Weekend Ramblings: Time Magazine Got It Right...Almost

>> Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sometimes on the weekends, I ramble about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.

I have a bone to pick with Time Magazine. In their August 31st issue, they had an article called "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." Overall, it was a great article - kind of a watered down version of the documentary Food, Inc, and it shows how mainstream the food debate is getting.

But on the third page of the article, there was an illustration that drove me batty! The left column of the illustration was titled "Organic" with a picture of common items purchased at a grocery store and a sample receipt totaling $33.32. The same products, though conventionally grown, were listed in the right hand column with a receipt totaling $15.88. With these sample numbers, the article goes on to explain, the annual cost of buying the organic products would be $1,732 while the annual cost of the conventional products would be $825. "Is sustainability worth an extra $900 a year?" the caption queries.

Picture me reading this article a year ago before I greened my grocery bill: "What??!! The cost of organics is twice as much as conventional products???!!! Who can afford that? Not me!"

Except, wait a second. I have greened my grocery bill, and I now know that going organic isn't that big of a cost differential. So when I read this article earlier this week, my reaction was, "What grocery store are they shopping at?!"

It's no wonder that people assume they can't afford to go green when even an article that supports organic agriculture and ag reform claims that organic foods are so expensive.

If they had included my grocery receipt with the same items in this article, it would have looked like this:

  • homemade bread containing all organic ingredients: $1.80
  • 1 pound of locally produced, grass fed ground beef: $5.99*
  • 3 organic apples: $1.80
  • organic grape tomatoes: $3.99
  • a dozen locally produced, free range eggs: $3
  • 1 gallon of organic whole milk: $4.99
TOTAL: $21.57
Annual cost: $1,121

*The article includes chicken breasts instead of ground beef. I've never bought chicken, so I'm not sure how much it costs.

And that doesn't even include the fact that since I'm a vegetarian, we barely ever buy beef - beans are soooo much cheaper. Or that I wouldn't buy those expensive grape tomatoes that come in a plastic pint case because the regular or roma tomatoes are much cheaper and float around in the nude.

The article proposes that if we "factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier." Great point. The cheap cost of conventional food leaves out a lot of factors.

But please, Time Magazine, don't scare people away from organics with such ridiculously high prices.

(And since I'm on a rant, I was also annoyed by the sentence "no one goes to farmers' markets for bargains" and the fact that the author didn't even touch on the issues with farm labor.)

Did you read the article? What did you think?

Photo by Kables

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Anonymous,  September 6, 2009 at 11:18 AM  

Time isn't winning me over with any of their articles lately.

Where do you purchase your eggs?

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 6, 2009 at 3:34 PM  

At the NC State Farmers Market from the Angus Acres people. You have to get there early though because they sell out fast. The other farmers sell theirs for $3.50 - $4.00. These are not certified organic mind you. Just local and free range.

Mary A September 6, 2009 at 6:22 PM  

I read the Time article, and I agree with you, that it exaggerates the cost of cleaner eating.

I am fairly new to the local farmers' markets but find that prices are often less than the grocery market, especially if you are willing to buy a quantity and fill your freezer - even if it is small - with local produce and grass-fed meat instead of the usual junk.

I am looking forward to the Carolina Farm Steward sponsored farm tour in a couple of weeks. It is fun to find local sources of clean food.

JJingle,  September 7, 2009 at 9:15 AM  

Thanks Erin! I'll check out the Angus Acres at the Farmer's Market.

I really enjoy your blog!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 7, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

@Mary A - Exactly. There's a stand at the NC State Farmer's Market that sells mixed peppers for $0.90 each. Red peppers that sell at the grocery store for $2-$3 are $0.90!

@JJingle - Thanks!

Eco Yogini September 8, 2009 at 8:12 AM  

I agree, although often there is a difference it all depends where you shop.
A Canadian University did a study recently (I forget which one, heard the interview on the cbc) that found that prices differed sharply WITHIN neighbourhoods- even to the point of the 'poor' neighbourhood having higher prices than the grocery store around the corner in the 'rich' neighbourhood.

I will admit though, that buying HEALTHY is more expensive for sure.
blegh Time.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 8, 2009 at 8:52 PM  

@Eco Yogini - I've read that one of the disadvantages of the urban poor compared to the middle class is that urban grocery stores are small (often just convenience stores), very expensive, and don't carry fresh foods. But because of transportation, they can't take advantage of cheaper better grocery stores in the suburbs. It's one of the things that keep poor people poor. Anyway, my point is that I agree with your comment!

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