During my most recent trip to Ralph’s grocery store, I found myself standing in the produce section debating which variety of apple to select. Some of the Gala Apples boasted a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic sticker and had a price tag listing of $2.29 per pound. The others simply labeled “Gala Apples” had no indication of being organic and cost $0.49 per pound.
I found myself wondering: Is buying the organic option worth the extra money? It seems that every food now comes in an “organic” variety, from spaghetti sauce to packaged cookies to fresh produce. When faced with a decision between two varieties of food, one costing less than the other, college students might be inclined to pick the cheaper option.
After some research, in most cases, I would say that buying the organic option is not worth the extra cost. As a cash-strapped student, I could do without a 50 to 200 percent price increase on groceries and feel that the evidence regarding health effects between non-organic and organic is too inconclusive to take into account.
Before delving into my reasoning, the term “organic” should be made clear. According to the USDA, “Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.”
How much more does it cost to go organic? I went into a local grocery store with a small list of things I typically buy on a weekly basis.
Here are a few of the 10 items I compared:
Non-organic Grade AA eggs (12 eggs): $2.99 vs. Organic Grade AA eggs (12 eggs): $4.99
Non-organic 1% milk (half gallon): $1.99 vs. Organic 1% milk (half gallon): $4.79
Non-organic Gala Apples (1 pound): $.49 vs. Organic Gala Apples (1 pound): $2.29
Non-organic Ragu pasta sauce (10 oz): $2.63 vs. Organic Ragu pasta sauce (10 oz.): $3.99
Based on this list, the difference in price for non-organic vs. organic was $13.66 or a 58 percent increase. The food items I looked at are just a portion of what I usually buy each week. I generally spend about $80 per week on groceries, which if increased by 58 percent would be about a $46 increase. In a year, I could potentially be spending about $2,400 more on groceries by switching to a completely organic diet.
Is it worth the extra cost? Rob Rutherford, a Cal Poly professor of animal science, describes why he chooses to buy organic food.
“Health is a condition of homeostasis. There is a balance of all the microorganisms in the soil. If we do something to destroy the balance of the soil, we are destroying the balance of food and the balance of us,” Rutherford said.
His reasoning for this all goes back to a quote that says that humankind owes its existence to the fact that there is six inches of soil and the fact that it rains. These natural phenomena should not be tampered with, he said.
While Rutherford might think that using pesticides destroys the natural balance of nature, some studies show that eating organic vs. non-organic do not show any drastic differences.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was determined that there were a small number of differences in nutrition between organic and conventionally produced food but not large enough to be of any public health relevance.
What should you buy?
Another study, published by the USDA, found that if deciding to go on a partial organic diet, a few food items should always be bought organic due to consistently higher levels of pesticide residue in their conventionally grown counterparts.
Based on an analysis of more than 100,000 U.S. government pesticide test results, researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., have developed the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables: apples, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, bell peppers, celery, potatoes and spinach. The “Dirty Dozen” all have a very thin skin, which makes it easier for pesticides to seep in.
As organic foods gain popularity, I think prices will decrease. For the time being, however, I plan to buy based on what research has discovered by buying the “dirty dozen” produce organically whenever possible, and sticking to conventional foods when it comes to processed food to save some cash. In the long run, I would like to add more organic foods to my diet when my budget allows, not just for the potential benefits on my health, but also for benefits organic farming has on the environment.
Katie Koschalk is a journalism senior and Mustang Daily reporter.