A man who applies pesticides to Iowa fields for $14 hour might not seem a likely organic enthusiast. But when I met Jim Dreyer last fall, and he mentioned the backyard patch he and his wife had planted with vegetables in the spring, he told me he didn’t use any pesticides. When I asked him why, Dreyer surprised me: “I don’t want to eat that shit,” he said. When I went grocery shopping with his wife, Christina, she surprised me, too, by picking out a bag of organic grapes even though she was paying with Snap – food stamps – for exactly the same reason.
I thought about Jim and Christina last week, and my surprise at their organic habits, after Walmart announced it will be adding 100 new organic products to its shelves this month. For as long as I can remember, "organic" has been synonymous with affluence and conscious consumption. Partly, that’s because organic foods are typically 30% more expensive than conventional items. But part of it is our assumption about who exactly buys organic and why. Typically, it hasn’t been families like the Dreyers, who are raising three kids on Jim’s $14 an hour and can't really afford it. So we tend to think that people who buy organic food are part of a select group: urban, well-meaning, affluent, educated “foodies”.
This is a pernicious myth. In reality, the poor actually consider organic food more important than the rich, according to top researchers – and organic isn’t a “select” phenomenon at all. Three-quarters of American shoppers buy organic food at least occasionally and more than a third do so monthly, according to industry analysis by the Hartman Group. When researchers asked why shoppers didn’t buy organic more often, two-thirds said it was because of the higher price.
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