Thursday, June 12, 2008

Why I Buy Organics

I really am something of an organics geek … and its getting worse. Since helping the lovely Lianne at OrganicBaby test her new website, I'm more convinced than ever of the importance of eating organic food.

While I am very lucky to have some friends who share my passion, I know that some people do raise their eyebrows when they go into my pantry. Especially given our Budget of Doom, people are surprised that I buy organic.

Yet, the quality of what we eat is so important. I think we all know this but our spending habits don’t always reflect it. In the US, the average family spends something like 5% of their income on food – which is the lowest in the developed world. I imagine in NZ we aren’t a whole lot better. It’s the whole ‘cheap, cheap, cheapest’ mentality again. Buy cheap food so that you have money to buy more cheap clothes, more cheap toys and more cheap junk to fill your home.

While being frugal and thrifty are important, I think its better to focus on avoiding waste, making food from scratch, and reducing your intake of meat and processed food - and then spend money on quality ingredients. When it comes to the quality of what you eat, don’t be a cheapskate. Don’t buy processed chicken nuggets and come complaining to me that organic chicken is too expensive. Buy organic chicken and make your own nuggets. They will taste so much better I promise!

So, my top reasons for buying organics are:

- They just taste better. Honestly. Even my completely cynical Hubby (who is much maligned on this blog but is a truly wonderful person) admits that organic stuff tastes out of this world. Especially apples. And Sultanas. And tomatoes. And pears. And potatoes And organic butter is amazing …. Need I go on?

- I can read the ingredients list out loud on organic food. Michael Pollan suggests that if we buy processed foods we choose ones with no more than five ingredients and with ingredients we can pronounce. Conventional processed foods are packed with ingredients like maltodextrin, , potassium nitrate, Sodium benzoate, Butylated hydroxyanisole. You don’t find that junk in organics. I was horrified to find a packet of Chicken Nuggets marketed as 100% chicken breast in a parenting magazine. How could this be I asked myself? I checked and they are definitely not 100% chicken breast – they are 60% chicken breast and 40% weird sounding additives. Its just that the chicken that is in there is breast meat, rather than the left over bits no one wants to us. Don’t be fooled by marketing, always always read your labels.

- No E numbers, no pesticides. A recent New Zealand study showed conventional raisins and sultanas had residues of 23 pesticides on them. Yuck. The number of additives and pesticides that have been linked to everything from ADHD to Cancer is terrifying. Additives and pesticides get approved one day and banned the next. Its scary. Especially if you are feeding littlies who are much more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals. For more information on this stuff, check out

- Organics can help save the planet. Apparently if the US switched entirely to Organic farming, they would be more than able to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. Pesticides run off into the water supply, contaminate the soil and create hazardous waste. Single crop farms and intensive farming practices are hugely harmful to the soil, water and the air. Organic growers grow heirloom varieties prized for their natural resilience and their taste, rather than their uniform appearance or longevity for shipping.

- If you have to eat meat, you can eat organic meat with a much cleaner conscious. Without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and chemically altered feeds, eating organic meat is a very different prospect altogether. Organic farmers are also philosophically committed to more humane methods for managing their animals. I choose to only buy organic chicken, pork on the odd occasion I buy it, and sausages (you don’t want to imagine what is in supermarket sausages!).

- I like to support smaller businesses that are committed to ethical, sustainable business practices. Now, I know that, particularly in the States, Big organic is probably almost as dodgy as Big Oil or Big Tobacco, but here in NZ our organics (with the odd exception) come small businesses, with a big commitment to ethics and quality. Places like Ceres, Commonsense Organics, Eco-Organics, RainbowValley, Koang Gardens … these are businesses that I am happy to spend money at. And they have great organics at our local Farmers Markets too.


Dawn said...

I see you have Omnivore's Dilemma on your sidebar...I loved that book. It's what really got me buying organics . There's no going back really is better.

RunninL8 said...

Thanks for jump starting me into figuring out how adjust our budget to accomodate more organic food. And I'm sending the hubby a link to this post!!!
Organics DO taste better! We grew our own tomatos last summer and the difference blew me away. It was FRIGHTENING to realize what must be going into non-organic produce and meat.

clareb said...

Cool post. We have started eatingnearly all organic this year - have been extending it to include flour, sugar etc. I agree that buying organics is cheaper than buying processed food.
Here in the Wairarapa there is a Community Supported Agriculture scheme but as we grow most of our own veges (and hopefully soon all) we haven't joined - but if you are growing some of your own veges this could be a good way to supplement if there's one in your area.

Patience said...

I knew about raisins, but the reminder was a good one because its easy to slip back into bad habits.

Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

I recently edited a book on US demographics, and the citation from 2006 was that the average expenditure on groceries was 13 cents on the dollar. That's still really low, considering that in 1901 it was 43 cents!

The other hidden cost of conventional food is how much we will pay for health problems that could be attributed to diet. We're "saving" money by giving tax-funded subsidies to farmers to grow genetically modified corn and soy monoculture crops, and then artificially suppressing the retail price so all our partially hydrogenated chicken nuggets are cheap, all the while sending us firmly on the road to cancer and heart disease. Sure, that works, as long as we don't have to be conscious about it :)

Grace said...

gorgeous. i love this.

denise said...

Exactly! Great post. We try to buy primarily local/organic and fair trade. Costs a little, but well worth it for health, environment, economy, etc. :)

Lizz said...

I'm happy to live where organics is a priority. There are many many organic food companies in my town. My family pays a very large portion of our budget towards food. The coast of living and especially food and organics are fairly high here. Growing your own food is cheap and good for you is SO many ways. I believe instead of marketing organics we should be educating folks on how to 'grow your own'.

Now my beef is with my neighbors (all of them) who love pesticides. Ugh!

GrowingBump said...

Again... you've made me shudder at the practices and in our own household... and you've made me think!

Keep up the good work ;-) Oh - and if you have any tips for dealing with a DH who declares that organics don't taste as good as standard supermarket bought, that would be good too...