Is organic food just for the rich?

September 9, 2019 7:07 am Published by 2 Comments

At Naturally Good Food, we don’t mind if you’re rich or poor! But as Organic September gets underway, we thought we’d have a look at some of the more contentious issues surrounding organic food. One of the big ones, of course, is to do with money. Why does organic food cost more? Does it always cost more – in fact? Is it only for the rich? And if you are rich, but don’t eat organic, then why not?

Organic food - just for the rich?

Reassuringly expensive?

‘I love Marks and Spencers’, one of the UK’s leading comedians once remarked. ‘It’s just that little bit more expensive’. There are many people who might say – or think – the same about organic food. Reaching for a pack of organic apples, or eggs, or mango, might well be just another way of indicating that you’re doing very nicely, thank you. Deciding to eat ‘all organic’ or use only organic cleaning products in your house, is often a similar virtue-signalling gesture. And while many people who eat organic would no doubt love the prices to come right down, it seems reasonable to suggest that certain others are quite happy with its ‘exclusive’ air.

Mostly, organic food does indeed cost more than its conventional counterpart. But that’s for a number of very good reasons. We’re going to take a look at some of them.

Use of natural feed, fertilisers and labour

The pesticides and fertilisers used on conventional organic farms make life significantly easier for farmers. They’re cheap and easy to obtain and they do their job well, making the whole process of growing crops and raising animals much more efficient. Organic farmers, meanwhile, rely more heavily on natural fertilisers (which are more expensive to obtain) and on labour (with a much higher initial cost) to keep their crops and livestock healthy.

Without super-efficient conventional pesticides, crop yields on organic farms tend to be lower, with more lost to pests. Organic livestock, meanwhile, need to be fed organically, with more expensive feed. And when organic products reach the shops, they tend to have a shorter shelf-life, as they haven’t been pumped full of preservatives, meaning that shops have to handle them quickly, rather than storing them economically.

Testing and compliance

Organic farmers will have a number of years of growing ‘organically’ before they can be certified as doing so and describe their products as such. This ‘transition’ process is important, allowing non-organic residues to pass out of the soil, but it can be a costly time for farmers. During the transition period, they’ll be subject to the same costs as farmers growing certified organic crops, but they won’t be able to describe their products as organic in order to obtain a higher margin.

The certification and testing regimes themselves bring costs, as farmers make alterations to maintain compliance with regulations and keep detailed records. There are also costs involved in all the operations undertaken to ensure there’s no cross-contamination with non-organic neighbouring crops and farms, including when processing, packaging and shipping produce.

Supply and demand

With a great deal of demand for organic food, but a limited number of farms producing it, prices remain high. On organic farms, natural techniques such as crop rotation (which promote healthy soils, but prevent the mass production of a single crop) further limit production.

Mates’ rates?

With organic, you’re not just paying more for a fancy label – you’re paying the cost of a hugely better, healthier way of farming and eating. We think it’s worth it, of course. We appreciate the environmental benefits of organic farming and we love the taste of organic produce. We also firmly believe that with the best, freshest, most natural produce, the nutritional return is higher.

And we’ve got some tips for our customers, to keep the prices down…

Buy organic in bulk: everything’s cheaper in bulk! If you know you’re going to eat a lot of rice over the course of a year, for instance, stop buying it in individual 500g bags and go for a 5kg pack from us instead. Do the same for flour, for sugar, for pasta, for pulses – you might well be able to afford bulk organic for the same price as non-bulk conventional!

Buy organic in our Sale: we run a continual Sale at Naturally Good Food, where items that are approaching their use-by dates come to rest. There are some amazing organic bargains there and some things you might never have thought of trying before.

Buy organic wholefoods: if you make wholefoods the basis of your diet, you’ll not only be making yourself the most nutritious meals possible, but you should be quids-in. Wholefoods are the building blocks of good nutrition and they’re among the cheapest of all foodstuffs. We’ve got a great selection of organic grains, pulses, rice, flour, pasta and oats, to make wonderful, cheap, organic meals.

Eat less meat: most of us are trying to cut down on meat consumption. What you save on meat, you can spend on organic wholefoods, fruit and vegetables, to take its place.

Keep buying organic: the more people buy organic, the more farmers will be encouraged to make a switch, to meet demand – ultimately bringing the cost down!

Making the choice

Online forums are full of people puzzling over the details. If cost is an issue, is it better to eat a larger quantity of healthy-but-not-organic food, or a smaller quantity of healthy-and-organic food? Is it better to eat local or to eat organic? Should we avoid air-freighted organic produce – or does that ultimately penalize farmers in developing countries?

We don’t have all the answers. But we do know just why we support the organic movement and why we want more people to join us. Take a look at our other blogs here for some inspiration – and check out the Soil Association’s Organic September section too.

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This post was written by Yzanne

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