In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan talked about how all of the foods on the inside of the supermarket, the processed ones, are really the ones that are bad for us. But at the same time, he enumerated statistics that proved that “the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly—and get fat.” The processed foods are the inexpensive ones, generally. Those in the ring around the middle, the fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh fish, whole grains, and lean proteins are the most expensive. There are a few choices that are inexpensive and organic such as dried beans in the grocery store, and seasonal strawberries at the farmer’s market. Of course, prices vary depending on location and region. Mother Earth Living writer Linda Watson and her husband decided to eat for three weeks organically on a dollar a meal, week one obtaining their sustenance at Food Lion—a local supermarket chain, week two at Whole Foods, and week three at a farmer’s market, and see if they could indeed eat organic on a budget.
She coupled Pollan’s idea with what many politicians in 2007 were doing something called “The Food Stamp Challenge.” The politicians wanted to see if they could live on food stamps. But most of them ended up breaking and going off the diet. For her experiment, Watson quickly ran into trouble. The prices for even white rice were $.79 per pound. In the end she got mostly essentials; beans, some veggies, flour, and rice. She made split pea soup and bread, cabbage and stew. They were simple but nutritious meals. The portions were small as well. When she started out, Watson felt despair. She felt she wasted time or resources, and simple cooking mistakes cost her a bundle. The meals were sparse. The cooking got easier over time, she said. She saved by baking her own bread, and canning. She teaches how to shop nutritiously on a budget in her book Wildly Affordable Organic. The best you can do is to shop around, stick to farmer’s markets, and try to find small local or discount supermarkets. Sometimes a certain health food store in a beautiful, tucked away nook in your community is a godsend. It feels near impossible to eat organic on a budget. Watson lives in North Carolina, a far less expensive place when it comes to produce and other items. But with talking to others interested in the same and getting out and finding what’s in your community, you can make it work.