Groceries Without Guilt

Why the fact that you haven't gone completely organic doesn't mean you're a failure.

Confession: last night we had Hamburger Helper for dinner. 

The hamburger part of the meal probably had pink slime in it and came from a cow given all kinds of antibiotics and hormones, fed an unnatural diet, and lived a horrible life. The pasta part of the meal had preservatives and white flour. Don't get me started on the little packet of "sauce and seasoning" that was added in. Not sure I want to know what is in that.

If you think I am a bit paranoid, well maybe I am, but every source of media that I consume seems to be telling me that what I am eating is wrong. Although the complete and full effect of such things are yet to be truly discovered, we are seeing more and more links between unnatural food sources and disease.

An accumulation of pesticides in the human body can lead to cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and reproductive disorders. Consuming large amounts of overly processed foods and preservatives has links to cancer, heart disease, obesity and just a general trend of malnutrition as we trade in real food for more and more artificial additives.

This information is flying towards me at rapid speed via friends’ blogs and status updates, my favorite TV shows, healthy living websites and even from my own common sense that can recognize that artificial food, chemicals and growth hormones should have no place in a healthy body or a healthy society or a healthy farm. Meal planning and grocery shopping has become the most anxiety-filled and depressing time of my week. My heart races. Feelings of frustration, helplessness, anger and panic dominate this would-be simple errand. 

I absolutely hate that I cannot afford to buy meat, eggs, milk and produce that come from a healthy agricultural system free of harmful pesticides and hormones.

Meal planning and grocery shopping has become the most anxiety-filled and depressing time of my week.

For example, at my local supermarket which is known to have pretty good prices, I can get a can of store brand spaghetti sauce for a dollar or I can get a jar of all-natural organic sauce for $6.49. What is the difference? Well, the dollar can has the following ingredients: tomato concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, salt, soybean oil, dried onion, dried garlic, and citric acid. The jar that costs nearly 7 times that has: plum tomatoes, olive oil, fresh onions, sea salt, fresh garlic, cabernet sauvignon, fresh basil, black pepper and oregano.

Regular ground beef is $4.00/lb., whereas organic is $9/lb. That jacks up the price of my hamburger helper meal quite a bit. Apples and bell peppers, two items with the highest pesticide residue, follow the same trend. It's $1.29 for a pound of regular apples and $2.99 for organic. It's 79 cents for a sweet pepper, $1.49 for an organic one. Studies show that sweet peppers have at least 50 different kinds of pesticide residue on them. Fifty.

You would think adding all these chemicals, hormones and additives would be more expensive than just plain old food.

You would think.

Can you see my dilemma? Can you feel my frustration?

I go back and forth between whether I should just cut meat out completely. Or cut out white flour completely. Or cut out refined sugar completely. Or just kill my whole family now since I am supposedly killing them slowly anyways. 

I feel utterly helpless to change the food industry in this country. I feel guilty for not making my own marinara sauce. I am in denial over the amount of frozen pizza and goldfish crackers we eat.

 For a short period of time I felt like an absolute goddess because I was managing to buy organic apples, the occasional free-range chicken and cheese that wasn't dyed orange; when that wasn't possible anymore I saw myself as a failure.

Eating healthy is important to me.

 Not getting cancer is important to me.

 But some other things are important to me that I am needing to remind myself of because I can't handle another Friday morning having a nervous breakdown in Fry's supermarket. 

Those important things are these:

God didn't make us for food, God made food for us.

Firstly, our bellies are full. I heard a story not long ago about a mom in a slum community in Manila that was giving her baby sugar water to ease the baby's hunger pains. I don't think that mama would mind one bit eating my preservative-ridden hamburger helper. In fact, I am tempted to get on a plane right now and bring her some. I may only be a healthy, organic-buying, real-foodie wannabe—but our bellies are full.

Secondly, my family is happy. Dinner time is so messy, so chaotic and so exhausting.  But in between bites and swallows we are laughing and telling stories and connecting with one another.

Thirdly, God is bigger than food. Whenever I stress out because I think we should be eating less meat, or more meat, or no meat or fake meat, I remember that God didn't make us for food, God made food for us.

