Cost of Thanksgiving feast: traditional vs organic

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The traditional Thanksgiving dinner will cost 13 percent more this year, according to a survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The average feast will cost $49.20 to feed a gathering of 10, which is $5.73 more than last year.

If you’re planning an all-organic Thanksgiving dinner you can expect to add about $100 to the total, according to, the digital network of The Wall Street Journal.

The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners is the turkey, which is responsible for much of this year’s price increase. Farm Bureau says a 16-pound turkey will cost an average of $21.57, an increase of about 25 cents per pound over last year, or a total of $3.91 per bird.

Farm Bureau’s survey of Thanksgiving dinner ingredients found increases for most items that make up the traditional feast. Whole milk, for instance, increased 42 cents per gallon to an average of $3.66. Other items include: a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.03, up 41 cents; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.52, up 6 cents; a ½ pint of whipping cream, $1.96, up 26 cents; one pound of green peas, $1.68, up 24 cents; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.88, up 24 cents; a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, $2.30, up 18 cents; three pounds of sweet potatoes, $3.26, up 7 cents; and fresh cranberries, $2.48, up 7 cents.

The organic-version of a Thanksgiving feast is a little pricey, beginning with the turkey. The average cost of the traditional turkey in the Farm Bureau survey is $1.35 per pound, but the organic bird was found to be $4.99 per pound by SmartMoney. That makes the same 16-pound turkey cost $80. Want organic canned pumpkin for the pie? That’s an extra $1.81 for two 15-ounce cans.

SmartMoney compared prices for organic and non-organic menu items and found an organic premium for the meal at $126.35.

“The organic version of our turkey-day menu for eight people including dinner rolls, a salad and three bottles of organic wine totaled $295.36,” SmartMoney wrote. (The organic wine was priced about $7 per bottle higher than the non-organic wine, which added $21 to the price differential.)

SmartMoney notes that their shopping was done in New York, not the cheapest place to buy food. SmartMoney also said Whole Foods, where their organic turkey was purchased, also offers a store-brand turkey for $2.29 a pound “that has only been fed a vegetarian diet with no animal by-products and has not been administered antibiotics.”

For many Americans, however, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner means going to a restaurant. According to the National Restaurant Association, 30 million Americans (about 10 percent of us) will rely on restaurants for their Thanksgiving meals.

NRA says about 14 million people will eat their turkey dinner at a restaurant while 16 million will get takeout for all or part of their feast. Six in 10 people say that eating out is just more convenient.

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Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  November, 18, 2011 at 10:16 AM

Calling pesticides “traditional” is a great example of what Geogre Orwell called “doublespeak”: language deliberately constructed to disguise its actual meaning. Organic farming is traditional farming—period. Humans have began farming during the agricultural revolution (between 8000 and 5000 BCE). What is not traditional is the application of 1.3 million tons per year of toxic chemicals on our soils to kill virtually everything except the desired product. The widespread application of pesticides began in the 1950s, a mere blink of an eye in either geologic or human life scales. Worldwide, pesticide use is still the exception to the rule. Furthermore, analysis of the cost at the checkout is misleading at best, and dangerous and outright dishonest at worst. The actual costs of using non-organic foods (vs. traditional, i.e., organic foods) include health effects, environmental effects, and effects on the non-targeted nonhuman species. Costs of pesticides on the first two categories have been estimated at $9.6 billion annually ($32 per person), but that pales in comparison to the tragic impact on individuals struck down with skin conditions, nervous system disorders, nonHodgkin lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, neurological disorders, birth defects, fetal death, or neurodevelopmental disorders as a result of pesticide applications. In the third category, over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including non-target species, air, water and soil. Human health and the health of our planet are degraded when treated as commodities, or when ignored, as done in this disingenuous cost comparison.

David Twente    
Missouri  |  November, 20, 2011 at 04:18 PM

Ron, with all due respect, you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. At each and every level, you are wrong. Even the earliest farmers learned that by putting selected treatments on their crops, such as soda ash, and borax they could better control the insects that destroyed their crops. If producers were to suddenly have all pesticides, and chemical fertilizers taken away from them, there would be massive rioting for the blessed little food that farmers could produce. Of course, maybe our world would be much better with a several billion fewer people in it. There sure would be much less pollution from our city cousins.

Kentucky  |  November, 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM

I agree with Ron completely. He has the historical and the broader perspective down. There ARE added costs with non-organic products that economists seldom add into the equation. Also, I just returned from our local Whole Foods market, and while there is no question most things are more expensive than "regular" groceries, the scale is not nearly as severe as indicated by the Wall Street Journal. A 16-pound turkey was actually going for $50 NOT $80. I will grant that sticker price on organic is normally higher than other goods, but not always since there are sales, competition between stores, plus that old advice to "comparison shop" works with organic too (I don't buy all my organics from Whole Foods, believe me)! In the end, I'll bet that if I went out and bought the same foods itemized by the FBF, but only organic, I would shell out more at the cash register, but not even close to $100 more! And I'd feel a lot surer of the quality of my meal. Why don't you try it, Greg?

Jack Cummings    
Wisconsin  |  November, 22, 2011 at 07:26 PM

Ron what does organic mean to you? I have looked into the organic classification and it varies so much from product to product and in the end you are putting a lot of trust into the person at the other end who claims the product is organic. Ya know there is no organic police.

