Catch the organic buzz, stay in tune with future

Catch the organic buzz, stay in tune with future
Last month, Pune saw its very own organic farmers’ market. The event was jam-packed with customers jostling to buy any and all products, as long as there was an organic tag to it. Organic is the new buzzword in our country. Mumbai, Chennai and Gurgaon, among other cities, have a regular organic farmers’ market. Every city and large town has either got an organic food store or a weekly/monthly organic food market. So what is organic food and why is there is such a hype around it suddenly?

Organic produce is grown using an agriculture system that is good for the soil, the ecosystem, the environment, the farmer as well as the consumers. Organic farming uses natural fertilisers such as compost or manure, beneficial insects, birds and other non-chemical tactics to manage and reduce pests. Environment-friendly measures are used for weed control such as rotating crops, using mulch and removing weeds by hand instead of spraying chemical pesticides.

Till the 20th century, all agricultural produce was organic. It was only with the increase in world population, appetite and demand that there was a change in agricultural methods with the increased use of chemical based fertilisers and synthetic pesticides.

The organic food market is growing rapidly. World organic food sales jumped from $23 billion in 2002 to $52 billion in 2008, with the numbers growing every day. The global organic market has been growing by 20 per cent a year since 1990s, with future growth estimate of 10-50 per cent annually.

Organic products almost always cost 10-40 per cent more than similar non-organical products. Organic fruits and vegetables specially cost more because the farming tactics used to keep food free from chemical residues are costlier and more labour-intensive. One study from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency found that, area-for-area, organic farms of potatoes, sugar beet and seed grass produce as little as half the output of conventional farming.

Produce grown in the conventional method of farming is typically sprayed with synthetic pesticides, grown with chemical fertilisers, treated with waxes and fungicides to preserve freshness, or irradiated to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Sometimes, food colouring is used to improve the look on store shelves. These pesticides don’t always wash off, as there is always some residue left.

No matter what the cost, organic farming is the way of the future. A 2007 study concluded that “organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base.” And as the demand rises, the supply will too, which will ensure a drop in prices. So buy organic no matter what the cost. After all, our health is the most important aspect of our life.

Some trivia: In the US, a food can be labelled as “organic” only if it contains a minimum of 95 per cent organic ingredients. In most countries, organic produce should not contain genetically modified organisms.

In the US, organic food sales have grown by 17 to 206 per cent a year for the past few years while sales of conventional food have grown at only about two to three per cent a year.

Fruits and vegetables that are typically lowest in pesticide residues include thick-skinned tropical fruits like avocados, mangoes, pineapple, papaya and bananas.

Fruits and vegetables that have the highest detectable levels of pesticide residues that should always be purchased organic include celery, peaches, apples, strawberries and leafy greens. zz

(The writer is a vegan chef and author of The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!)

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