Organics: Fruitful or Fraud?

Would you feel better eating this if it was "organic"?

We have many friends who swear on the health benefits of chemical-free foods. We almost hate to bring the subject up, but it’s tough to ignore. Actually, we’re surprised at how many people think we are into this. So, the questions we receive are:

  1. How do we spend so little on groceries? (We spend approximately $800 per month, our cookbooks largely a response to the questions of how we do it.)
  2. How do you live such healthy lives? (We are all fit and healthy, and our diets are a big part of our lives, as Wendy explains in Love in a Diet.)

We have found organic eating is very difficult, and we wonder at the actual benefits. The organic section of every supermarket is 30-50% more costly than the rest, and the quantities are about half of what you would find just a few aisles down. And if you insist on shopping at supermarkets that are primarily organic (e.g. Whole Foods), you won’t come close to our budget.

Frankly, we believe a lot of families get drawn into the organic food industry without developing some proper principles in their kitchens. There are families who spend a great deal of money on organics – and that’s okay, we suppose, if they can afford it – but we’re just not there. We go with these principles in mind:

  1. Don’t bust the bank.
    We’ve seen organics marked up greatly, especially when they’re bought in low quantities. We do the math and just can’t justify it for our family.
  2. Don’t be a fool for marketing.
    My goodness, there are organic anything nowadays. Be smart and don’t assume that organic is automatically better than non-organic.  This goes for all diet marketing out there (fat-free, too). Think through the marketing that comes with the package of food.
  3. Monitor the real results.
    Really, is the organic corn flakes making all that big of a difference in your children?
  4. Don’t substitute organics for genuinely healthy foods.
    We’d choose a healthy breakfast of eggs and fruit over organic cereal and fat-free milk. Consider this often. Just because “organic” is on the label doesn’t magically transform the food into a healthy alternative.
  5. Enjoy your diet.
    We eat very well. Some eat vegan, vegetarian, organic, fat-free, etc. We don’t believe we’re missing out on much.

Are there other principles in your kitchen that you apply? Or, perhaps, you are all for the organic world. Please share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you.

About Chris & Wendy Jeub

The Jeub Family live in Monument, Colorado. They encourage couples to love God and love one another, building an atmosphere of love in their homes.

  • Lia

    While I agree with you about the hype used by marketing companies to sell everything organic, and that a healthy diet goes well beyond just eating things labeled organic, there is a reason why organic products are more expensive. Because when we buy conventional products we are not paying for their full price, someone else is. 
    First, non organic farmers get lots of funds from the government to plant wheat, corn and so on. So, while we don’t pay at the store, we are paying with our taxes for that same food that looks cheaper. Second, it is not inserted in the cost of the conventional food, the price to treat the asthma that kids are having because their backyard is being sprayed with pesticides, or the price to clean the rivers where the water is getting contaminated by pesticides.So the question for a christian should not be what is best for my family? But, am I with my actions destroying the health of someone else’s kids too? And that is a very difficult question because it goes beyond food, even to clothes (as cotton is the most sprayed crop), and the cheap stuff from China (that are only cheap because someone else is also paying for that). Yes, sometimes it is easier to ignore that the world is a very complicated place where with our money we may be voting for more slavery in some third world country, for more wars in an oil rich country, or for more pollution in someones backyard. It is a daily exercise of faith to learn to love with our actions, with our money, and with all the inconveniences that comes along with doing the right thing not just for our families, but for someone’s else. May God helps us all and give daily discernment on how to do the best not just for our families but for the many others that could be hurt by our actions.

    • BKL

       Just for informational purposes any government payments to farmers are available to all farmers organic or non organic.  At present these are not payments to produce only payments if there is a disaster.  Most of the current ag budget is either food stamp type items or conservation type items.

      • Lia

        This is where I got my info

        “In the United States, 65% of the approximately $16.5 billion in annual subsidies went to the top 10% of farmers in 2002 because subsidies are linked to certain commodities.[16] On the other hand, organic farming received $5 million for help in certification and $15 million for research over a 5-year time period.”

        16.5 billion is a lot more than 15.5million

  • Lia

    I sent a comment, not sure if it went through, so I will just re-post it with some more info.

    This is where I got my info from: Wikipedia, type Agricultural policy and go to the section organic farming assistance.

    “In the United States, 65% of the approximately $16.5 billion in annual subsidies went to the top 10% of farmers in 2002 because subsidies are linked to certain commodities.[16] On the other hand, organic farming received $5 million for help in certification and $15 million for research over a 5-year time period.”

    I am no expert, but it does not look like the government is not being fair with organic farming. You can type on google “why is organic produce more expensive than conventional” and find even more reasons. For anyone interested, the Food Inc documentary covers a lot of these issues. 

