Is Organic Food Worth It?

Is Organic Produce Worth It?

My wife and I often wonder if organic produce is worth it? After all, it can be TWICE the cost of regular, conventional produce in the grocery stores. Is organic produce a scam, or, can it add years to your life?

To the normal Money Buffalo readers, this post will be a little different than my usual format. I do hope you enjoy the analysis and will share your opinion with the community as well! 

Disclaimer: Also, I’m not a medical professional. All statements in this article are my own opinion.

History of Organic Food

Let’s first look at the origins of organic produce. The world has seen many changes in the past 100 years, including two world wars and the digital revolution. One of the largest changing trends is the fact that the world population has grown from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000.

There are many reasons for the increased global population growth that have primarily stemmed from the Industrial Revolution that took place in the 1800s and introduced the concepts of machines and mass production factories that have fostered some of the most innovative technological breakthroughs (the automobile, airplane, atomic bomb, computers, the Internet, cell phones….) the world has seen. As a result, many nations have seen a rise in wealth and longer life expectancies for the general population.

How does that relate to organic produce?

With four billion more people on the world than 100 years before, that also means there are four billion more mouths to feed. To support the population growth, farmers began using synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to ensure a plentiful harvest every year. In 1909, Fritz Haber discovered how to separate nitrogen from the air–a necessary step to make modern agricultural fertilizers– and from that moment farmers suddenly had a “cheap” source of man-made fertilizers that have helped boost the crop production to the necessary levels for a growing planet.

The organic food movement has its roots in the 1920s when commercial chemicals were used to boost crop yields. In a way, you could say everything was “organic” before early-1900s. The first organized accreditation group was formed in 1972 by several international bodies and is called the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Since 1972, the organic food movement has grown by leaps and bounds and entire themed-grocery stores, like Whole Foods, are oriented to sell non-conventionally-sourced food.

What (Exactly) Is Organic Food?

The most common organic food you might think of is fruits and vegetables. When you visit a grocery store, there is usually a separate section in the fresh produce section. Maybe you have taken steps to avoid this refrigerated section because the prices are slightly higher.

In addition to fruits and veggies, you can also buy organic milk, dry food (i.e. Annie’s Mac and Cheese), coffee and tee, and meat. Prices between organic and conventional (non-organic) food can vary between each product. For example, the price difference for buying organic spinach or avocados can be less than buying organic milk or eggs as you can buy a dozen conventional eggs for 50 cents if they go on sale.

Different Levels of Organic Food

Just as you can buy three different grades of gasoline for your car–regular, plus, and premium–there are several different grading levels for organic food:

  • 100% Organic: The entire product was grown organically or animals were only fed organic grains and not administered antibiotics or growth hormones
  • Organic: Consists of at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made With Organic Ingredients: Consists of at least 70% organic ingredients. The manufacturer can list up to three organic ingredients on the front of the packaging
Is Organic Produce Worth It?

The USDA Organic label can only be displayed on products that are at least 95% organic
(Image Credit: USDA.gov)

Have you ever seen the above logo?

If you have ever looked at different organic foods, the answer is most likely yes. The USDA Organic Seal can only be displayed on organic foods that are at least 95% organic. A producer can be subject to an $11,000 fine for illegally displaying the label on their item packaging.

It might not be worth the extra money to buy organic food if it only has a statement like “Made with Organic Ingredients” and doesn’t display the organic seal. Not to say it isn’t a good product, but, it might not be worth spending a few extra dollars if it’s mostly made of conventional ingredients. (That’s just my personal opinion).

Organic Food and GMOs

By definition, organic food is non-GMO (genetically modified). If you are also concerned about the quality of GMO produce and GMO-raised livestock and dairy, you might also consider buying organic for this reason.

Are Organic Foods Sprayed With Pesticides and Herbicides?

Yes and no.

If you have ever tried growing a no-spray garden, you know how hard it can be to keep the bugs away from your plants. You also know that most of your pickings do not look perfect, even though they are 100% edible and taste great.

All organic food is allowed to be sprayed with up to 25 synthetic pesticides. That’s compared to over 900 conventional pesticides. How many pesticides are sprayed will depend on the crop (i.e. grapes require more than tomatoes) and it also depends on the farm. Farmers that want “perfect” crops will use more sprays so that fewer pickings have blemishes. Unfortunately, 40% of all food (conventional and organic) is taken directly from the farm to the landfill because we all want to buy the “perfect” piece of fruit.

