Thins and ranch dip. Heck, you can even make your own ranch dip!
Notice what I didn’t tell you to do:
I never told you to switch from conventional to organic or raw milk.
I never said you had to ferment anything. (Although, homemade yogurt is less expensive than store-bought AND it’s super easy.)
I didn’t tell you to shop at a farmers market or join a CSA — though, more often than not, I actually save money by shopping at these venues.
You’re certainly welcome to do all that and more, when and if you can.
In the meantime, focus on making every purchase at the store count.
Focus on buying whole foods — meats, cheese, eggs, fruits and veggies, beans, rice.
Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, you’ll be able to re-work your budget and be able to afford the organic and/or local versions of these foods.
Dear Mommaa, it’s time to get back in the kitchen with renewed energy. It’s time to browse Pinterest through eyes that see how to make beautiful, healthy food and snacks even if every ingredient isn’t labeled organic.
You deserve to feel a spring in your step when you leave the grocery store because you walked out without a single boxed, processed, or canned food and instead filled your cart with the myriad of whole foods that give you endless possibilities of making your own creations from scratch.
Stop believing the lie that your family will never be healthy until you can buy organic everything.