The Cost of Real Food.

By Mario Fiorucci, Co-Founder of The Healthy Butcher

I recently came across an interesting quote: “Eat organic food… or as your grandparents called it, ‘Food.’”  These few simple words evoke images in our minds of farms prior to heavy industrialization and centralization; prior to the ludicrously heavy use of chemical-based fertilizers and herbicides, antibiotics and growth stimulants, or feeding animals to animals; and prior to the time food ingredients became impossible to pronounce without a doctorate in chemistry.  The vast majority of people, at some point or another, have intentions of eating wholesome food – known commonly today as ‘organic’ food.  The problem is that those good intentions are thrown away when they realize that organic can significantly increase food costs.  The statement that organic food is “expensive” is completely untrue.  Organic food is not expensive, but is reflective of the cost of growing food for nourishment.  Conversely, conventional food is far too cheap – like $0.99/lb. meat – that frequents the front page of big box flyers is reflective of the garbage that is used to feed the animals and the poor conditions within which animals are raised.  So, let’s discuss why organic food costs more and how we can eat organic without breaking the bank.

Take chicken as an example.

Certified Organic chickens are raised in barns with full outdoor access.  Each chicken has space to roam around wherever it feels.  At night, the barn is dark and the chickens rest.  The feed is a mix of organic, non-GMO soy (costing over $1100/ton), corn (costing over $400/ton), wheat (costing over $400/ton), oats, spelt, and during the younger part of the chicks life, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that will have the effect of boosting its immune system and ensuring the chicken stays healthy its entire life.

On the other hand, non-organic, conventional chickens are raised in fully enclosed barns.  It is common for conventional chicken barns to be so crowded that not all chickens can be resting comfortably on the ground at one time.  The lights never shut off and chickens reach their market weight anywhere from 2-6 weeks earlier than organic.

The feed is a mix of GMO, chemically fertilized and sprayed soy (costing less than $500/ton), corn (costing less than $150/ton), wheat (costing less than $200/ton), and, oh yeah… the main part being bakery waste, feather meal (i.e. a protein derived from processing the feathers of other birds after slaughter), tallow (i.e. fat waste from other animals), and, if the price is right, by-products from many other industries (stale bubblegum left in foil wrappers and the like).

To top it all off, antibiotics are mixed into the feed so that the chickens can tolerate the conditions within which they are being raised.

Whether we’re talking about chicken or beef, or for that matter, fish, fruits or vegetables, the same principle applies – garbage in, garbage out.  The price of organic food will never decrease to a level comparative to conventionally-grown foods simply because the input costs are higher.  So then, the question becomes, how can we afford to put organic food on our table?  The answer is simple, but not easy, as it requires a paradigm shift in thinking about what food is and how it is to be eaten.

Have you ever seen a chicken breast walking around by itself?  I hope not.  Yet, most people only eat the breasts of chickens.  What happened to the rest of the bird?  What is wrong with eating a chicken leg (skin in-tact!)?  The most common answer I hear is “but legs are fatty”… My answer:  Chicken fat is not bad for you!  From a properly raised chicken, the fat is high in the monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid (boosts immune system), oleic acid (beneficial effects on cholesterol), and even the saturated fatty acids in poultry have a high percentage of palmitic fatty acid (which is believed to have no effect on or even lower cholesterol levels).  The French have taught us that you don’t get fat by eating fat (known as the French Paradox)! You get fat by eating too much of the processed sugar-enhanced foods that are commonplace today.  Stay away from the ingredients that you cannot pronounce.

Think of meat as coming from whole animals.  If you are buying from a butcher that deals with meat sustainably (meaning the whole animal is bought and sold), buy steaks such as Blade, Flank or Flat Iron instead of Tenderloin, Striploin, or Rib Eye.  On RealFoodToronto.com, use Value Steaks and Value Roasts category to guide you in your buying decisions.

Learn how to braise meat which will allow you to create masterpieces out of such cuts as Brisket and Shank.  And try buying local fruits and vegetables in-season, which will be far less expensive than buying imported products at other times of the year.

Next, make eating an enjoyable, slow process.  It is common knowledge that it takes about 20 minutes for food to be digested enough that glucose gets into the bloodstream and the hormones start working.  If you wolf your food down your body won’t have a chance to feel that it’s full, and in the meantime you will have consumed 12oz of meat, and second portions of everything else.  By eating slower, you will eat less.  By eating less, you will spend less on food.  That means you splurge on better ingredients and not spend more money.

Food is not only a source of nourishment, but a necessary means to stop whatever it is you are doing and devote attention to life, family, simplicity, and nature’s bounty.  To eat well means to eat better ingredients, but it does not mean to spend more money.  Don’t be fooled!  Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season; be selective on your cuts of meat and fish; and pass on the ingredients that you can’t pronounce.Buy less quantity, but better quality.  Skip the $10 barbeque sauces and marinades, instead buy ingredients that only need salt and pepper to burst with flavour.  Your enjoyment and health will benefit.

Then, surround yourself with good company and the recipe for a healthy life is complete.