When I go to the grocery store and see the basic whole foods that are trending, I think of my father, who was born during the Great Depression. He and his seven siblings woke to a pot of beans on the wood stove and came home to a dinner of homemade bread, baked beans and collard greens or vegetables easily found on the farms they lived and worked on.
As an adult, my father would talk about how poor his family was, and how the kids would tease him in school about his rustic lunch food, compared with his classmates who had peanut butter and jam sandwiches on sliced bread.
My father was determined to avoid the foods he ate as a child because he associated them with being poor. Turns out, the more he moved away from those childhood foods toward “higher class” choices (read: processed foods), the more his health suffered. Still, in his eyes, the beans, collards and home-baked (unsliced) bread and veggies were guilty by association.
Today, the culture has shifted, and unadulterated whole foods, without pesticides, can be bought at a premium. Agricultural practices, made cost effective for years by use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, are shifting as farmers try to provide what people want. We vote each time we make a purchase, trending toward the very foods my father would have considered poor.
The discussion on buying organic produce often comes down to a clash of class — and cash. How is it possible to buy organic, but still keep to some budget constraints? Buy in bulk and save with local farmers. You can buy a share of a farm’s produce in bulk and help a local farmer stay in business by finding a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near you. CSAs are found all over the country and frequently provide farm fresh produce that’s either organic, transitional (farmed on lands that used conventional techniques in the past), or no-spray (no pesticides sprayed, but may still use conventional fertilizers). Families often get one box and split it. Or, if you’re a single person, you can join with a friend or two and divvy up your shares for a surfeit of fresh-grown produce on a regular basis.
Go to the local farmers markets and buy direct from the grower. Talk to the farmers and ask about their farming practices. Many smaller farmers use organic approaches but can’t afford the official organic certification that permits them to use the term “organic” on their produce, but they could be farming that way, or transitional or no-spray.
Mix conventional with organic, and be strategic about it. Common sense says that anything bumpy — like the surface of a strawberry or raspberry – really can’t be washed without damaging the fruit. So many buy organic for that kind of produce or produce that has been rated most likely to retain a pesticide residue on it.
Buy organic in peak season. Seasonal organics will be the most economical, and often you can store enough to last weeks. Organic apples, for instance, in season can be extremely well priced. In the dry, cool conditions of a refrigerator or garage, they can also be stored in bulk for up to eight weeks. So can potatoes and onions. Invest in learning how to keep food fresh until you can use it. Remember: The goal is to use the produce — not to keep it forever! We offer 30-minute sessions on how to keep food fresh. Buy flash frozen fruit and vegetables. They will keep longer and you can enjoy them (within three months for freshness) without worry about them spoiling.
I decided over a decade ago to buy organic produce to minimize the load of toxins I was being exposed to without my knowledge, along with the goal to reduce my health care expenses. I wanted to not only save my health but boost it.
We know that the majority of illnesses are caused by lifestyle choices, but it’s as simple or complex as your habits and your budget allow, and adjusting them gradually and where possible. If you are interested in having more organic produce in your life, minimize buying conventional produce when and where you can; avoid it when and where you can. Simply, enjoy discovering a new way of thinking and eating organic — and then see how you feel!