Ultimately you need to check with the source and ask for the position on using organic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Since the organic movement is more health-conscious as a whole, you can assume that more farms than not will not spray as frequently as conventional produce. They might even use more health-friendly sprays as well.

Why Should You Buy Organic Food?

Now that we’ve covered the difference between organic food and conventional food, here are some reasons why you might try buying organic food as often as possible.

We Have a 50% Chance of Being Diagnosed With Cancer

The American Cancer Society has statistics that show males have a 1 in 2 chance of being diagnosed with cancer and women have a 1 in 3 chance of being diagnosed with cancer at least once in their life.

If you a guy and only have one brother (like me), the math shows that one of you will get cancer.

I don’t like those odds.

That’s one reason why my wife and I drink filtered water. Whether or not you eat organic food, the conventional pesticides, and all the other 21st-century chemicals are in our water and can create long-term negative health effects too.

Eating food with fewer pesticides can reduce your chance of being diagnosed with cancer because you are eating like your great-grandparents ate who lived to be 90 and died of natural causes. There are many reasons you can get cancer from smoking to (potentially) talking on your cell phone too much, but, why add one reason to come down with cancer, right?

Organic Food Has More Nutrients

In addition to having less pesticide residue, organic food is more nutrient dense. Organic fruits and vegetables will have more vitamins and minerals. And, organic meats and dairy products can have more healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids.

Organic grains also tend to have less cadmium (and other heavy metals) because the soil has fewer residues. In organic farming communities where the adjacent fields are organic as well, the nutrition factors can be even better.

Organic Food Tastes Better

One downside of organic farming is that yields are anywhere from 20% to 70% less than conventional farming since fewer synthetic chemicals are used. But, there are benefits to smaller crop yields including the fact that organic food has more nutrients (mentioned above) and taste tests show have repeatedly shown that organic food tastes better.

Why does organic food taste better?

There are several theories. For one, conventional farmers apply rapid-grow fertilizers that don’t give the crops as much time to “mature.” Also, conventional, GMO crops that are designed to be drought-resistant or blight-resistant might sacrifice taste as well. This issue is just for organic fruits and vegetables, t

This issue isn’t just for organic fruits and vegetables, the same difference in quality can also apply to commercial roses vs. homegrown rose bushes and also free-range chicken eggs vs. the 50-cent carton from a generic brand.

You Invest In Your Health

Just as you invest to save for retirement, buying organic can help you invest in your health. Making healthy decisions today like eating organic food, avoiding sugary drinks and junk food, and regular physical activity can help prevent future ailments stemming from our modern diet.

Is Organic Food Worth It?

How To Buy Organic Food?

If you want to buy organic food, here are a few tips to help you secure the best quality for the best price.

For full disclosure, my wife and I buy organic and use several of these services. Even the online ones!

If You Only Buy Organic Produce

Organic fruits and veggies can be the easiest place to start changing your buying habits because there are so many options.

Each year, the Environmental Working Groups publishes a list called “The Dirty Dozen” (not to be confused with the classic Hollywood hit) of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. If you only have the money to buy a few organic produce items, these five items should be your priority:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Peaches
Is Organic Food Worth It?

Check out the “Dirty Dozen” to see which foods you need to buy organic if you’re on a budget

In addition to buying organic from the grocery store, you might be able to find local, organic produce at your local farmers market. This can be a great way to connect with local farmers and ask them questions of sustainability. And, you can also connect with other local organic foodies to find even more organic food sources for less-than-retail prices!

Organic Meat

No doubt, you have heard the expression “You are what you eat.” Organic and clean eating shouldn’t stop at fruits and vegetable. You should also consider buying meat that has been organically raised. Not only did the animals eat better quality feed, they also have not been pumped with all of the antibiotics and hormones that the commercial feedlots use because they need to squeeze as many heads of cattle, chickens, or pigs into a contained area as possible.

