By Megha Bajaj
Organic food nourishes the body and purifies the spirit, not just of the individual but also of our planet. Here is the what, why and how of organics – to make your transition to organic, swifter and smoother
Living. Fresh. Natural. Sun-kissed. Tasty. Organic food is all this and more. Organic is a name given to that variety of crops which are produced without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilisers, growth hormones or any sort of synthetic chemicals. At no point – growing, harvesting or preparation – is a chemical used to modify it. When food comes straight from the gods, as nature intended you to have it, it is referred to as organic food. Organic meat or dairy products come from animals which have been reared organically, again, without any sort of antibiotics or chemical inputs. The same rules that apply to crops apply to animals for their produce to be considered organic. While conventional or non-organic foods are laden with ‘chemical cocktails’ and toxins, organic food is free of human interference. Organic food differs from what we know as ‘natural foods’. It is imperative to understand that while all organic food is natural, not all natural food may be organic food. Natural food is that which is directly from nature, without the addition of preservatives. However, seeing how we humans have interfered with nature, there is no guarantee that ‘natural’ food will be devoid of pesticides or genetic modification. Organic food on the other hand is pure, and bursting with vitality. Yes, straight from the gods!
Most organic farmers view going organic not just as a food choice but as a lifestyle option. They love their plants and tend to them with compassion and care, and with minimum interference. Such plants, studies suggest, when eaten, produce the same sattvic emotions with which they were produced. Since organic foods are so close to nature, they also tend to be seasonal. Unlike genetic modification which can give you a mango even in the severest of winters, organic foods follow nature’s cycle and deliver only what nature intends them to in that particular season. Some organic foods also last for a shorter period than non-organic food because they do not contain post-harvest chemicals. In addition, organic fruits will look smaller and possibly less good looking than chemically modified fruits, which come in humongous proportions sporting a shiny, albeit fake, sheath. However, a bite into an organic fruit will convince you of the folly of going by appearances. For its taste, juiciness, and sheer goodness will be unmatchable by a genetically manufactured clone or chemically sprayed counterpart. For a food to be called organic, it needs to be certified by one of the many agencies that the country has identified. In India, some of the stamps you should look out for are SKAL, SGS, Ecocert, Indocert, Lacon, BVQI, IRFT, USOCA, IMO Control, Onecert, and NOCA. However, many of our local farms who might be producing organic food may not have the funds or the resources required to get one of the abovementioned agencies to certify them. So use your discretion, develop your own contacts with local organic farmers and enjoy pure, organic food, even if it comes without a stamp. Why go organic?
…the body loves it!
Organic food is unarguably the safest food choice for everyone. It is actually very logical. Governments set residue safety levels for individual pesticides. However, many samples of fresh produce carry multiple pesticide residues. Rules often do not take into account the “cocktail effect” of combinations of pesticides in and on foods. Research is emerging, confirming the 100-fold increase of toxicity in such foods! No wonder diseases within the reproductive, immune and nervous system are growing at terrifying rates. Individual compounds may not be that harmful, but a combination can be as bad as poison for the body. Every bite that you take of that big, fat, red apple may actually be harming you much more than doing good.
Moreover, organic food contains certain nutritional values, which are lacking in non-organic foods. Dietician Naini Setalvad, a recognised name in the world of health, says, “Research shows that organic vegetables and fruits are higher in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals when compared to conventional produce. Studies tell us that organic fresh foods have higher levels of vitamins C and E, iron, magnesium, carotenes, and some polyphenols which not only reduce the risks of cancer and heart diseases but also increase the individual’s overall sense of well-being!”
Over and above these health benefits, recent studies have also discovered that: Chromium, which helps the body regulate metabolism and blood sugar levels, was found to be higher in organic foods by an average of 78 per cent. Selenium, one of the antioxidant nutrients protective against cancers and heart disease, was found to be about 39 per cent higher in organic foods.
Calcium, needed for strong bones, averaged 63 per cent higher in organics. Boron, which has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis (along with calcium), averaged 70 per cent more.
Lithium, which is used to treat certain types of depression, was 188 per cent higher. Magnesium, which reduces mortality from heart attacks, inhibits muscle spasms, and eases the symptoms of PMS, averaged 138 per cent more.
In short, many of the minerals prescribed for patients, are found in higher levels in organic foods. A probable cause is that they depend upon their own immune system to survive, while conventional crops are so used to pesticides that their own built-in defence mechanism collapses. This also makes it much lighter on your system – free as it is of toxins. An organic meal will leave you feeling energised, vibrant and full of vitality – so why not make it a part of your every day.
