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Are Organic Foods Worth The Premium?

by retirebyforty on December 12, 2012 · 64 comments

in expenditure, frugality

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are you paying too much for organic food

Green garlic – $3 per bunch. Is that a little too expensive?

You know, I have been to Whole Foods a few times mostly to gawk, but I just couldn’t bear to buy anything. Everything is just so much more expensive than WinCo, our usual grocery store.  Are organic foods really worth the premium they command? We like to go to the farmer market once in a while and pick up local cheeses, bread, and a few vegetables. The farmer market is more expensive, but we like supporting the local farmers. Shopping at Whole Foods on the other hand seems like supporting a big corporation.

Mrs.RB40’s mom recently sent us an article from Dr. Oz about this very subject. (Dr. Oz is a daytime talk show host who seems to be very popular among the retired crowd.) He argued that frozen and canned foods are just as nutritious, and they are much more affordable than their organic counterpart. The flash freezing technique preserves most of the vitamins and freshness resulting in healthy affordable vegetables.  Dr. Oz also pointed out that free range chickens and grass-fed, pasture-dwelling cows are nutritionally identical. The absence of hormones and antibiotics can be important if you’re sensitive to that though. Let’s look at a few of the items on Dr. Oz’s list and see which ones we buy.

Peanut Butter – Gourmet PB can cost 2-3x the price of generic. Dr. Oz said paying extra gets you a glass jar and a few more calories, but there is no difference nutrition-wise. We tried a “natural” peanut-only PB and baby RB40 didn’t like it. We’re back to generic creamy PB and we are all happy with the lower price and the more familiar taste.

Are organic foods worth the premium?

Baby RB40’s healthy & affordable snack – Peanut Butter & Banana.

Mustard – Whole-grain Dijon can cost $3 more than the familiar bright yellow French’s mustard. Dr. Oz gave them a tie because the gourmet mustard has a more complex taste and adds class to a sandwich. We usually get variety of generic mustards. Right now we have Honey, Dijon, and Spicy Brown in the pantry. I’ll give the edge to generic because I’m quite happy with them.

Tuna – Who doesn’t have canned tuna in their pantry? A tuna sandwich is easy to prepare, tastes great, and is very healthy. Dr. Oz gave canned tuna and tuna steak a tie. I agree with him. A tuna steak is more expensive, but they both have a place on our menu.

Olive Oil – More chemicals are used to extract the mass market brand, but they are still heart healthy. Gourmet extra virgin olive oil can cost 5 times as much, but are nutritionally identical. Dr. Oz gave the win to the cheaper supermarket olive oil. We buy supermarket olive oil for most of our cooking, but Mrs. RB40 occasionally splurges on primo olive oil which she uses for dipping bread. When you really taste the flavor of the oil, premium is a lot better than the supermarket version. I’ll have to say this is a tie for us.

Eggs – Dr. Oz went with the supermarket eggs here too. Cage free chickens might be happier, but their eggs are the same nutritionally. Premium eggs are way too expensive for us. I’ll pass unless someone can show me that it’s worth it.

Milk – The clear winner here is supermarket milk. We purchased organic whole milk for baby RB40 when he was under 12 months, but now that he is chugging a gallon a week, we’re buying regular milk. He seems happy with either one so I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Generic and mass market brands are all winners or tied according to Dr. Oz and I agree. They are more affordable and they are perfectly healthy. We spend about $3-$400 per month on groceries and that can easily doubled if we shop at Whole Foods exclusively. When it comes to food, I think it’s better to concentrate on cooking healthy meals and controlling the portion size. Organic foods are great, but they just cost so much more than supermarket food. I have a hard time paying the premium because they all seem similar after I cook them.

Do you eat organic food and avoid generic and mass market brands?  What’s your take?

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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

The College Investor December 12, 2012 at 12:26 am

I don’t think they are worth it one bit. Eat the regular stuff, just like your parents did. You’ll be fine.

As for store brand versus national brand, they are typically made by the same company, so don’t sweat going with the store brand!

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sin camisa December 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm

The college investor – what your parents ate did not have the amount of pesticides and chemicals present in foods today. Now there is a “super bug” that Roundup can’t kill as a result of normal natural evolution. Chemicals (just like cigarettes) will not give you cancer in 2-5 years; if it will develop, it will happen in 20-40 years (and of course, not to everyone; just like smoking does not cause cancer to everyone). Because of this long term effect, it’s impossible to be any study proving anything.

