It's hard to take care of a family. It's hard to know everything about everything in our attempt to keep our children healthy. Should I get that vaccine? Is circumcision necessary? Should I clean out my synthetic medicine cabinet for cleaner options? How do I protect them from the epidemic of childhood cancers, allergies, obesity, asthma, autism, and many other physical/cognitive disorders that have skyrocketed in the past 20 years*. How do I afford eating cleaner and going organic?
While I cannot answer all of those questions for you (although I may try with my irreverent daily Facebook posts), I can help you right now with that last one.
How do I afford going organic? How can I afford to eat cleaner food? Budgets are tight in this economy, and the food industry giants have given us hundreds of cheap ways to fill our families bellies. But at what cost to our health? Nearly every processed non-organic product has one or more genetically modified ingredients containing trace amounts of the pesticide Round-Up. Yes, that stuff you spray on your weeds with the huge cautionary POISON label.
If you are shopping at a conventional grocery store, first thing to do is stick to the outer edges of the store. Imagine the building from an aerial viewpoint, and most stores the outer aisles following the perimeter are where they keep produce, meat, and dairy products. Buying 90% of your food here will save you from many of the empty artificial calories waiting in pretty plastic packages. While wandering over into the dark side for things like applesauce, raisins, peanut butter, or olive oil-- pick organic where available.
Most chain grocery stores now carry an organic store brand (score!) that is only marginally more expensive than its dirty alternative. The more we buy organic and reject the junk-- the more healthy options will become available.
Buying 100% locally grown organic produce is ideal. Try to find and shop local farmers markets in your area (try this nationwide organic farm finder). You will know exactly where your food comes from, what (if any) pesticides have been used, boost your local economy, and in most cases save money. No middleman, no price hike.
But if you are like most of us (or you are in a deep winter like us here in Boston) you need to buy a majority of your fresh fruits and vegetables at a typical grocery store. So how do you pick "safe" produce without breaking the bank? If you cannot buy all your produce organic, use the below Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen list from the Environmental Working Group [EWG] as a helpful how-to guide.
The "Dirty Dozen" represent the fruits & vegetables with highest level of pesticides found in post-wash testing, the "Clean Fifteen" had the least amount of pesticides. Now, notice I said "least amount of pesticides" not "no amount of pesticides." If your food is not organic, it will have toxic pesticides in trace amounts. No getting around that with what our government allows today's Big Agriculture to get away with.
EWG combines six different measures to test and rank your produce:
Why should I be concerned about pesticides? Pesticides are toxic by design. They are created expressly to kill living organisms -- insects, plants and fungi that are considered “pests.” Most pesticides pose health dangers to humans. These risks have been confirmed by independent research scientists and physicians across the world.
As acknowledged by U.S. and international government agencies, different pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems, including: brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone disruption, skin, eye and lung irritation (among others), especially in infants & children whose immune systems are delicate and still developing.The health benefits of a diet rich in vegetable and fruits does in most cases outweigh the risks of this limited pesticide exposure. That does not eliminate the danger, but you can look at is as the lesser of two evils. Better and non-organic banana than Quaker Granola Bar.
Is that "eat organic" horse dead yet? Ok, here's the list then:
THe Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen Produce GUide
Click on the "Download File" to print a take-along guide!
So the next time you are shopping at Shaw's or Albertson's - bring this list with you. Remember, the "Dirty Dozen" are fruits and vegetable that MUST be bought organic, or should be skipped. The "Clean Fifteen" have the least amount of pesticides pos-wash and you can feel good about skipping the extra cost of buying organic.
What About Everything Else? While many stores now have a natural food section, watch out for food products labeled "natural" that means absolutely NOTHING. They can have GMO's, high fructose corn-syrup, the works. It is simply a very successful marketing gimmick. Only "USDA Certified Organic" is organic. This is particularly true with meats & poultry. A lot of "natural" meat (and eggs) are labeled all-natural with "no added antibiotics." Sounds good right? However, by that definition the company does not add antibiotics to the final meat/poultry/dairy product, but the animal those products are made from was still pumped full of antibiotics and hormones during its lifetime. They just didn't inject the egg directly with drugs for example. It does not mean you are consuming a product free of antibiotics, it is business as usual with new clever labeling to fool the hapless consumer (Watch a shocking video about food product labeling here).
If you are not happy with your options as far as organic food goes or you find going organic for other food besides produce too cost prohibitive, try and online grocer such as my favorite, Thrive Market.
Thrive Market offers an amazingly huge selection of well, pretty much everything organic and wholesome at an enormous discount. Everything from organic oatmeal, gluten-free chips, to shaving cream. Thrive's stated mission is to provide all-natural, wholesome foods at 25-50% off of retail price with a sustainable and charitable business model. For every new membership, they donate a membership to a low-income family. It is a great company, and a great option for you to afford organic on a budget. Try it for free with an additional 15% off your first order here.
How to re-think your food budget. We have been sold the idea that our food should be cheap. Weekly coupons in the paper, television and print media, groups promoting "extreme couponing," as well as in-store deals have us believing that we are owed the right to really inexpensive food. The GMO labeling legislation (simply requiring food manufacturers to accurately disclose the genetically modified food ingredients on the food label) in multiple states failed because companies like Kraft and Pepsi spent over $10million in advertising telling to consumers the price of their food would skyrocket if they had to tell us what is actually in it. And you know what? It worked. Moms were fearful their food bills would increase and voted down the bill, even though the increase in price claim was a flat out proven lie.
Since we have swallowed the idea of cheap food whole, Big Food then delivers. Super cheap food that is super accessible and portable. But what would happen if you changed how you view your food budget? What if you realized that the BETTER you feed your family, the more healthy and less prone to disease, allergy, cancers, cognitive disorders, infertility, and obesity they would become? What if you knew that eating organic clean food could lower your medical costs across the board and have major lifelong benefits? Would you then be able to agree that spending a few or a hundred dollars more at the store instead of on medications and doctor co-pays might be worth it?
The greatest wealth we can have is our health. You and your family deserve to eat good, wholesome, non-toxic food. You deserve to be told exactly what you are eating so you can make the best choice for your family. You deserve to know the truth about our inextricably tied food & medical industries with our government. Keep reading, keep learning. Your family is counting on you xx
I hope these few tips have helped you rethink about the cost vs. benefit of clean eating and helped you find new tools to afford the food lifestyle your family deserves. Remember, I am not your doctor and nothing stated in this article should be taken as a diagnosis or replacement for sound, well-informed medical advice from your trusted professionals and your own personal research.
Please leave your tips on how to eat clean on a budget in the comments below!
*Watch this film for an eye-opening experience about the health of your children. See "BOUGHT" here