• Wed, Jan 29 - 3:30 pm ET

I Resent That Not Being Able To Afford Organic Makes Me Feel Like A Crappy Mom

164873002I read a Slate article today that started a conversation about our kids and organic food, Organic Shmorganic. The author, Melinda Wenner Moyer, did a fair amount of research to assess whether feeding our kids fruits and vegetables that aren’t organic is really as unhealthy as we think it is – which I was thrilled to read. The fact that I have to choose whether to buy something that is riddled with pesticides or not really pisses me off, since I generally cannot afford the latter.

She makes some interesting points; that organic doesn’t necessarily mean pesticide free, that it’s impossible to know whether natural pesticides are “safer” because of the cumulative effects of other pesticides, and that fruits and vegetables are chock-full of naturally occurring toxic compounds anyway:

We have a tremendous amount of data showing that what we’re exposed to in the diet for pesticides is very, very low, and certainly much lower than what would be required to have any even minimal health concern… And by the way, in none of these studies were the fruits and vegetables rinsed with tap water before they were tested, yet researchsuggests that doing so can reduce pesticide exposures significantly. Rubbing the food during rinsing helps, too.

These are just some of the interesting points the article illuminates – but it’s full of others and should be read. My problem with organic food is – it’s incredibly expensive and it’s very existence makes me feel like a shitty mom.

I can’t afford to buy a seven dollar box of strawberries or a five dollar tiny box of blueberries. That is the low end of what they cost – and that’s in Florida. In New York, I paid nine dollars a box on occasion for organic strawberries – because my child loves them, and they are on all the lists of foods that you should definitely buy organic. Right now, I purchase Earth’s Best Organic baby food jars, because unlike with my first child, I haven’t even attempted to make food from scratch. The “organic” just makes me feel better.  This is kind of a joke, isn’t it? Especially since it’s twice as much as the regular old Gerber variety.

I bought chicken nuggets for my three-year-old the other day and paid twice as much because the word “natural” was on the bag. It’s true that the natural variety was actually better – much lower in sodium and fat. But my problem is – why am I being made to feel like a crap mom (by myself, obviously) because I can’t afford the foods that actually aren’t horrifically bad for you? If there is a better, healthier way of doing things – why can’t industry be required to catch up and do it?

I’m sure if you ask any parent this question,

Do you want to purchase food for your child that is:

a) industrially farmed and riddled with pesticides.

b) naturally farmed with the least pesticides possible.

their answers would probably be the same. Now shift the answers to

a) industrially farmed and riddled with pesticides – but affordable.

b) naturally farmed with the least pesticides as possible – but so ridiculously expensive that you could never afford it.

I’m pretty sure the answers would shift. And that sucks. I understand giving up luxuries when you don’t have a lot of money – but healthy food shouldn’t have to be one of them. The system is flawed – and it’s making us all feel like crap. So thanks Melinda, for writing an article that makes me feel better about the crap vegetables I have no choice but to feed my family.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • Alexandra

    Hi! Where in Florida are you? I ask because I KNOW Pulblix has ridic prices on organic fruit/veg, but my mom (Sarasota area) found a great farmers market where they pull the shiz out of the ground and put it in bins literally in front of you. Awesome hippy place. And it’s much more affordable! (just a suggestion :)) Also, it has the benefit of being able to talk to the person farming your food about that food (if you want).

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I totally get you. My son loves berries and I wish I could afford to buy organic but its just so expensive. I usually soak them in vinegar and water and tell myself that’s as good as going organic. To top if off, there aren’t many places to buy organic in my neck of the woods and who wants to get up extra early to go to the Farmer’s Market before all the good kale runs out? I beat myself up over this more than I should.

  • CMJ

    Not to mention that organic food is now big business and while pesticides may not be used, it can still be considered “industrially farmed.” I would rather spend my money on locally farmed goods as opposed to something that’s just organic.

    Also – many organic good are grown right next to non-organic foods. My friend was shocked that my other friend broke out in hives from the organic grapes she brought.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      Agreed, I would much rather go to the farmer’s market and buy locally grown conventional produce.

    • Jen

      Read the article that is linked. Organic can and do use pesticides, just a different class of pesticides.

