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June 1, 2015   

An earlier version of this article appeared as the May edition of my monthly Piece of My Mind email. Quite a few readers chimed in with thoughtful responses, which I've added at the bottom. Feel free to add your own thoughts/experiences!


It's too damn expensive. Buy it anyway.

Ad for milk: two gallons for five dollarsI think you should spend more on food. For a better life, it's as simple as that.

Simple, but not easy.

As someone raised to always buy things on sale, I wince when I see ads like this. The half gallon of organic milk in my fridge cost $4.59.

Fruit and vegetables that are free of pesticides, and meat, eggs and cheese from animals treated humanely and not pumped full of hormones and antibiotics aren't cheap. They're still worth it.


Since switching to mostly organic, humanely raised food I feel healthier, happier, and am closer to the weight that feels right for me. I know that the scientific evidence is mixed, at best, when it comes to the benefits of organic foods. Yet since I've changed what we buy and eat it's made a big difference.

I'd like to convince you to give this a try, but how can I talk about it without sounding insufferably holier-than-thou? I'll try to stick to facts as I know them.

The organic and/or local food we now buy contains far fewer nasty chemicals (pesticides, growth hormones, etc.) than standard grocery store fare. You can argue about how much healthier organic food is, but there's no doubt that fewer chemicals are better.

Most of the meat we eat is humanely raised on small farms, not industrial feedlots. No added hormones or antibiotics. Our eggs are not just "cage-free," they're from chickens who actually roam around pastures and peck at bugs.

Partly to save money, and partly due to preference, we're eating less meat and more vegetables. Hard to quarrel with the benefits of that. I routinely use half the amount of meat called for in any recipe where it's not the main dish. Tastes just fine.


Fewer chemicals and less processing mean better food. Better for our bodies, better for the planet, better for the local economy.

And let's not be selfish: it's also better for the people who raise, pick and process the food. If you're healthier not having pesticides in your food, imagine how much better it is for the workers to not be around those chemicals all day every day.

And better for the animals. I'm not opposed to killing animals so we can eat, but I'd like their lives to be decent and their deaths humane. If you've seen any of the many books, articles or movies about industrial-scale feedlots you know that problems abound.

If you share any of these concerns, why not change your approach to what you eat?

How to start

We all want to be healthier, right? Maybe happier? Maybe thinner? Two things made a big difference for me, and they might for you too.

  1. I needed a reason to change life-long habits, and mine came in the form of Michael Pollan's entertaining and eye-opening The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. This fascinating story of how supermarket food is produced, and why it's not good for you, made me think about why I chose food based on price and not quality. I really enjoyed the book, but if you prefer to read less, Pollan cuts to the chase in the much shorter Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.
  2. I had to find a place to buy better food. Fortunately in Cleveland we have good choices: CSAs and farmer's markets, including a few that operate year 'round.

After trying a CSA and being overwhelmed by veggies, the best solution was Fresh Fork Market, a local foods subscription service that works with 100 local farmers to provide fruit, vegetable, meat, eggs, cheese, beans, flour, and much more. They have pick-up locations all over the city.

Baby steps

Change is hard, so start small. This is an experiment, not a punishment. Try one of these small steps:

And above all, don't obsess over the cost, even when in your head you hear your Depression-era Slovak parents' voices scolding you. Spending more on food protects your health and may make you happier. It's an investment in your future, way better than the money you're paying for cable or cell phone service.

Have you taken small (or large) steps to improve how you eat? What were the results? Please add your comments below.

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