Affording Organics

An article in this Sunday’s New York Times once again highlighted rising food prices, this time focusing on “sticker shock” felt by consumers of organics, who already pay a premium for food. The article questioned the potential impact the rise will have on the market for organics.

Rising prices for organic groceries are prompting some consumers to question their devotion to food produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or antibiotics. In some parts of the country, a loaf of organic bread can cost $4.50, a pound of pasta has hit $3, and organic milk is closing in on $7 a gallon. …Food prices in general have been rising, but organic food lagged somewhat behind last year because of a temporary glut of organic milk and other factors. Some grocery chains adopted private-label organic products, which are cheaper than brand products, while others hesitated to raise already high organic prices. In recent months, however, these factors have been giving way to cost pressures in the industry. …Organic manufacturers and retailers said prices began increasing last fall but were only now starting to spike significantly in some parts of the country.

via New York Times

The increase in organic prices, according to the Times, is rooted in most of the same causes linked to the cost increase for conventional groceries: “higher fuel costs, rising demand and a tight supply of the grains needed for animal feed and bakery items.” Already, the article notes, organic consumers pay anywhere from 20-100% more for organic versions of food items, but knowing their food was raised with healthier conditions and stricter oversight makes the added cost worth it for most consumers.

Sales of organics have skyrocketed in recent years, but many in the industry are concerned that consumers will return to conventional groceries in the interest of saving money. Many grocery store owners, suppliers and farmers are taking a relative hit, delaying further price increases, but they know they can only hold out for so long. The Times reports that the cost of raising organic poultry has increased 16% in the last six months, but one producer was trying to hold his price increase at 7%. Some farmers are opting to give up organic farming and return to conventional practices. One organic dairy farmer saw his feed costs more than double in response to the spike in organic feed prices. He gave up his organic credentials in December.

For consumers, the picture is mixed. Some will go the conventional route out of choice or necessity. Others will buy organic more “strategically.” Still others will pillage every other part of the family budget before buying conventional food.

We here at MDA are huge advocates of organic products and for good reason: fewer toxins and synthetic hormones for your body to fight, way more nutrients, better taste, and less poisonous run off and antibiotic resistance that impacts all of us. Nonetheless, it’s a tough economy out there these days. With all food costs on the rise, eating healthy (organic or not) is pricey. We all do the best we can. A few weeks ago, reader Anna offered up some superb ideas for getting the best (and most) for your dollar in her guest post, Thrift Cuts. We thought the issue of affording good quality food was well worth revisiting.

We want to hear more of your good ideas on balancing your budget and food priorities. In the meantime, we’ll throw out a few of ours:

• More than ever, hone in on veggies and meats. They’re likely the most expensive parts of your food budget, but that’s how it should be. Put as much of your resources into the core of your diet as you can, and build outward from there with fruits, nuts, dairy, etc.

• Get out the cookbooks and look for some new ideas to inspire you to try some less expensive meat and produce items.

• If you live in an area with multiple organics-carrying stores, shop around for the best prices on what you buy most frequently. And don’t write off co-ops: you can often get some excellent deals without even joining their membership base.

• Check out manufacturers’ websites for coupons, especially for those expensive items like oils, etc. If you don’t see printable coupons, call them up and ask them to send you some. You’ll very rarely hear no.

• Consider a new angle on your celebrating/entertaining. Instead of having the neighbors over for dinner, do after dinner drinks or an afternoon lemonade. Less stress, less mess, more cash left in your wallet.

• Shop around for area farm stands and CSAs (more on those later this week).

• Consider growing a couple items yourself like berries, tomatoes or herbs.

This is, we recognize, just the tip of the iceberg. What are your perspectives, strategies, and tips? What are you doing these days to eat healthy without breaking the bank? As always, thanks for your great contributions!

Hysterical Bertha, Kai Hendry, wat.ti: Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Cheap Meat?

Healthy Eating on a Budget 1, 2

The Consumerist: Surviving on 99-Cent-Store Food (definitely not MDA approved)

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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17 thoughts on “Affording Organics”

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  1. I’ll be going to grad school next year, and having to pay a little more attention to what I spend. Still, while a lot of this people in this country have to count their dollars and cents and food stamps in order to feed themselves and their children, many other Americans wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a $4 grande latte, always buy lunch instead of bringing it from home, or don’t think twice about ordering a few beers with dinner. Some of these same people balk at spending another dollar for organic vegetables, meat, or dairy. There are other choices that can be made first before giving up organic food.

    Besides, for those who want or need to think in terms only of money spent, what we spend now to eat healthful food saves us money on doctor visits down the road.

    I’ll probably be more selective when it comes to how I spend my food money, but it may involve buying the less expensive organic vegetables rather than the conventional ones, or cutting down some other area of spending in my life so I can continue to buy good quality, nutritious and delicious ingredients.

    Food Is Love

  2. First, if you shop around the outside aisle of the supermarket, you will find your bill much, much less than of those who chose to shop for processed goods.

