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Growing Up Gourmet: Free Range -- Not a Cash Cow

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Free Range -- Not a Cash Cow

No doubt you've noticed it takes a few more greenbacks to buy things these days. With gas prices soaring past $3.50 gallon, the mortgage crisis heating up, and unemployment rates rising, it's no surprise that groceries are becoming gastronomical too. The cost of eggs were up 40% in 2007; milk and coffee are 26% more expensive than they were just 6 months ago.

You may be thinking that the rising cost of living is one more reason to skip Whole Foods (deemed Whole Paycheck by many) and head to the 99 Cent Store. In fact, the LA Times offered advice last Sunday for really eating on the cheap with a review of the new 99 Cent Store "gourmet" cookbook.

But as it turns out, this might just be the best time to appreciate the free-range, organic, cage-free, grass-fed and typically more expensive goodies from organic farmers and green grocers. Why? On many organic, natural, and local farms that depend less on corn products, operating costs such as feed are staying fixed. What does this mean to the consumer? Grass-fed chicken may still cost a few cents more than their corn-fed brothers, but the price gap is most definitely shrinking. Higher-quality organic produce may not cost more for long. Similarly, industry experts are predicting that the rising price of whole foods -- those in their most natural form like eggs and milk and apples -- are beginning to peak and perhaps drop. Whereas processed foods -- those foods that require economically volatile products such as corn syrup, extensive packaging, and long-distance travel from farm to factory -- are most definitely going to be hit by price inflation throughout 2008.

You knew your heart would thank you for choosing fresh spinach from the produce aisle over a spinach and sausage Hot Pocket from the freezer section. And you knew your conscience would be thankful you chose eggs from free-range birds over those that were cooped-up.

Finally, your pocketbook is beginning to appreciate both.

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