A few years ago, after having spent many years, in the “virtual” IT industry, I decided to take a sabbatical and do some “real” things. Having been an IT entrepreneur for a while, I thought the best way to do it was to setup a green business. It was becoming fashionable too!, was close to the earth! and the world seemed to need it? Or did it, really? Most friends were wondering what I was trying to do – they thought I was crazy, Indians did’nt care about Organic Food, it was only understood in Europe and in the US and even there it was purchased by a small percentage of the population! Thanks mainly to some good PR by large chains like Whole Foods that imported organic food all the way from New Zealand!
We invested in a Organic Food Store Chain concept and set out setting up franchise stores in Bangalore and Pune. We had to compete with the conventional food chains in the city, make the store “appealing” with good décor and setup all the “cold chain” equipment to preserve food and make it “look good”. So far so good. Friends showed up for the inauguration of the stores both in Pune and Bangalore. Sales on inaugural day were good, we thought we had hit a gold mine of a venture! Good press coverage, lots of curiosity and a pat on the back for our “noble endeavour”
A few weeks into the venture, with friends having tried our “organic groceries, ice-creams, salads, bread and fruits and vegetables” already, the new and curious customers came, asked many questions, enquired about prices and why there were no “Kurkure” like products in the store and never came back.
A lawyer, walked in asked all types of legal questions and wanted to know how some of the food in the store can be preserved without preservatives! “I have done work for some food companies and defended them in court, they tell me food cannot be preserved without chemical preservatives”. Reminded that our grand-mothers preserved jam with the concentrated sugar or jaggery itself being the preservative or the lime and salt in the pickle being the preservative, the judge in the lawyer wasn’t too convinced with the argument.
Another customer wanted to know what the “free ranging organic eggs were”? If they are free ranging and the hens and cocks are free ranging too, are the eggs still “vegetarian”? Wont they be “fertilized”. We had to go back to the supplier who explained that some of them could be fertilized, (explaining it in Marathi with terms like “Safal” and “Asafal” meaning successful or unsuccessful fertilization”) and the only way to know is to check out the yolk and look for the presence of a “dot” (Safal). Oops, the “vegetarian” egg eaters never came back to buy these eggs which were in any case beige in colour.
A husband and wife, walk in enthusiastically, twelve year old daughter in tow, wanting to know “whats great about organic food”. We diligently explain about toxic chemicals in food, the Cancer Express as a train in Punjab that is known to take cancer patients to a famous Cancer Hospital in Rajasthan is called and the excesses of pesticides usage during the green revolution that has caused this. Not convinced, the husband quickly says “But hasn’t life expectancy gone up since we started eating conventional (non-organic) food?” I repeat my cancer story and explain how the incidence of cancer has gone up in modern times. Not convinced, the customer retorts “Oh so many people died so young in the olden days, people didn’t even know how they died, maybe many died of cancer even as they ate only organic food those days”
A lady walked in one day, very serious about wanting to eat only organic food, was convinced that its good and how she would thenceforth eat only organic food. Lifting a bunch of Palak, turning it over she notices a few “holes” and asks “But wont there be insects in Organic Food, especially Palak”. We try to explain that its possible, but why its not entirely bad, she says solemnly “ Well I would love to eat Organic Food, but it wont be quite appropriate with the possibility of insects in my food. We are Jains you see! “
Organic Food and Prices, the most commonly asked question – “If no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used to produce all this, why is it so expensive, you don’t even bother to spend on these basic inputs” And there were those who walked in and asked “Whats the fuss all about? Is’nt all food in India organic? Explain all about excessive pesticide usage to them and they would say “Hey farmers in Vidarbha don’t even have money to buy fertilizers and pesticides”. Tell people why we didn’t have (organic) apples in the rainy season, they would walk away telling us that everybody in town had them but us!
An elderly couple walk in with a bottle and some carrots they had bought the previous day, demanding to know how the carrot juice is reddish orange in colour! Perplexed and thinking that its what it should be we try explaining that its natural! Not able to convince them, we recruit our farmer supplier who happens to be in the store at that time to explain to them, hoping that they will be convinced by the farmer who’s closer to nature than us. The farmer is perplexed that he needs to explain this, and is even more so when the couple are not convinced, as they repeat their allegations about the carrots being “artificially coloured by chemicals”
Talk to people about the film “Super Size Me” that shows what happens when a person has all his meals at McDonalds for a few weeks and how it makes the person obese and they look at you as though we are one of those orthodox Swadeshis! Talk about the book “Fast Food Nation” and what it has done to America’s health and they tell you “But America is the most powerful nation on earth” and you are not so sure you want to answer any more questions about the “naturalness of food”
The last laugh was by a farmer whom I visited in the Konkan, near Murud Janjira. When an accompanying friend told him that I was into organic food, the farmer looked at me and said “Oh we know all about it, I’ll show you what we do”. After we had seen all the conventional farms (using the forbidden inputs) in the area including his own, he took us to a ½ acre plot right next to his home. There he showed us what they grew and ate, “This is where we grow OUR food, without a drop of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The other fields that you saw we grow crops to feed you guys in the cities”
We soon started pointing to the poster in the store that explained “Why Eat Organic Food” hoping that the poster with its “scientific data” would convince customers better! And I am now back in the IT industry, keeping my views on food all to myself! Here’s the information from the poster for all those who would still like to be convinced!