  • Coby

    Oh gosh, this hits the nail on the head for me and mine. Every week our grocery bill would be outrageous. I had to make sure we had organic produce and hormone-free, cage-free, grass-fed meat and nothing, absolutely nothing, that had to do with Monsanto. I was sinking myself into debt for the sake of our health. And that’s a terrible choice to make.

    Now, I try to be more balanced about the approach. OK, these veggies might not be organic, but at least my kid is eating veggies. This ground beef might not be grass-fed, but she’s eating dinner. I might be buying a Lean Cuisine for lunch, but it’s not going to go bad while it sits in the freezer another day after I’m too busy to stop and eat lunch.

  • G.E. Phillips

    So I have this little trick that I do in the grocery store that magically makes the good, organic produce more affordable, but I probably shouldn’t say anything more about it, because it might kinda sorta be a teensy bit illegal.The price differential on organic produce is ludicrous, and I do not feel at ALL bad for doing what I have to do to feed my child quality food.
    During the spring/summer/fall, I shop a lot at the farmer’s market. Better prices, better quality, helping out the little guy–everyone wins.

    • CMJ

      bags?

    • G.E. Phillips

      It involves SKU numbers, the self-check out line, and my memory. That’s all I’m saying.

    • CMJ
    • Véronique Houde

      I’m sure you could even swap price stickers super fast if you had to go to the cashier ;) lol I’d never even thought of it!

    • Gangle

      If you came through my checkout trying that, I would catch you and you would be paying full price. I would also put a word in so that if you ever went through self checkout you would be watched like a hawk and your purchase would be intervened and your incorrect entries would be put through correctly.
      It isn’t clever and is isn’t something to be proud of.

    • Véronique Houde

      WOW Gangle it was just a joke don’t get your panties in a bunch ;) I actually couldn’t care less about the issue – I generally try to buy as local as possible, but then I’ll but it anyway if I feel like eating it – organic or not ;).

    • Gangle

      I get pissy over theft, especially when that theft affects people all down the line to the farmers. And G.E. Pillips certainly feels entitled to do this. Sorry if I misinterpreted your joke :)

    • Gangle

      Nice to know you want to fuck it up for everyone else. Every time you steal organic food for your pwecious snowfwake, you are contributing to raising the cost because of stock loss.

    • AmazingAsh

      This is ridiculously illegal. Organic produce is more expensive because organice farming is more expensive. You’re stealing merchandise. Additionally, this skews inventory numbers and eventually, less organic produce will be ordered by the store.

      To even suggest others should do this irks me.

    • G.E. Phillips

      I didn’t suggest others should do this. And if you think that most of that mark up money goes to Farmer Joe and his family, you’re ridiculously naive.

    • AmazingAsh

      Oh, that’s rich… the thief is calling me naive. Hi, I’m Ash. I have a degree in Animal Production from an exceptional agricultural college. I grew up in farm country. If you think that you’re not financially hurting “Farmer Joe”, you’re the one who is naive.

      It just blows my mind that you think it’s acceptable to steal from a store and justify it by saying you’re doing it to feed your son the best. Coupon. Get your butt to a Farmer’s Market. Find local farmers to buy fruits and veggies from. Don’t steal it from your local grocer. Didn’t your parents teach you better? And is this what you want to teach your son?

    • guest

      Stealing is OK when you’re doing it for your child, apparently. How very Jean Valjean of you.

    • G.E. Phillips

      Thanks!

    • SusannahJoy

      Yeah, that’s basically stealing. I can’t get behind that. Pay what they’re charging or don’t buy it.

    • Gangle

      Awesome, theft is such a noble thing to aspire to *choke*

    • selenam

      OK, so perhaps people can steal from you when you sell stuff on Facebook and they won’t even have to feel bad cause it could be for their kids and it’s not like they know you or anything. https://www.facebook.com/greerelizabethphillips

    • candyvines

      It’s fucked up to steal. It’s also fucked up to post someone else’s personal information without their permission. You should edit your comment and remove that link.

    • selenam

      Given that if you click on her name and then click on the Facebook symbol on the right it takes you directly to her Facebook page, I’m really not seeing that as personal information that she is trying to keep personal.

