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A tale of 2 turkeys: Organic vs. conventional Thanksgiving

It's hard to eat organic and cheap at the same time -- usually, you've got to choose one or the other. How much will an organic Thanksgiving feast cost?

By Money Staff Nov 21, 2013 1:46PM

This post comes from Carmel Lobello at partner site The Week.


Pilgrim hat © Siede Preis / Photodisc Green/Getty ImagesIt's your turn to host Thanksgiving. Fun! Sometime next week, you'll make a list, drive to the grocery store, and spend an afternoon stalking the aisles, attempting to pick the best ingredients to satisfy and impress your family, your in-laws, and maybe your vegetarian friend Brenda, whose retired parents are spending the holiday abroad.


One choice that may come into play: Whether to serve organic food to this gaggle of loved ones.


For many, the organic question is also a cost question. When you're shopping for yourself, it may feel reasonable to spend a few extra dollars here and there to limit the hormone and pesticide content in your meats and veggies. But if you're hosting Thanksgiving and prepping to serve ten or more relatives, the price gap between fresh, organic ingredients, and conventional ones will certainly pack a greater punch.


But how much greater?  Here, we put together two Thanksgiving meals -- one made from organic foods, the other from conventional -- in portions that should serve about 10 people. For prices, we used averages from the USDA's National Fruit and Vegetable Retail Report and the Federal Farm Bureau Association.


Turkey (16 lbs)

  • Organic (not frozen): $53.12
  • Conventional (frozen): $21.76

Green beans (3 lbs)*

  • Organic: $8.97
  • Conventional: $7.38

Mashed potatoes (Yellow, 5 lbs)

  • Organic: $4.50
  • Conventional: $2.43

Bread stuffing*

  • Organic: $4.49
  • Conventional: $3.96

Pumpkin pie*

  • Organic pumpkin pie mix: $3.79
  • Conventional pumpkin pie mix: $2.88
  • Organic crust: $4.59
  • Conventional crust: $2.00

Cranberry sauce (14 oz can)*

  • Organic: $2.95
  • Conventional: $2.59


  • Organic: $90.49
  • Conventional: $47.88

* For items not listed on national averages, we compared prices at and Wal-Mart.


Our conclusion: A fully organic Thanksgiving may cost almost twice as much as a conventional one.

So what do you do if you're on a budget and serving an organic Thanksgiving meal is important to you -- or, say, your new-agey mother-in-law?


Your best bet is probably to strategize. All organic foods are not created equal, and you can prioritize what to spend your dough on.


This, of course, will take some research. White potatoes, which you may think carry less chemicals because they grow underground and have a peel, actually have one of the highest pesticide contents in the Environmental Working Group's list of 43 dirty fruits and vegetables.


And 81 percent of potatoes still contain pesticides after washing and peeling. Sweet potatoes, meanwhile, are hearty enough to grow without much chemical help.


You may want to learn about the "dirty dozen" versus the "clean fifteen," and consider adjusting the dishes accordingly.


More from The Week:

Nov 21, 2013 8:55PM
Who the heck buys organic canned cranberry sauce?? If you can't make cranberry sauce from real cranberries (Possibly the EASIEST T-day recipe EVER) then you have no business hosting the meal in the first place. Good grief.
Nov 21, 2013 10:21PM
Personally, I wouldn't bother doing organic for 10 people unless all of those people always eat organic food.   It won't help any of them health-wise to have just one organic meal out of 1000 meals in a year.
Nov 23, 2013 1:54AM
I see those turkeys at all the popular supermarkets, they are no more organic than me and go in people's basket very fast. Thanksgiving is about family and not about organic crap. Have fun and Happy Thanksgiving.
Nov 21, 2013 10:19PM
You can "strategize", but the turkey and potatoes have to be organic.  So does anything made with flour.   Nonorganic pumpkin and cranberries might be ok, but in their list that's about all.
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