Organic food is making slow but sure inroads into our lives. As people are becoming more and more health-conscious, they are turning to organic food. Of course, it would still remain a niche food for the time being, as it is still costly for most people. But the organic food scene is surely changing in India; and in Kolkata too.
What is organic food?
According to the Oxford Dictionaries website, the word ‘organic’, with respect to food or farming methods, refers to ‘produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.’ A small through growing number of people all over the world are realising the harm that pesticide-laden food causes to the body, and are turning to organic food.
The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements lays down the credo of the production of organic food when it says, ‘Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.’
Benefits of organic food
• Fewer pesticides, whose residues remain on (and in) the food we eat.
• Often fresher (and hence tastier), because it does not contain preservatives that make it last longer.
• Organic farming is better for the environment – it reduces pollution (air, water, soil), conserves water, reduces soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and uses less energy.
• Farming without pesticides is also better for birds and small animals as well as the people who harvest the food.
• No use of antibiotics and growth hormones on animals, and no feeding of animal byproducts. The use of antibiotics in conventional meat production helps create antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Not feeding animal byproducts to other animals reduces the risk of mad cow disease (BSE).
Organic farming in India
Many farmers in India are shifting to organic farming due to the domestic and international demand for organic food. Organic farming, therefore, provides a better alternative to chemical farming. According to the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD), about 2.5 million hectares of land was under organic farming in India in 2004. Further, there are over 15,000 certified organic farms in India. India is one of the most important suppliers of organic food to the developed nations.
Organic India's ayurvedic products
Organic-selling stores in Kolkata
Cereals and more
Several stores have cropped up over the last few years.
• Rainbow on Sarat Bose Road opened in May 2011 and stocks everything from organic honey to baby food.
• Down to Earth in Alipore opened in April 2010
• Arome (near the Bhowanipore Gol Mandir) opened in October 2013.
• Living Free on Gariahat Road (near Ballygunge Phari) sources organic products and sells them under one umbrella. It also sells organic colours for Holi.
• Sasha on Mirza Ghalib Street stocks spices, cosmetics and herbal tea under the Rasa brand. It gets its products from Usha Gram, around two-three hours away from Kolkata, where the village ladies hand-grind the spices the shop sources from Rajasthan. They are packaged and sold.
Rainbow on Sarat Bose Road
• Smell of the Earth grows its vegetables on an 11-bigha community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Thakurpukur. The initiative has found 26 members, who pay Rs 2,000 each for organic vegetables every month. Vegetables are delivered on the weekends from farm to home. From last December, they have started a Weely Organic Haat on Middleton Street.
• Aakansha Farms, started in July 2012, has around 750 families it delivers vegetables to. Its farm is located in Falta in South 24-Parganas.
• Natureway Agro Products is one of the first movers, having started in 2005.
The husband-wife team of Aparajita Sengupta and Debal Mazumder run Smell of the Earth
• Kolkata’s first known organic dinner was held on January 15, 2013 at The Palladian Lounge. Organised by Earth Day Network, it was an attempt to spread awareness about organic food.
• Next, Earth Day Network held a Go Organic Garden Party on the lawns of the Jalan House in Alipore.
• The restaurant Biscotti, which also has take-away service, at Forum Mall and Sarat Bose Road has plans to launch an organic menu comprising hummus, baba ghanoush and dill yogurt
• Flury’s sells organic bread, made without sugar and yeast. It has to be ordered 24 hours in advance.
Go Green Organic Party at Jaian House
Some prominent online organic shops are
Farm2Kitchen touts itself as a one-stop shop
High price needs a solution
Organic farming relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control. Thus it is definite that the organic method of agriculture benefits the environment as well as the people. This brings up the point of why organic food is taking such a long time to spread despite its obvious health benefits. An important aspect is the price. The very fact that makes it healthy, no use of fertilisers, also makes it that much difficult and expensive to grow. There are no short-cut methods. The hours put in have to have a price.
The solution to this problem lies in increase in demand. As it becomes more and more popular, the prices would naturally come down. So actually the going down of prices and becoming more affordable lies to a quite an extent in our hands, that is, the buyers. Of course, the growers and shop-owners must also come forward to make their own contribution towards lowering of prices.
Another factor is availability. There are many farmers around Kolkata who grow food the organic way, but there is no organised network for bringing them to the city. So they have to sell it only locally.
These two factors, high price and lack of easy availability, are also deterring many restaurants from making organic food a part of their regular menu.
How do you know it’s organic?
• Check if the product is stamped by Ecocert or USDA (US Department of Agriculture) or any of the organisations listed under APEDA (apeda.gov.in), the Indian government body in charge of the organic segment.
• Else, one can go by word of mouth. Since getting certified is expensive — it runs into lakhs depending on the size of the land on which the crops are grown — and involves tedious documentation, not many farmers can afford it or are literate enough. But certification is a must if one wants to market the products.
A gradual change
In the west, the popularity of organic food is commendably high. The organic market in USA began evolving in the 1960s, and flourished gradually. It took three decades before organic food could gather enough importance to merit the introduction of nationwide US Department of Agriculture certification standards in 2002.
Kolkata (India, in general) is only just catching on to the organic craze. So it will take time. But if experts are to be believed, there is a definite trend towards buying organic stuff and that this is only going to increase. Industry body Assocham estimates that the organic food market will grow to Rs 6,000 crore by 2015.