Here’s how we buy healthy meat and save money:

  • Buy grass-fed beef from grocery store or local farmers
  • Buy store-brands with the USDA Organic seal instead of buying a name-brand
  • Purchase fresh eggs from a local farmer or co-op (the shells are thicker and the yolks are much darker than the cartons you can buy in the store)

Organic Dairy

You need to also consider buying organic milk, ice cream, butter, and other dairy items. All of these items can be laden with pesticide residue, artificial sweeteners, and bonding agents (hello, non-dairy creamer) that can negate any health benefits when purchased conventionally.

I might ruffle some feathers here, but, I encourage you to buy local dairy before buying a national brand. Yes, the national organic brands (like Annie’s or Costco) can still be healthier than conventional dairy, but, they still have production quotas to meet and can sacrifice quality.

When possible try to buy organic dairy products with the following traits:

  • Grass-fed cows
  • Non-homogenized milk
  • Low pasteurized milk

If you want to watch a movie that might open your eyes regarding our modern farming practices, I encourage you to watch King Corn. You might also be able to stream it on Netflix.

Organic Packaged Food

Ah yes, packaged food. You know, anything that comes in a box and all you have to do is add water and cook. I’ll admit, we keep some on hand because (a) it’s convenient and (b) it’s food. Our little girl loves Annie’s Mac and Cheese and we rarely take the time to make the homemade variety where we grate the cheese and melt it ourselves, even though it tastes 1000% more delicious.

Organic packaged food is somewhat of an oxymoron as packaged food, in general, is a 20th-century invention. The only thing close to it in previous years was the hardtack rations that Civil War soldiers ate in the 1860s.

For your general health, try to avoid packaged food as much possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s organic or conventional. As an example, organic candy might not have as many bad food colors or preservatives, but, it’s still primarily sugar.

While most grocery stores will have an “Organic Aisle,” you might find a better deal online. We use the following online websites for our organic packaged foods:

Bonus Money-Saving Tip: Shop through Ebates to get cash back at the above recommendations and to save 1% to 40% at over 2,000 stores. See my full Ebates review to see how we earn a “Big Fat Check” each quarter!

Bonus Note: Of the five recommendations above, Azure Standard has the largest produce selection. My wife calls it the “Whole Foods on Wheel” as you place an online order once a month. And, you literally unload your items from the semi truck at a local drop. Before placing your first order, you will need to see if there’s a drop near you and you can call the local drop coordinator to get more information.

Summary

In my opinion, buying organic food is definitely worth it! Do we buy everything organic? No. But, we buy as much as possible to be organic or sustainably-raised. In addition to buying organic, we also try to avoid “junk food” with no nutritional value like candy bars, Twinkies, and sugary drinks. You can buy organic items at most grocery stores, but, I also encourage you to seek other organic sources locally and online to save money and to potentially enjoy a higher quality item.

What’s your opinion on organic food? Is it worth the extra cost?

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16 Comments on "Is Organic Food Worth It?"

  1. You must know I’d LOVE this post!! We’ve been eating a largely organic diet for about ten years now, ever since our son was diagnosed with an allergy to high fructose corn syrup. That diagnosis led us on a real journey to discover what we were eating, and I wholeheartedly agree that organic food is best.

    Some people say it’s expensive but we manage to live on a largely organic diet for our family of six and still spend less than $600 per month on food. We’ve had to make some sacrifices to do so (i.e. cut out the majority of processed foods and drinks) but it’s been SO worth it.

    We rarely get sick (maybe once a year or so) and we feel GREAT. What you eat really does make a difference!!

    • I couldn’t imagine having a corn syrup allergy. Now that it’s simply being referred to as “fructose” in some products, it must be even harder to avoid it. Eating organic food has definitely had benefits for us too including more energy and stronger immune systems. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a soft drink, I’d say it’s probably been two years.

      Whether you eat organic or not, avoiding sugar also does wonders. Plus, it can save you money as candy bars and soda is “cheap” but are really expensive compared to making food from scratch, even with organic ingredients.

  2. Thanks for laying this all out and explaining the differences. I must admit I’m in the ball park that thinks a lot of it is a scam (not all). I also don’t believe all the statistics from groups like the American Cancer Society or the American Heart Association because they’re backed by industry. I’m unconvinced of their objectivity. That being said, putting impurities into our bodies can’t be good for us.

    If you were going to start somewhere would it be with the Dirty Dozen?

