This is us: I see good food as a major part of our health care plan, esp since we don't have medical insurance. However, we've also been in situations where it is a matter of not even being able to afford food at all, let alone organics, so I have a priorities list. For clarity, the things at the top are the first things to go in times of economic hardship:
10) Anything that's not on the dirty fifteen (the last fifteen items on this list: http://www.foodnews.org/fulllist.php) - this is most of the time: we've yet to be in a situation where we can afford organic everything . The reason I use the dirty fifteen instead of the much more popular "dirty twelve" is simply because carrots are a major part of our diet and I want them to be as nutritionally dense as possible.
9) Cultured dairy (cheese, sour cream, yogurt) - so long as it is fermented and hormone free, I don't mind getting conventional too much (my reasoning behind our dairy choices line up a lot with those outlined here, you have to scroll down: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/01/11/monday-mission-level-up-your-yogurt-game/)
8) Local, pastured poultry; gets replaced with Bell & Evans and only then conventional
7) Local, pastured pork; gets replaced with conventional
6) Local, pastured beef, gets replaced with something like Laura's lean beef and only then conventional
5) Grains & legumes (this is counter intuitive since these aren't supposed to be as heavy in pesticides as fresh produce, but since the bulk of our diet is grains & legumes I want to get the best that we can get and usually organic is not that much more than conventional when purchased in bulk)
4) Dirty fifteen (btw, except for apples we end up not eating fruit that is highest in pesticides because we can't afford the organic versions even when we're doing okay financially)
3) Liver - cheap meat, great nutrition, first thing affected by the animal not being raised properly (and hence most harmful when eaten in its conventional form). If we can't afford pastured liver, I do buy Bell & Evans but I've never gone entirely conventional nor would I - we'd just stop eating it altogether.
2) Eggs - this is our main protein source and the nutritional content of pastured eggs is just so much higher that I've only ever switched to conventional for very short (as in a week or two) periods of time when we had to do things like empty out the penny jar.
1) Pastured bones - I use backs/necks/bones/etc to make broth and use the broth to cook our grains and legumes, to make soups and to drink as a snack. There were times when we couldn't afford meat at all and relied on bone broths for our animal protein. Scraps like this still cost less than even conventional meat (except maybe chicken) and again their nutritional content is superior to conventional raised so they are a top priority for us. Thankfully this is also the easiest thing to keep since we have a fantastic source of cheap local, pastured scraps, if this was not the case I'm not sure what we'd do.
Honestly, when we can't afford local meat (whether pork, poultry or beef) first we eat a whole lot less meat in general (like only three times a week as part of a casserole rather than main dish - which for us is very little) and then we only switch to conventional meats one meal at a time. We do not do well healthwise when we do not eat meat at all.
ETA: OP, I constantly have a headache over grocery shopping. What has worked for us is to pick a figure that allows us to get 1-8 regularly (nothing fancy, just basic whole foods all cooked from scratch, eating cheap ethnic & one pot meals with no convenience items and pastured meat four or so times a week) when DH brings in a sufficient amount of money to cover all our bills, including the debt snowball. This becomes our basic month to month budget. When we have extra money and we've put away some in savings/EF, I try to stock our pantry and maybe get a few treats (for us this means something like strawberries or fresh seafood from a reputable source). When times are rough, I stop spending money on anything non-essential (this includes our $5 netflix membership), then cut our snowball down, and only when it gets to the point where we are making minimum payments and we're in danger of eating into our EF, do we start cutting our food budget. Honestly, the way we see it is that we can't afford not to get good food if we are to function at the things we have to do day to day and keep our children healthy.
Edited by ltlmrs - 4/27/11 at 7:15pm