For the past couple years we have been reminded, as Americans, how “unhealthy and overweight” we are. Recently, it seems that the scale has actually scared Americans into healthier eating habits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, adults have consumed approximately 120 less calories than they did in the last decade.
This recent interest with being in shape brings about new health trends. People are choosing to eat locally grown foods instead of buying processed foods. This does not mean every single American is giving up bagged tortilla chips and salsa from the jar, but a lot of people are buying tomatoes from their neighborhood farmers and making the salsa at home, and that is making the difference.
There are many benefits to eating regional foods. Besides the fact that eating local food supports your community and the environment (less gas used to transport food,) locally grown food tastes better since the crops are picked at the exact moment that they ripen. The crops are also more nutritious because they are fresher, since the time between when they are harvested and when they are consumed is shorter.
Now you are probably asking yourself: Can you get even healthier than locally grown? The answer is yes. Actually, the answer is organic. Organic produce is healthier because farmers do not use the synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides that contaminate conventionally grown crops. Likewise, organic snacks do not use artificial sweeteners, man-made colors and flavors, or preservatives. Organic foods have not been genetically modified. Organic foods are whole foods.
Many broke college students, like myself, think that organic options are not for them because of the cost. But that may not be the case. Think of the amount of money you spend on Chinese food or calzones after every drunken night. That is about $20 each weekend. If you multiply that by the 15 weeks we have in each semester, that is about $300 (more if you add in occasional ‘Mug Nights.’) Now think about what else you could buy with that money. According to Usatoday.com, the average American spends around $146 a week on groceries for a low-cost plan and $191 a week for a moderate-cost plan.
What about adults who buy organic food for their families? You would probably assume that even a slight peek at the receipt would be heartbreaking. Again, false. The average cost of a week’s groceries for an organic family of 4 is around $200, according to kitchenstewardship.com. Take that $200, divide it by four, and you get an average weekly grocery bill of $50 given that a person purchases all organic. Now if you take $146; the average cost of groceries for convenience eaters, and divide that by four, that’s $37. For a family of me, myself, and I, the difference in the cost of week’s groceries is only $13. If you are complaining about $13, then your college struggle might be “too real.” Or you are planning to spend that money elsewhere. But what could be a better investment than your health? If you really want to keep the cost down, try buying seasonal fruits and veggies or shop at a farmers market. The prices at a farmers market are habitually lower than what supermarkets charge for organic food. You should never opt for quantity over quality, especially when it comes to your well-being.
Livestock management is another reason to switch to organic. Organic livestock are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. They are given grass to eat and they are raised using traditional methods. Organic chickens and cows get freedom to be outside on a farm instead of being caged up inside of a factory like conventionally raised cattle. Conventionally raised animals do not live a high-quality life. They are not fed the nutrients they require. They are not given access to sunlight or fresh air. They are fed growth hormones to make them plump and then they are slaughtered.
Who are we to treat animals like this? We would not want our dogs or cats living in such conditions, so we should not let our pigs live that way either.
I know how hard it is to eat healthy in college, especially with dining hall options like Chinese food or burgers and quesadillas. You may even consider the idea of being an organic eater in college unachievable, but do not underestimate your ability to make good choices.
Even if you cannot make the leap from conventional eating to an organic lifestyle right away, the baby steps you take will eventually add up. I am not 100 percent organic either. I try my best to eat organic when I have the option to. The dining hall menu has a relatively small organic selection, which includes steel cut oatmeal and black bean soup. Choosing to eat more fruits and veggies and an organic meal twice a week is a good place to start. Once you realize how much additional energy you have, you will no longer have an appetite for unhealthy foods.