food, health, life, parenting

To organic or not to organic- that is the question

This past weekend we headed to Home Depot. As we stood at the check-out counter, the grumpy cashier jerked his elbow into a display of precariously perched weed-kill bottles which fell and promptly exploded all over us. Mostly K. His body waist down, coated in foam. My feet got soaked in my first time in sandals this spring. Luckily only a few drops landed on Waleed. We raced home to wash it off as fast as we could- and that night, when K said his legs itched- I worried. While I realize its a chemical designed to harm plant-life and K is decidedly human- I can’t shake off the fact that the chemical was designed for the specific purpose to harm.

It got me thinking about food and the pesticides inherent in regular store-bought produce which washing alone simply won’t get rid of. While the pesticides in produce are designed to attack insects- its a chemical with the specific purpose to harm.

I know organic is best, but until the moment I saw chemicals leaching on to my husband’s skin, I didn’t grasp it in quite so tangible a form. The majority of Waleed’s food is organic and I buy it separately for him. K and me? We aim for organic but go conventional for the majority of our produce purchases. The reason is simple: Price.

For example, the asparagus I went to the grocery store to purchase today:

regular asparagus
organic asparagus

You can ninety-nine cent it all you want, that’s $6 asparagus! Normally, I’d see the sharp price-difference and pluck the regular veggie off the shelf- they look the same after all, but today the foamy substance fresh in my head, I bought the pricey produce because while pesticides are not intended to harm me, what are the side effects of those bug-zapping chemicals? What do the harsh punishments meted out to the insects interested in my apple mean for me and my family? A friend dismissed this saying we ate ‘regular food’ and we’re fine aren’t we? Except I think food may have been produced differently back then, and who is to say it didn’t affect us?

Until now I’ve compromised. I go organic with the top contaminated foods [and lately, with my eggs and meat too]. But now I’m considering the chemicals in the soil and water in otherwise hardy fruit like watermelon or lemons and wonder what else has found its way through the outer layer into the soft flesh?

Why not stop contemplating and just stick to Whole Foods the whole time? As the owner of our favorite Turkish establishment says to us with a stern wag of his finger, Whole Foods baba? Whole paycheck! I’m in a single-income household and I look at what things cost. I just do. I’m fortunate I can afford to make this decision of organic or not. It will hit my budget but its something I could do- I’m just trying to figure out if I’m making much ado about nothing, or if I need to make a serious commitment to shifting my entire fooding intake to locally grown [sans pesticide] or certified organic. Because the chemical visual at Home-Depot made me realize I don’t want to be penny-wise in the produce department and pound-foolish with my family’s health and well-being.

What are your thoughts? Is there merit in going 100% organic? Do you go organic without compromise or selectively choose what to pay the extra bucks for?

17 thoughts on “To organic or not to organic- that is the question”

  1. Heh. I'm in exactly the same boat. Henry gets organic, but my husband & I – well, we get IMPORTANT organics, but not the awfully expensive ones! And I know I should just bite the bullet and buy it for all of us all the time. But I see the price difference and my frugal soul just objects to buying the 'expensive' kind instead of the 'good deal'.

    But you're absolutely right. Penny wise & pound foolish has always seemed an obvious mistake to avoid, and yet here I am, doing something I do believe might have future health consequences…

    Might have to hit the organic food market today when we get back to Brooklyn…


  2. I wish I could afford organic. A half gallon of milk here is 5 dollars and something………..A half dozen eggs is 4 dollars and something……..


  3. Susan glad to know I'm not the only one- its tough- the memory is fresh in my head now- but what abotu later? Maybe I don't need to buy asparagus at all- organic or otherwise- I think if I go all organic I'll have to be way more careful with what I buy.

    E, yep same here its ridiculously expensive- to do this I'dh ave to cut elsewhere for sure.


  4. We are organic and, most times, seasonal, too which helps the price. Also local is a big deal to us. Some farms cant call themselves organic, but they are organically growing their food. Get to know your local farmers- that makes a HUGE difference. In season, can and freeze. We are growing our own this year and I am so psyched!

    Even at the farms, though, prices can be bad. We're talking $6-$7 for a gallon of milk, $3-$4 for eggs… It's tough, but we'd rather have less and have more health ,then more food that isnt great for us or our land.


  5. Michele, I agree- local cannot often afford to be “certified organic” though are organic and minimizing pesticide use. Growing your own? Congrats! Yeah, the milk and egg prices are exorbitant and considering they are household staples it makes me fret but at the same time they are household staples so I should probably invest in good quality.

    Shawna, better behavior? and fewer cravings? From the fruit too? Do you find that with going preservative free or nonorganic produce as well?


