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Buying Organic Food: The Cost that Will Save You!

The media has plagued us in recent years with articles ranging from ‘Why is organic food so expensive’ to ‘How to shop organic on a budget’. Consequently, we’ve become brainwashed with the idea that organic food is absurdly more expensive than its conventional counterpart. The fact is, if you shop right and stop complaining, shopping organic is a lot easier than you think!

In a series of articles published for our Appetite for Change campaign, I sought to expose the ugly truth behind the recent organic restrictions of the Child Nutrition Act’s Women, Infant and Children regulations (WIC). As a refresher, the Food and Nutrition Services of the USDA provide Federal aid to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, as well as infants and children under the age of five deemed to be at nutritional risk. By providing them with a monthly stipend to purchase WIC-approved foods containing vital nutrients for pregnant women and their children, state-run WIC programs help over 8 million Americans a year.

However, WIC’s claims of recent budgetary constraints have caused many states to cut organic foods from their acceptable foods lists. In other words, the foods that can be purchased with WIC money now rarely include organic options. While having already covered why organic food is a nutritional necessity for WIC, it is also important to debunk the myth that accepting organic foods would cost WIC and the government too much money.

The Cost of Organic in perspective: It’s Obesity that’s Costing us!

As previously established, choosing a healthy organic diet can easily reduce ones exposure to pesticides and ones risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases. An organic diet should be seen as vital to the proper develop of pregnant women, infants, and children. By eating organic, what better way to prevent the perpetuation of the standard American diet of unhealthy and fattening foods in your home?

If you think organic food is expensive, consider this investment: By eating whole organic foods, you are avoiding contributing to the $95 billion a year spend on US health care costs due to obesity. Half of this $95 is paid directly through Medicare and Medicaid, in other words by your tax dollars. According to the Office of Actuary Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. spent $2.26 trillion in 2007. This is more than any other country in the world, but states continue to say that providing organic products through WIC is costing them too much.

WIC not only targets women with children, but children themselves. Since the 1980s, rates of child obesity have tripled. Being able to purchase organic food through WIC would provide families the opportunity to set their children on a healthy life track, independent of junk food and high-sugar, high-sodium meals.

Direct medical costs aside, a number of researchers have also sought to quantify the hidden costs of obesity due to conventional eating habits. An article published by Nutristrategy
found that the loss of productivity due to poor diet is significant. Their statistics studied the indirect costs of obesity and overweight such as lost productivity or premature death. On top of the medical costs of a bad diet, Nutristrategy found that overweight and obesity indirectly costs the US an extra annual $3.9 billion. This number considered the 39.3 million workdays lost to obesity-related ailments, the cost of 62.7 million workplace-compensated physician office visits, 239 million days of restricted activity resulting from obesity, and obesity’s 89.5 million related bed-days.

In 2008, a report by New York-based research group, The Conference Board, found that US businesses spend about $45 billion a year in medical expenditure and productivity loss. An obese employee costs a company 77% more than a healthy worker, beating the high health-related costs of both smokers and alcoholics.

The list could go on as these losses don’t even begin to factor in the hidden negative environmental and social costs caused by industrial foods, mentioned by many others .

Go to your Grocery and see for yourself!

I understand that not everyone has the time to go do price comparisons between organic and conventional foods in their neighborhood grocery stores, but the experience will definitely show you how much people unfairly perpetuate the organic cost myth! Living in DC, I checked out a few Safeways and Giant Food stores in two fairly average-income neighborhoods (near Capitol Heights, and in the Mount Pleasant/Adams Morgan area). While I meticulously wrote down a page of price comparisons in every store, I took long enough to write this article that I eventually misplaced my treasured research document. In other words, you will pretty much have to take my word that you can get a deal when you shop smart.

I found that organic produce goes on special or on sale a lot. Whether its produce, peanut butter, or organic snacks, I found that it is always cheaper to buy organic products on sale than buying the cheapest version of their conventional counterparts. Organic cereals also comes cheaper than they use to nowadays. And generally, shopping for house brands (Safeway’s O Organic brand, Giant’s organic brand, and Whole Foods’ 365 Organic) are all ways to get your organics cheaper, if you’re feeling that you're on a tighter budget.

One of the most important things I found, is that smaller grocers and natural food stores (and yes, even the Whole Foods!) have often made better deals with organic produce distributors than mainstream stores and consequently have the ability to give you much better prices on organic products. Organic milk is a great example: I found that the Whole Foods in the ritzy Georgetown neighborhood of DC sold much cheaper milk than in the more mainstream Giant Food Store in the less well to-do area of Columbia Heights. And your other option available is to buy in bulk—an option usually available through your natural food stores!

So whether you choose to go to your local farmers markets, CSAs, join a buying club, check out your natural health food stores, Whole Foods, or even more mainstream options like Safeway or Giant, there are definitely many ways you can have access to affordable organic food. As organic food becomes more and more mainstream, we have less and less excuses that it’s still too expensive... Believe me, I live on a student budget! With a little research, you can choose organic too.

For more reading, here are some resources of other people experience with cheaper organic food:
-the most comprehensive and convincing price comparison: click here!
-a price comparison done in Michigan: can be found here!
-For those in the DC area, check out these options!
-For those in the Seattle area, check this out!
-Buying organic is even worth it in the UK!