I eat mostly organic food. As a sensitive person, I notice the difference. I feel better when I eat food that has been given time to grow and NOT been sprayed with crap. It also makes a lot more sense, intellectually, sustainably, how-things-workably. I’ve often been asked: “Isn’t that (VERY) expensive???”. It depends. Basically, my strategy is to make the most of available and affordable organic produce and be smart about how I spend my grocery money in general. So, is eating organic food necessarily expensive or not? Here’s my Top 10 of Food Philosophy Considerations to get you started on your own answer.
I’m shocked at the cost of things like “pancake mix” (have you ever read the back of the package to check the ingredients…and then looked at what those ingredients cost separately?) Prefab sauces and dinner mixes are another one. You’d basically be paying for a fancy box with a recipe! If you take a look at the ingredient list of pre-packaged products you are tempted to buy, more often than not, they are pretty easy to replicate, for a lower price. So, that would be my first idea: looking beyond the strategically designed packaging and slogans of popular products and checking what is really in it.
Junkfood, candy, snacks… judging from the size of supermarket ‘snack’ isles, you’d almost think it is a foodgroup in itself! It’s worth considering though that when we UP the quality of our main meals, we’ll feel more satisfied and won’t need as many “treats” (A meal should taste good enough to actually be a treat! If it doesn’t then the solution is not getting more snacks). I have my temporary junkfood days (no food fundamentalism here) but in general, just saying… When you calculate the price of your food, do you include the money you’re spending on junkfood? If you don’t, factor it in and then question whether you’d buy less junkfood if you’d have better tasting ingredients for your basic meals. If you grew up with to-snot-cooked-vegetables…try peeling an organic broccoli stem and eating it raw (cucumber with a twist!).
I can’t speak for other countries but in the Netherlands there has been a bit of a healthfood revolution these past few of years. Chain supermarket stores now almost all carry SOME organic products. It’s worth checking what they carry and comparing prices. Anything “mass produced” tends to be more affordable after all. (My local supermarket carries deep-frozen organic soup veggies for example. Which is great, because you can use them as a basis for almost any dish.)
Tuning in to the local seasons is another cost-friendly (and body-friendly!) way to eat. Locally grown foods that are in season will be both cheaper and more nutritious than those flown in from abroad. Nature is a holistic organization and the foods available at different times of the year suit our body’s seasonal needs. (Did you know that citrus fruits and bananas have a strong cooling effect on the body? That is, according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach…and trust me, you can feel it. Eating imported oranges in the middle of a cold winter for the vitamine C benefits might be more of a trade-off than you realized. In general, it’s worth checking out locally grown foods and the benefits that they contain…)
What are you spending on drinks? Juices, soda’s, cappuchino? The cheapest drink (and I have to say, the nicest) is GOOD water. That might be tap water, it might not be. Paying attention to whether you like the taste of the water you drink is a good idea either way. I grew up with the idea that “tap water is good enough” (the government also likes to promote that message here). While there are all kinds of environmental benefits to drinking water from the tap (if it’s safe) the bottom line is: do you like it? Good water tastes good. If you’ve never liked drinking water, it might be the water that is the problem, not your taste buds.
Choose nutritious and (when you eat grains) wholegrain (brown) food. A plate of brown rice feeds more people than white rice. Wholemeal pasta fills you up more than white pasta. Did you know that all that “refining” of food (a.o. the making of white flower) basically comes down to stripping perfectly good and well-thought-out food from a lot of its nutrients? Natural foods come in complete packages, all the edible parts contain vitamins and minerals that aid digestion and absorption, strip those away and the body will need to get those nutrients elswhere (enter: the crazy nutrition pills market). So, keep it simple. Eat organic potatoes, and include the peel in whatever you’re making (that’s where most of the nutrition is!). Organic food saves time, you don’t have to peel and cut away pieces in an attempt to get rid of some of the toxins. Eat it all (cauliflower and broccoli stems, apples with peels etc, talk about saving!) and mix it up a little: get organic produce that is available and affordable (and that tastes good) and combine it with non-organic products. You don’t have to eat 100 % organically to benefit. Just start with the changes that are relatively easy, comfortable and beneficial.
And then there are soups. That completely misunderstood “dish” carried down from grandmother’s time. Modern Official Soup Making is strange, to say the least. In the olden days, a soup was made from left-overs, tidbits, and what-have-you-nots. Nowadays, modern soups have fancy recipes, with hard to come by ingredients, and the apparent requirement to scrounge the (super)market for the exact right ingredients. Talk about expensive! No, the great thing about soups is, all you really need is some edible things, a blender, and some imagination (all right, or a basic recipe). You use what you have, not what recipe books will have you buy, and then you blend it.
Food has status. A lot of what we eat has a status label attached. The most obvious example of this that I’ve come across is asking for beans and rice in the Caribbean. Rice and beans are “for poor people”! As a “rich” European, you get some funny looks! (Especially when eating it makes you happy ). Consider how much of what you are eating is smart both nutritionally and financially, and how much of it is a kind of food snobbism. Are you “above” pumpkins, eggs and childhood favorites like fish fingers? Are you worried about eating “weird”things? For great tips on nutritious, simple, affordable meals, check recipes from our grandparents’ time (that’s usually the ones without the fancy pictures!)
Get into a good mood when you cook, or at least, be aware of your feelings. The best planned meals are completely ruined when you dump your day’s frustration into the food you are preparing. Those fridge magnets that say: “always remember to stir in a little love”…there’s truth to that, and it will do more for the quality of your food than any particular ingredient might.
Good cooking is often about making great combinations. You don’t need a lot of ingredients, you just need the right combinations. Next time you eat out or buy a ready-made supermarket something that you like…check out the ingredients. Supermarket “meals” can be a great inspiration…being obsessed with costs, they will leave out anything that doesn’t add to the meal (preservatives etc excepted). Salad seasoning for example is very easy to replicate. Buy a prepackaged tiny bag and pay a lot, or buy a few bags of various (organic) seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame) and mix them up in a storage jar for countless salads to come.
So, basically. If you compare the price of one organic potato to the price of one chemically sprayed one, the organic potato will be more expensive. I am not denying that. However, with some of the suggestions above, I believe it is very possible to spend your usual amount of shopping money yet create meals of much better quality. When you look not at the cost of individual groceries, but rather at different ways of achieving your goal of feeding yourself (and your family) on a pre-set budget then you might discover that eating organic food is not as out of reach as it seemed at all. Smakelijk eten!