A Food Culture, With the Capacity to Endure…at a Price.

Standard

When I decided to go sustainable, I had to make some stipulations of what that meant, which went a little something like this:

1)    Local Trumps Everything Else – Organic farming practices are great for the environment, no doubt about it.  What’s not great for the environment is shipping food (grown organically or otherwise) to another side of the globe.  It’s estimated that food travels an average of 1300 miles from farm to table, which generates a huge carbon footprint.  So just because an apple was grown organically in New Zealand, that doesn’t mean I’m really being sustainable by buying it.  Importantly, eating locally produced food also supports your local economy, which is never a bad idea.  Ideally, I tried to buy local, organic foods.

2)    Eat Seasonally- This sort of goes hand in hand with #1.  We should all try to make a more valiant effort to do this, because if we’re eating out of season, that means the food is being shipped from far away, typically another hemisphere.  For me, that meant not eating apples, pears, citrus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. because those are winter crops.

3)    GMO-free all (eh, most of) the way- This actually isn’t that hard to do if you’re eating organic food.  Organic food, by definition, has to be GMO-free.  However, when buying food from the farmer’s market, I didn’t really ask about the GMO status…because local trumps everything else.  All packaged foods, however, had to be GMO-free if they weren’t certified organic.

4)    No chain restaurants- This isn’t much of a challenge for me, as I prefer to eat at locally owned restaurants.  Had I eaten out much in Boulder for the month of August, I would have chosen restaurants that use lots of locally produced ingredients.  That’s not too challenging to do in this town; the restaurants here really cater to the sustainable lifestyle.  However, I didn’t eat out much in Boulder.  When I went to other towns in Colorado (Golden, Fort Collins, Denver), I made sure to not eat at chains (this is more of just an economically sustainable solution than an environmental one).  In Boulder, I mostly just went to coffee shops, but sticking to my criteria, this meant no Starbucks.  Shucks.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about my eating experiences for Sustainability month.  I will make note of a couple differences, though.  First, I didn’t notice marked differences in the flavor of foods, though I did notice that the organic grapes I bought were surprisingly sweeter than normal grapes (I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison of course, so this could be attributed to the varietal that I purchased), and I have noticed in the past that organic apples taste better as well.  Secondly, organic produce is going to spoil faster than conventionally grown produce.  Third (the most important issue, in my mind), just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  There are plenty of organic cookies, macaroni and cheese products, ice creams, and so on.  These can be just as high in calories, refined sugar, and sodium as conventionally produced counterparts.  Those nutrients don’t magically disappear just because you’ve slapped an organic label on the item and marked up the price 50%, but I think people have it in their mind that if they are eating organically, they are safe from the perils of obesity, diabetes, and so forth.  I’m not going to get into a discussion of whether or not organic processed foods are superior to their conventional counterparts; however, I will say that you are making a healthier choice by eating conventionally grown strawberries than an organic strawberry breakfast pastry (i.e. a Pop Tart) 100 times out of 100 times.

Shop til Your Bank Account Drops

The main topic I want to discuss is how to shop organically.  I shopped at a number of different grocers in order to determine which places had the best variety and prices for organic/local food.

1)    Lucky’s Market- This is Boulder’s independent grocery store, conveniently located across the street from my house.  Great variety, more local selections than anywhere else in town (except the farmer’s market), pretty pricey though.  The prices were roughly 20-30% higher than most other locations.  So while I like that it is a local option in every sense of the word and that I can walk to it, I won’t be doing my regular shopping there.

2)    Whole Foods Market- I hate Whole Foods more than is probably appropriate.  The reason for my distaste is that they abuse what they are via their pricing strategies.  Whole Foods is the largest national natural foods retailer, which is great.  However, their prices are so ridiculously inflated that I refuse to shop there.  On top of that, all the produce that I buy from Whole Foods spoils so much faster than from everywhere else (and this is a comparison to other organic options).  Plus, the people seem more pretentious at Whole Foods (which is saying a lot since I live in Boulder…by far the most pretentious community I’ve ever set foot in).  There are two things that will get me to go to Whole Foods. 1) Their bulk section is amazing and there are some grains/nuts/seeds that I can’t find elsewhere; 2) they carry my favorite flavor of Kombucha that I haven’t found elsewhere.  Here are more reasons to dislike Whole Foods.

whole-paycheck1-300x280

3)    Sprouts Farmers Market- This is my favorite place to grocery shop, in part because their produce and fresh food sections account for over half the store’s square footage.  The prices are extremely reasonable and they have a large variety of health foods.  I think one of the reasons that Sprouts has reasonable prices on their organic foods is because they also sell conventionally grown products.  When consumers can compare those options side by side (and when price is the driver for decision making, as it is for most people), the cost of these products are forced to stay relatively low.  Packaged foods are still fairly pricey at Sprouts, but I think that comes from the manufacturer more so than the distributor.  The down side: while they carry some local products, it’s certainly a small minority of all the available choices.