Bottom line: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

For my kids; organic milk and organic of anything in the list of the dirty dozen from the EWG.

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Greg December 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

I think this is going to result in a lively discussion topic on this post :-)
I know I have many thoughts on it – too many to post in one post.

You don’t mention buying fruits and veggies at that whole foods market.
That’s mainly what I buy there.
I don’t know this for a fact (so would love more input on that), but I believe they are sprayed with fewer pesticides. And, my personal opinion, organically grown fruits and veggies actually have taste, where mass market fruits and veggies seemed to have become less flavorable to me. Maybe it’s just my taste buds…
But, at least for my taste buds – milk, fruits and veggies all seemed very bland when I got them from a regular grocery store.
They were cheap, but not satisfying to my taste buds.

But there’s probably more to that story – if they weren’t satisfying to my taste buds, a Taco Bell drive-thru usually kicks in.
And have you looked at the sodium levels on their menu?

So bland grocery fruits/veggies/milk seemed to make me stop more often at Del Taco or Taco Bell, which have outragously bad nutrutional aspects.

Sorry if I rambled on with too many thoughts, but I do that at times…

I look forward to learning good info from others on this post, though.
It’s an area I’d like to learn more about…

Greg

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

Thanks for your input. I like buying fresh produce at the farmer market too and occasionally splurge, but that’s the minority of our purchases. Super fresh produce taste a lot better and it’s worth it some time. If I cook the vegies, I can’t tell the difference though so I buy carrots, potatoes, bell pepper, and such from WinCo.

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101 Centavos December 12, 2012 at 5:03 am

No question that Whole (wallet) Foods are terrifically expensive (even wrote a post about it), and not worth the extra expense.

Also no question that Dr. Oz comes off as a bit of a tool by equating frozen and canned foods with fresh straight out of the garden. I’d wager he hasn’t done a real taste test on his stovetop.

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 8:39 am

Yeah, fresh food taste a lot better, but they are also a lot more expensive. Gardening is the best way out of this conundrum. :)

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Money Beagle December 12, 2012 at 6:47 am

The only real organic thing I think we buy are eggs. My wife insists that she can taste a difference, and it’s probably one of those things that I could fight but I pick my battles, and that’s not one I”m willing to go with. Everything else on the list we also buy regular, not organic. I didn’t even know you could buy organic mustard!

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 8:40 am

Hahaha, good call on that one. Regular eggs are fine for us. I’m afraid to try those organic eggs, we might get addicted…

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Jana Miller December 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

Disagree! We hit up the farmers market every week and buy organic (that isn’t certified)-for a great price. We eat as much organic and pasture raised as possible. We avoid GMO products and we shop mainly at Trader Joe’s which is way less expensive than whole foods. Plus WF puts their grass fed meat on sale a couple times a year and we fill the freezer.

The food at the grocery store is not the food our parents ate…that’s the problem.

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 8:41 am

Our farmer market is quite a bit more expensive than our grocery store. It’s probably cheaper than Whole Foods though. I like Trader Joe’s too, but I didn’t know they were targeting organic.

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Lulu December 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

I’m with Jana. I walk to the year-round market in Baltimore every week to get milk, eggs, meat. Have you read about factory farmed meat??
I also have a city garden in my yard during MD’s long growing season and that helps. But we spend over $500 a month on groceries but cook every meal at home, have lots of beans & rice and rarely eat out (prefer home-cooked). This isn’t for everyone but we have budgeted for this because overall health is a priority and we have made cuts in other areas of our budget to accommodate this expense.

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Kurt @ Money Counselor December 12, 2012 at 7:44 am

I prefer to eat organic, but my cheapskate nature keeps from going all-in on organic food. I look for opportunities that make sense. For example, I eat a lot of oatmeal. Organic oatmeal may cost 50% more than non-organic oatmeal, but in $ terms that works out to something like 30 cents a bowl instead of 20 cents a bowl. I figure the extra 10 cents a bowl won’t break me, so in this case I choose organic. On the other hand, no way I’m paying $18 for a free range organic chicken when a ‘regular’ chicken costs half as much or less. That’s a huge dollar difference! I’d just stop eating chicken first!

