The term Organic means food grown naturally, under hygienic conditions and free of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. The green revolution in India, ensured that the country was able to produce a lot of food (although ironically we still don’t have enough to feed our own people), but it came at a big cost. The overuse of chemicals in farming has led to not only health hazard for consumers but for the surrounding environment. The 95% of pesticides gets into the the soil, ground water, air etc. which impacts the farmers.
However, the good news is that more and more consumers recognize the impact of decades of chemical abuse of the food they eat. We are seeing an increasing demand for Organic food, driven by mothers who want to ensure that their family gets the best. There are more options now available across major cities in India.
Organic food today is more expensive, and much of it currently available is uncertified (because certifications can be a costly affair for smaller farmers). The question facing consumers therefore is how can they be sure that the food they are buying and paying a premium for, is actually Organic, and healthier than the other options?
We spoke to Mr. Ashok Joshi who left his corporate job and started a new venture Himalayan Organic Produce Co to promote organic farming in his native state of Uttarakhand. He provides freshly harvested organic farm products under brand name JAIVIKFOOD to customers in Delhi NCR while ensuring right prices to farmers. He put together a list questions that you should ask yourself, or the seller to ensure that the food you buy delivers on the promise of Organic food:
1. How much of it is available? Since Organic food is largely seasonal (unless stored in cold storage), and preservative free, it is usually available only in limited quantities. If you find large quantities stocked in a store over a long period of time, you can be sure there is an issue with authenticity.
2. Where exactly is the farm? Find out about the source. Soliciting basic information about where the food comes from, will give good insight into its authenticity. Organic food is best consumed fresh, and grows in certain region at particular times of the year. If you find a mismatch, there is an issue.
3. Has the produce been exposed to pests? Certain vegetables attract pests more than others, despite the best efforts of Organic farmers to keep them away. Some of these vegetables include Capsicum, Bitter Gourd, Cucumber and Brinjal. When you see these vegetables, and they look like they’ve never been touched by a pest, avoid buying them. It is highly unlikely that they have been grown Organically.
4. Does the produce have spots on it? While it is legally allowed to polish food items, those following truly Organic farming practices will not use any additives or processes to make a product look better. A fruit or vegetable that has a lot of clarity, and is shiny – is likely to have been waxed. Avoid such fruits. When it comes to Organic food, fruits that look bad, can in fact be really good.
5. Is the farm located in a hygienic place? While chemical free farming is the generally accepted definition of Organic farming, a hygienic environment is equally important. For example, a farm located in an area that is close to a source of industrial waste (such as the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi) cannot be classified as Organic unless the soil is first treated.
6. Who is the farmer? Besides the fact that Organic food is best consumed fresh and therefore sourced locally, you can develop a relationship with the farmer who will be more inclined to listen to your feedback. Talk to the farmer to constantly check in on farming practices, ask for pictures, and if possible visit the farm occasionally.
While this may not come instantly, once you start consuming Organic food, over a period of time you will also be able to tell the difference in taste.
Some of these tips may sound time consuming, but definitely help you to be more confident when buying organic food. And no price (measured in time OR money) can be too much for good health. Moreover, increasing your consumption of Organic foods will not only create a difference to your health but also ensure the encouragement to more and more farmers adopt toxin free farming. This will help in meeting the increasing demand of organic food and reduction in prices thereafter.