    • candyvines

      I didn’t say the information was private, I said it was personal. The point is that it’s her information – not yours. That’s cool if you can justify using it though. Remind you of anybody else in this thread?

  • CW

    More produce (of whatever sort) and fewer nuggets. Keep your eyes on the “big picture” when it comes to nutrition. If you feed your kid junk food (even if it’s certified organic bought at Whole Foods), then that’s going to have a bigger impact on his health than whatever pesticide residue might be left over after washing your conventional produce.

  • Alanna Jorgensen

    I tried to buy all organic produce for awhile, because where I am it’s actually somewhat affordable, but it went bad so fast we couldn’t even eat it in time. I would have to buy produce almost every day.

  • AmazingAsh

    Farmers Markets for the win!! I know it’s easier to buy organize here in hippy-dippy Seattle, but the Markets really do have great deals. Also, buying meat in bulk (like buying a 1/4 of a steer) from a butcher or going in with co-workers on 4-H/FFA raised meat is super affordable and the meat is always superior to anything you’ll find in stores.

    • Rachel Sea

      Friends and I go in on a couple steer each year. Baby cows are cheap, and while bottle feeding is intensive, it’s also really fun. Then they get older, and eat pasture, which is free. Butchering is expensive, but in the end the meat ends up costing about the same as the factory farmed cattle.

    • MoD

      I buy meat in bulk, too. This year I’m getting 50 lbs of beef and splitting a hog with a family member. Cheaper than buying it at the grocery store, usually super lean, and tastes SO much better. To be honest I don’t care about the organic vs non-organic as much, but the ethics of the meat industry are more of a concern for me. Well, the hormones given to animals is a concern to me.

      As far as vegetables…a vegetable is a vegetable. I grew up around so many farms and come from farmers, I sometimes wonder if all the people spending tons on organic would know what to do with a vegetable pulled straight from the garden if it wasn’t pretty and clean and was presented in beautiful baskets at a market. When I was a kid, one of the chores on grandma’s farm was going down to the cellar midwinter and sorting the potatoes and pulling the roots off of ‘em. I dunno. A vegetable is a vegetable.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      In keeping with my tradition of having the most lame fantasies ever, I actually fantasize about the day I can have a house with room for a couple large freezers and I can buy all my meat in bulk. I am so boring.

  • Kelly

    I just roll my eyes when it comes to organic foods. We eat pretty damn healthy in my house. Loads of vegetables, fresh fruits, lean meats and almost no processed food but I’m supposed to feel bad because I don’t pay 3x as much for my apples?

    LMAO, no, I don’t think so. Although, I do like to stroll through Whole Foods every now and then and laugh my ass off at all the “organic” crap foods like macaroni and cheese, candy bars and sugary cereal that people think are healthy.

    • G.E. Phillips

      THIS.

    • Gangle

      That’s rich coming from the girl who likes to steal her organic food.

    • LiteBrite

      We call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck.” Thankfully there isn’t one near my house so I’m not tempted to visit.

  • aCongaLine

    Physical health vs. credit health is a tough one. I compromise by buying all my toddler’s and baby’s snack foods and “munchies” organic- berries and that sort, baby food jars/pouches, etc, and the food that the whole family eats would be a judgement call on the day of the shopping trip- if organic is reasonable and in season, then we go for it, if not, I soak and scrub the veggies and fruits at home, and hope for the best.

    THe key, though, is to not lose sleep over it… that’s the part I struggle with.

  • MaebykittyRN

    THIS. Also, I used to feel bad about not feeding my baby organic formula, but that shiz is $30 a box. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    We buy at Farmer’s Markets as much as possible, which helps…it also helps that the Farmer’s Markets here are more like social events (please feel free to roll your eyes at me) with folks hanging around in the park eating food, kids playing, hipsters doing whatever the latest hipster craze is (last year it was tightropes and hula hoops), people playing guitar….so that’s like our summer evening socializing plus picking up food. It’s usually not certified organic, but it’s quite often pesticide free and local-ish. We get a food box sometimes though lately it’s just been so many beets. I pulled a bag of beets out of our bin last week and my kid was like, “what is that?” and I’m like, “I don’t know but it looks like turds”. I’m pretty sure my kid’s maturity level will surpass mine before she hits puberty.

