Is Organic Food as Accessible as Claimed?

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Organic food is a hot button topic. People either love it or hate it and one of the main reasons for hating it is the price. Organic food is more expensive than other options, and that has a serious effect on the people who want to buy it.

Those who are anti-organic often claim that organic food is an example of privilege and marketing — the privilege of food security, having spending money and being granted a multitude of options. This is a hard argument to combat when you’re looking at the organic section and a bag of carrots costs $1.50 more than the non-organic kind. The marketing, of course, is to make consumers feel as though organic producers are looking out for their best interests, regardless of the fact that they’re a corporation just like the traditional products.

The Split

Since the main factor when it comes to organic food is price, more affluent areas should presumably have more organic options. However, as prevalent as organic food has become, it would make sense that even if there aren’t as many options in lower-income areas, there would still be a decent selection, right?

Wrong.

According to a recent, extremely in-depth study by Carolyn Dimitri et. al., organic food is difficult to find outside of more affluent areas. According to research for the study, a whopping 60 percent of the stores investigated did not offer options for the 24 most common organically available foods. That’s a big difference from the impression the industry wants to promote. The stores that did offer a selection of organic foods and had more than just a handful of items available were overwhelmingly in the wealthy areas of Manhattan. The more distressed areas of the city often had between zero and six organic items available.

However, it isn’t just socioeconomics that impacts the availability of organic. The store’s size and the customers’ interest in organic options also play a big role. Since this particular study took place in Manhattan, New York, it’s safe to say that some of this could be influenced by the city itself. After all, New York City is packed to the brim with people, and shelf space is valuable.

Grocers won’t put anything out unless they’re sure it’s going to be profitable. Organic is often a form of double-stocking too, since there’s a cheaper, traditional option and an organic one. Eating into shelf space like that isn’t always a realistic choice for grocers.

The Economics

Even with shelf space at a premium in NYC, there’s still a question about how accessible organic food is. There’s no question that organic is gaining popularity since the label was first introduced in 2002. From 2004-2014 alone, the industry has been on the upswing, reaching a whopping $39.1 billion.

Some of the name brand stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods still charge top dollar for their products. The price difference between organic and traditional is real and palpable, ranging from a 20 percent increase for some produce up to 167 percent for some meats. For those who struggle to make ends meet on a regular basis, organic food is simply not a feasible option.

Other places are working on changing that. Wal-Mart’s in-house version of organic, Marketside, is beating the prices on the competition. This is starting to drive prices down, making organic a possibility for more people.

What this comes down to is making decent food available to everyone. According to the USDA, 14 percent of American households were food insecure in 2014. Making food more expensive won’t fix that. It’s also important to note that no long or short term health effects have been found from eating traditionally grown food.

What does have an effect is that most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Most Americans eat way too much processed food, fast-food and sweets. If you can’t or don’t want to buy organic produce, don’t skip it altogether. Buy the traditional, and trust that a good wash will get the bad stuff off — just like it would with organic.

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