Monday, September 24, 2007

Cheap Food or Expensive Organic: Is the Price Worth the Cost?


By Marcie Barnes

(This post is a Research Proposal and part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Global Impact of New Communication Technologies at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I hope you will join me as I investigate the nutritional differences between foods grown, distributed and processed in different ways.)

A few weeks ago, I found myself reaching for a can of Del Monte Fruit Cocktail in my pantry because I was out of fresh fruit for my son. As I opened the can, I noticed a new message on the label containing the words: “Same nutrients as fresh!” This claim startled me and then made me angry. As I’ve stated time and time again, I have become increasingly disheartened by what I perceive to be downright inaccurate and false marketing claims by companies who are trusted by the general public.

There has been a continuous debate in our household as to whether organic, fresh and unprocessed foods are worth their higher cost. On average, organic produce costs 50% more. I have every reason to believe that organic and less-processed foods, for a variety of reasons, deliver far greater health benefits than their commercially-grown, highly processed counterparts. My husband argues it is a waste of money to purchase organic products. So, the question has been lingering in my mind for quite some time: how can I prove to him (and others) that the nutritional differences in organic, unprocessed foods are significant enough to justify the increased cost of “going organic”?

A cursory search for nutrition information on fresh vs. canned pears confirmed my suspicions. A quick study of the numbers in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference showed that there is indeed a significant difference when you compare the nutrients found in fresh and canned pears. Quickly comparing the nutrients between organic and conventional foods has proven more difficult. I hope to find more information through my research and possibly utilize the Department of Food Science at North Carolina State University, where they perform nutrition information analysis.

With my results, I hope to end the debate once and for all and prove that you do get what you pay for when it comes to purchasing food. It is unfortunate that people (notably in low-income situations) often rely on highly processed foods because they are always the cheaper alternative. I believe we are sacrificing our health in order to save money, which ironically costs us dearly in the end with skyrocketing health care costs. What is the real price of cheap food?

Keywords:

organic produce nutrition, canned vs. fresh, produce quality, malnutrition processed foods, organic cost

Websites:

Title: Organic foods in relation to nutrition and health key facts
Web Address:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/10587.php
Brief Description: This article is found on Medical News Today – described as “The number one ranked (Google and Yahoo!) website for medical news. Independent, authoritative and unbiased news from thousands of sources around the globe, divided into over 100 therapy areas (disease/condition categories).” - it contains a lot of information and studies on this subject (cited) that I would like to read and research further.

Title: Wikipedia: Organic Food
Web Address:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food
Brief Description: This entry on organic food contains additional (cited) studies and articles I would like to read, in particular the criticisms of organic food.

Title: When buying organic pays (and doesn't)
Web Address:
http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/diet-nutrition/organic-products/organic-products-206/when-buying-organic-pays-and-doesnt/index.htm
Brief Description: This is a collection of linked articles on this topic from Consumer Reports, a trusted independent testing & reporting venue. I am looking forward to reading about their findings on this topic.

Title: The Soil Association: “Get the facts” page
Web Address:
http://www.soilassociation.org.uk/web/sa/saweb.nsf/4042794258a20f4280256a680046b77e/30f6f6ee0d6a3a4a802571bc00442a17!OpenDocument
Brief Description: This web site is “the UK's leading campaigning and certification organisation for organic food and farming.” The “Get the Facts” page lists reasons for buying organic, and links each reason to a plethora of information and research to back up each claim.

Title: Malnutrition Matters (Background Page)
Web Address:
http://www.malnutrition.org/background.html
Brief Description: This website discusses global malnutrition issues and what types of foods/food improvements are needed to fight malnutrition. I would like to explore this topic further as it relates to food quality vs. cost.

6 comments:

Amanda Toler Kelso said...

Marcie - great topic and great post! I was wondering, do you think the 50% mark up of organic foods justified? I don't buy a lot of fresh produce because it often goes to waste in my house. When I throw out that liquified fruit or veggies, I feel like I'm throwing out money.

I look forward to reading more!

Marcie Barnes said...

Thanks Amanda! I know what you mean - I just threw an average out there, however, growing your own produce and/or buying directly from a farm would be great ways to beat the curve :) Overall, that's the question I plan to answer...for now, I like the consumer reports angle which is how to pick and choose organic products, some don't give as much benefit as others and some (in my opinion mostly produce) give a huge benefit. Stay tuned!

Leslie Wilkinson said...

Hi Marcie -

Loving what I'm reading so far! It's such a great topic, but you're writing in such a personal way that I don't feel like I'm being lectured or scolded (very good things for me!). I haven't spent much time thinking about the organics, but I'm certainly interested in the cost of fresh vs. canned. Thanks for a very useful topic!
leslie

cindy said...

Marcie-I have found so much useful information in your blog. As you know I really feel that the food you eat should be the best in terms of nutrients, free of toxic drugs and chemicals, and cruelty-free.

After reading the article on buying organic I was not at all surprised by agribusiness and how it manipulates the organic criteria for processed foods and the food for animals.

I know it is expensive to shop at Whole Foods and Weaver Street (my neighborhood health food store) and I hope I can always trust that they uphold the standards for healthy and safe food. I know when it comes to buying Organic Valley Milk the taste is soooo much better than just the regular Harris Teeter brand.

I guess I'm going to keep spending more because I feel it is worth it.

C.Hillman said...

I'm one of those "people (notably in low-income situations) often rely on highly processed foods because they are always the cheaper alternative."

While it may be true it costs more in the long run via health care, there are many among us who can't afford the long term savings because our funds are such that the choice is low-cost/low-nutrition food or no food at all now. The healthier foods are simply beyond what we can afford. Sometimes even the cheaper stuff is beyond what we can afford.

The fastest/easiest healthcare reform the government could possibly implement isn't in the doctor's office but rather in the pricing of healthy foods. If the prices of healthy foods were lowered then the poorer members of society could afford to live healthier and medical bills would go down in the long run.

I have literally lived off of Instant Ramen for 2 weeks straight because I didn't even have the money to buy a single handful of apples yet could still afford about 2 dozen packages of the ramen.

...Sorry, I got a bit sidetracked there but you get the general idea I was trying to convey.

Jason Mandrix said...

I do think that organic can goods is a lot more cheaper than the normal ones. Why? Canned goods do mass production and they can buy those organic in a cheaper price because they order by volumes.

The big difference between the two is: If you stick to the natural organic you get fresh fruits and vegetables unlike canned good they already contains preservatives and artificial flavors and whatsoever....

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