As the subject of cost is a recurring question when I’m speaking to others about the benefits of a whole, raw vegan diet, I’m going to take a break from the Detox Series to talk a bit about the affordability of eating organic raw foods.
One question I hear over and over again is that it’s too expensive to buy organic or to eat raw because of kitchen appliance expense. In every class, in every discussion with a co-worker, in every on-line forum devoted to raw foods, someone laments the cost and insists that they simply can’t afford it. Now, I don’t want to suggest that everyone who makes this claim isn’t being realistic about what they can afford, and I definitely don’t want to imply that I have any idea about the details of their personal finances or have the right to suggest they should change their spending habits. However, frequently, the issue is that either apples to oranges are being compared, or this very sincere person has not considered shifting priorities in an effort to better accommodate a change toward a better diet, and thus better health.
The issue of cost is a bit complex, and there are several factors to consider when deciding whether a purchase fits into a certain budget. I am always sympathetic to concerns about finances, as I have experienced true poverty and depravation in my lifetime. I also know that where there’s a will there’s a way, and even a homeless teenager surviving on the streets of a mid-sized town can find relatively fresh fruits and vegetables if they know where to look. (In my own experience, it was on Mondays and Thursdays behind the 1st Street grocery store.)
I think the first error most often made is in comparing whole organic foods to pre-packaged, mass-produced, chemically-laden and nutritionally subpar processed foods. It’s not a fair comparison to weigh the cost of a pound of apples against a pound of potato chips and a litre of soda. It may appear that you get more for your money with the chips and pop. However, nutritionally, you get more bang for your buck when you buy whole foods. Of course, comparing a pound of organic apples with a pound of the same kind of apples grown conventionally most often finds the organic version more expensive, usually around 20% more but sometimes double the price! This depends on where and when you purchase the produce, which brings us to the second error often made.
The second error is in not investigating vendors outside of the local health food store. Many local grocers or health food stores offer a small section of organic produce, but often at unreasonably high prices. In the town where I live currently, there is one health food store with a tiny little overpriced organic produce section, and the produce isn’t much to write home about. For several years, trips to a much larger health food store were made an hour away, and to make it worth the drive, we would make a day of it – stopping by a favorite restaurant for lunch, then to the library for a browse through their book sales (often picking up books for a quarter that were listed on my Amazon wish list!), then shopping for groceries. Because we set it up this way, shopping was actually a treat I looked forward to, rather than a chore to dread. Now, however, I have many more resources from which to choose. Farmer’s markets, CSAs, local co-ops, and even neighborhood fruit and vegetable stands are in virtually every city. Prices are always better than can be found in stores, and developing relationships with local farmers is priceless. A little exploration and inquiry can often yield a whole treasure trove of affordable organic resources right in your own backyard! (Well, maybe not literally.)
The third error usually made is in comparing kitchen appliance purchases to kitchen gadgets. Some of the equipment used in many raw food recipes can seem a bit pricy. For instance, a good dehydrator (excellent for making raw breads, pizzas, calzones, warming up foods, etc.) runs anywhere between two and three hundred dollars. This item should not be viewed as simply another gadget, like The Chopper, however. What often isn’t considered is that the dehydrator actually replaces a stove and oven in the kitchen. If we compare the cost of a mid-priced stove at over $1000, the cost of a dehydrator is miniscule. It’s amazing how many people own a bread machine, waffle iron, rice steamer, crock pot, 5-speed mixer, espresso machine, and pasta maker (many of which were likely used fewer times than can be counted on one hand), but find the cost of a dehydrator or Vita-Mix prohibitive.
The fourth error is in thinking that all those fancy gadgets are necessary. While I will admit that I’m in love with my Vita-Mix and use it more than any other kitchen appliance, I could be completely raw and still eat well without stocking my kitchen with such equipment. Granted, some of the recipes would be off-limits – Alissa Cohen’s amazing calzone recipe, for one. However, I don’t make that recipe every day, or even every week, and while it would be sad if I could never have it again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world or my own raw journey to prepare other foods instead. A standard blender won’t do the job of the mighty Vita-Mix, but it’ll work in a pinch; some enthusiastic chopping and mixing by hand can take the place of even the most expensive food processor; and it may take some muscle and time, but a good ol’ fashioned press can produce juice that is just as nutritious and delicious as a fancy juicer.
That said, I’m a big proponent of using the right tool for the job, and know that you can use a screwdriver in place of a hammer, but the job will take longer and likely won’t be altogether satisfactory once completed. If you can afford it, even if it means forgoing movie rentals from the local video store, cutting out a few months of lattes, or dropping the premium channels, I think the benefits outweigh the cost. (I’m not trying to be flippant here. Most of us have what’s become known as a “latte factor,” those little expenditures we make on a regular basis that don’t seem like a lot at the time but add up to a good deal.)
The fifth is in not considering the cost to our health and the probable health-care expenses associated with a poor diet. How many well-meaning people are spending too much money on doctor care and prescription drugs for ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity? Sadly, every one of them. It is no secret that there is a direct link between our health and what we put into our bodies, and we can take charge of our own wellness and get off of many medications simply by making a shift in diet and lifestyle.
Finally, it’s important to remember that organic farmers do not receive government subsidies as conventional farmers do, so the price of buying organic reflects what might be considered the “true cost” of the food while conventionally grown foods have hidden costs that we, as consumers, pay but don’t realize. Choosing conventionally grown produce may mean a small savings at the register, but an unseen price is being paid with our tax dollars for those subsidies provided to conventional farmers and for the cost of environmental clean-ups from pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that inevitably cause environmental damage. These chemicals pollute not just our food, but our air, land and water, the value of which cannot be measured.
It is important to look at the big picture when it comes to the cost of anything we buy, and if it still seems an unfeasible expense, then perhaps some creativity is needed. In addition, the more that people demand organic foods, the more will be available and the more costs will come down. Ultimately, it’s in our own best interest on all fronts to insist on organic foods. When it comes to our health, it’s worth the price.