…the soil loves it!
Franklin Roosevelt once said that the nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself. The basic idea here comes from the belief that agriculture is our primary healthcare system. After all, there is a direct link between the health of the soil, that of the crops and animals raised on it, and ultimately that of the people fed and supported by it. Organic farming is the best way of keeping our soil healthy and alive. Organic farmers work with nature rather than against it. Unlike the modern, industrialised agriculture dictum of “bigger the better” and “the more, the better”, organic farmers are more interested in the health and vitality of their crop than its outer appearance or the yield produced.
According to a book called Organic Living by Lynda Brown, a world-renowned organic enthusiast, “Our soil comprises a soil-food web – a complex eco-system that involves animals, plants, insects and microbes.” She adds that in just a gram of healthy soil, for instance, there exist more than 10,000 species and a billion or more living organisms, most of which are microbes. It is these millions of soil bacteria and fungi, invisible to our eye, that are especially important in improving crop vigour and resisting pests and diseases. Artificial fertilisers and pesticides have an adverse impact on the soil-food web. It depletes the plant of its vigour, and soil of its living microbes, thereby forcing the whole eco-system into a spiral decline.
Frighteningly, it takes 500 years to form just an inch of top soil fit for agriculture. Because of the use of strong chemicals, we are losing 13 tons of soil per person, per year! One shudders to think what the future holds for us unless more and more people start going organic.
…the environment loves it!
According to Wikipedia, a carbon footprint is a “measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.” It is meant to be useful for individuals and nations to conceptualise their personal, or national impact in contributing to global warming. One of the best ways by which you can ensure that your personal carbon footprint is not too large, is by going organic. Organic food cannot survive long travels or too much packaging, and therefore must come from a local farmer or producer, close to where you stay. Think global, by all means, but eat local, and see how you can improve the very air, which we breathe.
Worldwide use and abuse of artificial pesticides, and the perils associated with it, makes for horrific reading. These tiny poisonous particles pollute the air, deplete the soil of its vigour and contaminate all water bodies surrounding farms using pesticides. Yes, it’s not just your food that is affected, even our drinking water is becoming more and more toxic thanks to the unmitigated use of chemicals worldwide. Just one tablespoon of herbicide is enough to pollute drinking water for 2, 00,000 people! Frighteningly, plants constantly develop resistance to old chemicals and newer, more hazardous ones are then brought to the markets. If we do not put an end to this pollution, this pollution will surely put an end to us.
Flora and fauna, so intricate to the environment, are suffering greatly due to our fallacies. Chemicals have not only killed numerous varieties of crops, but they affect even the animals and insects that breed on it. All these organisms form a delicate food chain and disturbance to one link creates havoc in all others. On organic farms, measures to protect and improve biodiversity go hand in hand with being natural and opting for conservation. For instance, crop stubble is allowed to grow so that it may provide food for the insects and animals. In addition, in some vineyards weeds are allowed to thrive so that they may create a habitat for predators. Many farmers also build beetle banks and ponds so that a variety of insects may breed in it and co-exist with the crops. Also, though raising organic livestock is labour intensive, organic farmers believe that when they are kind to the animals and keep them stress-free, their products will be tastier and healthier. Organic farmers are kind to animals, and in every possible way encourage flora and fauna to thrive around them.
…the community loves it!
Going organic goes hand-in-hand with several of Gandhiji’s economic philosophies, as they are practical and applicable even in the current scenario. Central to Gandhiji’s philosophy was the principle of swadeshi, which in effect means nothing but local self-sufficiency. For Gandhi, the spirit and the soul of India rested in the village communities. He said, “The true India is to be found not in its few cities, but in its seven hundred thousand villages. If the villages perish, India will perish too.” Swadeshi is a programme for long-term survival. Organic is the means for long-term survival. If a demand for organic food is created and local farmers start producing it, not only will it benefit the world and the individual in all the ways mentioned above but it will also lead to local self-sufficiency. Farmers can charge a good amount for fresh and wholesome food and consumers, seeing the myriad benefits of buying it, would readily pay for it. Further, the millions of rupees that nations are spending on producing chemicals and farmers, in buying these chemicals would end. Going organic can develop a win-win situation for both the producers and consumers.
