Lesson 1: Eating Organic is neither easy nor convenient

Organic on $50/week Budget

I’m beginning to see the limitations of eating organic on a budget. Moreso, I’m beginning to see the limitations of eating organic.  period.

Lesson 1:  Eating Organic is neither easy nor convenient

Organic sections of  local super markets including so-called “farmer’s markets” are lame.

This is the first thing I noticed on my quest to see if it is possible to eat an organic whole food diet on a budget of $50/wk.

Forget the budget, is it even possible to eat an organic whole food diet?

I asked myself  this as I stood before the organic produce section of my local grocery store.  It may be possible, certainly, it isn’t convenient.

organic section of Ralph's

the entire organic section of Ralph’s

Now, I lived in the Czech Republic for about 4 years and, well, the food is not great.  The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables was bare bones in grocery stores and neighborhood markets.  Usually all you could find was carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, lemons and, on a good day, a beet or some kind of limp lettuce.

More or less, that’s what you have to choose from at the organic section of Ralph’s (LA’s standard mid-level grocery store chain).

On my path to healthful living, I try to avoid toxins by avoiding — as much as possible — anything packaged, processed or preserved as well as anything conventionally grown (not labeled USDA organic)

That means a lot of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, and proteins.  Vegetables are the largest component of my whole food diet.  If there’s one thing we should all be sating our diets with, it’s vegetables.  They are calorie for calorie the most nutrient dense things to eat.

I love vegetables, but broccoli and radishes alone aren’t going to cut it. I need variety.

Personally, I need brussels sprouts and squash if I’m going to successfully avoid eating pizza for dinner.

And I wanted collard greens.  I just did.

None of which were available organic at my local Ralph’s, Trader Joe’s or even Sprouts which advertises itself as a “farmer’s market.”

the entire organic section at Sprouts

the entire organic section at Sprouts

The Dirty Dozen Plus & The Clean Fifteen

The pickings were slim.  I was left with a dilemma.  

Here were my options:

  1. do without
  2. drive all the way to Whole Foods and probably go over budget
  3. wait until the next day and drive over to the farmer’s market in the middle of the day…and probably go over budget
  4. buy the non-organic brussels, squash & collards right in front of me. right then and there.

I broke down and bought the brussels & squash.  But not the collards.

Here’s why.

The Environmental Wellness Group released a list of 51 fruits & vegetables ranking them most pesticide laden to least.  The top 14 offenders are labeled the dirty dozen plus and the cleanest of the conventionally grown are, yep, the clean fifteen.  You can find the full list on their website or you can download their app and have the list available on your phone while you shop.

As a general rule, stay away from non-organic if it has a thin skin or no skin at all.

But for sure I avoid the top offenders:

  1. apples
  2. strawberries (any berry)
  3. grapes
  4. celery
  5. peaches
  6. spinach (any leafy green)

Apples, strawberries & grapes have the most pesticides.  If nothing else, I avoid those conventionally grown.

Which is a real bummer.  And takes the ease out of eating out.

It means avoiding:

  • those fruits in restaurants unless I know they are organic
  • those fruits at parties or in someone’s home.
  • non-organic applesauce, packaged apple pie, tarts, muffins, etc.
  • non-organic strawberry or peach preserves, pastries, etc.
  • non-organic raisins
  • non-organic wine
  • store-bought salads or salads in a restaurant
  • store-bought soups & stews (almost all soups & stews have celery as a base)

Since collards are a leafy green I opted to go with some $1 organic kale instead.

Cabbage is on the clean list ranking 47.  Since brussels are a cabbage i felt justified.  I did however soak the brussels in vinegar & water for about an hour before cooking.

Winter squash ranked 28, so solidly in the middle.  But my kabocha squash has a pretty thick skin, so i rationalized buying it.

Also I so love kabocha squash.  I wanted one.  So it was easy to convince myself it was fine.

soo good

I mean, look at that deliciousness.  I took one home and I soaked it in vinegar & water and then scrubbed it like a pot with soap and the rough side of a sponge. 

However I recently read this:

Winter squash is a vegetable that might be especially important for us to purchase organic. Recent agricultural trials have shown that winter squash can be an effective intercrop for use in remediation of contaminated soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including pyrene, fluoranthene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are unwanted contaminants. PAHs are among the contaminants that can be effectively pulled up out of the soil by winter squash plants…. For this reason, you may want to make a special point of purchasing certified organic winter squash. Soils used for the growing of in certified organic foods are far less likely to contain undesirable levels of contaminants like PAHs.

Basically it says winter squash draws from soil like a sponge.  So it absorbs whatever is in the soil.  Be it minerals, or pesticides.

So, unfortunately, I’m going to add winter squash to my personal buy-it-organic-list from now on.

But it works out because my farmer’s market has them cheaper than Ralph’s sells them for!!

I have also found great deals on grapes, apples & strawberries at my farmer’s market.  (tip:  go right before they are closing down for the day and they often have $1/pound deals)

I ate my awesome pesticide-laden squash and brussels sprouts that evening.  And I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Like I said, we can only do our best with what we have and strive to be better.

I’m still learning new things every day about what I put in my mouth, where it comes from and how it got to me.   

I still have my training wheels on.

But so does America.


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