As I prepare to bring Clean Eating Boot Camp into the nitty gritty – food and cooking – we need to come to terms with the cost of the items we are purchasing… as well as how to make sure that cost doesn’t break us in half at the bank. When I look at how much I was spending each month at Walmart in comparison to what I spend each month at Whole Foods… um, I hate to say it but I spend less now than I’ve ever spent on groceries in my life.

I’ve seen at least four articles about healthy living within the past week… where each article outlined “Ohhhh, well our grocery bill jumped by like 30%… but it’s sooooo worth it!” I’m not gon’ lie – if I were still 300lbs, looking at articles like that would turn me off from healthy eating. If I am told – repeatedly – that I cannot afford the life that’s going to make me healthier, why the hell would I go out of my way to go broke? Shoot, being thinner isn’t worth 30% more of my money! (Not saying that this should be the logic, but let’s not fool ourselves here. We wouldn’t dare trivialize our health that way… but “being thin” is disposable.)

The bottom line, really, is that when people are balking at the price of healthy eating…. they’re talking about the price of each individual item. It’s hard going from paying $2.00 for something like a TV dinner to paying $2.00 per pound for a head of well-grown broccoli. You start feeling like you’re getting less for your money.While I’ve already written about why cheap food is so cheap, I don’t think I’ve ever covered why well-grown fruits and veggies carry the price they do.

At Inc., I happened across an article detailing things restaurateurs should keep in mind if they’re considering opening an organic restaurant. As someone who worked in both a franchise restaurant as well as a locally-owned fine dining restaurant back in my undergrad days, I’ve always toyed with the idea of having my own spot…. but the reason I mention the article is because it has a section about “convincing non-believers.” Who are the “non-believers” that the article mentions? Those who question the purpose behind paying $2.00 per pound for a head of broccoli, when you can clearly buy a box of broccoli and “cheese” for a dollar.

Comedian Bill Maher often refers to the natural food retail giant Whole Foods as “whole paycheck” due to its expensive prices. His reference reflects a general perception that is often a reality for many people. The Organic Food Association cites the price of organic versus conventional can be anywhere from 15 to 100 percent higher. With that price difference, organic food can feel more like a luxury than a necessity. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines organic in the procedures that farmers grow and process food. Because these terms are more stringent than conventional farming the practices are much more labor intensive. Additionally, shunning the use of products like pesticides and synthetic growth hormones often results in lower product yield, which leads to smaller amounts of food that farmers can bring to market. The consequence of this supply and demand paradigm is the inevitable price hike of organic foods.

A 2009 study by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) cites that 76 percent of adults are trying to eat healthier at restaurants than they were just two years ago. That study was determined over several demographics signaling an overall shift in the dietary consciousness of Americans. The NRA completed another recent study in which sustainability, local sourcing and nutrition are cited as some of the most popular culinary themes.

Additionally, in wake of the recent egg recall, the OTA reports an increase in the sale and demand of organic eggs. Seemingly people are getting the message, the problem is whether the prices can remain static. There is an understanding amongst sectors of the public that organic prices will always be higher but there is a breaking point. As organic food prices continue to ascend, people may shy away from the marketplace.

“In the beginning a lot of people didn’t understand this kind of food and still there are concerns. People say things like they don’t understand why it was so expensive, you just serve vegetables,” says Melngailis. “People don’t know that when you use all organic ingredients that it’s not here, it’s not grown locally. So when we have to import something from Italy, these foods are hard to find and highly perishable and that makes it that much more expensive.  Not to mention the process of how we cook takes a long time.” [source]

So, in order to better understand organic (or, even, simply well-grown*) produce, what do you think needs to be explained? What questions do you have about well grown produce to make it clear that it’s worth the cost-per-item? Are you a believer? Are you a non-believer? Let’s hear it!

*What do I mean by well-grown? Some farms grow their produce by organic standards but cannot afford the organic certification, so they cannot call themselves organic. It doesn’t mean they love their produce any less, though!