Maxine Jones    
Midland, SD  |  November, 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

You 'organic' promoters forget that not all the pesticides and fertilizers you disdain are used by farmers. Something like 15% of such chemicals are used by farmers, while cities, counties, states, and federal governments use a lot of them, as do folks with yards to tend, golf courses, resorts, parks and others who are NOT farmers are using the big, bad chemicals you love to hate. Traditional, MODERN farmers have done a wonderful job of keeping people fed at prices most can afford. Our government has to ADVERTISE to get enough people to use their free food programs, it seems. Choices are what makes the world a happier place, excepting for some of you who want to dictate what others eat and how they grow the food.

David Twente    
missouri  |  November, 20, 2011 at 04:25 PM

Well said Maxine! I don't need Big Brother dictating to me what to grow, how to grow it, or what to eat or not eat according to their "opinion"

Montana  |  November, 20, 2011 at 04:56 PM

To Ron and Robert: I think it is important for consumers to have options as to the type of food items they want to purchase and consume. In America we are fortunate enough to have income levels that allow a vast majority of us to do this. But, I find it extremely disrespectful of you (whom I both assume are not a part of production agriculture) to try and dictate how food is produced in this country and others. You may not be aware of it, but by 2050 there is supposed to be 9 BILLION people to feed. As developing countries are gaining wealth they are also developing a taste for meat-based proteins. Modern, traditional agriculture has been able to develop technologies that produce more food from less land and other input resources. This has allow us to reduce the impact of food production on the environment while also providing a safe, nutritious and AFFORDABLE product to more people around the world. There has been numerous research studies with data to back-up these claims as well as the fact that we continue to reduce the number of hungry people in the world. Before you climb up on your soapbox I beseech you actually visit agriculture facilities and to think about whether or not you'd like to see millions if not billions of people going hungry every day because you think we should just have organic production systems.

Idaho  |  November, 23, 2011 at 09:46 AM

Did anyone proofread this before it was posted? The math doesn't agree with the text. The lead paragraph says, "The average feast will cost $49.20 to feed a gathering of 10, which is $5.73 more than last year." The second paragraph says, "If you’re planning an all-organic Thanksgiving dinner you can expect to add about $100 to the total..." But down in the middle of the article it says, "SmartMoney compared prices for organic and non-organic menu items and found an organic premium for the meal at $126.35." And then near the bottom of the article it says, “The organic version of our turkey-day menu for eight people including dinner rolls, a salad and three bottles of organic wine totaled $295.36.” Your numbers are all over the board and they don't match up. Which are correct?

Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  November, 25, 2011 at 07:29 PM

David, think about this as a consumer, parent, or community member whose interests go beyond how many pounds they can sell at market. Soda ash and borax are biological agents--natural, biodegradable, sustainable, and non-toxic approaches. Modern pesticides are synthetic chemical products designed in a lab, and there is nothing natural, biodegradable, sustainable or non-toxic about them. That is why the “organic” label came into being—to differentiate traditionally-grown products from those sprayed with toxic chemicals. We didn’t need that label before DDT came along. According to theStockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 9 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent organic chemicals are pesticides. A published in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that 30 out of 37 of the most common pesticides block or mimic male hormones. Women exposed to pesticides are more likely to have fertility problems and lower birth-weight babies. Pesticides have also been implicated in the rapid rise in ADHD. A 2004 analysis of CDC data revealed that 100% of blood and urine tests from subjects they monitored showed pesticide residues. Two insecticides — chlorpyrifos and methyl parathion — were found at levels up to 4.6 times greater than what the US government deems acceptable. In a joint study conducted by scientists from the CDC and two universities, researchers found that pesticide levels in test subjects dropped to undetectable levels upon switching to an organic diet. When the subjects switched back to a non-organic diet, pesticide residues almost immediately became detectable. Today, more than 20,000 pesticides are registered with the EPA. How many would you like on your sandwich?

Ron Treatise    
Alabama  |  December, 02, 2011 at 11:57 AM

Heather wrote: “Modern, traditional agriculture has been able to develop technologies that produce more food from less land and other input resources.” Heather, I’m not sure which process you are referring to: modern, non-sustainable farming as practiced for less than 100 years, or traditional agriculture as practices for thousands of years. But what we do know is that pesticides indirectly cost the U.S. at least $8 billion a year. This is in addition to the typical cost/benefit analyses performed by industry or government regulators. Consumers don’t see the deaths of non-targeted species (e.g., birds, fish, honeybees, etc.), groundwater contamination, their own health issues, or domestic animal deaths when they buy their farm goods, and far too few make that association until it is too late. The philosophy of organic food production maintains certain principles: biodiversity, ecological balance, sustainability, natural plant fertilization, natural pest management, and soil integrity. We cannot feed the world in a sustainable manner by killing off everything except what we sell in the marketplace. As pointed out in The Way We Eat—Why Our Food Choices Matter, “Stealing, lying, hurting people—these acts are obviously relevant to our moral character.” Yet in eating, an act essential to life and in which we partake about three times a day, we have been conditioned to casually view food as commodities for our consumption based only on taste or price at the checkout counter. Markets aren’t moral. We need to recognize that there are some things that money can’t buy and other things that money can buy, but shouldn’t. Lax regulation and enforcement of pesticide use, unaccounted for negative externalities, and increased volume at harvest don’t excuse the wholesale application of toxic synthetic chemicals on our food.

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