4)    Safeway- I never shop at large grocery chains like Safeway or King Sooper’s (Fry’s or Ralph’s in other parts of the country).  They are typically so big and offer so much of what I don’t buy – packaged foods, highly processed foods, and usually a small produce department with fairly low quality produce.  However, for the sake of the blog, I braved the Safeway in Boulder. Hel-looo! I was so impressed!  The produce, natural foods, and bulk sections take up 1/3 of the store, and the selection and quality is amazing.  Their organic produce section is just as large as the conventional produce section, and similar to Sprouts, prices aren’t through-the-roof expensive.  They had lots of local options, bulk nut butter and local honeys, as well as a make-your-own trail mix bar. Neat! This may be an artifact of being in Boulder, as there is certainly a market for these kinds of foods, but I’m wondering if this kind of selection is available in other Safeways.  Can anyone comment on that?

5)    Boulder Farmer’s Market- I’ve read in multiple articles about how to eat more sustainably on a budget that you should shop at your local farmer’s market.  Maybe that’s true in other places, but it’s definitely not true in Boulder.  The farmer’s market here is extremely expensive.  So while I like to go for the experience and to support local farmers (but mostly because the dumplings sold at one of the food carts are some of the best things I’ve ever tasted), it’s not somewhere that I can shop regularly.  I should try a farmer’s market in a neighboring town and see if these prices are a Boulder-specific phenomenon.

 Final Stats

Goal/ Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.20

254.45

Clearly, no real changes in my basic health or diet intake values, but my bank account certainly felt the pains of eating sustainably this month.  Sadly, I wasn’t even 100% organic – there were a number of items that were so outlandishly expensive that I couldn’t justify the organic pricetag, namely eggs and cheese.  I was willing to pay the price for organic meat itself, but that meant that I only cooked meat 4-5 times the entire month.  Eggs came in around $5/dozen, so I went for the next best thing: eggs from chickens raised locally, cage free, and without antibiotics.  I only bought a very small amount of cheese (a small block of cheddar) that also came from locally raised cows because I couldn’t fathom paying the price for organic cheese.  I suppose the silver lining to paying this much for all of my food was that I was much, much less wasteful than I have been in the past.  When I’m paying $5 for a pint of raspberries, you can be damn sure I’m eating every single one, pristine, smooshed, or on the wrong side of ripe.

Final Recommendations

My main recommendation is to follow the Clean 15, Dirty Dozen list.  If your concern is pesticide content, this list will be your friend.  The Dirty Dozen are the fruits and vegetables that typically have the highest pesticide content, whereas the Clean 15 have very low pesticide residues.  Unless you’re a sustainability purist, it’s worth saving your pocket book and buying Clean 15 when you can.  Here is a list you can print out and keep in your wallet for easy reference.  Other than that, buy organic when you can and if your budget allows for it.  Buy local even more often than that.  Join a CSA (community supported agriculture; where you buy a “share” in a local farm and are delivered local, fresh food for a large portion of the year. Go to http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more info), if possible.

For September, I’m following the Fast Metabolism Diet.  I can tell you already that it will be the most challenging month of the entire year.  Yes, harder in many ways than Paleo.  Stay tuned…

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2 responses »

  1. Interesting post, considering i JUST posted on a similar topic of nutrition research 😀 i’m studying global health at ASU so I am not trained in nutrition.. but the nutr. epidemiology class i’m taking right now really opened my eyes to the numerous challenges of nutrition science I never considered!!

    Organic is interesting. It has a strong common sense appeal with people (don’t mess with nature!) with all the “modern health worries” people experience (distrustful of technology and innovation; perceiving it as somehow damaging in the long term as we deviate from some more natural and inherently healthier way of doing things).

    I think people simply decide to go with common sense than wait for a “definite” proof while nutrition science refines the methodology and replicates a bunch of awesome large scale studies. And i think that thinking of organic as good for health is a bigger motivator to change diet than the environment for most folks (more salient?).

    Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts 😀 great post!!!

    P.S.I am from Ukraine and most people my age have grandparents with large gardens outside the city- people grow their own F&V without “spraying” anything, while spray away the food they plan to sell at the market for others (to increase quantity, make it bigger and prettier). So while it’s not called “organic”, the “unsprayed” produce is definitely preferred when your own family’s consumption is involved (while sprayed stuff is considered to be somewhat “toxic” and unhealthy as well). 🙂

    • That’s a great point, Mariya. I think you’re right that people go with common sense, which is never a bad thing. I support that — I just don’t support people making up scientific facts to support their own decisions (which I’m sure you understand). That’s interesting about what people in Ukraine do with not spraying their produce. I think a lot of people do that here as well. While they can’t call their food (the stuff that they sell at the Farmer’s market, perhaps) organic, it’s important for them to be able to say that they are growing their food responsibly. You can see that with some food at the grocery store around here — I notice it on eggs and cheese a lot. They don’t call it organic, but it will say that the animals were grown without antibiotics, etc.
      Anyways, thanks for the comment! Always nice to get another perspective! 🙂

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