Organics in India
According to Titoo Ahluwalia, the chairperson of Conscious Food, a popular brand name in organic foods, “In India, while the awareness of organic food is increasing dramatically in the cities, this increase is largely confined to the educated elite. Popularity among the masses is still a long way ahead.” Why are we facing such a scenario even though 2.5 million hectares of our land falls under certified organic area and almost double of it is non-certified organic area? Why then are organic foods available in limited numbers in limited retail outlets only? One possible answer could be that the government is much more interested in exporting our organic goods, for high prices across the world, than making it available to the citizens for nominal costs. As part of the 10th Five Year Plan (2002-07), the government earmarked Rs 100 crore for the promotion of sustainable agriculture in the country. However, this initiative has predominantly benefited exports. A two-pronged effect took place – one, establishment of national organic standards under NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production) which considers only those foods organic that have been certified (certification is a lengthy and costly affair – beyond the means of small or marginal farmers), and two, establishment of APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority) as the nodal agency to promote export opportunities.
Despite these challenges, one notices that the organic spirit is irrepressible and is spreading across the nation. Awareness and consciousness has given way to solutions and one sees several small, but significant revolutions sprout around the country. For instance, Dr Vandana Shiva, physicist and economist, spearheaded the cause of sustainable farming by establishing Navdanya two decades ago. This organisation’s seminal contributions to fair trade practices have been the marketing of organic agricultural produce directly from farmers to consumers. Today, their products are being sold extensively in New Delhi and Dehradun. There is also an interesting awareness campaign being held in Delhi by this organisation – school kids are invited to learn to cook delicious organic meals at their Slow Food Café at Hauz Khas.
Food Bazaar, the food division of Pantaloon retail, has 32 outlets and 200,000 sq ft of retail space across India. The organic range stocked is inadequate but Damodar Mall, head of the food division, remains positive, saying, “It’s a beginning.” Mall claims the organic range is not complete because they are dependent on local, small brand initiatives; enough big certified brands are not there. Fabindia is hoping to change that. This Rs 100-crore apparel and home furnishings retailer ventured into organic foods in 2005 when it test-marketed its organic range in New Delhi. According to Jashwat Purohit, head of Fabindia’s organic foods business, “Our goal is to offer customers a complete organic lifestyle. It does not seem enough for us to offer only select items; we are constantly adding to our range. We started with 75 products but now have around 200 certified products,” he states.
What is required currently in India is for each one of us to become more aware of what we are putting into our mouths and create a demand for organic food. Hemant Chabbra, an organic farmer, says, “If you create a demand for organic food, you would inspire more and more farmers to come back to the natural, original way of farming. Retailers too will see the wisdom in stacking up their organic sections. Organic food will become more available.” Every meal of ours makes an impact on the demand-supply ratio… so let us choose well!
A Global Glimpse
The organic revolution is thriving worldwide. More and more consumers are shifting, consequently generating more organic farms. It is estimated that the demand for organic food will go up by 20 per cent per year. Says Rajesh Nathani, a resident of Canada, “All of our supermarkets now have an entire section for organic food choices and one notices tremendous rush in these sections.” Joshua Kemper, chef for Pure, an organic restaurant in Taj Lands End, Mumbai confirms, “Organic food is definitely becoming more popular. In California, my homeland, one notices organic restaurants in every nook and corner.” Here is a continent watch that will show you what is transpiring around the world as far as the organic movement is concerned:
America: North America is the number one organic producer worldwide with over two million acres of certified organic farmland. The Central and Southern part of America too is catching up, with states like Argentina and Brazil constantly increasing their organic production. In fact, 85 per cent of Argentinean organic crops are exported, including organic beef. Mexico is famous for its organic coffee, enjoyed world over for its heavenly aroma and amazing taste.
Asia: A large area of central China has been earmarked for organic production. Currently over 15,000 acres of certified land is producing over 40 organic products in China. In Japan, the organic market is worth about 3 billion dollars and is growing fast. About 3 per cent of land is already under organic cultivation and there are talks of this ratio growing very soon.
Africa: Madagascar is an organic paradise producing all organic goods from cocoa to coconut, from vegetables to vanilla. Tanzania is known for its delectable honey and Egypt for its medicinal herbs and cotton. Burknia is the organic mango haven with nearly 12,000 mango growers producing 65,000 tons of mangos each year!
Australia: The land area under organic cultivation is currently more than 8 million acres and this is set to double in only ten years. The country’s biggest export market is Japan, especially for organic meat. All sorts of organic fruits, oils and grains are grown here.
Europe: In Denmark, nearly 70 per cent of the households buy organic goods and organic milk is the norm. Germany is the largest organic market in Europe and accounts for one third of all European organic meats and dairy products. In this country, there are over 8000 organic producers and it has the highest per capita consumption of organic food and drink in Europe. In United Kingdom, a bill for Organic Food and Family Targets was passed which aims to target 30 per cent agricultural land and 20 per cent of food consumed to be organic by 2010. Italy too has seen exponential growth in organic production and has over 15,000 organic farms thriving in the pleasant Mediterranean climate!
