Once upon a time people believed you were doing alright if you got your kids to eat a vegetable with dinner every night. Now, there are all sorts of qualifications that vegetables and everything else on the plate must meet before people will deem it -- and you -- good enough. Chief among these qualifications is whether or not your food is organic.
The Organic Trade Association recorded $35.1 billion in sales of organic products in 2013, up 11.5% from the previous year, and that number continues to grow. These days you can find organic everything at the grocery store, from produce to cheese puffs to fruit snacks, and it doesn't really matter what it is; if it's organic, people say it's better. Well, I disagree. I do all of the meal planning, shopping, and cooking for my family and, for the most part, I don't go out of my way to purchase organic food. More importantly, though, I don't feel particularly guilty about it.
The organic craze, to me, seems like a lot of hype. People proudly point to their organic boxed macaroni and cheese or their organic chocolate sandwich cookies, as though the word 'organic' negates the nutritional reality of what they're about to eat. I like cookies as much as the next mom hiding in the pantry during nap time, but I'm not fooling myself with buzzwords: cookies are cookies.
(Related: Science Mom - No, You Can't Buy Your Way To Healthy With Organic Food)
Organic produce is a different animal in some ways, but I still don't bend over backwards trying to find organic bananas when I trust that conventionally grown ones are perfectly nutritious and safe. I'm too busy trying to make sure I have enough healthy food to get my kids through the week without blowing my grocery budget.
That's the reality of the situation: I just want nutritious food that I can afford. I don't buy organic fruit snacks because I don't buy fruit snacks, period. I give my kid an apple. Perhaps an organic apple would be better for the environment, but I can't afford to buy all of our produce and meats organic. And really, isn't it just important that they're eating a piece of fruit?
There are people starving in the world and right here our own soil, but still you'll meet parents who refer to a non-organic orange as 'poisonous garbage,' as though eating a regular orange is criminal and I might as well just hand my kid a Snickers bar. To me, that's absurd.
Studies have shown organic food is not more nutritious than conventionally grown food, and the most pressing concern people seem to have -- pesticide use -- has been addressed time and time again. Mayo Clinic reports conventionally grown food does not carry dangerous levels of pesticide residue and while organic food generally carries less pesticide residue, both are well below acceptable levels and neither has been proven safer for consumption.
One thing organic food does have going for it, per Mayo Clinic, is severe restrictions on the use of additives and preservatives, but since I don't buy much processed food in the first place, that's not a big deal for me. Also, I know a lot of people are afraid of GMOs, but I don't buy the hype. As our very own Science Mom says, we've been genetically modifying food for 10,000 years, and while we should have concerns about the way some of these mega corporations are impacting our environment, there's no evidence they're out to murder us with killer tomatoes.
So, when I take all of this information and hold it up against the cost of going 100% organic, the benefits just don't hold up. On average, organic foods cost 57% more than their conventionally grown counterparts. That's prohibitive for a lot of families, including mine. I have to make smart choices and do the best I can within my budget. That means I choose to spend those extra dollars buying better quality, antibiotic-free meat -- as the goings-on in the meat industry matter to me -- instead of paying $4 for a single bell pepper just because it's organic.
At the end of the day, I feed my family a healthy diet filled with fresh foods and a diverse range of nutrients, I cook many of our foods from scratch so I know exactly what's going into them, and I refuse to panic until science tells me there is a very good reason to start. I do the best with what I have, and I'm lucky to have the privilege of access to healthy foods and information about what I'm feeding my family. I don't buy my kids organic everything, and I don't feel the least bit bad about it.