Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Is buying organic food worthwhile?

Setting aside issues of nutrition and environmental consciousness raised elsewhere, there are three reasons why for me (and maybe for you, too) buying organic food is not a waste of money:

  1. Taste -- I have found that in many cases organically produced milk, eggs, meat, and other products simply taste better than the regular mass-produced agricultural goods you find on supermarket shelves. I found the eggs and milk to be fresher and to have a richer flavor. And there's no comparison with rice cakes: regular plain supermarket rice cakes taste like styrofoam. The organic brown rice cakes I've switched to have a crisp texture and a nice flavor. I don't mind eating them by themselves, whereas with regular rice cakes I either have to get a flavored variety or put something on them.

    So, if taste is a concern when you get groceries, you might find that some organic brands please your palate more than non-organic brands. The organic foods will be more expensive, but filet mignon is also more expensive than hamburger. Ultimately, one has to do a cost-benefit analysis on the food one buys; for me, some organic foods are worth it. Nothing I buy at the grocery store will be more expensive than eating out at a decent restaurant.

  2. Special Dietary Concerns -- I'm mildly gluten intolerant, but I love pasta. Regular food manufacturers act like people like me don't exist, but organic pasta makers have been more than happy to provide a wide array of rice, corn, and lentil pastas for my cooking pleasure. Organic food companies also offer gluten-free breads, crackers, you name it. Most anyone with special dietary needs (lactose intolerance, diabetes, soy intolerance, etc.) can get their needs met in the organic foods section, because organic manufacturers specialize in health-promoting foods, and part of that involves catering to those with special-needs diets.

  3. Buying Organic Encourages Organic Production -- In the above writeups, it is argued that one person's buying habits can't affect Big Agrobusiness. I disagree. As the Big Guys see that the little organic farms are doing a booming business with hippies and vegetarians and yuppies and gourmets alike, they'll take notice. And other little family farms who can't compete with the big industrial farms will be more likely to produce organic goods because it's a lucrative niche market.

    If people buy organic, the end result will be the increasing availability of organic goods, more goods to chose from, and lower costs overall as more producers (large and small) start competing in the market. (And maybe, just maybe, someday I'll be able to buy inexpensive rice pasta from "regular" pastamakers.)

    I've seen this happening in just the past few years here in Columbus, Ohio as the larger supermarkets have picked up on the success that smaller local whole foods supermarkets like Wild Oats have had. Voila! Sushi counters and organic foods sections have popped up all over the place.