    Yes, prices have risen, but overall my food budget (by buying wholesome foods) continues to be much, much less than of those who fill their shopping carts with sodas, crackers, frozen pizzas, etc.

  3. 1. Buy meat marked down 30-50% because it is close to its expiration date. I don’t think that the nutritional value of meat declines the way produce does.

    2. Stretch meat by mixing with legumes.

    3. Eat eggs, a very affordable animal protein.

    4. Cook from scratch – cheaper and healthier.

  4. We joined a CSA last year and it has become one of the best investments we ever made. We get local, organic, in-season produce and the farmer gets to cut out the middle man. Everybody wins! Our CSA also sells free-range, organic, grass-fed meats, milk, cheese and eggs. I really can’t say enough good things about them. Check out to find one in your area!

    We also have a vegetable garden in our backyard that helps too. Thanks for the great tips!

  5. Oh, I forgot to add the CSA bill is about 20% less than what I would spend for NON-organic produce at the store.
    (sorry for the double post)

  6. As mentioned earlier, it’s about priorities. Have you looked in peoples grocery carts? I admit, I stare. Honestly, most of it is expensive and awful and then say they can’t afford to eat healthy.

    I’d say that quality animal products is the priority and go from there. If you can find it, buy 1/2 or 1/4 cow, grassfed or course at once because it’s cheaper….but then you’ll have to invest in a freezer.

  7. We also joined an organic co-op this year. The food is about 1/3 to 1/2 the cost that I was paying at the grocery store and it is from a local farmer. What could be better? I also started growing my own lettuce and herbs in my small townhouse. It doesn’t take up that much space and saves lots of money. I started growing my own sprouts, too. I was stunned to learn how easy it is and how inexpensive. From two tablespoons of alfalfa seeds I have tons of sprouts for my salads and pets. I have shaved 1/4 to 1/2 off my grocery bill with very little effort, and everything is still organic. We watched ‘King Corn’ the other night and learned that Americans spend the very least amount of money on their food compared to other countries. I would also bet that we spend the least amount of time preparing our food. I know it isn’t the case for everyone, but many of us need to look at our priorities. Your life will flourish in the areas that you put your time and money. My heart goes out to those doing the very best they can that are still struggling. I wish you luck, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Spread the word that you would appreciate any extras from peoples’ home gardens. So many people have extras doing certain growing times. Most love to share so it doesn’t go to waste.

  8. Was at Whole foods yesterday. A “speciality pizza” organic etc etc cost $6.99. and this was a small size one. A personal pizza. For most people that buy processed foods, I’m assuming that would be just part of the meal.
    My shopping;
    organic red leaf lettuce $2.99
    Organic fresh celery $1.99
    Organic cilantro $.99
    Fresh LOCAL piece of swordfish 1/2 pound $8.79
    Dinner for two. With plenty of lettuce and celery and cilantro left over to use in other meals.
    It’s not all that expensive as long as you don’t buy the processed foods!!

    Thank you Anna, for that great read!

  9. An aside on how higher grain prices could be a good thing: The US moved away from grass fed beef and dairy largely because of how inexpensive it was to feed cattle corn and other feed grain. (Grain subsidies helped with that.) As grain prices rise, it becomes relatively more affordable to feed cattle grass. This has the potential to increase the supply of grass-fed beef and dairy on the market, which would help those of us who prefer these items to grain-fed counterparts.

  10. Pink, I keep hoping that’s true, but I also keep hearing that increased grain prices are also driving up the cost of everything else. I’m thinking of asking some of the local farms around here that raise livestock on grass if they think there could be a shift to more grass-fed meat. Let’s hope so.

    Food Is Love

  11. @Pink:

    Most meats and dairy from Australia and New Zealand come from pastured animals because it’s cheaper than feeding them imported grains.

  12. I don’t eat grains, but my horse does. So while I’m happy with my my food budget, I dread my feed bill. You can afford a lot of good and savory food if you 1) cook, 2)don’t eat out, 3) are proud of the contents of your shopping cart. But you know all that. What about the price of hay?

  13. Costco has really increased their organic offerings in the last 6 months or so (at least here on the west coast), so we’ve been shopping there just about every week as of late. They now have organic chicken, beef, and an assortment of fruits and veggies. Plus other misc organics. A whole chicken is half the price I pay the local farm ($10 vs $20). Found some organic dried apple chips made with nothing but cinnamon that were delicious. They were only $4, but when I went to the manufacture’s website I found they normally sell that large sized bag for $10. So we are saving a boat load of money there.

  14. Hi guys – I definitely understand that buying organic would be so much better but I live in NYC where food prices are just ridiculously inflated, even at farmers markets. Although organic products tend to only be $1-2 more expensive per pound/item than conventional, that still adds up to a hefty amount every time you go grocery shopping. Do you guys think its even worth it to try and go primal even though I can’t buy organic/free range/whatever or would the additional pesticides, toxins, etc. cancel out the good that i’m trying to do?