It’s an exciting time of year here in Virginia. The local farmers markets and CSAs are opening back up, filled with greens, asparagus, and the most delicate, fragile, translucent raspberries. I could write an ode to those raspberries. Strawberries are just around the corner. After a winter of dark greens and root veggies, I’m ready for some fresh spring flavors. I’m ready for spring. I can’t wait to start taking Oscar to the market again. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about food, and that’s got me thinking about how we buy food.
I often hear people say that they can’t afford to eat organic. The knee-jerk (and admittedly obnoxious) platitude that sounds off in my head each and every time is “how can you afford not to?” We are by no means teetotalers at our house, but we do prioritize. Aside from cooking from scratch using whole foods as often as possible, there are some items that we always buy organic—and others that we’re fine with buying conventionally raised.
There are a couple reasons for these grocery habits. First, it’s good for us. We want Oscar to grow up strong and healthy. I’m still breastfeeding, so for myself and for Oscar, I want to keep our food as “clean” as possible. Of course, even organic food ought to be washed—even if it wasn’t sprayed with chemicals and pesticides, that doesn’t mean it’s clean. Also, many consumers operate under the misconception (myself included until a few years ago—thank you, Michael Pollan) that simply washing their conventionally-raised fruits and veggies will wash off any nasty chemicals and pesticides. The truth is: Not necessarily.
Have you heard of the “clean fifteen” and the “dirty dozen”? These monikers refer to produce that fall at opposite ends of the spectrum for chemical contamination/consumer safety. The clean fifteen are those fruits and vegetables that absorb little or no harmful elements when conventionally raised, whereas the dirty dozen describes those items which, no matter how well you wash them, will still contain harmful chemicals, pesticides, etc.—they actually absorb into the food itself, rather than just sitting on the outside. If you (like us) can’t afford to eat exclusively organic, you might want to consider prioritizing by at least buying foods on the dirty dozen list organic. For the clean fifteen, it’s fine to eat conventionally-raised if it’s cheaper. For the rest, use your own judgment.
Then there are the meat and dairy items. We also prioritize buying these organic, free range, etc., as much as possible, and at a minimum we make sure that the livestock were not given growth hormone or routine antibiotics. Again, this means less bad stuff getting into our bodies, as well as higher nutritional content in the food.
You are what you eat.
And then, there’s the other side. Every time you spend money, you are supporting something—a company, a decision, a way of doing business, an idea, etc. You are casting your ballot. This is a mindfulness issue. I was vegetarian for ten years, and although I eat meat now, it is very important to me to know that the animals whose meat I am consuming were raised ethically and were note abused or mistreated—I don’t want to support that sort of behavior. Don’t think it’s that big a deal? Try watching Food, Inc without crying. I dare you.
Ideally, we would always buy all organic from local farmers in-season, riding our bicycles to the market that would be conveniently situated just down the street, and animated birds would serenade us with sweet songs of foodie utopia along the way. Alas, such is not our reality, but we do our best, despite the disappointing lack of a Disney soundtrack.
In the meantime, these are our hard rules when stocking the larder: to know what we’re buying, prioritize our health, and vote responsibly.
What are your grocery rules? How do you prioritize budget vs. health vs. ethics? What’s your food philosophy?