Some people are surprised to learn that I (Julie) don’t buy everything organic. This probably goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: don’t just take my word for it, do your own research. And, I do not think less of you when you buy differently than me. Everyone is on their own health journey.
Here’s how I decide where to put the big bucks.
Start at the top of the food chain.
I’ve seen the living conditions of cheap meat and I’ve seen grass based meat. Not only did I grow up on a farm and have a degree in agriculture engineering, but I’ve seen (and smelled!) the feed lots, and watched a few food documentaries (Fresh The Movie is my fav). I know a bit too much and my conscious cringes at the thought of cheap meat. It is not simply because of animal welfare. The greater factor for me is the nutrient density. More on this in a bit but in a nutshell, you pay for what you get. Isn’t that true in almost everything?
It is worth it for me to pay more for premium protein. In the beginning of our food journey, it was the easiest to switch to paying more for eggs. Here’s an article I wrote a few years ago about why you should pay more for eggs & what words to look for on the carton.
Shortly after eggs, I decided not to eat pork from the grocery store; I prefer to buy from small farmers. However, this is not a hard stand. If I’m at someone’s house, I will eat pork from anywhere. If I’m at a restaurant, I’ll eat bacon from anywhere. It’s just that I know too much about pigs — what they eat, what their digestive system is like, how their muscle absorbs parasites that get passed along to me… and did you know that American pork is given routine antibiotics whether needed or not? Then antibiotic resistance is passed along to you and me. I’ll stop here and let you do your own research (if you dare).
The easiest switch was grass finished beef – buying half a cow directly from a local farmer. It’s a bigger upfront cost but boy-howdy! Having a freezer full of meat has helped me get dinner on the table more than once.
Chicken — early in my real food journey, I made the mistake of simultaneously cooking two whole chickens in two separate crock pots. One chicken was from Kroger the other from a local farmer. I deboned the local, lean chicken first. The industrially raised chicken from the grocery was so fatty and gross I almost couldn’t finish deboning it. That day will forever be etched in my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about how different the two birds were. Years later, with some high schoolers, we made an experiment out of it. Results are here.
I don’t buy 100% of our chicken locally. But I don’t buy cheapgrocery store chicken for my family either. I usually buy chicken from Natural Grocers. They don’t use genetically modified grains in the feed, nor give antibiotics.
Starting at the top of the food chain not only gives you more bang for your buck but also makes the daily deciding much easier. If you switch to cleaner meat, you don’t have to stress about the produce…save produce for the next baby step.
Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen
When buying produce, some have more chemicals sprayed on them than others. Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. If I’m buying from the dirty dozen, I get organic if it is available. Did you know that apples are sprayed with very toxic chemicals about 15 times before they reach your mouth? On the cleaner end of the spectrum is cabbage, which is on the Clean Fifteen list. I don’t always buy organic cabbage because it is not sprayed and sprayed. Conventional cabbage is just fine. It’s better for you than crackers, though harder to carry in your purse for a snack at work.
What about organic grapes, berries and cherries? They’re suuuuuper expensive. If we eat either of these, I don’t buy many. My kids think of them as treats. Sometimes I buy conventional (chemical) and don’t sweat it. Especially when strawberries are at peak season in Arkansas. Man, we can gorge ourselves on strawberries! This scenario may seem duplicitious but we just gorge ourselves for a week, maybe two and then we’re done…which leads to the next question of the matrix:
How much do we eat?
Our teen eats an apple everyday at lunch and so, I only buy organic apples (they’re on the dirty dozen). If we are eating something everyday it is very important that it is the best quality possible. Peanut butter is something else I buy organically. It’s not on the dirty dozen but peanuts are sprayed heavily with fungicides and we can go through some peanut butter.
Exceptions to this rule: we eat a lot of butter and cheese. I don’t always buy high quality butter and cheese. Yes, my taste buds love the good stuff but we can eat 1-2 pounds of butter a week which can add another $25 to the monthly grocery budget in butter alone. I think of butter as one of greatest gifts from the Lord. I would rather use it without abandon than to limit our usage. And so the majority of butter we eat is cheapest butter. It is still real food. I remember 18 years ago a woman saying to me, “I wouldn’t feed margarine to my enemies!” Also a factor to the dairy compromise above, for my family, is that we drink 2 gallons of raw milk a week. Raw milk is one of THE most nutritious and most easily digested foods on the planet. It’s a perfect combination of carbs, fats and proteins. People can live for months on raw milk alone. Some people who are lactose intolerant enjoy raw milk no problem because the enzymes haven’t been destroyed during pasteurization (originally lactase + pasteurization = lactose). To read more about milk (pasteurized verses ultra pasteurized,) here’s an article I wrote.
Nutrient Density + Taste
While you most certainly can find a study to back up any point you want to make (esp. if you have enough ca$h), it’s hard to trick the tastebuds. Unless of course your taste buds are dead. It’s relatively well established that locally grown organic produce is light years more nutrient dense than grocery store counter parts that have been shipped halfway across the globe. Here’s a simple assignment: buy a bag of regular carrots and a bag of organic ones. Do a blind taste test. See if you can taste a difference. I think you will. If your mouth isn’t dead.
If you’re in the central Arkansas area, I recommend trying a seasonal FarmShare of veggies from Rattle’s Garden. There are pick up spots in Hillcrest, Conway, at my house in Little Rock, and on the farm in Villonia. Learning to eat seasonally isn’t for the faint of heart but man, it surely tastes great! I’ve known the farmers for years and they are doing things riiiiight. They care for the soil which in turn makes nutrient dense veggies for my family.
This matrix is not to put anyone under the pile. If you are on the beginning of a real food journey trying to get your family to eat less processed food and more real food, consider that your highest goal. It is more expensive switching to nutrient denser food (instead of eating $0.10 ramen). And, it takes more time cooking real food. Give yourself grace and remember baby steps. Romaine (!) wasn’t built in a day.
Unrelated: Kombucha lovers — I’m teaching a couple workshops to help you save money by making your own. Dates: Thursday 2/28 at 11:45am + Tuesday 3/5 at 6:30pm. Email me for more details – luvmyhub AT gmail.com