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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.

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8 Comments

  1. It sure would be great if we could all eat organic. Unfortunately that is impossible. Organic food takes more resources to make, thus making it more expensive. The yields are also lower, so there is less food. If you care to end starvation you will eat processed food.

    1. Please expand your knowledge before making such atrocious assumptions. To eat all organic is not impossible. We think it is because we are not willing to try it.

      Starvation has more to do with poor distribution food systems, destruction of cultures (therefore destruction of bioregional agriculturalism), destruction of fertile soils, pollution of water, seed dependence, capitalism, and much more.

      There needs to be a BIG clarification about large scale organic food which is often grown in big monocultures thus making use of more water and takes more land than regular conventional ways of growing food. The other way is the following: to organically growing food through biodynamic or permaculture-inspired agriculture. This will let you know that it is possible to grow MORE with LESS.

  2. I’m pretty sure lower yields has nothing to do with starvation, at least in the united states anyway. After all doesn’t our government subsidize farmers to stop growing certain crops. Crop yields have more to do with economics and profits then getting starving people food…

  3. Two big reasons why processed food is cheaper than organic food is that is subsidized by the U.S. government and it uses low-cost fossil fuels in it inputs, such as synthetic fertilizer.

  4. Katie,

    Thanks for the article. I would like to add two resources where students can go to get organic food that is not so expensive. The Cal Poly Organic Farm, which offers weekly boxes of fresh organic produce, and the various Farmer’s Markets around the county.

    I am finding out that the more I cook, the better I eat, and the less money I spend on food overall (since I am not eating out as much).

    Also, realizing that what we eat is more essential to our health than the TV we own or the drinks we buy downtown, will help us reevaluate the amount of money spent on food compared to other things.

  5. This article does not address any of the other important aspects relating to organic food. All you did was go to a grocery store and notice that organic food is more expensive, and not thinking about anything else, you ignorantly decided that it was not worth the extra cost. There are in fact many studies that prove organic food is healthier for your body, the environment, and farmers that grow them. For example World Health Organization reports 220,000 people die every year worldwide because of pesticide poisoning. Paying more for organic food is worth it because you get more nutritional value out of it. When you are buying food you are investing more in your health instead of wasting it on drinks downtown. Also if you had taken the time to visit Trader Joes or Cal Poly’s organic farm, you would notice that it is not always more expensive. Within our system, huge agribuisness farms are subsidized which hide the true costs of what we pay. Organic farming may not yet be able to feed the world but it sure can feed localized communities in a sustainable manner. You should think about something other than money when you make your decisions, positive change is not free.

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