  6. I am all for organic…the problem is that there is so much corporate greed within the “organic” industry and a lot of what is promoted as “organic” actually isn't. As long as you are buying certified organics, I think it is worth it. We buy organic direct from farmers where I live but even then there's no telling what they actually do to the crops 😉 It's tricky – we definitely have to balance the desire for organics with our budget (which is pretty tight most of the time)


  7. it's expensive, we're not rich and we buy as much organic as we can. almost all louise's baby food is organic, we don't necessarily buy organic eggs but we do buy cage-free- if they happen to be organic too, great. we ALWAYS buy organic milk and organic meat isn't really sold in stores around here, so we buy the majority of our meat from a local cattle farm, they pretty much raise their animals organic, but becoming certified is pretty expensive and they are a smaller family run business, so they're not certified. i did get to go to the farm and see how the animals live though, which was nice.


  8. The majority of the organic stuff has gone mostly to the kid, milk, produce, etc. (it wasn't that expensive because the amounts were small), but you might want to check out a local organic co-op. It would be WAY cheaper than shopping at Whole Paycheck.


  9. In reality, for an individual one might get away with buying organic and all but for masses, it is simply not possible. The amount of food required by the billions of poeple living on this planet, plus the eating habits of using refined products has made it almost impossible to grow everything, the 'organic way'.


  10. Suzy, I know!!! I hate that about this whole process- its become a gimmick to eat “organic” and which is why I scoffed it for so long- but you have some good advice. Buying direct, seeing how things are grown is the best way.

    Katery, yes, I buy cage-free eggs, that's what I meant ,lol- and organic milk I haven't begun- its SO expensive!!!! But when W is on cow milk I'll have to do it I guess, maybe just for him though I'm tryign to tell myself my health matters too.

    A woman my age, sounds like you are doing the right thing- I will have to hunt for some co-ops, I'm sure they exist- haven't heard of them.

    Tauqeer, maybe your'e right, or maybe if we ate less, at least in the US, there'd be enough org to go around? But that's a hypothetical and not reality and yeah maybe its true that regular production is the only option. It's sad though.


  11. Aisha, check out CSA's (community supported agriculture) in your area. Every week during the summer and early fall, we get a bag of fruit, vegetables and eggs. We chose a CSA that isn't certified organic, because the woman who raises the food can't afford the certification. As long as you can adjust your diet to whatever comes in your share, it is economical.

    By the way, I can't believe that you all got covered with weed killer. Home Depot should compensate you or something…emotional distress maybe?


  12. Raising, we got a call from Home Depot today apologizing and offering us a relatively generous gift-card. I debating pushing it further but it seems we're okay now. I can't help but worry about any lasting effects of this- they were deeply apologetic- yes, emotional distress for sure. My torts class came back to me full-force in that moment! I think we do have CSA's here now that you metnion it- I just remember that it was SOOO much food that ou didn't know what to do with it. I might ask a friend if she wants to split it w/ me to make it more manageable. Thanks for the rec- I will be looking that up now!


  13. Peace Aisha,
    We started out the same way a few years back, on the fence wondering if organic is worth it etc. Until we got hit by cancer (of a closed loved one in the family.) We switched to all organic, and started contacting local farmers for raw milk (organic) and now we have found a good way to balance all our needs from a mixture of local farmer, and a smaller wholefoods competitor in our area that actually sells for less. Farmers markets are also good sources.

    We realized that we are not any more broke from eating organic. That health is an excellent incentive and it may be too late once you are actually sick to switch over. That also most people that buy organic are not rich at all, but have made a conscious decision and that may mean a few sacrifices here and there but it's worth it in the end.

    It may seem hard to justify but I encourage you to read Pollan (he definitely tipped me over with his Omnivore's dilemma.) There are others too, “Fast food nation” etc etc. In omnivores dilemma a small organic farmer counters a man who challenges him as to why he is charging too much. The farmer noted that the man drives a BMW and told him: You obviously know quality and are willing to pay for it, how much more important for your food?

    Give a 100 more to the farmer and save thousands on your health care bill… 🙂

    Good luck and may your path be made easy.


  14. Anon- thanks for your thoughtful comment. I read Pollans books, all of them, and they scared me silly- and then when I ese the prices I get frightened, but your'e right, it might involve eating less, but 100% organic can be done- I wa smost disturbed when I learned I cannot WASH off all the pesticides- perhaps with soap and water- but only PERHAPS. How frightening to be ingesting that into my system day in and day out? I might make a monthly log of expenses non organic and otherwise just to see- thanks for the food for thought! As pollan reminds us, the farmer selling his eggs for $5 at the groccery store isn't driving around in a BMW while dining in a lavish castle- they're struggling.


  15. organic is admirable but i'd like to add my +1 to the local perspective as well! also, please do remember that “organic” (and “natural”) doesn't automatically mean “healthy”…there are plenty of times that organics can be just as harmful as conventionally grown.


  16. Oh for SURE. Local is usually best [and often they can't afford to be certified though they're just as good] and yes organic doesn't equal healthy, though I do tell myself this as I eye the delicious looking “three ingredient” organic ice cream, lol. Yep its still fattening and better- can you elaborate if possible on organic being just as harmful as conventionally grown though? Do you mean vegetable and produce wise?


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