    But yeah, we try, mostly half-assed, and at this point I do not beat myself up over shit like this. Fuck guilt. Fuck it all to hell. As far as I can tell, guilt serves no purpose and has no redeeming qualities. I see no need for it in my life.

    • LiteBrite

      I’m not going to roll my eyes at you. I love Farmer’s Markets for the reasons you mentioned. There is one near my house that is open on Saturday mornings. At 10 a.m. they’ll have acoustic music. It’s fun to walk around, check out the produce, listen to music, and eat tamales.

    • TwentiSomething Mom

      Yea I love visiting the farmer’s market because you can get cool tea, wine, snacks and just chill at the park and have a picnic which is cool. Its just a pain traveling there. If I could afford to live closer, I so would do this more often.

  • Lee

    I’ve been surprised how many more organic options Aldi has lately. I usually spend the same for an organic Aldi version as I would for a non-organic product in a regular store.

  • Jen

    I live and work on a dairy and am friends with many farmers. Every farmer I know, all “conventional,” eat the food straight out if the field. If you knew how expensive pesticides are you would know that it is not economically feasible to over use them. “Riddled with pesticides” is offensive to the people that are currently making sure you, your family, and the rest of the world aren’t starving to death.

    • AP

      And that’s the trade-off: would we prefer to a) see some middle aged people develop cancers from pesticide exposure, or b) see half the population die of starvation because locusts ate all the crops?

  • Rachel Sea

    Jeebus am I feeling lucky to live in California Ag country. At my local grocery store I pay about a dollar more per pound or container for organic, often local produce, two dollars more if they are also heirloom varietals. A pint of organic berries is generally $4-5. Pasture raised meats and eggs are also about a dollar more per pound or dozen. I think if I moved out of state, I’d have to have a serious greenhouse.

    Every once in a rare while I buy conventional, because I get the idea that maybe I’m just becoming a food snob, but it always turns out that the local organics really do taste better, and if it’s not delicious, I don’t want to eat it.

    • CMJ

      My friend had a HEART ATTACK at our local grocery store (she’s from MI) when she saw the price of organic produce. I’m in the Bay Area and I feel so lucky because my local grocery store is the best grocery store I’ve been to in my life (and I LOVE a good grocery store).

    • Rachel Sea

      Bay Area grocery stores represent. I’m in the North Bay wine country, and I feel the same about my grocery store. I barely even bother with farmer’s markets, because everything good is already here.

    • AP

      Both of you are lucky- I’m Peninsula and all we have are Safeway and Whole Foods (and Trader Joe’s, which I love dearly, but their selection is smaller.) Safeway is bar none the most awful, overpriced grocery store I’ve ever been to in my entire life. I hate it. I can’t go in that store looking for eggs without ending up angry and frustrated.

    • Rachel Sea

      There’s a Whole Foods across the street from my office, so I occasionally get lunch there when they’ve got a good special going, but the normal prices absolutely disgust me. $6 for a half a cup of blueberries that aren’t even organic? Piss off.

      I like Safeway for dry goods. They regularly have specials that make the pasta, tomato sauce, and tinned foods I buy cheaper than can be found anywhere.

    • Natasha B

      Another reason I’m trying to talk hubs into Cali life. I have a serious thing for fresh blueberries, and right now non organic are $6 pint, organic $9.

