The Dollar-Wise Gourmet:Organics: To Buy or Not To Buy?

With food costs on the rise and the economy in a slump, you may be feeling the pinch to cut out the frills—things such as organic food. But just how much do organics really add to your grocery bill?

This question has been buzzing around my brain for the past several months, for several reasons:
• The Boyfriend and I recently decided that, whenever there’s a choice, we’d buy organic;
• Our monthly grocery bill has been about $200 more than usual;
• This stinky economy is making us feel the heat to go cheap.

I figure we’re probably not the only ones caught in this culinary Catch-22. So I did a little sleuthing at two local stores, comparing prices on a fistful of items, organic and non. Here’s the lowdown.

So what does this little exercise tell you? That organics cost more—but you already knew that. The bigger question: What’s the solution? The answer lies in finding a happy medium. If you can’t buy 100 percent organic, 100 percent of the time, it’s time to pick your battles. Three quick tips:
• Go where the deals are. It’s hard to top the bargains at Trader Joe’s (see chart), and it’s big on organics.
• Stick to the dirty dozen. These 12 fruits and vegetables, dubbed the “dirty dozen” by the Environmental Working Group, have been found to be the most pesticide-contaminated: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. Save beaucoup bucks by limiting your “organic spending” to these foods instead of wasting money on fruits and veggies deemed consistently clean, such as onions, bananas and avocados. (For the EWG’s free guide, visit foodnews.org.)
• Search for coupons. A number of organic-food manufacturers offer online coupons. It takes only seconds to print these from your computer, so your biggest challenge is to remember to bring them to the store.

Note: Prices were checked the week of Nov. 1, 2008.

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