Think Organic is Expensive?
The American health care system has become a “sick care” system in which citizens pay more than in almost any other country (15% of our economy) only to count themselves among the most unhealthy people in the industrialized world. According to recent statistics, one third of Americans is obese, and countless others suffer from preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. These days, amid threats of losing health coverage, perhaps the safest and most effective source of health insurance is prevention.
Foods that are processed, packaged, genetically modified or treated with chemicals are potentially damaging the human body. The toxins in these foods are not recognized, and are, therefore, unable to be properly digested. They remain stored and, over time, cause dis-ease in the body. While upon first glance organic grocery options seem more costly, they provide, in fact, an invaluable savings -- financially and otherwise -- in the long run.
The FDA approves each chemical individually for human consumption. As of this post, I do not know of a single test that has been done by the FDA on the effects of more than one chemical ingested at once. So even if one chemical is safe, who is to say that the 50 different chemicals used on conventional spinach are not harming the humans who consume them? If a food is labeled USDA Organic, then is is certified to be free of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and genetically-modified seeds, and may not be irrigated with sewage sludge. By choosing organic, we remove a huge dose of unnatural chemicals from our plates.
The misleading savings of fast food causes some to believe that cheap meals lacking nutritional value are their only options. At a time when Americans are clinging to their every dollar, however, fast food is absolutely not an efficient use of resources. While “dollar meals” offered at many fast food establishments promise savings, they actually tax both the wallet and the body. When the body does not receive nutrient-rich food, it simply calls out for more. Extra-large french fries and soda may seem to satisfy, yet they are really just overworking the organs without providing vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health. In addition, the empty meal leaves the consumer unsatisfied, lethargic and looking to eat (and spend) again shortly thereafter. Less food will satisfy the body’s needs when a meal consists of real food - organic whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Life is just too short not to provide the body with the best food available. If the old adage, “you are what you eat” is true, (which it is, literally, as the food we eat is absorbed and becomes our very blood, tissues and cells), then organic food is unquestionably worth the extra effort. Real food without toxic chemicals is less expensive than many seem to think. A bunch of organic kale at Stop and Shop costs about $1.00; organic collard greens cost under 50 cents; one 4-pound of organic quinoa at Costco (containing some 44 servings) is about $4 per pound. Eating higher-quality food means spending less overall. A bag of conventional potato chips (around $4-$5), devoid of nutrients and filled with chemical pesticides, disappears in moments, but one bowl of organic brown rice, vegetables and beans (unlike the chips, it's difficult to eat more than one in a sitting), goes down slowly, providing actual nutrition and fuel to keep organ systems up and running.
The real savings from organic foods, however, lies in what healthier Americans will save on medical expenses. According to a recent study published in Health Affairs, the average health care cost per American is $6280 per year (wow - that’s a lot of kale!). Some 70% of those dollars are spent on preventable diseases, such as heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country. The fact remains that healthy bodies get sick less often and fight disease more effectively. Bodies fed organic, real foods -- free of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other chemicals toxic to the body -- will spend less on over-the-counter and prescription drugs, copayments, lab tests and hospital bills. These costs are no match for an extra 30 cents for organic carrots, an extra dollar for organic milk, an extra 75 cents for organic bread.
Rather than spending money on costly treatments after people are already sick, the focus must now shift to spending on prevention. A February 22 New York Times article on President Obama’s plan to cut the national deficit cites the cost of health care as “the biggest factor behind projections of unsustainable deficits in coming decades.” The plan to revise the failing health care system under the Obama administration will require “investments in disease-prevention programs.” The nation cannot survive, physically or financially, without a plan for prevention.
You can start, as always, by adding in one thing at a time. Buying organic can actually save money in the long-run, with a little know-how:
1) Buy in season. Notice how much watermelon costs in December? Seasonal produce not only makes for a healthier body, but it also costs less.
2) Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture groups abound throughout the country. Members prepay for vegetable shares from an organic farm and pick up the freshest possible produce, as it is often harvested that morning or the night before. (www.localharvest.org contains information about CSAs). If you are on Long Island, check out Golden Earthworm or Green Thumb CSAs.
3) Buy in bulk. Stock up on frozen or canned organics when they go on sale, and save on expensive packaging by purchasing from bulk bins. Whole Foods Market, as well as many other chain health food stores offer 10% off case discounts and senior discounts as well, although they are not always advertised. If you are a senior, ALWAYS ask if there is a senior discount!
4) Non-perishable organic products can be found at a significant discount at Vitacost.com, or by choosing Subscribe & Save on Amazon.com.
5) Save extra $$ when shopping online (like on Vitacost.com, and many other stores like Target, Macy's, Toys R Us, etc.) by opening a free Ebates account. Every online purchase is tracked and a rebate is applied. Every few months, you get a rebate check in the mail. Since I opened my account in May of 2012, to date I have received over $800 in total rebates! I am not kidding! There is no catch. This is the best kept secret on the internet - it really is FREE MONEY back in your pocket that you can use to buy higher-quality and organic items.
6) Get support. Don’t know where to start? Take a healthy cooking class (like the FREE ones on this site!) or seek out a health professional who can steer you toward a healthier lifestyle.
When a doctor prescribes a medication, most patients fill the prescription, pay the copayment, and carry out the doctor’s wishes, no questions asked. When a certified holistic health counselor prescribes, “Let food be thy medicine; let medicine be thy food,” why not fill that prescription, pay the extra 30 cents copayment, and carry out the practitioner’s advice? The long-term benefits far outweigh the investment.
For more tips on how to eat healthy on a budget, listen to my audio class, "Making Organic Affordable," under classes on this website.