How to Get the Benefits of Organic Foods... Without Paying Organic Prices

Once again, thanks for indulging me as I take what's turning out to be a *ridiculously* long break from writing to work on other projects.

All frugal cooks wonder whether organic food is worth the extra money. But did you know that you can capture almost all of the benefits of going organic without having to pay inflated organic food prices? All you have to do is make a few minor changes in how you purchase and handle the produce you already buy. Here’s how:

1) Don’t think organic, think local.

When we think about the benefits of organic food, the environmental impact of pesticides usually comes to mind first. However, there is an even bigger negative environmental impact embedded in your produce that most shoppers don’t even consider: transport costs. Transport costs drive up the both the price and the carbon footprint of your food. If you can source a meaningful portion of your food from farms within a reasonable distance from home, you’ll save money and help the environment at the same time.

2) Don’t assume food lacking an organic label is grown unethically or unhealthily.

Many farmers find it extremely burdensome to meet all the government requirements to qualify for organic labeling. If you take a bit of time to visit with the growers and vendors at local farmer’s markets in your area, you may find they grow their food more sustainably and responsibly than the letter of the law.

On the other hand, if you insist on having an official-looking little “organic” sticker on your produce, you’ll quite often pay a 50-100% premium, and yet your food may still be trucked in from thousands of miles away with a significant and unnecessary carbon footprint. There’s no need to fixate on a little magic sticker. Instead, find opportunities to buy local and support responsible food growers in your region.

3) Local means in season and cheap.

Everybody knows that the cheapest produce is whatever's in season at the time you buy. Which brings us to an enormous and underappreciated advantage of going local: when you buy your produce locally, you’re guaranteed that all your fruits and veggies will be in season–because that’s the only time they grow! Best of all, your produce will be at its cheapest and most plentiful.

Consumers are fully conditioned now to see tomatoes, apples, citrus and many other fruits and vegetables in grocery stores all year long. And consumer who fixate on magic organic stickers and insist on buying out of season produce are simply asking to be separated from their money.

Don’t get fooled by the artificial reality of your grocery store. It’s not normal, quite frankly, for a North American shopper to buy apples in the spring and grapefruit in the late summer. It shouldn't need to be said, but it's completely acceptable to eat some foods only at certain times of the year! Humans have been doing it for millennia.

Take advantage of your community’s seasonal foods as they occur over the course of the year. You’ll pay a lot less and enjoy healthier, higher quality food.

4) For many fruits and vegetables, the benefits of going organic are negligible.

Many fruits and vegetables are equally healthy whether they’re grown organically or not. Fruits and vegetables with thick rinds or peels (melons, grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, etc.) will be well-protected from any pesticides because you remove the rind before eating. Likewise, fruits and veggies that you peel or husk (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, onions, garlic, etc.) will have several layers of protection between the food and any pesticides. You can eat these types of fruits and vegetables without worrying about ingesting any toxins.

Furthermore, many sturdy vegetables (turnips, beets, collards, kale, parsley, etc.) don’t require much in the way of pesticides, simply because they taste so terrible that insects refuse to eat them.

Whoops, wait! That was my inner five-year-old talking there for a second. What I meant to say was these veggies are already bug resistant and extremely hardy.

Finally, with fruits or vegetables where you eat the skin (apples or green bell peppers, etc.), just take care to wash the produce thoroughly with a scratchy sponge and warm soapy water. This will eliminate any potential pesticides from the food, allowing you to eat it entirely safely.

Don’t buy organic just to buy organic! You can get most of the benefits–and avoid all of the extra costs–by following these four simple tips.

Readers, share your thoughts!

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