Even with these kinds of numbers, organic food is only 2-5 per cent of the food sales worldwide. Therefore, unless awareness seeps further into all of us the revolution will be limited to a few. Are you ready to go organic?
Organic living is conscious living because it recognises that everything is connected, nothing exists in isolation. What you do unto others, you ultimately do unto yourself. Abiding by this law of life, all the people involved in organics take care of their planet, just as they would of their homes, and ultimately themselves. For many people who go organic, nature is an extension of them and they, under no circumstances, would cause it any harm. Compassion is seen, not just as an attitude, but a way of life.
For me, working on this article has been a revelation. A junk food lover for as long as I can remember, suddenly I have become much more conscious of what I eat. I have made my own organic beginning by including at least one organic item in every meal. I do not know what good it is doing to my body yet, but in my mind, as I take a bite of organic food, I get the image of lovingly holding a miniature earth in my hand and healing it, nurturing it and nourishing it in the best possible way that I can.
Conscious foods: www.consciousfood.com
(A list of retail outlets across the country is available)
Naini Setalvad: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hemant and Sangeeta Chhabra: email@example.com
Shrikumar Poddar: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jigna for Greenways: 9820562063
We Welcome your comments and suggestions on this article. Mail us at email@example.com
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For over 15 years now, he has not put a grain of ‘poisoned’, as he calls it, non-organic food in his mouth. 68-year-old Shrikumar Poddar, a retired businessperson, says he has never felt younger or more energetic before. He shares that his health – physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual – has come to an all-time high due a single decision made years ago – to eat only, and only, organic food. While many of us buy a few organic foods, we have neither the patience nor the determination to go entirely organic. For Poddar, watching a 15-minute documentary on the devastating effects of foods laden with chemicals was enough to take this life-altering decision. Initially his family was unwilling to change over to the organic way so he simply told them, ‘Okay, you keep destroying your health and the planet’s health too, but I won’t. Let there be two varieties of food made every day in the kitchen – organic for me, non-organic for you.’ Frustrated by this complicated regimen, his family finally gave in and today all of them enjoy higher levels of vitality, thanks to him.
Does he ever get bored of organic food? Poddar says that the question itself does not arise because he continues to enjoy all the delicacies he did before, only now they are healthier. He has managed to build contacts with several organic farmers and all that he needs is delivered to his house. Recently, for his mother’s birthday 39 dishes were made – yes, all pure organic and lip-smackingly delicious. All the 500 guests present there found themselves returning home with more food for thought than they had ever imagined!
Organic farming: A Love Story
Hemant Chabbra and his wife Sangeeta bought Hideout, a wonderful little organic farm 20 years ago as a getaway from the stressed, toxic life that Mumbai offered. Just two hours away, in Vikramgarh district, Hideout was a perfect place for them to feel one with nature and rejuvenate themselves. However, it was after hearing their friend from Switzerland share the sorrow of birds and dying trees, that the duo awakened to the fact that their farmhouse could be a lot more than just a weekend getaway. Suddenly, they had a desire to produce organic food and offer it to the cities, surviving on toxins. Suddenly, they discovered what it meant to be farmers not just on weekends, but at all times. For both of them, ‘organic’ did not just mean no use of chemicals, but also loving their plants. It meant their plants were ‘alive’ and needed all that humans need to survive – food, water and yes, lots of love. Hemant actually meditates with his plants, chants with them, and yes, often sings them lullabies to let them know they are loved. He treats them just as he would treat his two young children. Sangeeta admits that she has done a lot of ‘un-learning’ in the company of their tribal friends who take care of the plants when the couple is away. They believe that plants grow with minimal interference; after all, the insects do all the work! For Hemant being an organic farmer has been a rational decision. He asks, ‘Would you unnecessarily drink medicines, boosters and chemicals? No? Then why feed our plants on it?’ Not only do the Chabbras sell their organic goods, but Hideout has now also become a children’s delight as they organise nature camps for youngsters who learn, early in life, that nature’s way is the best way.