  • ScienceGeek

    I was scrolling through Coursera looking at the options for online college subjects and I came across one through Stanford University on Child nutrition. It was run by an MD and nutritionist, and sounded really good.
    I do want to preface this with: it IS really good. She knows her stuff, she presents it well, and she seems like a lovely person.
    But the whole point of this is to encourage people to eat better. They have a minute-long clip at the start of some of the video lectures filled with all the terrifying facts about obesity in kids and so forth.
    Yet she talks a LOT about organic food. ‘Oh, just go to a farmer’s market and pick up some organic vegetables, it will be such a good family bonding exercise’, ‘Add some organic broccoli to your stir fry’, stuff like that. It’s frustrating, because she talks like there’s no middle ground between processed food (which is disgusting and evil) and organic food (which is wonderful and magical), and that the absence of this amazing organic food is simply down to your laziness. If you would just take the time to go to a farmer’s market, instead of, oh, I don’t know, force-feeding your kid corn syrup, you will STOP YOUR CHILD FROM DYING!!!
    She’s being so oblivious to the real reasons that people use processed food: it’s cheap, it’s convenient, it’s readily available at the time you need it (instead of like, the third saturday of every month between 7am and 8.30am). I’m like ‘How about suggesting frozen vegetables? How about just telling people to wash their food thoroughly? How about acknowledging that sometimes, you just can’t afford or get access to those organic vegetables, and that including fruit and vegetables in your diet is far more important than how they were grown?’

    • Jamesmommy

      There is a very popular blog (of course, with a book coming out) about real food and, while I love the recipes and the whole idea of making eating real food more accessible to people, I find the author so terribly off-putting for these very reasons. She doesn’t stop at “real food” but talks a lot about buying organic, and local and all that business. In theory, I’m totally on board. But, um, hello?! That shit be expensive. And, we’re on a budget. A serious, one-crappy-income-family-of-three-in-an-INCREDIBLY-expensive-city-where-rent-is-half-our-monthly-income-budget. I do not buy processed foods but I most certainly do not pay 2-4x the price for the organic versions of things. Just isn’t going to happen. She is constantly saying, “you CAN eat like this on a budget” and making very judgy (and in my opinion) uninformed comments about how if you really understand the importance of this on your children’s health, you will make it a priority and you will make it work and blah, blah, blah. Based on what she and her home look like in her blogs and TV appearances, I would guess this woman has not clue as to the meaning of a food budget that many of us have to live on.

    • TwentiSomething Mom

      Exactly. I live in Brooklyn where there is an abundance of organic markets depending of the neighborhood you live in. I don’t have a car so I can’t drive to these expensive neighborhoods to buy expensive organic produce. I’ve walked far distances with a toddler and traveled by train to get to farmer’s markets and organic shops but seriously, who has time for that? And if I do, I normally don’t have the money.

  • AP

    My doctor used to give me a handout at my physical: “We recommend you eat a diet of mostly organic vegetables and whole grains.”

    I’d love to eat organic, but when regular chicken is $2/lb and organic chicken is $7/lb…I’m going to choose the regular chicken. I’m not poor, but I consider my financial health to be just as important as my physical health.

    • SarahJesness

      Maybe I’m just saying this because I’m a broke college student, but there’s no way in hell I’d pay $7/lb for chicken unless it was some kind of fancy chicken and it was a special occasion.

  • Gangle

    I buy both, depending on value and locality. I feel it is more important to buy locally grown and in season than organic that needed to be trucked in from a long way. And some organics are worth it more than others. I try, when local and possible, to buy organic soft fruits and berries like peaches, strawberries etc, apples, spinach and other leafy veg and potatoes. I don’t bother with broccoli, pineapple, mangoes, onions, bananas asparagus. Lots of fruit and veg if you wash and peel it you are greatly reducing your exposure to pesticides. Organic meat is often more than I am willing to pay. I buy locally from a couple of farms whose farming practices I know, so at the very least I know the animals are ethically raised and killed and they don’t use hormones. I think if you are buying fresh, local and unprocessed you are doing ok. You have to do what you can.

  • Eden

    No one here has commented on growing your own food. We use to live in the city and we grew all sorts of strawberries, beans, blue berry bushes on our deck. Now we live in the country and grow all sorts of food for our cold storage, have chickens and bees. I know growing your food on this scale is not possible for most people. But you can always put out some strawberry plants on the front stoop.

    We also found csa’s were a lot cheaper for good local food. Grocery stores tend to have the highest prices. I also buy half a cow at a time to keep down the meat prices. We tend to buy local non certified over certified mass produced also. I think if it has to be shipped that far how much contamination are you getting away from really.

  • Abbe

    http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/, check out the pesticide residue calculator. I like their motto, “use facts not fear to make healthy food choices.
    Youll find there’s such a beyond miniscule amount of pesticide on many fruits and vegetables that you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t afford organic all the time.

