Last week, I spoke with Lou Bendrick, who writes the Checkout Line column at Grist, a site devoted to environmental news and commentary. Bendrick answers reader questions about making “green” food-choices. Recently Karl wrote to ask her:
With the economic crunch, how is it going to be possible to afford healthy foods for my family, especially organics.
Before the interview, I surveyed my Twitter followers for help. I asked: “Do you eat organic? How do you afford healthy food while on a crunched budget? Any tips or tricks?” The responses were fantastic. Here are a few:
- @cdwarren wrote: “CSAs are great if you can get one, at least when things are in season. I’m splitting one with a friend this summer.”
- @DeirdreReid wrote: “Farmers markets help. I stick to organic produce/meat and go non-organic for anything processed. That’s been helping budget.”
- @Macheesmo wrote: “Eat less meat. Menu plan. Don’t waste food. Start a garden. Even a few herbs can save you money over time. Those are my big things.”
- @marubozo wrote: “I only eat organic if price difference is negligible. I don’t buy into all of the hype, so I don’t go out of my way to spend more.”
- @annieblue wrote: “Much of my diet is organic, because I’m allergic to corn syrup. The most affordable organic food seems to be in rural areas.”
- @uv_searching recommended a Lifehacker article about getting the most bang for your organic buck.
- @kzer0 wrote: “Only buy in-season. Buying in-season organic can be cheaper than out-of-season conventional.”
- @antsaint wrote: “Discount grocers like Winco & Grocery Outlet have good deals too – Winco organic bulk coffee? $5-6/lb.Leverage bulk bins where poss”
- @amyrobynne summarized a lot of organic-shopping philosophy in 140 characters: “I go through a buying club for dry goods,get most veggies through gardening/CSA, meat in bulk from the farmer.”
- @AmazonGrace wrote: “I shop for organic or fresh vegetables at the local Asian Markets – they’re much cheaper and often better quality.”
There were dozens of other great responses. I wish I could share them all. The bottom line is that when organic is a priority, people find ways to make it work. There are ways to buy organic for less, but you have to be creative. (The same is true no matter what cause is important to you!)
Bendrick and I had a great conversation, though she’d already considered most of my ideas (and the ideas from those I polled on Twitter). In the end, she highlighted nine methods for saving money on organic food, including these:
- Have a plan before you get to the store. Set a budget. Track your spending with a tool like Wesabe. Shop with a list.
- Perform organic triage. Prioritize based on your own values and focus on those areas where organic makes the most sense for you.
- Rethink meat. By reducing your meat intake, you improve your diet and you save money. (This isn’t something I could do.)
- Clip coupons. I’m a fan of coupons, but haven’t noticed many for organic products. Bendrick suggests checking manufacturers’ web sites. Update! In the comments, neeser points to this list of organic coupons.
- Shop strategically. Follow time-tested grocery-shopping tips.
For more tips and for more detail (including advice from Grist readers), check out Bendrick’s article on how to maintain a green, healthy diet on a budget. You might also be interested in GreenCouple.com’s recent post about buying organic on the cheap.
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