    • Yes, I’d start with the Dirty Dozen since that’s the easiest and cheapest. To get the most bang for your buck, grass-fed beef and free-range chickens are a better option, but, this might be out of some people’s budgets unless you have a friend who’s a farmer.

      I definitely what you are saying about trust. One of my fears is that the organic food industry has grown so rapidly that quality and integrity have been reduced by certain companies. That’s why it’s so important to stay as local as possible so you can actually talk with the farmer and visit their fields to see if they “walk the walk.”

  3. I’m with you on this too. The wife and I started eating organics / drinking RO water about 3 years ago and a few of our health issues cleared up OR got better. Having visited quite a few organic farms / traditional farms – there is a lot of effort (often manual labor) that goes into organic farming – thus, increased costs. I will (hopefully) never go back to eating non-organic meats / produce. It just tastes better / better for you. I’m grateful we live in an area we access to these foods.

    • We do everything possible to support our local farmers too and try to get our local friends to join as well. I’m glad to hear that making the switch has improved the quality of life for your family!

  4. I have mixed feelings about organic. I think it’s great that people are becoming more aware of what they’re eating, crop rotations (not often done in conventional agriculture) are great, and certainly pesticide and hormone residues aren’t anything you’d want to seek out. But I’ve grown an organic garden and I know a lot of the bug and weed sprays they use often aren’t any better than conventional agriculture. I specifically remember buying one bottle (forgot what it was) to control some bean beetles, and the bottle said to avoid spraying if anyone else is within 50 feet, and to not eat the produce for a week to avoid chemical burns. Seems a bit odd for “organic” stuff, and who knows how much of this stuff they pump onto organic food at the grocery store. Plus, organic agriculture as a whole isn’t all roses and flowers – because it’s less efficient than conventional agriculture, it takes more land to grow the stuff. And one of the leading causes of wildlife population declines today is habitat loss, which will only get worse if more people switch to organic: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/

    • That was some nasty spray!

      I think the biggest misconception about organic farming is that people think no pesticides or sprays are used. We found that out after we grew our first no-spray garden and only picked a handful of items that looked like something you would get in the grocery store. Trust me, we still ate the gnarly looking food since we don’t care about appearances.

      Thank you for sharing the article it is a great read. Unfortunately, organic farming isn’t perfect.

  5. We are eating more and more organic these days. It’s more expensive, but it tastes better and we feel better after eating. There is a great book call “Wheat Belly” that describes how wheat has been genetically engineered over the years to withstand harsher conditions and the effect it’s having on our bodies.

    • That book is one of the first my wife and I read when we decided to make the switch to organic. With Wheatbelly, we also try to avoid gluten as much as possible too. I will say that after avoiding conventional wheat and bread type food, I noticed an almost instant change in my energy and hunger (I became less hungry). It’s a definite must-read.

  6. True confession: Still not on the organic bandwagon – even though I think it’s a good one. Organic in these parts just is so much more expensive. I think that when we’re mortgage-free and I’m retired (which might be in under 2 years from now), I’ll have the time to find the best value for organic foods, as well as the financial flex to pay extra. Until then, we make an effort to eat healthy foods – but not in the organic aisle.

    • I can only imagine what organic food costs up in Canada. Most of ours come from the southern U.S or South America, so we are just a little closer. Once your financial situation does improve, I do encourage you to eat more organic items. Although I’ve only been to Canada once, I have heard you all have stricter nutritional standards so that might be one advantage you have over us in the U.S.

  7. For me personally, I have been erring on the side of spending more for higher quality food, and I do think organic is higher quality. But as a vegetarian I definitely pay a premium on other foods already, such as “meatless meat” so I may not be the best person to ask 🙂 I do think people should try to save money on food when possible, which obviously pushes them away from organic food, but if you can fit it in your budget I definitely recommend people “invest” in their health.

    • My wife was a vegetarian for several years too growing up so she can relate. They bought conventional food because eating organic wasn’t stressed. They wish they had.

      Whether or not anybody buys organic, stay away from the junk food aisle. That means no candy bars, Twinkies, Ho-Hos, etc. There is zero nutritional value in those items and they negate any healthy eating your might do.

  8. Thanks for sharing this honest review, Josh. I also believe organic foods have more health benefits than conventional foods. Moreover, buying fresh organic produce does not need to have a high price tag if you choose the right delivery service. Keep sharing useful stuff like this!

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