    • SarahJesness

      Pretty much this. When it comes to pesticides on my food, really, I’m more concerned about it affecting the environment. But, whaddya gonna do?

  • G

    where I live we have a minimum of 7 months with snow covering the ground and food has to be driven long distances. Even with genetic modification, finding specific produce in the winter can be a crap shoot (i.e. Trying to find the least wilted red pepper and hoping it isn’t mouldy inside). My response to the non gmo only organic propaganda is to wonder who exactly gets to decide who starves or gets scurvy.

    • Gangle

      I am lucky and live right on the edge of a very fertile food bowl so I have the availability to buy local, fresh and in season. I do avoid GMO because I strongly disagree with the science and the farming practises that go with it, and for certain foods I do seek out organic where it is local – but then I am in a position to do that. If I lived in a remote, harsh environment that meant most food had to be flown or trucked in, I would change my choices accordingly because while ideals are nice, I still have to eat. You do what you can if you can.

    • ted3553

      same boat here. winter fruit consists of oranges, apples and bananas and they’re not great tasting. I’m not as concerned about GMOs as other things because basically selective breeding is genetically modifying something. We do it all the time and have been for hundreds of years.

    • SarahJesness

      Eh, I imagine it’s a matter of people not looking at the bigger picture. Without pesticides and genetic modification, we probably wouldn’t be able to support the current world population. They probably know that we can’t support everyone on organic food, but they also probably know that people wouldn’t be able to afford that anyway so it’s an issue that will never come.

    • Abbe

      Gmo products in third world countries have resulted in more growing more food with less land, therefore less destruction of the rainforest and natural habitat.

  • tSubh Dearg

    Out of interest, in the States do you get people who deliver local organic boxes of fruit and veg to your door on a weekly basis? Here I can get a box of seasonal, organic fruit and veg that will feed 4 for a week for €22 (about $30). I quite like doing this as it means I actually am forced to use up the veg rather than not bothering do to veg at all because I am lazy! The only downside is that it gets a bit boring in the winter with endless root veg and brassicas.

    • CW

      There is a local farm-share but I would have to pay something like $500 up front for 6 months’ worth of produce.

    • tSubh Dearg

      That’s a major investment! I couldn’t afford to do that. Getting a veg box for €20 once a week or once a fortnight is about as far as my budget stretches.

      It’s a pity you don’t have access to something similar. The company even puts up simple recipes for the stuff that will be in the box that week.

    • SarahJesness

      I’ve seen a couple ads for people who provide such a service. I think they do it for grocery shopping in general, but the ads made a point about organic foods, so maybe they have some specialization in that.

  • Murray’s Chicken

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  • SA

    I stick to the dirty dozen organic produce and that is it – varying when I am in a bind and it is just too pricey. We are trying to go mainly whole foods at the house (not out or at other homes, that is just a bit too much). Through this I have been cooking a lot more and finding ways to purchase more natural/organic that ends up much cheaper. For instance I can make and freeze organic pancakes that will feed more breakfasts than purchasing conventional mixes or pre-made breakfasts. I will also purchase a lot of natural/humanely raised meat when it goes on sale and freeze it. Things like that.

    I can’t always afford it, so I don’t always do it. It is definitely FAR more important to be fed and not blow the budget on food. My kid eats so much cheese that our grocery bill had gone up about $40 on JUST ORGANIC CHEESE….she gets conventional now.

  • SarahJesness

    I don’t really eat much fruit and vegetables, so I haven’t paid attention to the prices of organic food in my area. I have been trying to eat more fruits and veggies, but so far I’ve only managed to be able to eat vegetables in the form of Indian food. Also wild raspberries, but I can’t find any around here. It sucks, when I ate wild raspberries years ago I got excited for finally finding a fruit I liked so we bought some at the store and it was soooo underwhelming.

    But anyway. I’m a broke college student, I wouldn’t buy organic foods if they costed so much more.

  • SarahJesness

    If you have land, maybe you can try planting a garden for the little things, like strawberries, maybe? Might be worth a shot.