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I Tried To Eat Organic For A Month Without Spending Extra On Food, And Here’s How It Went
I live in New York City, where groceries—and pretty much everything else—tends to be pretty expensive. But when you don't have a car to carry home a trunk-load of food at a time, convenience is also a factor. For that reason, I've been getting groceries from an online food delivery service, FreshDirect, for a while now. The delivery fee is minimal, and my bill has always been comparable to what I'd pay if I went to the store myself. But once I went organic, I had to reconsider whether I could really afford this luxury.
For example, chicken is a staple that I buy all the time. I normally buy chicken that's raised without antibiotics, but not organic, which FreshDirect usually sells for .99 a pound. The organic version? .99 a pound. Since I only shop for myself I just need a pound at a time, so three extra dollars might not sound like much. But when the organic version of just about everything you buy costs a few dollars more you have a problem. I realized I was going to have to switch things up if I was going to make it through the month without busting my budget.
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I often make a dish that two of my sister's friends came up with when we were on vacation and had a bunch of leftover salad ingredients—sautéed spinach, grape tomatoes, and chickpeas—so those items are often on my shopping list. I clicked on spinach first and saw that regular and organic containers were the same price because organic spinach happened to be on sale. Score! Grape tomatoes were another story: My usual pack was .49 or two for ; the organic ones were .99 or two for .
I couldn't justify paying that much more for tomatoes, so I left all the tomatoes on the (virtual) shelf. I very quickly learned that if I didn't want to increase my food bill, I needed to buy what was on sale as opposed to what I normally got. Needless to say, I didn't make my spinach, tomato, and chickpea dish that week. It was a bummer, since it's one of my go-to favorites, but it did push me to try a new recipe instead. (Try these 10 tasty ideas for canned chickpeas.)
I soon realized I had two choices: I could shop online and buy mostly what was on sale, which would dictate what I would be making for the week. Or I could step away from my computer and explore other ways to get groceries.
One of my first stops was the farmers market. There's one in New York City's Union Square four days a week, so it was easy enough for me to check it out. I had hoped that produce prices were going to be less across the board, but that wasn't the case. In order to get a deal, you really have to know your prices. Some items—like organic tomatoes—were definitely less than they were at my regular grocery store or from FreshDirect. But other fruits and veggies seemed just as expensive or even more so. I ended up spending a lot of time walking around the tents (which was chilly in winter!) so I could compare prices and buy only the items that were truly worth it.
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A week or so into my resolution, I decided it was time to visit Trader Joe's and Target. Trader Joe's is known for having good prices because most of their items are their own brand as opposed to brand name. (Try these 9 amazing foods from Trader Joe's.) Here I was able to find things like organic cheese for around .99 per package, which was similar in price to the non-organic variety I used to buy online. I also picked up some organic snacks like granola bars and organic ice cream, which were cheap enough not to up my overall food bill. But because everything was pre-packaged and there was no deli counter enabling me to buy, say, a quarter pound of cheese at a time, I definitely over-bought a little. I ended up having to throw out some cheese that went bad before I could eat it (and I hate having to throw food out).
A couple of days later, I headed to Target. Since it's not actually a grocery store I wasn't sure what I'd find, but it turned out to be similar to Trader Joe's in the sense that there were lots of affordable pre-packed organic options. I picked up some spinach, eggs, and coconut oil.
Even though I found some good deals at the farmers market, Target, and Trader Joe's, I wasn't able to get everything that I wanted in one place at the best price. I live in midtown, and the farmers market and Trader Joe's are downtown from me. Target is way uptown. All those subway rides (not to mention schlepping groceries home after) soon became pretty exhausting. By the end of the month I decided it would make more sense to alternate stores each week, even if it meant I couldn't always get all the ingredients I sought out to buy.
Conclusion:After a month of organic eating, I did feel better knowing that I was putting less processed food and hormones into my body, but I don't think I noticed enough of a difference to be committed for life. Plus the convenience factor (or lack thereof) really got to me.
I think I'll continue to buy organic when it makes sense and is reasonably easy to do: If I'm at the grocery store or on FreshDirect and I see that there's an organic option of tomatoes or chicken and the price is comparable to the non-organic variety, I'll probably opt for the organic. But I don't think I'll be going out of my way, running around New York City to make sure I'm eating mostly organic every single day.
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