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 8:43 am

That’s a good idea. We only buy organic if we can taste the difference AND if we want to treat ourselves. I guess that’s not a good bench mark.

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Emily @ evolvingPF December 12, 2012 at 8:51 am

I’m not too fussed about buying organic, but I do enjoy buying local vegetables from our local farmer’s market as much as we are able. Most of it is the same price or slightly higher than what we can get in the grocery store. I have personally avoided Whole Foods since reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

I haven’t really read into how organic vs. conventional foods are evaluated for nutrition and detrimental chemicals and stuff, and I don’t trust how the mass media interprets studies. I also have a tough time believing that food’s interaction with the human body is as reductionist as nutritional science is trying to make it right now.

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Our farmer markets are quite a bit more expensive than our grocery store. We can probably go out to the farm to buy produce at a more affordable price, but then it will take a lot of time and gasoline. :(

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SavvyFinancialLatina December 12, 2012 at 9:06 am

Ehh…we don’t buy organic, way too expensive! Plus, I think organic food is hoax.

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shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet December 12, 2012 at 9:54 am

When we first bought local, grass fed beef, it was from a local butcher shop (a real butcher shop) and it was CHEAPER than all their other stuff. Cheaper. We loved it. It has a slightly different taste, but one we liked more.
Then we moved away from that area and not only can’t we find an actual butcher shop, but anything labled “grass fed” is 1.5-2x more expensive than the other stuff. It’s disheartening.
We do buy organic carrots and celery- it’s usually onle a few cents more expensive. And during the summer, we buy almost all of our veggies at the local farmers market- but again, the prices are competetive with or cheaper than the grocery store, and we get a better variety.

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm

The farmer market is our area is quite expensive. Most items are 2x the price of the grocery store. We do buy a few things from our farmer market, but most of our food are from the grocery store. I guess the demand for fresh food in our area pushed the price up. That’s too bad.

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shanendoah@the dog ate my wallet December 12, 2012 at 9:57 am

Something I forgot to mention- you should also check what it requires to be labeled “organic” both federally and locally. One thing C noticed was that to be called “organic” you have to pay a fee and have an inspection and jump thorugh some other hoops. Because of this, crops grown by the Amish (who don’t use any chemical pesticides) can’t be labeled organic, even though they are almost certainly more “natural” than anything at your supermarket that is labeled as such.

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Linda December 19, 2012 at 7:03 am

Actually, most Amish farmers *do* use pesticides. http://amishamerica.com/do-amish-use-pesticides/

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Brick by Brick Investing December 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

Unfortunately a lot of the TRUE organic foods are no longer really organic. Companies have caught on to the organic craze and have no remorse for slapping “organic” on a label even though its not.

I buy all my fruits and vegetables organically in order to avoid pesticides.

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jim December 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm

I really don’t think mainstream companies are fraudulently selling foods as organic which aren’t. That would be a major felony.

Now on the other hand for non-food products there are products labeled ‘organic’ which have no organic regulation. So you might see ‘organic’ shampoo which is not certified in any way. If there isn’t a government certifying the organic nature of the product then an organic label may be meaningless.

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krantcents December 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

I love peanut butter! I used to grind the peanuts to create fresh peanut butter, because it tasted better and smelled delicious. I no longer do it because I don’t frequent that store anymore. Living in southern California, I am partial to fresh vegetables, but always bought (generic) frozen as well. I agree with Dr. Oz, if you are not sensitive to the ordinary foods, it is not that important to go organic.

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jim December 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I agree on the nutritional content. From what I’ve seen there’s no significant difference between organic and normal.

However other aspects of organic food are worth considering. Use of pesticides in foods is a concern and organics are pesticide free. Some people would consider it worth paying more to avoid unnecessary chemicals in their foods alone.

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Greg December 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm

One of the reasons I buy more organic is because, and maybe this is a false reality, they have less chemicals/pesticides in them. I figure the water takes those into the soild, to the roots, and is then embedded in the stuff grown, so washing doesn’t get rid of it – maybe I’m wrong in that thinking, though.
I don’t pay much attention to the taste, although I did notice a big difference in taste going from regular milk to organic milk – I had forgotten what milk tasted like. Regular milk, to me, had just become more like cloudy water with regards to the taste of it.

