Monday, February 8, 2010


I know you kids don't need to wonder much about the cost of the meals you eat. But your palates are broadening, you are cooking more and cooking well so you should know how much the meals you want to prepare and eat cost. After all, it will not be long before you venture off on your own and then...believe us, you will be eating on a budget. Here are some things to consider when you want to eat healthy yet have limited resources:


If you were to only compare the cost of an organic apple against the cost of a non-organic apple, you would never eat organic. Organic produce costs more than non-organic produce (more on this below). But when making your choices you have to ask a few more questions and make a few more comparisons.


When you must make a choice between buying organic produce and buying non-organic produce, you should consider each fruit and vegetable individually. There are two good ways to choose:
  • The thicker the skin of the fruit (and chances are you will peel the skin before eating), the safer the bet that you will not be eating a lot of the chemical pesticides. Take for instance avocado. You take the skin off an avocado before slicing it on your sandwich or making a spicy guacamole with it, right? The same for mango and banana. You can't eat the skin of those fruits. So if, for reasons of cost, you have to buy some fruits or vegetables that are non-organic, go for those. But peaches, nectarines, strawberries and cherries are all eaten with the skin! Bell peppers are eaten with the skin. You may be able to wash off some of the chemicals but the skin is thin enough to allow the pesticides to penetrate into fruit itself, and you can't do anything about that. For those kinds of fruits and veggies, opt for buying organic.
  • Check out the Environmental Working Group's Website. The EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides provides you with a wonderful, downloadable pocket guide to what fruits and vegetables are "cleanest" and which are the "dirtiest" so that you can shop wisely at the store.

If you live near a farmer’s market, it always makes good money sense to shop there. There are many hidden costs when shopping at the grocery store. Included in the cost of peppers is the cost of the electricity needed to run the store, the cost of paying the checkers and baggers, the cost of the bags used when shopping, and even the cost of paving the store parking lot! There are none of those hidden costs when shopping at a farmer’s market. There, you pay for the produce and the farmer’s eggs. In other words, the money you spend at the farmer’s market is money directly related to the cost of growing that pepper – not on the other stuff unrelated to growing the pepper itself. So, buying organic food at the farmer’s market will be a better deal than buying it at the grocery store.


Buying items in bulk, whether it be nuts, grains, pasta, or beans, is always a smarter money choice. You are not paying for packaging, which ends up in recycling, or worse yet, the trash! And for things like beans, if you soaked them and cooked them yourself, it is pennies for a serving instead of...well...way more than pennies.


In general, Americans eat way too much. We are engaged in portion distortion. Did you ever really look at how big that bag of popcorn is or that soft drink that you are buying at the movie theatre? A family of 4 can easily satisfy themselves with one of those super-sized sodas and yet one person will drink it all during a two-hour movie. Why? Because “for only 25 cents more, you can get the large.” The small is already really huge. The medium is gigantic and the large is actually gargantuan! But what a savings to get the gargantuan one for only 25 cents more! You probably would have saved something like $1.50 if you got the small, which is to say huge, and not been tempted by the sales pitch!

Our portions have increased substantially over the last 50 years. A slice of pizza 20 years ago was 500 calories. Today, a slice of pizza is 850 calories! If you went to the movies 20 years ago, you would have gotten 5 cups of popcorn (270 calories). Today, the popcorn an average American gets at the movies is almost 400 calories more (11 cups)!

If you buy quality food, such as organic produce, grass-fed beef and sustainable fish, and eat less of it, you will be spending no more money than if you ate huge portions of a low-quality meal. And, if you eat fresh fruit instead of a sugar-laden piece of cake or chocolate for dessert (except on special occasions – Michael Pollen includes Saturdays and Sundays in that mix of special times), you will be saving money.


Junk food is junk food whether it is organic or not. As a society, we eat too much junk food. Just because the potatoes in the potato chips you’re begging your mom to buy are organic, doesn’t make them any less potato chips! The same can be said for a lot of other boxed and bagged foods in the middle aisles of the grocery store. If you check out the labels of many of those packaged foods which you think are good for you, you might be surprised! Many of them still contain preservatives, lesser quality oils, trans-fats and too much salt. Next time, buy a whole potato, slice it thin and roast them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper until they are crispy. That will cost a heck of a lot less than your bag of chips. And your house will smell divine!


Unsustainable and conventionally grown foods, many of which travel thousands and thousands of miles to get to us are often consumed at a cost to our health and to the environment. Someone has to pay for the damage done to both – and it will surely be each and every one of us in the long run. If we continue to eat foods laden with chemicals, we have a greater chance of getting sick from them. If we continue to pollute our air as a result of conventional farming methods or the transportation of produce from thousands of miles away, we have a greater chance of getting sick and of sickening our Earth. If we continue to catch fish in a way that is bad for the oceans and causes the extinction of fish, we will eventually need to pay more for all fish. This final point goes to the question of whether we want to pay a little more money now or pay a lot more money later. It's a question we must all chew on carefully.

We'd love to hear from you about how you make your food choices when shopping. Do you consider the cost of food? Do you consider what goes into the price you pay for food? Would you spare no expense when it comes to food but cut your costs on other luxury items, like music or games?

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