Lastly, I have friends and family to share with. In a day and age when the emotional and spiritual poverty is just as disastrous as diabetes and high blood pressure—I am so thankful that I have wonderful friends and family and neighbors and students with which to share a meal.

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So I am going to continue to be dissatisfied with many of the health problems in our world and desire to change the way we relate to, purchase, grow, share, waste, poison and consume food. But I'm resolving not to let that hamper the joy I feel in making dinner for my loved ones every night. 

I am going to continue to bake my own bread and stay away as much as possible from unhealthy foods, but if what our budget allows for is something different I am resolving to simply be grateful that we have options.

So, I guess the real confession is not that I eat pink slime hamburger helper, but that I have nervous breakdowns at the supermarket. 

I know there are lots of families and individuals who are also fighting the same internal and external battles that I am—let’s all be encouraged in knowing that food is not our god.

 God has given me a great task in taking care of my body, and the bodies and bellies of my family and anyone else I serve food to, but ultimately God has much more to give us than grass fed beef, or beef at all, really.

God desires to give us blessings so that we may bless others.

God desires to give us salvation and freedom and peace.

God desires to give us life—abundantly.




rowinski commented…

Switching to organic produce to avoid pesticide consumption is like moving to Hogwarts because you hate magic. There is no benefit to eating organic (the pesticides they use are actually more deleterious), and non-GMO food is not safer, or better for the environment. As for livestock, findings are conflicting at best, so there is no real evidence that organic food is any different than conventional food, not to mention it is far from sustainable. There is also plenty of evidence that organic food contains pathogens from untreated manure used as fertilizer which are linked to food-borne illness.

Matt Rittgers


Matt Rittgers commented…

For a couple of summers I have worked on wheat farms in Eastern Colorado and I grew up on a corn, soybean, and hog farm in Iowa. While I appreciate the desire to have healthier, more local foods (our own sweetcorn and tomatoes growing up were the bomb)--sometimes the reaction to eating only organic is like the reaction of driving a Prius. What I mean by that is that its a response in which you can feel good about, yet it might not be as good as you think for the environment nor is it economically viable for 99% of the world population.

In Eastern Colorado I worked on 10,000 acre wheat farms that had been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides? Could they simply have not used these chemicals? Not if they wanted a crop. Even with the modern day chemicals they could only get 20 bushel an acre crops (on ground used every other year or so). Without the chemicals weeds would suck all of the moisture out of the land which would, in turn, reduce the yield to maybe 5-6 bushels an acre--not economically worth even harvesting.

In Iowa we used round-up ready soybeans and we sprayed our cornfields as well. I can't find numbers for Iowa off the top of my head, but for Illinois I found some data concerning yields. In 1940 a farmer could expect 50 bushels an acre for corn. By 2000 due to advances in technology and methods the number reached 180 bushels per acrehttp://www.farmdoc.illinois.ed... . I personally have seen 200 bushel and acre crops in Iowa--something unheard of in my great-grandparents lifetime.

Also, I believe that the proper use of science to expand our food productivity is an ethical matter. Some time do some research on Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
His work on genetically modifying wheat to better survive in African and other dry regions has vastly raised food production and he has been credited with saving over a billion lives from starvation. Yes, that's a billion.

Ultimately, food production is a tricky topic. Yes, we do want to be environmentally and socially responsible. Eat good, yummy foods. But at least interact with the topic fairly and prayerfully.

Just Kevin


Just Kevin commented…

I would encourage everyone to take a look at the science rather than the hype. Here are two links to some preliminary studies on the topic: and Admittedly both show that more research needs to be done but nutritionally "organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs are comparable."

Some people have stated that organic food can lead to a healthier life which is unsubstantiated at best. What is proven by scientific research is that a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle will most definitely improve health.

Kirsten Phillips


Kirsten Phillips commented…

Thanks for sharing that research. In all the 'hype' to eat local and organic i have made steps, some baby and some more significant, in simply having a healthier and more balanced diet. Something about me still loves the small, local farm but it is so true that with the current world population and food crisis that isn't a sustainable option for most. Thanks again!

Kirsten Phillips


Kirsten Phillips commented…

Thanks for bringing in this perspective, you are so right. We are barely making it month to month so we really don't have much choice right now, but buying fair trade is so imortant to me, as well as fighting injustices around slave labor in other ways. Thanks again for your input!

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