I switched to grass-fed beef and cage free chicken and eggs partially for personal reasons – I like to think the animal I’m about to eat at least had a happy life before I eat it :-) But I also figure if they were stressed in life, that affects them in other ways that may make them less healthy. Not sure on the facts on that, but it made sense to me. And watching the movie ‘King Corn’ also got me thinking… true or not, I don’t know, but it’s gone of the reasons I started moving towards the more expensive grass-fed and (I think?) better fed chickens.

And this is purely psychological… but I find if I pay more for the fruits and veggies and meat and eggs – I eat them, because I feel guilty throwing them away when they go bad. When I buy the cheaper, non-organic, I don’t feel so guilty throwing them away when they go bad, so I tend to eat more drive-thru at Dell Taco as a result.
The convenience of a drive-thru on every corner is one of the reasons I buy organic I guess – paying more then forces me to re-think the stop at that drive-thru.

I agree with RB40, though – gardening is a good way to offset things and you know what’s going into it then. I’m terrible at keeping plants alive. But I’ve started down that road, and am getting my yard in better shape. Too bad I don’t like the taste grass. For the first time in many years, my front yard is finally green and growing…
It’s a start I guess… :-)

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Thanks for the long response. We participate in the community garden and have plenty of vegetables in the summer. That’s the way to go. I haven’t paid much attention to meat though. I’m sure happier animals are better for the consumer, but the price is too high. I guess we could cut down on the quantity and just pay for more quality. It’s probably more healthy in the long run to eat less meat anyway.

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Lance @ Money Life and More December 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I honestly think it is more of a marketing thing than actual difference. I do know some foods are very different organic but I bet a lot of them are pretty close to the same with just a big mark up in price.

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I mostly agree. The big difference is probably the amount of pesticide and antibiotic going into the food. That is a little worrying.

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sin camisa December 13, 2012 at 7:57 am

About 80% of antibiotics sold in the US go to treat food producing animals (not humans). Pesticides and antibiotics should be the only things that worry you. You are feeding a child now. Please don’t take this the wrong way; it meant to be in a friendly tone.

I follow the topic very closely. The media does a great job going around the topic (like climate change) because they are owned by large multinational corporations and they don’t want to offend their advertisers.

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retirebyforty December 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I don’t like pesticides and antibiotics either. I’ll do a bit more research and see what kind of food we should buy organic. I guess from all the comments that apples are one of them.

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Greg December 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Interesting that apples are one of them.
I get my veggies and fruits at Sprouts (used to be Whole Foods – maybe a spinoff of it here in some way?), and I think they typically have 5 or 6 types of apples, but no mention of any of those being organic that I’ve seen.

Kathleen, FrugalPortland December 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

You are going to get yourself kicked out of Portland with a post like this! I buy local and organic whenever I can (but then again, I live in SE and work in the farmers market industry!).

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retirebyforty December 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Did I mentioned we loved the farmer markets? :) What do you do in the farmer market industry?

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Mike December 13, 2012 at 5:38 am

You could always grow some of your own (albeit smaller) foods like the veggies and stuff. That might be a way to cut some of the costs that you are encountering and also save you a trip to the store.

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Alexa @ travelmiamor December 13, 2012 at 7:28 am

we tried organic once, my insides definitely felt better but the cost was just too much for us. Our grocery bill went up about $300 for just 2 people :-/

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retirebyforty December 13, 2012 at 10:47 pm

That’s a big increase. I guess we’d better take after 101 Centavos and get a gardening property.

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The College Investor December 13, 2012 at 7:50 am

Like most people I am tempted to buy organic food, because people tend to associate it with eating healthy, but the prices do not seem reasonable and it is a terrible burden to double or even triple our budget on food. Thanks for a very enlightening post!

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sin camisa December 13, 2012 at 8:05 am

Avoid Whole Foods. They are horribly expensive. Costco has a great variety of organic veggies and fruits (for example, $10 for 10 lbs of organic red del. apples – apples are very high in pesticides).

