As a new parent, a lot of purchases are made wearing guilt goggles. Only the best for your baby, you say, no matter the cost.
Then one day, standing at the grocery checkout, you realize you just paid two dollars for a single piece of fruit, the majority of which will likely be unceremoniously thrown against the wall during a meal-time meltdown.
It’s easy to understand why parents consider switching to organic food, even if they’ve never shopped that way before. The idea of pesticide-free produce and ethically sound farming is comforting, and many new parents blindly gravitate toward it – even though the nutritional advantage of organic food is still under debate, and often without researching the specific growing conditions of a product.
But others are actively rejecting it, saying the assault on their wallet is just too much to bear.
Jennifer McCormick Birnstihl, a mother of three from Kitchener, Ont. who writes the blog Bargain Hunting Momma, is one of them. The choice between non-organic ground beef, which sells at $1.49/lb at a major grocery store chain compared to $5.99/lb at one organic butcher, and staples like milk (the organic version of which retails for almost double the price of the non-organic product) makes a considerable difference when you’re feeding a family of five.
Ms. McCormick Birnstihl says there’s just no room in her budget for that kind of added cost. “I’m not against organic food, I just resent the fact that they’re charging so much for it,” she says. “I feel like I’m getting scammed when I buy it and I don’t like that feeling.”
She’s not alone. Joel Gregoire, a food and beverage analyst at NPD Group, cites data collected last year that found only 8 per cent of Canadian households say they are willing to pay higher prices for organic foods.
Pamela Wright is a Toronto-based mother of two. While she tries to strike a balance, spending extra on organic meat but not produce, milk, and other staples, she says the pressure by other family members to do so is a source of constant stress.
“I’m often told that organic food is better for my children and that I should purchase only organic for my family. Financially, it’s too expensive,” she says.
Shawn Nisbet, a certified Holistic Nutritionist in Aurora, Ont., believes buying organic is the healthiest option. She urges all of her clients to go by the information on the “Dirty Dozen” list, offered by the U.S.-based Environmental Working Group, which ranks produce that contain the highest levels of pesticides.
But the Alliance for Food and Farming has called for the EWG to stop publishing the “Dirty Dozen” list, saying the information is negative and misleading, and that it might be scaring people away from consuming a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Judy Sheeshka, professor of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph, cautions that blindly buying organic may not be the most nutritious choice. “The variation between species of a kind of fruit, say tomatoes, is greater than the difference between organic and non-organic, in terms of nutrition,” she says. Dr. Sheeshka adds that variables such as soil values and sunlight are just some of the factors that contribute to the nutritional makeup of a fruit or vegetable.
For many people, buying organic is part of a larger value system to which they adhere.
“For us, it’s less about the dogma of organic and more about knowing about the quality of what we’re eating,” says Anthony Nicalo, a Vancouver-based chef and co-founder of www.foodtree.com, which provides details about where and how specific foods are sourced and grown.
Toronto-based Debbie Solar agrees. The former pharmacy assistant and mother of two views the benefits of organic as worth the extra cost. “Pay extra for the food and you don’t travel as much. You have to make your own priorities.”
The best and worst of organic food
The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, which ranks pesticide contamination for 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 60,700 samples taken from 2000 to 2010 by the USDA and the U.S. federal Food and Drug Administration.
Top 5 Dirty Dozen
3) Bell peppers
Top 5 'Clean'
2) Sweet Corn