Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part 2

When To Buy Organic

Of course, it would be great if everything we bought was organic. But if you’re short on cash, and aren’t we all, there is a significant difference between crops. This chart is awesome for sussing out you fresh fruits and veggies. I first discovered this two years ago, and was especially interested in the apples being second. Yikes! They seem so innocuous. Potatoes are at about the midway mark, so I make an effort to get them organic. I was surprised to see broccoli and cabbage so low on the list, because they’re prone to a lot of disease and things in the home garden, so I expected they’d be high. And it’s a relief not to worry about onions, we go through tons of ’em! I had remembered carrots being low though, and they’re not. I had been buying those at the Winn-Dixie, and I guess I’d better knock it off.

RANK FRUIT OR VEGGIE SCORE
1 (worst) Peach 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apple 93
3 Sweet Bell Pepper 83
4 Celery 82
5 Nectarine 81
6 Strawberries 80
7 Cherries 73
8 Kale 69
9 Lettuce 67
10 Grapes – Imported 66
11 Carrot 63
12 Pear 63
13 Collard Greens 60
14 Spinach 58
15 Potato 56
16 Green Beans 53
17 Summer Squash 53
18 Pepper 51
19 Cucumber 50
20 Raspberries 46
21 Grapes – Domestic 44
22 Plum 44
23 Orange 44
24 Cauliflower 39
25 Tangerine 37
26 Mushrooms 36
27 Banana 34
28 Winter Squash 34
29 Cantaloupe 33
30 Cranberries 33
31 Honeydew Melon 30
32 Grapefruit 29
33 Sweet Potato 29
34 Tomato 29
35 Broccoli 28
36 Watermelon 26
37 Papaya 20
38 Eggplant 20
39 Cabbage 17
40 Kiwi 13
41 Sweet Peas – Frozen 10
42 Asparagus 10
43 Mango 9
44 Pineapple 7
45 Sweet Corn – Frozen 2
46 Avocado 1
47 (best) Onion 1 (lowest pesticide load)

What I haven’t been able to find out about is dry goods. Wheat flour, rice, oatmeal, beans. I’d really like to know, so if anyone out there has any info on the respective “bad-ness” of said crops, please let me know. I’ve been buying non-organic wheat flour lately, because I don’t have a bulk source available, and 5 lb bags are so expensive!

If you eat much soy, check out this Soy Report from the same folks who did that organic dairy review, The Cornucopia Institute.

Buying Bulk

Back in Cordova, I used to order from a company called Azure Standard. They carry most everything that you’d find in a health food store. If you live in the Pacific Northwest they deliver for free (the minimum order is $500, but that is surprisingly easy to fill, especially if you get a few friends in on it). If you live anywhere near to, you might be able to have your order shipped for a reasonable price, via a trucking company. Living in Alaska I had my orders shipped up by barge and even though for heavy stuff like flour the shipping almost doubled the price, it was still worth it. A 50 lb bag of organic high protein whole wheat flour cost $25, add on (for Cordova) $30 for shipping. That’s still only about $1/lb, which was cheaper than the local health food store that only sold flour in 5 lb bags.

I haven’t gotten myself together here yet. There is a food co-op that does bulk orders, I really need to sign up. I asked around and the prices are usually slightly cheaper than Whole Foods. If you have an opportunity to buy bulk, even if the savings do not appear much, they add up. Often if you’re willing to get a ton at once, you can get the organic version for the same price as a little bag of standard stuff at the grocery store. It also instills a different way of thinking about your pantry, and your cooking, which cuts down on trips to the store and impulse buys. These bulk ordering gigs are usually called “Buyer’s Clubs.”

I have to admit, Costco has a very large selection of organic stuff. Of course, I wouldn’t trust ’em farther than I could throw ’em, but it’s gotta be a bit better….?

Lastly, if you’re just starting out buying in bulk, a word of caution. Do not buy 50 lbs of something unless you are sure you’re going to use it! This sounds obvious, but I myself have occasionally wasted some food buying bulk. Just be careful, and plan it out.

I have one last offering for this topic, coming soon:

Solace and Support for Non-Menu Planners!

Responsible Consumer Intermission, Sort Of

While I was sitting there in the hospital cafeteria, trying to get the Toddler to eat one of the fried chicken strips out of the oversized styrofoam container, I questioned what exactly had led me to that moment.

It all started that morning when I checked the messages on my phone. I have two new friends (!) and one of them had just gone in for a C-section on Thursday. Long story, but she was very unhappy about it. I had told her that if she went stir crazy in the hospital to give me a call, and I’d come visit her. We didn’t want her strangling any nurses. I wasn’t expecting her to call. We’re very new friends, and it’s hard to ask a favor of a new friend. But there it was, a voice mail saying with forced vaguery to give her a call if I had time. She must be desperate.

