Home Clean Eating Boot Camp Is Healthy Produce Really More Expensive?

Is Healthy Produce Really More Expensive?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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!

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Kait September 13, 2010 - 11:45 AM

I am a huge believer! Especially since finding this site, cutting my portion sizes, and seeing how much more I can do with that pound of broccoli as compared to that box of broccoli and cheese. I focus on buying organic versions of the dirty dozen and whatever else I can afford. I am lucky enough, however, to have an organic grocery store in my town that is attached to its farm. Therefore their produce prices are cheaper than a conventional store…and I am forced to buy in season.

aisha September 13, 2010 - 12:37 PM

I buy my vegetables from a coop and their prices for organic fruits and vegetables are cheaper than conventional from the grocery store. Every two weeks I get a box for about $25 that is more than enough veggies for two adults. If I need extra stuff I hit the farmer’s market. In most major cities if you look around you can find an affordable option outside of whole foods like a coop or a CSA. The only place where I struggle is for meat. The organic meat is often 2 to 3 times as expensive. I try to take advantage of sales such as the one Whole Foods just had on grass-fed beef. I stock up and freeze

I also am an avid coupon shopper so I save a lot of money on things like toilet papper and deodorant ( i have about 6 tubes I got free) so that frees up more money in my grocery budget. I also follow a couple of blogs that search out the best grocery deals for natural and organic products.

That said, I think we have think on a continuum. If a person is eating no vegetables then switching to frozen plain vegetables might be the first step. Over time they make make the switch to organic. You just have to learn more about why. When I first started no one could really tell me why I should switch to organic. But now I’m more informed and it’s a priority.

Msladee September 13, 2010 - 7:04 PM

First, I just wanted to say that I LOVE this place. You are a real inspiration, Erika.

Second, I actually don’t think it’s a lack of understanding of the benefits of organic/well-grown food, rather it’s mostly a need for marketing change.Often organic is marketed as a healthier choice with a premium. Like yoga, private gym memberships and hybrid cars, organic foods seem like an option out of reach for the average person. However, if the focus can be turned on the average grower instead of the current stereotypical consumer, more people see themselves buying well-grown foods. The big commercial farm companies have this down pat. Every time they do a campaign, they show the “hard working, independent farmer raising himself from the bootstraps, taking care of his family- just like you (the consumer).” Never mind the millions they have to spend on lobbying Congress to be allowed to continue “dumbing down” food. Same with fast food- yeah, they have ads geared toward pop culture (rappers, r&b singers and spoken word artists for MC Donalds, Bring It On themes for other places), but they ALWAYS run concurrent family ads (Calvin anyone?). If that same Every Man image could be placed on organic food, I believe more people would buy it. And the best part is where coops and farmer’s markets don’t have the pull that a Whole Foods does, they have the home field advantage in their respective communities. Maybe there are marketing experts willing to brainstorm to promote well-grown foods better.

Monika September 14, 2010 - 4:12 AM

But it is darn expensive over here (Germany). I am already a member of a food ccop (you pay a monthly fee for membership, they buy in bulk and can save this way and the member profits from this saving). Nice but I am going to switch…we have an organic certfied farm around and they offer veggie baskets (delivered to you once a week, best quality (the contenst? Whatever is in season..)I can save at least 100,- € (equals 128 $)a month with this. So, yes I am team organic. The delivery also makes sure that I do not “overshop”..ie. putting pricey items (such as organic ready made meals or sweets , you know the stuff..)in my basket. The other groceries (beans, lentils, wheat,spelt,nuts, dried fruits etc..) I can get a another retailer (also organic) who is much cheaper than the food coop. My clean eating starts slowly, but I am making progress…

Jane December 27, 2011 - 9:21 AM

I’m a believer. Although I have to admit my trips to Whole Foods are dear. But that’s mainly because I only get to go there when I’m out of town in Atlanta on business (3 hours away from where I live.) I tend to let myself impulse buy in addition to getting what I go there for. I’m still not sure how dried Chick peas turned into $99 last time; the fresh squeezed OJ and cookies at the checkout didn’t help.

Lea Thatcher January 7, 2012 - 12:38 PM

Before I understood the labour of love involved in clean eating, I was spending more money on food with my healthier lifestyle than I was when I ate out of boxes and tins. It was maddening: each time I shopped, I tried to find the best deals on produce and the healthiest “substitutes” for my normal fare. Each time, I came out of the store balking at my receipt.

Finding “substitutes,” pre-made and processed, regardless of how few ingredients are in the food and whether or not they can be found in the kitchen, is what propels those dollar signs sky-high. More often than not, when something can be purchased, a cheaper (and often cleaner) version can be made at home. But if the desire to churn out the necessary elbow grease to get a certain flavour isn’t there, then people spend more on fancy substitutes. Unfortunately, it is having to do work that drives away most naysayers.

Convenience is a luxury, and it should be treated as such. Most of Western thought is dominated by the demand for easy access to everything needed or wanted – how does one learn to appreciate things one has all the time?

Eating seasonally renews the ancestral glee at the passing of the darkest time of the year; spring is on its way, and that means I’ll get more variety soon. Having ALL of everything ALL of the time is a great way to ensure one’s destruction if the grid goes down.

Bottom line? I love the spelt-grain bread that a local bakery makes, but at $5 a loaf? It better eat itself for me. I’ve learned through my struggles with food that I feel a million times better about indulging in baked goods (and even actively pursue it) if I know I can tear off a corner of fresh-baked garlic bread (with local garlic) instead of reaching into a bag and grabbing a slice. It turns something tasty into a treat, which is the whole point.

(Source: I spend less than $100 per week to feed a family of four, and I purchase that food with EBT/food stamps. Represent.)

Valarie April 23, 2012 - 1:08 PM

I am a believer in organic foods every since I had a milk misadventure some years back. I had switched from A&E to drinking milk from a local diary, just to see if I could tell a difference. I couldn’t at the time. I drank the organic milk for about a month. Then one night I was out of milk and rushed for time and bought the old A&E at Wal-mart. The non-organic milk was undrinkable. It made me sick to my stomach. I ended up throwing away almost the entire gallon. To this day I have never been able to tolerate non-organic milk again.

CJM April 24, 2012 - 9:46 AM

It is expensive (in time and money) to grow certified organic but there are bunches of farms that are not certified (even large ones) that have great practices that make our food safer for us. A farmer may have one field that is certified and another that is not. I promise that he doesn’t lose the values that convinced him to work to get one field certified when he goes to the other field. That’s good enough for me.

One comment I hear in the market a lot is “ooh his produce is so pretty.” Well pretty produce scares me. To be honest if nothing crawls out of my produce when I get it home and it is completely hole free, I know its been sprayed to death. What makes it pretty to me is the variety of colors that I see. Do people still look for perfect produce or is that my perception?

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