Conscious Foods: Spiritualising Food
Conscious Foods, set up in 1990, is India’s pioneering company in natural and organic food. Their philosophy is to work to a standard and not to a price. The company sources most of its products from small organic farms and farming communities all over the country. A rigorous check is maintained on quality, and stringent standards of hygiene are enforced at every stage, from the farm to the Conscious Food workshop in Mumbai, and from there on to the retail outlets. Says Titoo Ahluwalia, the Director of Conscious Foods, ‘Our mission is three-fold: One to promote natural (whole, unrefined) and organic (chemical-free) foods in order to keep the earth and its people healthy; two, to support farmers that produce organic foods and three, to provide sound information and advice on nutrition to customers!’ This is very important, given that many low-priced food products of unreliable quality appear in the shops in the name of organic food. Conscious Foods markets more than 100 natural and organic products, including whole cereals and their flours, pulses, spices, natural sugars, honey, coffee, green and herbal teas, cold-pressed oils, alfalfa, flax, watercress and other seeds, spirulina powder, amla mixes and healthy snacks made with various cereals, seeds, nuts, dried fruits and herbs. Do not wait; become more conscious of your foods right now.
A ‘Pure’ Experience
Do you want to pamper yourself beyond imagination? Visit Pure, the organic restaurant of Taj Lands End, Mumbai. As you enter, you find yourself relaxing in the natural ambience of the restaurant created by wooden furnishings, soft candlelight and gurgling fountains. Joshua Kemper, the chef, is an organic enthusiast, and aims at serving both exotic and simple preparations using fresh organic fruits, organic grains and the most temptingly delicious organic goat cheese, exported all the way from Italy. Says Kristen McGuire, a visitor from Germany, ‘I am a cancer patient and have come to India for alternative treatment. One of the first guidance I was given to heal was to go organic. Pure, in that sense has been a life-saver for me!’ Try Pure’s Asian pear salad, lemon basil sorbet and Cajun chicken breast. If that is not enough, melt yourself in their divine dessert called eight pure textures of chocolate! If you do not feel like splurging, the modest organic café at Fabindia should also be able to provide you with an organic experience worth remembering.
An Organic Family
When their daughter Riyanka was born, both Nikhil and Jigna Shah were concerned about her health as she was often down with fever and other minor health problems. Allopathy for such a tiny baby did not seem like a good idea to the health-conscious couple so they started asking around for an alternative. This is when they accidentally discovered organic foods and the numerous benefits it offered. Within months, Riyanka’s health had improved with organic food, and the couple’s belief in this wonderful alternative diet was reiterated. Both wanted to spread the organic awareness and this is how Greenways, an organic retail outlet, was born a decade ago. It was a time when little or no awareness about organics was present and often they had to spell organic to family and friends and tell them what it is. They began selling about four or five products but today their wonderful little shop at Carmichael Road, Mumbai, stocks over 100 products and caters to a large number of regular clients. What makes this family special is that at most times they remain, healthy, cheerful and enthusiastic. They believe their food choice is responsible for their glowing faces and high energy levels. Jigna shares a few amazing organic recipes with us to show us that not only is organic food the best health option is can also be unbelievably tasty:
(All the products used are organic and are available at Greenways)
Baked sev puri
100 gm whole wheat puri
100 gm baked sev
I boiled potato
I chopped onion
A little date chutney
A little coriander chutney
A little red chilli, garlic chutney
Rock salt to taste
Take the puri, place a slice of potato, chopped onions and top with all the three chutneys. Finally sprinkle a little rock salt and garnish with coriander and sev.
50 gm moong dalia
½ cup boiled peas
½ cup chopped onions
2 grated tomatoes
1 tsp of ginger, garlic and chilli paste
few leaves of kadi patta
¼ tsp chilli powder, turmeric
1 tsp groundnut oil
rock salt to taste
Soak the dalia 1 ½ times over with water and let it stand for 10-15 minutes. Take a kadai, add the oil and sauté the paste. Add the onions and tomatoes and cook for a few minutes. After this, add the peas and all the masalas with the dalia and cook on low flame for about 10-15 minutes.
200 gm bajri seviya
2 cups of mixed vegetables boiled (beans, carrots and cauliflower)
1 chopped onion
1-2 tsp of paste made with red chillies and garlic
1 ½ tsp sesame oil
rock salt to taste
Boil 700 ml of water. Steep the seviya in this water for two minutes. Strain the water. Take a kadhai, add oil and sauté onion and the paste. After a few minutes add the vegetables. Again, after cooking for a few minutes add the seviya with a little rock salt according to your taste.
Your Questions answered
Why does organic food cost more
Organic food is more expensive than conventional, non-organic food for a number of reasons, the main ones being:
• Organic farming is usually more labour intensive and requires greater care.
• Organic farms are normally smaller than non-organic farmers.
• There are no governement subsidies for ogranic farmers.
• The price of non organic food does not take into account the cost of environmental damage.