Even though I had just made plans with the other new friend for an early dinner, had tons of home things I wanted to do with my Sunday (read: Papa-can-hang-with-the-kids day), had already had a very rough morning with the Babe and sorely needed a break, I couldn’t let her down! And as long as I was going I might as well take the kids, so that I could save My Time for later in the day when I could actually get something done.

But that meant I needed to go, right then. I ran out the door with the two kiddies in tow, knowing full well that it was 11:15 and we’d need lunch soon, and what was I planning to do about that?

And that is how we ended up in the cafeteria at 12:45, wolfing down a deep fried lapse of integrity.

But…. what’s the real issue here, I was asking myself? How did our lives get to be so busy that we can’t even make ourselves lunch?

I know that in the full scope of American life, we live in a very slow relaxed manner. But it’s still way too much. We do too much. How is this supposed to work? We can barely manage one outing a day. Even at that, home stuff still stacks up, and then if a day comes along where we do two outings, all hell breaks loose.

It’s all wrong. I feel like a lot of the “slow” fad ends up with people just trying to fit more “slow” things in around their already full life. We have to actually pare down. Lower our expectations. Give something up. But what?

I feel like I should provide the Toddler with one kid activity a day, and that is the source of a lot of our outings. But throughout history, no one worried about providing their kids with playtime.

Mothering is crazy now. It doesn’t make a lick of sense for one woman to stay locked up in her own house with one (or two) kids. It’s downright unhealthy. For all involved. Kids are supposed to be running around in little neighborhood packs, getting into trouble while no one’s watching. Maybe with a few elders keeping rough tabs. Leaving us mamas to get some shit done.

But it doesn’t work now. For one thing, we don’t want to live near either of our parents, particularly. For another, there are no neighborhood packs. At least not here in New Orleans. And people are just too worried to let their kids run around with someone else’s eight year old in charge anyway.

This does all tie into responsible consumerism! Because to get by on less money, and still purchase the higher priced, responsible products requires a big time commitment. When you have kids, especially two, especially young, it’s damn hard to fit everything in. Conquering this time crunch cuts to the very heart of the issue.

How to make it work?

I’m struggling here, not particularly qualified to give advice. But I know it involves that ole’ (un)favorite, Reduce.

(And of course, reduce my computer time has been discussed before. I have actually, quite a bit. But, I have to leave myself enough time and energy to vent, share and find solace in the camaraderie of mamas who understand…)

So off I go to work out some reduction issue.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part 1

So now that we’ve determined that shopping at Whole Foods and washing your dog with organic rosemary ginger shampoo doesn’t mean you can check “Being Green” off your list, where does that leave us?

Oh yeah, at the time-consuming conclusion that we need to actually think about what we buy.

Reduce our needs and wants. Make what we can at home. And for the rest, do our best to educate ourselves about the industries we’re supporting with those hard-earned greenbacks.

I think I’d better start by saying a few things about myself. I have been, in my past, super hard-core about not buying bad stuff. Also spent a fair number of days in my youth slain by overwhelming compassion/depression for the world in it’s all its FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition) glory. For better or for worse, the intensity has subsided. I do my best, but I’m a long shot from any ideal.

This post is not intended to inspire guilt, to make you feel lesser, or allow you to feel better, than anyone else. We’re all working with what we’ve got.

Fair-Trade? Who Cares

I think it’s interesting that the organic movement has taken off like a rocket, and even animal rights issues are pretty popular. But human rights? No one wants to talk about it. I mean really, it’s weird. Save the rainforest, but screw you buddy.

How many times have you heard about global warming, just in the last two weeks? And how many times have you heard about chocolate and child slavery? Ever? The US in particular does not want to talk about slavery except as something that we, oh great nation that we are, abolished long ago. Caring people in other countries seem to open their mouths occasionally, but not us.

If you’ve never heard the words chocolate and slavery go together, I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but, here it is. The cacao industry is tops on the list of human rights violations, and no, “slavery” is not an misnomer. There’s a good introduction to the issue at Chocolate Work, and a more detailed and thorough overview at Stop Chocolate Slavery.

So, topping my personal list of Responsible Consumer Priorities is fair-trade chocolate. I have no doubt that fair trade isn’t as fair as one might hope, but it’s a long shot better than slavery!

For more information on the fair-trade principles, check out Global Exchange.

Also important to buy fair trade are coffee, sugar and tea. I’m not sure why it’s these addictive luxuries that inspire some of the most egregious human rights violations. Perhaps because they’re such big industries, worth so much money.

