A lot of people think the word ‘organic’ is synonymous with expensive. And it’s true, a lot of organically grown food often does cost more, which doesn’t seem fair when you’re trying to invest in your health and care for the earth. Even though we know how important it is, most of us simply can’t afford to buy everything organic.
I’ve been asked more than a few times about buying organic on a budget, so here are a few tips that I hope will help guide you. This blog will be a bit Ottawa centric since that is where we live, but I think most of the information can be applied broadly. Some of the suggestions are seasonal, but many can be applied even in these dark days of winter.
The most important foods to buy organic are foods that contain fat.
This includes meat, dairy, eggs, nuts and nut milks, and most importantly butter and oils. Now, you’ve all probably heard about the “dirty dozen” as items you should always buy organic. While this is true (for fruits and vegetables), if you can only afford to buy a few things organic it should first and foremost foods that contain fat.
Why? Toxins contained in fat are more easily absorbed by your body and stay/get stored in the body longer (they bio-accumulate). Since butter is mostly fat, it is one of the most concentrated food sources of bio-accumulative toxins.
Unfortunately foods that contain fat are some of the most expensively to buy organically so one way to reduce your expenses on these products is simply to reduce your consumption. This is especially true for animal products which people tend to eat too much of anyway. Perhaps you can try cutting down your meat consumption to 1-2 times per week or to none at all, try using a little less butter, and hold off on that extra cheese.
For fruits and veggies try buying at least the “dirty dozen” organically.
We’ve already mentioned this above. It is fairly straight forward. Essentially if I’m not peeling it, I’m buying organic.
Consider getting an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box.
We get ours from our friends over at Our Little Farm. There is something to be said about knowing and trusting the people that grow your food. It is well worth the money and it saves you from having to spend time in the grocery store. The food is super fresh so it lasts longer (therefore less waste) and more nutritious than the stuff you get at the supermarket. Alternatively we suggest shopping at your local organic farmer’s market.
Grow what you can. There is no better.
Tear up that lawn you don’t use and hate mowing and grow food in its place. If you don’t have space consider joining a community garden. If your community doesn’t have one consider starting one!
Forage your own!
Dandelion greens, grape leaves, nettles, lamb’s quarters, wood sorrel, garlic mustard…the list goes on and on. It’s wild, it’s organic, and it’s free. If the thought of this scares you, join us on one of our plant walks and we will introduce you to some basic plants. Once you start learning plants, a stroll outside will never be the same.
Also of note, come September, Ottawa is full of apples falling off the trees. We’ve found a few great trees (different varieties) and spend a few hours harvest, dehydrating, and preserving apples in a variety of ways for winter. Check out Hidden Harvest and volunteer to go out harvesting right here in the city.
Buy in bulk.
There may be a bulk store that offers organic products where you live. Two great places to get organic grains, beans, and other items in bulk are Homestead Organics and the Ontario Natural Food Coop. However, if you are going to buy in bulk be sure you know how to store it, and most importantly that it is something you will cycle through by eating regularly! Sharon Astyk’s book Independence Days is a wonderful resource for food storage. The basic rule is eat what you store and store what you eat.
Buy seasonally and locally.
When things are in season their prices tend to shift dramatically. At the end of the day at the farmers’ market, farmers might prefer to give you a great deal rather than carrying unsold produce back home.
Learn how to preserve food.
Now that you’ve scored big at the farmers market (see above), you can preserve some food to take you through the winter.
There are a number of ways to preserve your food including cold storage, dehydrating, canning, pickling, and our favourite, fermentation. Sign up for one of our fermentation workshop where we show you how to ferment some local produce.
Make your own.
Organic ready-made meals may be healthier, but they are super-pricey. One thing that works for us is planning our meals and spending a few hours on Sunday batch cooking and then we eat that throughout the week. It may mean eating the same thing for a few days, but it stops us from eating out and last-minute ‘ready-to-eat’ purchases. I also save a lot by making my own almond milk.
These are just a few tips on ways to eat organically on a budget. Remember, to try not to get stuck in the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Doing a little is better than doing nothing at all. If organic food is something that really excites you, consider joining and even volunteering for the Canadian Organic Growers. This non-profit organization is an important national voice for food issues in Canada.