    • Chris Jeub

      I approved the comment below. Hyperlinks hang things up to keep spam from hitting the page. 

      Thanks for posting Lia. I love informed opinions!

  • Amy Woolley Pederson

    So true!  There are just as many preservatives, chemicals, and additives in foods labeled “organic”.  I have sensitivities to many processed foods (MSG in particular) and I have to read labels when I buy just about anything.  If you compare canned goods labeled organic vs regular you won’t find much of a difference.  Better to buy bulk brown rice and cook it and season it yourself rather than buy an overpriced “organic” rice mix.  I couldn’t agree more about the cereal and fat free milk.  How about 2 eggs and a piece of toast?  It is much cheaper and better for you.  We get our eggs from a local family and we make our own bread.  It keeps the budget down, supports other Christian families and we know what’s in our food.  Sounds like a win win situation.

    • Lia

      I agree with you, the best is to stay away from most processed foods. We have been able to find in our region bulk organic foods like rice, quinoa, beans, that bring the price down because they are in bulk. And we make our own muesli with the products we buy in bulk. Just to clarify, MSG is banned by law from organic foods but some will still have it because there is something called natural MSG and this text below explains better:
      “Yeast includes proteins which include the amino acid, L-glutamic acid, bound into the chains. This is present in almost all proteins including human ones, and in for example milk protein.When proteins containing glutamic acid are hydrolysed, whether by acid, alkali or by natural breakdown (autolysis) of yeast some MSG is formed. MSG whether from yeast or other sources stimulates taste buds, having a specific savoury flavour. It is also a flavour enhancer.Yeast and yeast extract are permitted as additives in organic foods, therefore there will be some MSG in organic foods which have added yeast, or yeast extract. Similarly MSG is naturally present in soy sauce and in some other ingredients.Adding pure MSG, whatever the source is not permitted as it is not a permitted additive.Some people may be sensitive to MSG. It is not clear whether this is due to MSG itself, as it is a common component of all animals and most plants etc. They may just be sensitive to the D form which may be made in small quantities when some proteins are hydrolysed. Alternatively people may actually be sensitive to free glutamic acid, or to other protein breakdown products such as some of the small polypeptides. The vast majority suffer no detectable effect, as is shown by the widespread consumption of natural MSG throughout the Far East.”

  • Ninabi

    Somewhere in the middle, there’s the answer- so says my husband.  I think organic is not always affordable to all families.  But- as you have seen in the grocery store, organic can be priced quite a bit higher.   Look for other sources locally and one can find better deals.    There’s a guide out on the “clean 15” and “dirty dozen” which Consumer Reports covered.   Conventionally grown apples, grapes, peaches and potatoes have a heavy pesticide load.  Broccoli, bananas, corn and others are fine to eat conventionally and it’s not worth the money to spend on organic for those.   If potato farmers are cultivating a patch of non-sprayed potatoes for their families’ use next to their fields of conventionally grown potatoes, what do they know that we don’t?  We do what we can according to budget.

    The cord blood from newborn babies has been found to contain over 200 chemical contaminants.  This is a fairly recent development and an experiment of sorts on the human race.  What effect will these have on behavior? Cancer development?  Early puberty in girls?

    That said, I think you will enjoy a laugh.  Have you seen the series Portlandia?  It pokes fun at people obsessed with free range, local, etc.    Go to YouTube and type in “Portlandia restaurant Is It Local? ”  The couple in the skit ask their server about the meal? Is it local? Is it organic? What was the chicken’s name?  
    It goes on and on from there.

    • Chris Jeub

      Oh my, that was funny. Way worth the 5 minutes:

      • Ninabi

        My daughter shared the series with me as she lives in Boulder and thinks there are many similarities between the two cities.  If you watch the series I’ll give a warning, not all the skits are family friendly.  Definitely some are not for children.   

    • Bernadettelock

      Am so with ya Ninabi!! But alot of the chemicals found in the cord of newborns can be attributed to the chemicals also found in our personal hygiene products. People need to read up on those labels and what those numbers and long names actually mean. We do not buy many organic produce but we do however buy local, grow what we can and read those labels! Its just commonsense. We do buy free range or organic meat locally as hear in Australia our laws wane on the “weak” side and some large supermarket chains add dyes etc. to the meat to change the apperance. I think it is all down to choices in life and doing the best you can with what you have.

    • Stephanie Neujahr

      We happened to run across an episode of Portlandia, it was quite funny actually, a little strange to say the least, but funny.

  • Jolene O’Dell

    We have one child with severe food allergies and that cuts out all use of “convenience” foods.  We do use as much organic as possible and the easiest way to know if your getting actual organic is to buy locally, know your farmer, ask for certification! 

