'Being healthy is expensive'

Organic bites

'Being healthy is expensive'

Chants of ‘eat healthy, eat healthy’ echo in the air. These mantras eventually turn into doubts, and then reinforcements; it doesn’t take long for our plates to fill up with salads. But the poison doesn’t recede just because we’ve cut down on the carbs. It’s an open secret that our food is laced with pesticides, waxes and other chemicals, but most people turn a blind eye to what goes into their stomach.

What is surprising is that though there are definitions of ‘healthy’ that don’t include consuming toxins on a daily basis, organic food doesn’t have the reach it should. As Das Sreedharan, owner of ‘Rasa’, a restaurant that uses organic ingredients, says, “Being healthy is expensive. Most people have lost touch with it and they are just trying to survive. When living in a world where employment is so uncertain, people worry more about their career and where their next meal will come from rather than the content of the meal itself.”

There are many who echo the same concerns and think that organic food caters only to the urban elite. “In our house, we make an effort to eat as healthy as possible. Though I know that the ingredients we use have chemicals in them, I can’t do much about it because I can’t afford most organic items on a monthly basis,” says Anindhita, a professional.

      She also points out that it is hard to verify the authenticity of these ingredients when at a store. Calling the situation a “humane thing”, Das believes that people are “misusing opportunities”. “People are falling ill more often, hence they need hospitals. Therefore, it has been established that people are worried about food, which leads to an increase in prices. Now, for many, organic is the food of the rich.”  

But not everyone is of the same opinion. Aarthi, who works closely with ‘Green Bazaar’, an environment-friendly market, says that there are many criteria organic farmers need to fulfill before they can be certified ‘healthy’.

     “According to regulations, a farmer can’t use the land for at least three years in order to cleanse the soil of chemicals. One also needs to consider travel expenses, the supply chain, technological aspects and other factors.” Also, much of the organic food ends up in the regular market, with the chemically treated food, as the farmers don’t have a way to sell it.

“We have to work in tandem with them; the farmers have to work with the people. They have to believe that their crops aren’t just for making money, but it’s a lifestyle. When more people like it, productivity will increase and the cost will go down,” adds Das.

To this, Aarthi says that one needs to look at the economies of scale, where a rise in consumption can bring about a change in the market prices.

Mythreyi Lakshminarayanan, who has her own organic garden, agrees with this, saying, “Farmers can’t achieve full productivity if they aren’t educated about the matter.”

The most important factor, when it comes to organic food, is the strength of the soil, she adds. “Whether it is by using natural manure or fertilisers, one needs to strengthen the soil. If the soil is healthy, it makes the plants more immune to pests.”

Since most of these regulations for certification are unknown to many, it becomes hard to identify what really is organic. If one is growing the conventional crops alongside organic foods, the two need to be separated.

And one cannot switch between the two methods whenever they please. Also, sometimes, the food might have grown organically, but the soil might not be.
Soumya Parthasarathy, co-founder of ‘Food Tribe’, says that they find it hard to identify real organic food.

“In some food items, all the ingredients might not be organic. Unless the consumer is well-versed in the field, people will find it hard to pull apart the fakes from the lot.”
However, over time, the choking grip of market prices has loosened a bit. “When
you compare the prices of organic foods from even two to three years ago, you see a drastic difference. There might be a 15 to 20 per cent rise in expenditure but it’s not that bad,” says Soumya. Aarthi adds that the price difference varies for each product.

But without encouragement from the government, trying to stay healthy is going to be a task. “There has to be grassroot level connectivity. The farmer should be able to connect with a kitchen. Subsidies for them and the retailers is necessary if we want more people to get interested,” concludes Das.

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