Eating organic on a budget

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The launch of “Swallow This“, Joanna Blythman’s latest exposé on the food processing industry, has got us thinking about food labelling. Supermarkets bombard us with messages of “fresh”, “natural”, and “healthy” food…but there is no way to know if these claims are true. One label we can trust, however, is “organic”…

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What does organic actually mean?

Foods can only be labelled organic if 95% of the ingredients come from organically produced plants and animals. The product must have been produced to meet strict regulations, and inspected and certified by a registered certification body, such as the Soil Association. In the UK, organic certification is regulated by DEFRA,  but the guidelines on organic food production and sale are set in EU law. Typically, the “organic” label is used as a reliable marker that the product has been produced in a way that satisfies certain conditions of human, animal, and environmental health.

These conditions include:

– all artificial colourings and sweeteners are banned
– genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned
– artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited
– pesticide use is severely restricted
– animals must be truly “free range”
– animals must not be given hormones to alter their development
– animal feed must be GM-free and at least 85% organic
– farmers must support biodiversity and water quality through crop rotation and responsible farming

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Why should we buy organic food instead of non-organic food?

Organic fresh produce is less likely to contain residues of chemical pesticides or fertilisers, and organic animal products will not contain hormones or antibiotics that could adversely affect your health.

Organic farming practices are also more supportive of biodiversity, groundwater and soil quality and have higher standards of animal welfare.

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Organic food is more expensive – how can we buy organic on a budget?

1. Prioritise.

Animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) are the most important to buy organic because of the combined issues of animal welfare, and risk of exposure to pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Next most important are the “dirty dozen” – fresh produce with the greatest average pesticide residues including apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, cucumbers, potatoes, and peppers. The “clean fifteen” are fruit and vegetables with minimal pesticide residues, and the safest to eat non-organically, including pineapples, avocados, cauliflower, grapefruit, and onions.

2. Cook from scratch.

Processed organic items like smoothies and granola bars are usually cheaper if made from scratch. Make in bulk, and use your freezer to keep food for longer.

3. Sign up for a veg box scheme.

Cheaper and more convenient than supermarkets, veg box delivery schemes are a great way to get fresh, local, organic fruit and vegetables delivered straight to your door. Find your nearest veg box scheme here.

4. Buy seasonal, and in bulk.

Stock up on produce that’s in season – food is cheaper when it is locally abundant and hasn’t been shipped across the globe. Buying in bulk also reduces packaging, and works out cheaper weight for weight. Divide food into smaller portions to freeze and eat later.

5. Grow your own.

Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, get involved in community gardens like the Transition Edible Campus scheme. By growing your own, you have total control over how your food is produced.

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