Friday, December 11, 2009


This entry will be the first entry posted on my personal blog, creATE as well as in the Food and Drink section of!  Not only will creATE be reaching a much larger audience from this point forward, but we will hopefully broaden our online community of readers, followers, and creATE subscribers interested in healthy and sustainable living.

A developing theme of creATE has been the costs and practicalities of eating healthfully and sustainably in our economically struggling but simultaneously fast-paced American society.  Some of my readers have asked me to revisit my entry from October on the typically high cost of eating healthy food, requesting more specific recommendations as to what to buy from big supermarkets and what to spend the extra money on to buy organic. Although not an expert by any means, I will attempt to share with you my personal shopping habits as well as some recommendations for healthy shopping.

In this article, I will analyze foods promoted in this week's Kroger, Meijer, and Hiller's Market circulars as well as do a price and quality comparison or processed foods to unprocessed and organic to conventional.  My recommendations for this blog and any future blogs on this topic will be based on three criteria:
  1. The last section of Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food, outlined in an October blog entry, my October 19 blog entry, "Thanks and thoughts on Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food." 
  2. The basis that some organic foods are, in fact, healthier for us (explained below).
  3. The sensory appeal of the food being analyzed (how it looks, smells, and tastes).
An added bonus will be if a food or a store has a socially conscious component to it, such as having a Fair Trade label, or that proceeds from the store or product help make the world a better place.  Hiller's Market's, for example, tirelessly supports Michigan farms and food companies, and regularly donates proceeds to Michigan charities.  Whole Foods has a program where bag refunds are donated to local nonprofits, and many local grocery stores support local food banks and food rescue programs.

Determining whether organic foods are in fact healthier for us is a controversial matter.  I'd like to keep things simple so I've found a list a set of recommendations from The Daily Green outlining the "Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic" and "10 Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic."  My recommendations are as follows, with short explanations.

Buy Organic:
  1. Meat.  Although meat contains less pesticide residue than plant-based foods, conventional methods of raising animals involves widespread use of growth hormones and anitbiotics, crowded feed lots, and using pesticides and chemical fertilizers on the grain used to feed the animals.  Basically, we end up eating these things in our meat to some degree.
  2. Dairy.  For the same reasons as meat, animals that are fed growth hormones and antibiotics transfer this to their dairy outputs.
  3. Coffee.  The majority of our coffee in the U.S. comes from countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals and pesticides, so buying organic ensures your coffee beans are pesticide-free.  Buying Fair Trade Certified would be even better as purchases supports programs to pay coffee farmers fairly and support their communities.
  4. Any fruit or vegetable with thin or no skin or peel.  A thin skin or peel on produce, especially one that you eat, increases the chance that you are consuming pesticides with your food.  Not only does produce skin hold pesticides, but pesticides can penetrate the skin and invade the inside of the fruit, so even washing is ineffective at getting rid of pesticide residue.  In a studied conducted by the USDA in the early 2000s, 98% of peaches surveyed contained pesticide residue.  In addition, if you buy produce out of season--strawberries in the wintertime, for example--odds are that they're imported from a country that has less stringent regulations on pesticides.  Some examples of fruits and vegetables to always buy organic include:
    1. Peaches, nectarines, and plums
    2. Apples and pears
    3. Peppers
    4. Celery
    5. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries
    6. Cherries
    7. Leafy greens and kale
    8. Tomatoes
    9. Carrots and potatoes
    10. Grapes
Not worth the extra money:
Fruits and vegetables with thicker skin or peels.  Some examples include:
  1. Onion.  Onions are not subject to as many pest threats, so less pesticides are needed.  Plus, onions are peeled before consuming.
  2. Avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, and bananas.  Fruits like this have thicker peels that protect the edible fruit from pesticide build-up and residue.
  3. Asparagus.  Similar to onions, asparagus is less subject to pest threats.
  4. Cabbage and sweet peas.  These vegetables don't retain pesticide residue.
So how practical is it to buy organic?  I set out this week to do some market research.  Here's what I found at local Ann Arbor stores.

MEIJER. 10 lbs. for $10 this week ($1/pound)
Michigan apples:  Since they're not organic, I hesitate to recommend them, however, they are local, which means they are going to be fresh, and therefore, contain more nutrients than apples that have traveled across the country to arrive at the grocery store.
Iceberg lettuce: Not worth the money.  Since it's not organic, it contains pesticide residue.  Iceberg lettuce also contains few nutrients compared to its dark leafy counterparts.
Cucumbers: Don't buy them; they likely contain pesticide residue.
Mushrooms: Not recommended for the same reasons as above.
Aunt Mid's bagged spinach: Not recommended for the same reasons as above.
Avocados: Since avocados contain a thick peel that we don't eat, they will likely contain lower levels of pesticides.  So, if they look good, go ahead and buy them!
Navel oranges: 1.99/4-lb. bag.  Yes!  Same reasons as above.

