I love the Om Money column in the Yoga Journal magazine. It’s the first thing I read in every issue. The column features a question from a reader answered by two money experts. A previous column prompted me to write Unsure About Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) last year. Here’s another good question in the September 2008 issue:
I strive to be “green,” but organic food is expensive. I have to work more hours (and do less yoga) to afford it. How can I balance personal and planetary welfare?
Dear readers, what do you say?
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My grandma says “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Obviously the ultimate decision comes down to the individual. Does that person feel like its worth working more and doing less yoga to buy organic food? For me…no.
I think the reality is complete opposite of what the original poster thinks as “personal and planetary welfare”. Personally, he could certainly benefit from from organic food, though it is more expensive. He only has to buy some of the food types in organic form to benefit already. On the other hand, it is a common misconception that planetary welfare is benefiting from organic food business. Quite the opposite, use of fertilizers and pesticides enables efficient re-use of the same land and significantly higher yield from the same square footage. If humanity switched to entirely organically grown food, areas of land that had to be cleared for agriculture would become huge blisters on the earth’s body, and let’s not forget that population is growing, so the blisters would have to grow with it.
Most anyone that lives in America is not “green.” An American’s consumption rate for everything is at the top of the chart. Buying organic food and a hybrid car is not environmentally friendly, its just a marketing ploy that works on guilt.
I saw a TV show about home redesign the other day. They threw out perfectly functional components like flooring and counters an appliances to replace them with brand new “green” components. Everyone was so pleased with how earth conscious they were.
“Green” is more about greenbacks than green trees.
In my own experience I’ve found that even when I’ve made very little money (ie going through my change jar to make sure the rent check doesn’t bounce) organic food is a small percentage of my monthly expenses. I think its definitely worth the expense but even if you are on a tight budget you should be able to do it.
The simple things to controlling cost of food include eating out rarely, cooking from scratch and avoiding pre-prepared foods, taking leftovers for lunch and buying in bulk. If you do these things most of the time your food costs should be low and you should be able to buy organic for most of what you eat.
If you have the time to invest learn to make staples from scratch. Baking bread is not that hard, nor are things like granola or seitan (similar to tofu but wheat based). They are also rewarding which you’ve indicated is a priority for you and it can save a lot of money.
Another easy thing to do is subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. This is a system whereby you subscribe to a farm paying them at the beginning of the season, they drop off fruit and vegetables usually on a weekly basis from spring through fall. Most of the farms operating on this model are organic and you have the added benefit of supporting a local farm which is kinder to the planet. Since you are cutting out any middle men and assuring the farmer a customer for the entire season CSA’s usually work out to be a very good deal financially. Many also offer the opportunity to go work on the farm or pick your own stuff at some point if you’re into that kind of thing. You do have less choice with a CSA, you have to eat what is grown, ie maybe your farm has had a bumper crop of turnips. Our maybe your farm is experiencing a drought and the tomato crop got wiped out.
Another option you have is to pool your buying power with your friends and neighbors. If you form a buying club or co-operative with others you have to opportunity to buy at wholesale prices. This takes some work, you have to coordinate with the people you will be buying with, do the work of contacting distributors, arrange to receive shipment and then divide up amongst the buyers. It can take some time but it cut down the price substantially with the added benefit of getting to know your friends and neighbors more closely.
Jim Slade says
My neighbor just spent something like 18k (after rebates) on a solar system. The payback period is estimated to be 12-15 years. I *might* be in my house in 15 years…
My other neighbors have his and hers Priuses, but commute dozens of miles to work.
The payoff period for solar, hybrids, etc are completely unacceptable to me. ‘Early adopters’ are making these investments out of conscience and not out of fiscal prudence… these things do not ‘pay’ yet.
I’ll buy solar and hybrid/electric when it makes sense. For now I work close to home and from home a couple days a week, and did basic weatherstripping and keep appliances off and thermosats down. As for the organic food, we buy organic milk for our daughter to avoid hormones and eat wild-caught fish to avoid mercury and other nasties in farm-raised, but don’t buy anything else organic as again I fail to see the payoff/advantage.
Scott @ The Passive Dad says
If we want to purchase organics and you live NYC or any apartment where you can’t grow your own food, yes you will need to sacrifice. If you have a yard or some pots, you can grow some fantastic organic produce yourself. Also, many ways to be creative with expenses and income. If the person from the article wanted, she could see if she could trade Yoga class time for office time. A studio I attended was always looking for people to stuff envelopes or clean the studio. Not a sexy job, but it could get you free classes.
I would totally agree that it is a compromise, as is any decision you make based upon limited resources (time, money, knowledge). But my advice is to start with those foods that tend to carry larger quantities of pesticides even after proper washing. Those things include apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.
How to match personal and planetary welfare? The easiest thing is to minimize consumption. Be frugal in how you use gasoline. Be frugal in how you use electricity. Don’t waste your resources, including time.
Socially Responsible Investing is nutty. I agree w/ Milton Friedman that the only responsibility to a shareholder is to legally maximize profit. Individuals can vote with their dollars. The government votes with its laws. A corporation, of course, should be maximizing long-term profit. When corporations maximize short-term profit, things can go awry.
TFB, what is your yoga practice?
Harry Sit says
Thank you for all the great comments. I will check out the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) options near me. My yoga practice? I’m just a beginner going to a class at work.