I have something of a dim view of the organic food industry, inasmuch as, in many cases, it has strayed from its roots in the worst ways possible: what began as an effort to get healthier food onto peoples’ plates has become a marketing ploy for selling overpriced commodities and frozen home meal replacements. Just the same, I encourage people to shop and eat organic whenever they can, and to do so smartly: buy local whenever possible, stick to whole ingredients, avoid regularly buying trendy boutique items like New York strips and pork tenderloin. Buy simple and close to home: that’s the easiest way to do organic, if you’re going to do it.
Still, it’s easy to miss the point. At Prevention, Amy Schlinger explains how she “tried to eat organic for a month without spending extra on food.” The plan was mostly a success, though, as she tells us, there was some difficulty:
I live in New York City, where groceries—and pretty much everything else—tends to be pretty expensive. But when you don’t have a car to carry home a trunk-load of food at a time, convenience is also a factor. For that reason, I’ve been getting groceries from an online food delivery service, FreshDirect, for a while now. The delivery fee is minimal, and my bill has always been comparable to what I’d pay if I went to the store myself. But once I went organic, I had to reconsider whether I could really afford this luxury.
For example, chicken is a staple that I buy all the time. I normally buy chicken that’s raised without antibiotics, but not organic, which FreshDirect usually sells for $5.99 a pound. The organic version? $8.99 a pound. Since I only shop for myself I just need a pound at a time, so three extra dollars might not sound like much. But when the organic version of just about everything you buy costs a few dollars more you have a problem. I realized I was going to have to switch things up if I was going to make it through the month without busting my budget.
Now, to be perfectly fair, there are folks for whom the organic price tag is a hurdle (though to be fair those usually aren’t the same folks who are ordering their groceries through a delivery service). But for the most part, most of us are capable of affording food that’s a bit more expensive. And that’s really the point: if you want better food—and organic food is indeed better, particularly the fresher and more local it gets—then you’re going to have to pay more. It should come as no surprise to anyone that higher-quality products are more expensive: nobody is shocked that a Mercedes-Benz costs more than a Honda Accord, after all. It is only where food is concerned that we have this strange notion that better should also be cheap, or that the cheap stuff should be just as good for us as the better stuff.
Unfortunately, the market doesn’t really work that way. And so a commitment to eating better is invariably going to have to be accompanied by a higher price tag. It’s no scandal; it’s simply a matter of priorities, and deciding whether you want to pay more for food and less for other things, or vice versa. Amy Schlinger surely understands the trade-off: for instance, she recently spoke favorably of a $165 pair of shoes, a price tag about three times higher than what I’m willing to pay for new kicks. We all make trade-offs. Choosing to buy cheaper food doesn’t make you a bad person, but complaining about the higher price of good food when you’re willing to pay high prices for other things makes you look, at the very least, silly.