-------Why eat Organic Food?
Most people agree that they would like to buy organic and biodynamic food. Yet, instead of prioritizing certified organic food, the majority stick with old, inferior buying habits of processed or conventional food. These non-organic foods are nutrition poor, contain toxic residues, taste inferior and are potentially harmful to the environment, you and your family. So why eat organic food – can you really afford not to!Mineral Content of Food
A question that often gets asked is "Is organic food better?" Common sense says that it must be. Surely eating food without chemicals and harvested in a more natural manner is better. But is it? The answer is clearly yes. A Study from Rutgers University USA clearly showed this to be true.
Before these studies were carried out the idea that organic crops were nutritionally superior was widely accepted on faith alone. People hoped that the effects of organic cultivation were better for the earth. In recent years this has been proven time and time again. Researchers at Rutgers University in the USA, intrigued by the emphatic claim that "Organic is Better", decided to shop around for some answers. They went to a supermarket and purchased a selection of produce, which they analyzed for mineral content. They then went to a health food store and purchased the same products but grown organically and carried out the same tests. The Rutgers' team expected the organic produce to be slightly superior in this comparison, but the results were incredible! e.g. The amount of iron in the organic tomatoes and spinach (1938 and 1584) compared to the non-organic varieties (1 and 49). There is a huge difference. And we always thought we ate spinach for its iron content!!
Many other essential trace elements are completely absent in the non-organic foods whereas they occur in abundance in the organic varieties. Other studies came to the same clear conclusion.Naturally Good Taste
Organic food is produced as nature intended. Crops and livestock are grown and reared naturally, at their own pace, without artificial fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, chemical feeds, growth promotion drugs or routine antibiotics. Because organic produce is allowed to develop more slowly, it generally contains less water (upto 70% less) and more solid matter, which means more nutrients and more flavour.
Would you like (70%) diluted taste of conventional food and the taste of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in your food?Baby & Children's Health
Standards for safe pesticide use in foods have been based on adult tolerance levels. When selecting foods to feed your baby and children it makes sense to avoid foods with pesticides, since babies and children are far more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides because of their small size, high metabolisms, immature digestive and detoxification system.
"More than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 ingest at least 15 pesticides every day from fruits and vegetables. More than 600,000 of these children eat a dose of organophosphate insecticides that many federal governments consider unsafe, and 61,000 eat doses that exceed benchmark levels by a factor of 10 or more."
Surely, we all care for our children’s health!!Its Better for the Environment – The Secret is in the Soil
Intensive farming exhausts the soil, depleting the natural minerals and trace elements essential for nutrient rich food. THE SOILS of many nations on earth - are low in levels of organic material; 80 percent of many nations’ soils have less than one percent organic matter. This reality is reflected in many countries like China, the United Kingdom and most European Union nations. Countries lose estimated billions of dollars worth of agricultural soils to degradation every year.
It is this degradation of our farmlands, which is the single greatest threat to sustainability. Farming is a mineral extractive industry, which progressively removes from the soil not only the organic fraction, but also minerals and trace elements. In India, the process of degradation of our soils costs us thousands of crores of rupees per year as a nation. Ironically, at the same time one of the factors in this degradation, chemical fertilizer is constantly rising in cost, both to the farmer and to the broader community. India’s fertilizer subsidy bill is Rs. 12,500 crores annually and keeps growing!
For the organic farmer, the soil and its natural fertility are paramount. Various non-artificial methods, such as mixed farming systems that integrate a range of crops with rearing livestock and crop rotation, green manuring are used to keep the soil in good health and replace essential nutrients.
Appropriate varieties, beneficial predatory insects and companion planting help build resistance to pests and diseases. Naturally strong crops grown in fertile soil take up a richer nutrient supply.Wouldn’t we all like to safeguard the earth for our children and future generations? This article was first published in the magazine - Reading Hour (http://www.readinghour.in/) in their inaugural issue in Jan 2011
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