For a list of the fruits and veggies you should try to get organic when available, go to:

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/

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Cathie December 14, 2012 at 8:56 am

I have been in agreement with all of your responses, and now especially. It is not necessary to buy organic across the board, but I only buy apples that are organic, as well as celery, and most of the items in the EWG dirty dozen. It’s not as important for the “clean 15.” I have found that since we’ve changed our eating habits, our food bill as actually DECREASED. We are not buying junk that we used to buy, and instead making wise choices about what we do buy. We stick to organic dairy, and when we buy meat we try to at least get “natural” if we can’t afford organic. To be perfectly honest, the per lb. price was not all that different on a recent trip to Wegman’s. I do most of our shopping at Trader Joes now, and it is VERY reasonable, with a lot of their organic produce beating the price of supermarkets non-organic. I also appreciate the fact that if it has TJ’s name on it, it has no GMO’s as a matter of policy.
I have become a food activist of sorts, because my son has developed a digestive allergy to corn and soy. Upon much research it is no wonder – both of those items have invaded virtually our entire food supply. Just for kicks go to the supermarket and try to find items that do not contain one or the other. I personally believe that it is this over-use that has caused many food related allergies and diseases.
I heartily recommend watching Food, Inc. A real eye-opener.

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Mom December 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

We very rarely buy food at Whole Foods. There are a few things we buy there because we have trouble finding it elsewhere: fresh roasted coffee beans, spices and grains in bulk, a few specialty fruits/veggies that my husband and daughter like. But for pretty much everything else, we buy at Wal-Mart (cheapest grocery store in town for us) or Costco. We almost always buy store brand items, but there are a few things where we insist on the brand name for taste. We have one requirement in the house – we have to at least try the generic brand if one exists. If we like it, or can’t tell the difference, we keep buying the generic. If we don’t like the taste/texture/whatever, we go back to the brand name – and start looking for coupons :).

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Squirrelers December 13, 2012 at 9:45 am

I wrote on this topic a while back, and got some interesting and varied responses too.

My thinking on this keeps evolving, as I read more and more about pesticides, as well as nutritional bioavailabilty with food. Really, there are probably some foods where it is truly worth it to buy organic. I’ve been reading how apples are recommended to buy organic…which makes me wonder about the apple picking I just did a few months ago :)

However, there are some foods where it probably matters very little. The people that are extreme either way – zero organic, or all organic – are probably making mistakes with either health or spending.

Best to read, be informed, and make strategic purchases of organics only where it truly makes a difference and where you can afford it. If money is unlimited, things are different. It’s like buying a good pair of shoes for $50 – or, buying one that’s really great for your feet, for $200. Sure, that $200 one might have benefits, but is it worth it to you, at your income/savings levels to spend the incremental $150?

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retirebyforty December 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm

If you can afford it, then go organic all the way. :)
I’ll do more research and see which items we should buy organic. Thanks for the info.

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smithson December 13, 2012 at 9:55 am

There is apparently an agenda going on by corporations, governments to depopulate earth, reduce fertility and they choose to do it by the food and water supply. By chemically lacing everything, even down to the ink in the ink cartridges which are laced with BPA , which mimics estrogen and is especially harmful for developing children. So yes, local is worth it to me, “certified organic” isnt always organic, its just food grown with chemicals that government approves and there are strings attached. I would stick with local.

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retirebyforty December 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Yeap, that agenda is making money! We like local too and will try to buy more from local farms next year.

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Crystal December 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

We don’t buy organic anything to my knowledge mainly because I’m cheap. I don’t avoid organic foods, but if one is sitting next to the regular stuff and costs 3 times more, I just grab the regular stuff and move on. As for flavors, we tend to find a favorite and stick to it. So we do have a large variety of mustards (I love horseradish mustard), but I don’t know if they are organic or not (Kroger brand, so probably not). I know the worries are pesticides and all of that, but I also know that the what ifs are not how we ever want to live our lives. And who checks on all of the organic farms to make sure they are following their own rules anyway? I would hate to double our food costs or more and then get cancer anyway…too many variables to bother worrying about in my opinion.

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retirebyforty December 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm

You’re my long lost twin. :)
We’ll try to buy more from the farmer market next year and garden more. The more I read, the more scared I get especially with a young kid now.

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Greg December 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Agree 100% with not living life based on ‘what ifs’.
I think if I did that, I might have to survive on good filtered water – no more drinking straight from the hose.
And for food I’d probably get bananas, beans, rice, carrots, and maybe olive oil.
Can’t think of a whole lot of foods that I haven’t seen in an article, study, the media, etc… that was never associated with doing something bad to me.

