Waking Up | 8 Ways to Save Money Buying Organic Food
Everyone would "Go organic!" if it was easy. Green is a pretty color, and no one wants to admit they are part of the problem. But cost, seasonal supply, weather related shortages and in-store BOGO offers on name brands just make decisions a little more complicated.
Accept the fact that change takes awareness and effort. It's OK to work harder for a little less (in the beginning). Resisting the effort it takes to create new habits and try different things will keep you from success. There is nothing wrong with a little idealism. If we want to be healthier, save the planet and live to tell the story, it's going to take leg action, elbow grease, and trial and error. On the upside, doing the right thing helps you sleep better at night.
Full disclosure: Organic food is not cheaper than conventional or processed food unless it's a bit rotten or a tad misshapen. Adjust your expectations, but keep in mind that any extra money you spend need not be considered an indulgence. It directly impacts and supports the farmers, little and local artisans and even (gasp) large national corporations that are risking their own bottom line in pursuit of the greater good. Though it's not a legal tax write off, it is a moral investment.
Here are a few things I've discovered on my organic journey.
1. Buy grains, legumes and beans in bulk. Not only will you save money, but you'll reduce consumption of unnecessary packaging included with the brand name labels. And with the money you save, invest in a rice cooker. I'm not kidding. You can cook everything from quinoa, couscous and oatmeal to lentils, black beans (Don't forget to pre-soak!) and split peas. It's magical. Oh, and feel free to splurge on a cheap one. The high-end varieties are heavy counter space stealers. I bought mine three years ago for $17. I use it almost every day.
2. Focus your meals around seasonal produce. Get out of your conventional grocery store where acorn squash sits next to lettuce, and strawberries are next to the apples. Go outside to a farmers market or local farm and you'll learn that there are differences between spring, summer and fall that are not all about footwear and party themes. Get to know your food like you know your holidays. And if you can tell me schedules for off-season, pre-season, playoffs and championships, you certainly have room to know that asparagus is not a summer squash.
3. Look for price-reduced produce for canning or freezing. You don't have to have a commercial kitchen or live with your grandma to do this. Literally, throw those strawberries in a freezer bag (that you will re-use) and enjoy them for up to six months. Now, technique can make a difference. Freezing fruit is best done at the peek of ripeness, washed, dried and frozen individually on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, you can combine in a bag. Vegetables need to be blanched (dipped briefly into boiling water) to stop rotting enzyme action, keep color bright, and retard the loss of vitamins. See The National Center for Home Food Preservation for specific instructions.
4. Don't be afraid to buy frozen or canned items during the off-season. Organic foods have no pesticides or unnatural preservatives (maybe a little organic salt!), they've simply been minimally and properly processed to provide food for the winter.
5. Shop online. I use Green B.E.A.N. Delivery because this is what works for me. They deliver all my produce and groceries on Wednesdays right to my front door. Though price points of their local products seem higher, my grocery bills are significantly lower because I no longer go to the grocery store on a regular basis. And that's not a figment of my green-colored imagination. According to J.D. Roth, personal-finance columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, more than half of in-store grocery purchases are impulsive. And half of us make "quick stops" at the store three to four times per week, spending, on average, 54 percent more than we planned. As everyone who's been domesticated already knows, in most relationships, there is a Coupon Clipper being undermined by a Budget Blower.
6. Adjust your spending in other areas. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but supporting the organic movement is part and parcel of saving the world. You can't expect it to always be easy. According to the USDA in 2009, Americans spend less than seven percent of their budgets on food. If we continue to keep the quality of our food in such low priority, the monetary costs of healthcare, pollution and a toxic environment will continue to rise exponentially and be the least of our concerns. You get what you pay for. What are you buying?
7. Clean up your diet. Buy and eat less crap. Instead of the two for $5 bags of 20 ounce potato chips, buy one 14 ounce bag of organic chips (The salt and vinegar variety are food art!) for $3 and let everyone have a handful. Why the hell would anyone need that many chips? You don't even notice more than the first few. The rest of the process is only mechanical hand-to-mouth and jaw action. Yes, that sounds bad. And it is.
8. Communicate with your neighbors. Share your bounty and your leftovers with your friends. Leave a comment here about what works for you. Supply, demand and price are intricately interwoven, and we must work together to right the system.
Photo by Tony Frantz