  • Janine

    I would rather feed my children fruit and vegetables that is not sprayed with pesticides. Thus, I buy organic.

  • T. Gates

    We grow a lot of our own vegetables and this year plan to grown them organically.  I don’t like the thought of feeding our children fruits and veggies that are sprayed with pesticides that may not wash off before eating them.  There are not many choices for organic produce where we live, so I do the best I can.    We buy organic beef in bulk.  It is MUCH better tasting and costs the same as buying non-organic in smaller packages.  My husband hunts but hasn’t been able to bring home any meat in a while.  We don’t buy much of anything else that is organic.  I buy regular fat free milk as long as it doesn’t have rBST in it.

  • Janine

     Children are blessings. They deserve food without chemicals sprayed all over them. this is not a new thing, our grandparents ate all organic.

  • Janetkiessling

    Amen………We try to be as frugal aspossible……..especially in this economy. We do have to buy a few things “organic” – we do have two kiddos that can not have regular refined sugar – but we just cook  with it. But even when we cook with the organic sugar – it is still cheaper…….cause we are cooking with it!!! Not purchasing the product off the shelves. But in the past, we did try to buy organic veggies from a local grower – waayy to much $$$$$! Thank you so much for your comments! Have a great weekend!!! :)

  • Elizabeth

    I grew up on organic food and I do believe it tasted better, but that could be because we prepared it within 5 minutes of picking it. What I don’t understand about many large families is why they don’t grow more of their own food. A family could grow enough potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peas, corn, spinach, and beans to last all year. I only have a small balcony now but I do grow my own tomatoes. When I had a house and yard I grew much of our own veggies.

  • Mrsjones

    Well, to me it is not just a question of personal health. I choose to buy organic because I’m concerned about the impact of pesticides and other chemicals on the environment too. Next there is the treatment of animals. Industrial meat is just really, really not produced in a “nice” way…..and eggs from caged chickens??? No, really, I cannot support that with my money and conscience! But of course, you can have grassfed cows and free-range chickens, even without it being organic too. And that’s definitely a good choice that may combine a low budget and moral/ethical issues :)

    I agree with the thing about hype and marketing though. I just cannot believe all these snack-sized products that are in the shops, organic but then loads of wrapping and packaging – or the sugarfilled, pink breakfast ceral (oh but but with beetroot coloring of course!)…..well, someone completely missed the point of organic there imo!!

    With our growing family, staying mainly organic is a challenge – but one that I like to take up….my crockpot is a great ally there!

  • Mollymom24

    We try to buy some of our produce organic, especially the “dirty dozen”. I think even more important is staying away from high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, food dies and nitrtites and sulfites. This is an absolute in my family, and it doesn’t effect the budget. Read those labels!

  • Emily Accavitti Klakulak

    I am with you. We don’t eat all organic. It’s too expensive.

    I *do think* that things would be better if everything were automatically organic as it was in our grandparents generation, but I don’t think the pesticides are all that evil either.

    When you are a farmer, you have to think about a few things. Go organic, and lose half your crop, or spray some pesticide and be able to provide better for your family.

    This fussiness we have in America over organics is definitely a “first world problem”.

    • Chris Jeub

      “Fussy.” Yep, that’s a good word for this.

  • LeeAnne

    We have a small goat dairy and we produce milk, chocolate milk yogurt, kefir and, or course, cheese that we sell at farmers markets.  We are asked weekly if we are “organic”.  We are not.  Reasons?  1)cost.  People say that they would be happy to pay more for organic, should we go that route.  I respect that they believe that they would be willing to do so but to be frank, our milk is already $$$ at $10 per HALF gallon–I do not see people really paying close to $30 per half gallon.   2)we care for our animals.  There are ailments that, to be brutally honest, call for antibiotics.  We do not encounter them frequently but if we do I am not willing to lose an animal that we know by name, bottle fed, whose grandparents we likewise knew to satisfy a legal certification.  It just isn’t good stewardship, in our opinion.  Lastly, 3)the certification greatly favors large agriculturally produced dairy.  If a dairy herd of 750 animals, 250 of them selling to the organic milk plant needs to employ antibiotics they may do so without a loss because they simply move that animal over to the conventional side.  We milk at most 50 animals.  We cannot maintain an organic herd and a conventional herd.  If an animal becomes sick we can let her suffer (in itself a violation of organic certification standards) or we can give her meds–and lose her production for the rest of her lifetime, a loss that is substantial for a small family farm.  We grow our veggies for our own family employing organic methods but I think that in a very practical way to go organic for our farm would be to place more value in a philosophy over the animals themselves and that we refuse to do.

    • Chris Jeub

      And I bet your milk tastes great!
      Thanks for sharing your experienced perspective, LeeAnne.