Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How I navigate organics

A friend and I were recently talking about the organic movement and, specifically, the "organic shaming," as I like to call it, from people who seem to spend way too much time making others feel bad about not having a 100% clean, all-organic diet.

It breaks my heart that the organics movement, much like any other somewhat yuppie movement, has managed to turn itself into a source of judgment for some. Especially in light of the fact that the concept of organics existed practically forever until about the 1960s/1970s or so when traditional farming went the wayside to conventional farming and got us into our current mess. In my opinion, we're simply trying to get back to where we started, which should never be for the yuppie, the wealthy or the educated. In fact, quite the opposite.

All of this is to say that the question of whether to go organic or not isn't exactly an easy one these days. It's expensive. There is limited availability. And it's often hard to know exactly what you're getting or who you're really doing business with.

I'll be the first to admit that we are far from living a 100% organic lifestyle. My goal has always been to eat as whole and humanely as possible, which often means going organic, but sometimes means sticking with conventional where it makes sense for our budget.

While you can find guides on what to buy organic and what to skip just about everywhere, I thought I'd share my personal philosophy as it differs significantly from others.

1. Eat humane

Our original purpose for changing our lifestyle started with our God-inspired desire to rid our diets of any animal treated inhumanely, and this always serves as my top reason for making certain choices. I am willing to spend far more on meats and dairy for the peace of mind that the animal or animal products I'm consuming came from animals that were treated with dignity, respect and humanity instead of cruelty and brutality.

If this means $6 gallons of milk and $10 per pound cuts of meat for the rest of my life, then so be it.  I simply consume less animal products to make up the difference in my budget.

2. Eat fresh and whole

Fruits, veggies, whole grains and items with as few ingredients as possible dominate my choices. This is where I fall off from the organics obsessed. I would honestly rather stock my fridge with a wide range of conventionally grown fruits and veggies that fit my budget than go organic and have to trim the amount of fresh fruits and veggies we eat.

Our kitchen is packed with fresh foods, mostly conventionally grown, that we nosh on all week. Everything from berries, cherries, bananas, kiwi and melons to kale, lettuce, leeks, carrots, corn and broccoli. And we eat ALL of it! If we went totally organic, our options would be half as varied and far less, meaning filling our meals with more processed crap. No thanks, I'll take the conventionally grown.

3. Eat organic when you can

This is where those Top 10 Most Pesticide-Ridden Fruits & Veggies lists come in handy. GMOs, pesticides and conventional farming practices are definitely not a good thing, so I do choose organics for certain items on the Top 10 list. For example, we only buy organic apples since they are the #1 biggest pesticide carrier. Other items like grapes, berries, peaches, etc., I buy organic when they are on sale for less than conventionally grown or are relatively close in price to conventionally grown.

I also choose organic for the processed foods that we just can't seem to part with like cereal, canned beans, juices and soups as they are typically all-natural, have few ingredients, and often have less sugar, salt and fat than conventional processed foods (though you HAVE to read the labels and compare to be certain). Plus, they are often the same price or just a few cents cheaper than conventional options.

4. Do your best

At the end of the day, we don't eat 100% organic or even 100% whole. If you open our fridge or our pantry, there are several items that are less than ideal. Welcome to the real world. At the end of the day, my goal is to do my best at eating the best quality food, the most nutritious food and the most humane food on a reasonable budget.

I recommend determining what means the most to you and using that as your compass instead of letting all the organic shaming serve as your guide. If eating fewer pesticides is your goal, then slowly shift your fruits and veggies to organic or even just the Top 10 list. If eating fewer antibiotics or humanely treated animal products is your thing, then consider splurging on your milk or your eggs or your meats. If eating whole is the most important, focus on items that are fresh or have few ingredients, such as trading in your shredded cheddar for a block of cheddar or buying a wider variety of fruits and veggies.

At the end of the day, eating well is for everyone. It's about eating and buying the best you are able given your budget, your lifestyle and your location, regardless of whether you eat organic or conventionally grown food.

Question: When it comes to organics, what is your approach?

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