KROGER. 10 lbs. for $10 this week ($1/pound)
Bartlett pears: No. Sincer they're not organic and have a thin, edible peel, both the skin and the fruit inside likely contain large amounts of pesticides.
Michigan apples:  See Meijer Michigan apples above.
Blackberries: Definitely no.  Blackberries in December have likely come from long distances, possibly regions outside of the United States where pesticide use is not regulated.  Also, since they have traveled a great distance, the blackberries are likely to not be as fresh or tasty as they would have been this summer.
Zucchini: Not recommended since they likely contain pesticide residue and build-up.
Avocados: Yes!
Mangoes: Yes (for the same reason as avocados)!
Yams: Probably not.  Although potatoes and root vegetables often don't have pesticide content as high as vegetables that don't grow in the ground, I'd hesitate to recommend them if they aren't organic.
Cucumbers: Not recommended.

From analyzing the sale offerings at Kroger and Meijer, if we follow my recommendations listed above, we're not likely to find enough "satisfactory" produce at these stores.  Although paying $1/pound for the above products is certainly better than not eating produce at all, I decided to visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to see if I could make organic produce work on a tight budget.  Here's what I found.

Organic Sweet Potatoes: $3.00/3-lb. bag.  Almost as cheap as Kroger conventional yams.
Tomatoes: $2.49/lb. Not a bad price, especially considering that TJ's conventional tomatoes are $2.99/lb.
Organic salad mixes: between $2 and $3 per 5-10 oz. bag.  Not fantastic, but worth the money considering that leafy greens are nearly impossible to rid of pesticides.  Conventional salad mixes at Trader Joe's and other supermarkets are only slightly--$0.50 on average--cheaper.
Organic avocados: $4/4-lb. bag ($1 each).  Same price as conventional avocados this week at Meijer or Kroger!
Organic russet potatoes: $3.99/5-lb. bag.  Less than $1/pound!
Organic golden potatoes: $2.99/4-lb. bag.  Less than $1/pound!
Organic apples: $2.49/2-lb. bag.  $1.25/pound and the same price as TJ's conventional apples.  I'd definitely recommend buying these over Meijer or Kroger apples.
Organic pears: $2.99/2-lb. bag.  Same recommendation as above.
Organic kiwi: $2/lb.  $0.30 cheaper than conventional kiwi.
Organic raspberries: $3.49/pint.  $0.50 cheaper than conventional raspberries.
Organic celery: $1.99/lb. $0.30 cheaper than conventional celery.
Organic zucchini and squash: $2.99/lb.  Not a fantastic price, but worth the money to prevent pesticide injection.  

Organic avocados: $3.99/4-lb. bag ($1 each).  Same price as conventional avocados this week at Meijer or Kroger!
Organic salad mixes: between $2 and $3 per 5-10 oz. bag.  Roughly the same price as Trader Joe's.  Conventional salad mixes at other supermarkets are only slightly--$0.50 on average--cheaper.
Organic zucchini and squash: $2.99/lb. same price as Trader Joe's.
Organic oranges: $.99/lb.  A great buy!
Organic apples: $2.49/lb.  Kind of pricey, but worth the extra bucks as apples are one of the top recommended foods to buy organic.

I was very excited to find out that buying organic produce on a budget was not only possible, but sometimes cheaper than the conventional prices at bigger supermarkets.  Trader Joe's certainly had the best deals on organic produce, however, it is possible to shop smart at Whole Foods, and the quality of their food looked better than that of Trader Joes.  Farmer's markets are not mentioned here, but are also fantastic ways of supporting and eating local and organic produce.  Whole Foods also promotes Michigan products, a key step towards sustainable living.  In buying organic--and local when possible--we are speaking with our actions and our money towards better health and sustainable agriculture and food production.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences with buying organic produce.  In the coming posts, I will be analyzing and making recommendations on a variety of other grocery store products, including breakfast foods, baked goods, snack foods, frozen foods, and nonperishible foods.  Please feel free to contact me with any recommendations you have for our readers, any questions, or any foods you'd like to consider.  Thanks for reading and for your support!


  1. Nice work! However, I would have liked to see Hiller's products in the comparison, too..

  2. Excellent start. All above stores were national chains. Meijer is at least based in Michigan. I think you may want to add local Michigan stores: Hiller,s,Produce Station, Plum, even Busch's is a Michigan chain.

  3. Thanks, everyone for your comments on this issue so far. In addition to Greg and Irwin, I've had several requests to include more Michigan-based stores in the list, so I'll be doing my best to include Hiller's, Produce Station, Plum Market, Busch's, and organic produce lines at big grocery stores such as Kroger and Meijer. Thank you again for your enthusiastic interest in this topic!

  4. You are helping me to continue eating a healthier diet. Thank you!