Why is organic produce more expensive than regular produce? Is it because these products are targeting the ‘foodie elite’ or is it because the process of organic farming has higher costs?
Perhaps the organic price tag does not fit your budget or makes you feel sceptical about its true value. No one likes feeling ripped off so let’s examine some pros and cons about ‘going organic’ which will hopefully empower you when next you walk down the shopping aisle.
I had my ‘aha’ moment more than a decade ago when walking through a citrus plantation in Franschoek not far from Cape Town, South Africa. Amidst the rows of trees which were dripping with fruit like orange jewels, I saw a sign. Danger! (skull and crossbones) Do not touch the fruit on the trees because they have been sprayed with pesticide. I remember how it stopped me in my tracks as I was rather taken back by the severe warning in such an idyllic country setting. And in that moment, I was convinced that there must indeed be inherent health risks from consuming commercially grown fresh produce. How is it any safer to eat the ripe harvest when it is not even safe to touch the fruit growing on a tree?
The abovementioned orchard was no organic farm. Organic farming is simply agriculture that does not use chemicals, genetic modification, or irradiation instead only/mainly using natural farming agents and practices.
Misinformation about organic farming abounds. Firstly, that it is an expensive farming practice and therefore mirrors higher end-product costs. Others say that it is a less efficient way to farm and that it would never yield enough to feed the world’s growing population.
Could it be that conventional farming gives the illusion of efficiency? In real terms, most commercial farms require the use of fossil fuels, fertilizers, herbicides and GMOs to make their yields. Without government subsidies and substituting labour intensive management style for chemicals, the price of organic produce may actually reflect the true costs of farming.
The term “organic farming” was first used around 1940. Ostensibly prior to 1940 and the rise of modern commercial farming practices, all farming was naturally organic. In the last 80 years, all life and face of the earth has changed at a rapid rate. We now routinely and unknowingly consume chemicals, genetically modified and irradiated foods. To what extent has our collective health as humans and the natural ecosystems in which we live been negatively affected by non-organic farming practices? We should certainly pause in the shopping aisle and take stock...
What are the benefits of ‘going organic’?
Reduced toxic pesticide burden by keeping chemicals out of the air, water, soil and our bodies
Improved nutritional content, providing a better taste and truer flavour
Protects future generations by building healthy soil and ensuring agricultural longevity and biodiversity
If going all-organic isn't an option, you can still take small steps to prioritise safer food in your pantry and on your plates. Keep reading for more considerations and practical tips for shifting to an affordable organic lifestyle.
Infants and children have lower body weight and less developed organs to deal with toxic loads. They are therefore more susceptible to accumulating toxins but also benefit tremendously from the superior nutrient with which to fuel important growth phases.
Pregnant women and people who are ill should prioritise eating organic produce to reduce exposure to chemicals like pesticides and benefit from superior nutritional content. Imagine how patients would benefit if hospitals could grow their own organic vegetable garden.
It may be prudent and less overwhelming to start by replacing staple foods with organic produce. These are the foodstuffs you eat every day like bread, cereal, milk, fruit, eggs and which may include your daily coffee but not the occasionally used spice or condiment.
Choose organic meat and dairy items and reduce overall animal protein consumption and portion sizes. The commercial meat and dairy industries are notorious environmental polluters. Meat and dairy products are also loaded with antibiotics and hormones.
If cost-cutting is your biggest concern, it stands to reason to stick to organic raw wholefoods and avoid organic processed foods. For example, raw wholefoods are fresh, unprocessed recognisable foodstuffs like fruit, vegetables, grains, animal products etc versus processed convenience foods that come in box or packet.
Buy from a farmers' market or directly from your local farmers to avoid the middle man costs when shopping in the supermarket.
So what are the drawbacks to following an organic lifestyle, if any?
You will be initially challenged as is everyone who has ever made changes and broken with lifelong conveniences and habits.
You may be unfairly labelled as a tree-hugging health freak but meet other kindly health seekers and like-minded people on the same mission.
You could need to work at developing some new culinary skills, especially when finding different and creative ways to utilise seasonal produce.
Such a lifestyle shift will require you to discover beyond the commercial confines, different varieties of produce that you never knew existed. This may in turn initially shock but then broaden the experience of your taste buds.
So why should we ‘go organic’ and consider an organic lifestyle?
Farming is one activity at the interface where nature and humans meet. Agricultural practices have naturally evolved over time to keep pace with feeding the worlds growing population. Currently, most consumers all over the world have a choice between buying commercially and organically farmed produce. It is ultimately YOUR choice what you put in your shopping basket and what is at the end of your fork! So make it a well informed, educated one.
Prior to the rise of modern farming practices, all farming was organic. Similarly, a supermarket without any plastic would look like a farmers’ market from a previous era. If it seems like we need to go backwards in the evolutionary process of consumerism, then in some ways I guess we need to regress to move forward. Going back to good wholesome food basics may mean losing some short-sighted, destructive practices. Short-sighted because in our functional pursuit of the next meal and feeding the masses, we may lose focus on the value of growing 'slow food' and eating real whole food ingredients in creating and maintaining health. Destructive because we all sicken when ecosystems and biodiversity suffer from converting massive swathes of land and using it for farming monocrops like wheat, corn and beef.
In a generation where food fads are a dime a dozen, ‘going organic’ may to the average consumer seem like just another expense. In not ‘going organic’, we may end up incurring a much bigger cost to both our personal health and the wellbeing of our planet. Put that in your shopping basket and eat it...
A version of this article was written for the following online publication