A note on fair-trade versus organic. My husband and I traveled in Nicaragua a few years ago (okay, several) and spent a little time in a fair-trade coffee growing area. It helped me to understand why I would often find one or the other, but not both certifications on the same coffee. The producers, at least in that region, were very small, family farms. The families were dirt poor, to be sure. Absolute poverty by American standards, but doing pretty good by Nicaraguan standards. They appeared to own their own land, which is huge. Anyway, being so small it’s easy to see how they cannot afford to do something like certify organic. And though they very well might use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, I can say that the farms I saw had very natural, diverse plantings (as opposed to giant mono-cropping) which would minimize the need for expensive chemicals.

Free Range, Cage Free and Organic Dairy

Animal products are next on my own list. This one has multiple persuasive arguments. For one, there is the animals themselves, subjected to the very worst slavery imaginable. I doubt I need to explain much about this to anyone reading this blog. But if anyone needs convincing a quick search on “factory farms” ought to do the trick. Many people become vegetarians, but continue to eat dairy. Although I can understand making priorities (obviously), to me dairying is every bit as cruel, and involves plenty of outright death as well.

If the animals’ rights are not enough to sway you, consider that consuming hormones and antibiotics on a daily basis is like signing yourself up for one giant science experiment. Maybe it will turn out to be no big deal….? Fats are big carriers and concentrators of chemicals, so to me this means that butter tops my dairy list.

I am not qualified to say much of anything on the commercially available humane meat subject. Until last August, I’d always lived in Alaska, and limited myself to wild meat and fish. When we moved here I came bearing two gigantic, fifty pound coolers full of salmon and moose. Not to mention 9 cases of home canned same. I was not about to be without my good proteins! Especially since I was about to give birth and knew as a nursing mama I’d want to eat lots of meat, and that my little growing daughter can hardly get enough fish.

But I am fairly sure that seeking out a local farm would be far, far superior to anything you could buy at the store, no matter the certification. This would doubtlessly take some research, but that’s the whole point.

I do have to interject a little tirade here. Whole Foods, full of lots of organic everything, and boasting a big, aesthetically pleasing meat counter that makes you want to lay all hesitations aside and trust that they’ve figured it out for you, has almost no organic meat, let alone free-range or grass-fed. The first time I went over to peruse their selection, I was shocked. I kept going back and forth, every item had a nice big sign telling you all about how natural it was, no hormones, no antibiotics, no additives, blah, blah, blah. And I have no doubt that most people who buy meat there assume it is organic and free range. Both my mom when she was visiting and, last night, my husband have said “Isn’t everything they sell organic?” No! Oh, that really pisses me off. Only about half of their products are organic, but I’m sure many of their customers allow themselves to be misled.

Anyway, the gist of that is, don’t trust big business! They’re going to try to pull the wool over your eyes every chance they get.

However! Dairy is one thing I have looked into, because I use a lot of half and half for my coffee, butter for my baked goods, and milk for my daughter. I had assumed, based on my big business distrust, that all those regular names at the store were about equal. But since Organic Valley was a bit more expensive than Horizon or the O Organics brands, I thought maybe I’d better look into it. I found this great rundown of dairy companies by organic watchdog Cornucopia. I was pleased to find that although the latter two brands did in fact get the very low ratings I was expecting, Organic Valley got a four (out of five). “Excellent.”

Yesterday when I looked up this list again (the first time was in Cordova) I was pretty interested to find that the Whole Foods brand ‘365’ also got a four. Hmmm, maybe they’re not as bad as I’d thought. Or they just have to worry more than say, Safeway, about their customer base looking into things.

Though I went for years without it, I’ve lately become more and more dependent on cheese in my life. In Cordova I ordered a lot of staples through a bulk foods company (more on that later) and would often order 10 pounds of cheese at a time, and freeze it in 1 lb blocks. That worked great, and the price was pretty good. Otherwise, for some reason, organic cheese at the store is super expensive, and I am ashamed to admit, it’s one of the things we’ve been buying non-organic since the move. I do have my MIL send a block of Tillamook whenever she sends a package. I’ve heard very good things about Tillamook, from people who’ve lived in the area, and been to the factory. It is farmer owned, for whatever that’s worth. Not organic, and probably not free-range (I’ve never seen free-range cheese, or dairy at all), but possibly an improvement on standard commercial factory farm dairy…? It doesn’t take much!

By the way, the “Organic” certification does include a minimum of animal care requirements. Nothing to write home about, I still choose free-range over organic if I have to choose, but it’s something.

Now, how’s about vegetables?

Coming Soon!