I do most of the food shopping and all of the cooking in our family, so I tend to notice what things cost at the local supermarkets. For standard staples, I patronize the Harris Teeter half a block away -- very convenient. But for a few items -- fresh fish, wine, sometimes cheese -- I drive to the Chapel Hill Whole Foods, known hereabouts as "whole paycheck" for its tendency to scarf up all the available money in your pockets. Whole Foods, which began life with the rather more imaginative name Bread and Circus, specializes, of course in organic produce, especially that which is locally grown. Yesterday, I decided to get some zucchini to go with the catfish I had purchased. [Zucchini, very thin sliced and then pan sauteed until it carmelizes, is surprisingly tasty.] I saw a display of organic zucchini for $2.49 a pound. A few feet away was another pile of zucchini -- not organic, but still "regionally grown" from South Carolina -- for $1.69 a pound. The seedless red grapes, which I like to snack on, were going for $2.99 a pound. Their price varies enormously depending on the season. The organic red seedless grapes were $5.99 a pound.
I was so outraged by the price differences that I bought the South Carolina zucchini, and took a pass on the grapes entitrely [I sneaked a taste of one grape, and it was not sufficiently crisp and fresh]. This informal anecdotal survey convinces me that at present, organic produce is a yuppy indulgence, like a Starbucks latte, totally out of reach of a family trying to get by on a really limited budget. I do not see how the organic foods movement can hope to be taken seriously as anything other than an upper middle class indulgence so long as these sorts of price differentials persist.
I might say that this observation holds true as well for the Saturday Farmer's market in Carrboro, where I spent many happy hours last summer behind a card table signing people up for the Obama campaign. Going to the Farmer's Market is an entertainment, like taking in a movie with popcorn -- expensive but fun.