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jim December 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I’ve read that rice has high levels of arsenic. So strike that one off your list!. ;)

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Greg December 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

One of the areas I tried and tried to find one that was labeled organic or which seemed like it was supposed to be healthier in some way (less sodium, etc…) was bread.
Every one I tried left me feeling like I had a mouth full of cardboard.
Even regular store varieties leave a lot to be desired by me.
Tried the bread machine years ago – and that just seemed like too much work and more expensive.

I’m not a great cook by any means – I can boil chicken and eggs, toast some bread, etc…

I came across this page for homemade bread a month and a half ago –
http://www.kalynskitchen.com/2009/11/recipe-for-100-white-whole-wheat-bread.html
And it worked well for me.
The resulting bread is very dense – not light and fluffy.
The size of resulting loaf makes for a nice half-sized sandwich.
Taste was much better than any store-bought bread I’ve had in a long time.
I added a little honey, and will probably experiment more on the next batch.
Haven’t looked at comparing the cost, yet, but store-bought bread costs were driving me crazy for what you get, another reason I looked for other options.

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Christa December 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Eggs fresh from the farm are actually tastier than the normal white eggs at the supermarket. I just ate egg bake at a friend’s house, and she raises her own laying chickens. The casserole was so delicious because of the eggs’ flavor. I’m going to have to get my eggs from my friend from now on!

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George December 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

This article is flawed because it is only discussing “nutritional” value. How about chemicals/pesticides and the potential harm they cause? Any argument discussing organic vs. non-organic that leaves out this discussion is missing the boat in my opinion.

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julie December 17, 2012 at 9:27 am

I always buy organic peanut butter. Years ago I read that peanuts are rotated with cotton plants in the growing cycle. Cotton is a crop that gets pesticides added – in large amounts. The soil holds the pesticides and when the peanuts are planted they potentialy soak in the chemicals. Perhaps the crop rotation and chemical usage has changed, but until I find that information I will pay more.

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Linda December 19, 2012 at 7:41 am

Certainly a lot of comments here about organic vs. non-organic! I feel the need to point out a few things that may have been missed.

In regards to peanut butter, you mention “natural” peanut butter and store-brand peanut butter. As you noted, the “natural” peanut butter is made with only ground peanuts, and perhaps some salt (if you chose a salted variety). The “non-natural” brands — whether they are store brand or a major brand — also contain a large amount of high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil. Neither of these is good for one to consume on a regular basis. Baby RB40 is at an age where his taste preferences are being formed. If you can get him to eat peanut butter that isn’t full of sweeteners then you are doing him a favor. Americans have trained their palates to eat *way too much* sweet stuff, which is big contributor to the obesity epidemic. (And shame on “Dr” Oz for not pointing something like this out! It is NOT just about whether something is organic or not, but much more about additives!)

Vegetables and fruits that are organic do not have the high pesticide level of non-organic ones. It’s a personal choice if that makes a difference to you, but it is not a choice about “nutritional value” as the article referenced states. Like 101, I have a pretty big garden and grow a lot of veggies organically. (And I’m even harvesting things like beets, swiss chard, kale, and over-wintering carrots here in Chicago at this time of year.)

The choices one makes around eggs and meat are a little less easy to sum up briefly. First, “natural” means nothing when it comes to eggs or meat or anything at the store, for that matter. “Natural” is not a regulated claim like organic. So if one buys “natural” chicken you’re really just paying for a label; there’s no substantive difference between it and the standard bird next to it.

“Grass fed” and “pastured” do mean something, though. An animal raised on grass and pasture is consuming lots of micronutrients and minerals that aren’t present in the standard corn and soy-based feeds given to non-pastured animals. There have been studies that show the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are more favorable in grass-fed beef. There are also consumers who choose these types of meat and eggs because living on pasture is better for the animal.

I’ve made a point to buy mostly pastured or grass-fed meat. I don’t require it to be organic, though. Chicken especially is very expensive if it is pastured, and I’ve found it very difficult to get pastured pork even at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. So I just bought a small pig from a farmer and picked it up from the butcher (yes, it was already killed and cut up for me!) last weekend.

Meals don’t have to revolve around meat, so the cost of food doesn’t have to go up if one focuses on only buying pastured/grass-fed or organic meat and eggs. (My eggs are super fresh and organic as they come only from my backyard hens, but not everyone can do this.) I try to include much less meat and more veggies and beans in my diet. For example, I made a huge pot of navy bean soup a week ago and only used a small amount of bacon from a pastured pig, so the cost was quite low.

If you’re on a tight budget, then by all means continue to buy whatever fits in your budget. Please do reconsider the sweetened peanut butter, though. :-)

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sin camisa December 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Excellent and informative post, Linda. Thank you.

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retirebyforty December 19, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Thanks Linda for such an informative comment! We’re trying to minimize meat consumption too.
Baby RB40 is super skinny. His frame is small so I don’t think he’ll be obese anytime soon, but we’ll keep it in mind.
We’ll garden more next year as well. Merry Christmas!

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Timothy Mobley February 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I stumbled upon your blog and I must say I enjoy it very much. Read quite a few of your article already and find them to the point, informative and concise. Having said that, I must admit that I completely disagree with this article. First of all, as many have pointed out, the arguments are flawed because we are not really comparing “nutritional value” when it comes to the decision of buying organic vs non-organic. Rather, there are so many other issues at hand – pesticides, herbicides, chemicals… There have been many studies done to prove that those are harmful. Again, as someone pointed out earlier, unfortunately the effects are seen over the course of many years, even decades…
Anyways, on a more practical note, if one does believe that eating organic is better for them and their family, what is the best course of action? I dont think its necessary to shop at Whole Foods. Perhaps join a community garden, support a CSA, shop for deals at Trader Joes. Buy less packaged foods, more whole foods. There really are many choices that do not have to involve Whole Foods, which I agree with you is outrageously overpriced.

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retirebyforty February 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Great comment! Thanks for your input. We are trying to eat more organic especially fruits. I don’t like all that chemicals either. We’re planning to go to Trader Joe’s in a couple of days to pick up some apples.

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Rob @FinancialSprout March 7, 2013 at 7:20 pm

My grandmother eats all organic food, and she’s crazy about her vitamins! Considering the fact that she’s 77 and her hair isn’t even grey, i’d say that she’d doing something right. Although it might not make a difference in the short run, but in the long run it could make a big difference on your health.

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Michael June 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Here in Florida, I am fortunate to have access to a local farmers market with VERY reasonable prices. After watching a string of documentaries about a year or so ago, I decided to make a lifestyle change. With the help of Donna, my local farmer, I have been able to explore a whole new view on good health. I am no doctor, but I truly doubt that canned foods are as good for us as their raw organic counterparts. For one thing, I believe that the blanching process (or flash freezing) that canned foods go through kills most, if not all, of the enzymes, which are essential for all living organisms.

Not only that, but with corporations out there, like Monsanto, that seem bent on spreading their harmful and toxic GMO seeds across the globe, I want to know the foods that me and my loved ones consume are safe. The most assured way, that I believe, of doing this is by going organic. And as a heads up to those reading this, corn and soy are the two biggest GMO crops and I believe sugar beets are a close third. What this means is when you are shopping and you see these items listed in the ingredients of your favorite processed foods, more often than not they were made with GMO’s. Sorry, it’s not my goal to be a downer, but ignorance isn’t always bliss.

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sin camisa June 14, 2013 at 6:19 am

My farmers market in FL was a joke. Publix was bringing more organic foods. A real irony; the most progressive company in the state is a 90 year old supermarket that started in an ultra conservative area.

I am sorry you live in FL, Michael. As someone that finally left Fraudida, the Ass Backward State, over a year ago, I can tell you how much better life is once you leave that crap hole. I have kids; I had to get them out of there.

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Michael June 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

Hello, sin camisa. I will admit that I don’t believe Florida is the best place to live (I’m originally a Midwesterner), but here I shall remain until I muster the courage to leave.

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sin camisa June 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

You can do it, Michael. There is light at the end of the tunnel. FL is like quick sand, it tough to get out because is dirt cheap to live there. But there is a reason it’s cheap.

I am sitting at 62° in mid June here in the Northwest; just the thought of the AC humming makes me twitch.

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