Thursday, 28 January 2016

Organic Food

Agriculture was almost completely dependent on nature till about a century ago. The fertile soil contained organic matters from decomposed plants and refuse from animals; rain, rivers and lakes were main sources of water and new plants grew from seeds or other parts of older plants. So all food stuff was 'organic' as this term is used now a days. If there was severe famine or flood, people as well as animals, birds etc. in the affected areas used to go away or perish. Thus a natural balance was maintained between soil, water, plants, free animals, cattle and human population. 

The situation changed drastically in the last century, as the population went on multiplying and food habits also went on changing, thereby needing production of more food, while land under cultivation and water resources were limited. The food production was artificially increased by use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, development of high yield seeds, taking multiple crops (depleting soil) etc. Several chemicals manufactured and used for various purposes as intermediaries, catalysts, preservatives, cleaning, painting, medicines etc. were also ultimately discharged into the environment in increasing quantities. 

As their harmful side effects were increasingly known to the public, there was a move to go for 'Organic food' to avoid them. So the wheel is turning through full 360 degrees and people want to go back to cultivation of food as was done a century ago. But it would certainly not be sufficient to feed the present population of the earth, so only those who can spend more money are able to buy it.  

This post touches some points on this currently talked about topic.


Raghuveer Rustagi:

1. Now a days, we are inundated with the term multi-dimensional, be it our health, our investment portfolio, our children education, our choice of friends, or foes. My conclusion is multi-dimensional approach is good, but it must be mellowed in common sense.

2. I make all the grocery purchases. The rule in the home is-  organic only. Non-organic is like a DCR. I patronise two or three American stores, reputed in everything organic selling fresh and authentic organic veggies, fruits, daal/ lentils, milk and what not.  As you may be knowing, the price of organic stuff is excessive- nearly double or more of the regular non-organic food. 

3. I therefore, have done some research in the city library or internet-  does buying organic make a real difference to your health?  

I would say...yes and no. 

Yes, if it is pure organic meaning the soil, water and air it grew, is also clean and pure.   

No, if it is cross breed of GMO because a farm next to the organic field is a genetically modified crop like soya or corn. No, if the spraying of the farm next door is also traveling into the soil and air over the organic farm.  Similar to nuclear radiation.

4. These are real modern day issues we face even as we try to consume the best products possible. But besides buying produce from the local farmers market to minimize our exposure to toxins in our food supply, does eating organic really help our health. 
If we are eating organic food but we stress a lot, then it makes little difference to our health if we eat an organic carrot or a non organic one. The effects of stress are far more devastating on the body than any inorganic products. Stress doesn’t allow for good digestion. 

If we are over eating it also won’t make much difference if we are eating organic. Over eating puts a stress on our body organs, no matter the quality of the food. It is the quantity of food that brings on issues like obesity, cholesterol or heart disease. 

If you eat many varieties and combinations of food to the point they give you digestive issues like acidity or indigestion then it won’t make much difference if you eat organic. This is because whether organic food or not, the variation and combinations of foods together still create health issues and have nothing to do with food being organic or not. 

It won’t make much difference if you are taking a lot of medication or drink alcohol regularly. Both of these produce a very acidic system that ferments food so even if you eat organic all the goodness of the food will be destroyed. 

It will make little difference if you eat organic while sitting at your desk at work while on the computer, phone or talking a lot. All these activities break down the bodies immune system and digestion. All the goodness of the food you eat will only have a little benefit to your over all well being.
So these are just a few reasons organic food won’t have much impact on your health unless you also have healthy habits. The BIG mistake people make is to think it is sufficient to just eat organic while all of their other habits are not as healthy. Remember most of our social and cultural habits are normal to us but not always so healthy. 
Finally, if you can afford to buy organic, go ahead. It may give a comfort feeling, similar to giving charity donation in a temple with the black money. 

Hope people will realise a multi-dimensional approach of the ancient times- dharma, artha, karma, moksha. 
Have we really progressed, in time or technology?

-- ------------------------------------------------------ 
Ashok Malhotra:
Thanks Rustagiji for bringing under the spotlight an issue being marketed very  aggressively now a days and touching its utility and otherwise.
     In our good old days, a lot more importance was given to the water quality of an area. Even today every one affirms that the water of Punjab gives a different taste to its grains,fruits n vegetables. One's digestion improves considerably in Punjab and western UP areas mainly due to the water quality.
     I am yet to come across any report by FSSAI, the agency responsible for certifying all eatables or  recommendation by any dietician that the normally marketed food products are containing harmful ingredients and that the "organic" marked products are specifically recommended, except that all fruits n vegetables be amply washed before eating, and that a healthy mix of proper diet, exercise n stress free life be maintained. 
      With today's life style, one may be eating >30% food sourced from unknown agencies, making it difficult to stick to organic foods any way. Is there any Govt. agency to certify "inorganic free-non genetically modified products"?
   But of course we may shortly be ordering food n vegs. grown in ISS like places, under zero gravity, out of the polluted earth. 
 Rustagi  :
  There are several issues facing us in the pursuit of happiness amid misery, order amid chaos, smart amid tradition, organic amid toxic laden is the latest. One never knows what next? You already hinted- food n veggies grown in ISIS like places…..

Pertinent question is: what can be done, similar to what our friend from Dehradun had asked the other day? For sure, your free will, your choice, the way you act, think or feel is your own. No one can alter these faculties; there is no parliament to amend- this is your constitution. 
Perhaps, you are guessing what I am about to say next?  
I  would sincerely urge you, dear friend in time of conflict to think of a positive antidote,  pratipaksha bhavnam in Maharshi Patanjali’s yog sutra II.33. Instead I would say - "hope we, our children, our grand children will be ordering satvik food n veggies  from an advanced tech farm of the future” 
Hey you never know, a thought acts like a seed, someday it may sprout forth. Make a hey while the sun shines.

Mohan Rao:

 I read your take on organic foods with vivid interest as it is one of the transformative things in our lives and definitely a yes/no question. My opinion is that the interest in organic foods originated decades ago when they discovered that pesticides contribute to food/water/soil contamination. To day organic foods has become a world-wide business and there are organizations promoting organic foods (my daughter has an organic garden in Sweden, belongs to WOOF (an org) and trains volunteers from Europe and other places in OF). OF in the marketplace these days are available but at higher cost. Fortunately, I would imagine that in India pesticides may not be as prevalent and generally food is organic by default although my knowledge in this area may be outdated. Nonetheless, awareness in this area is always welcome to forewarn people of potential issues. My parents never used pesticides, nor did they use manufactured fertilizers. Paddy fields and veg. and coconut orchards were fertilized with our own fertilizers (made with composted leaves and animal dung). If the soil is contaminated it would require chemical analysis and either decontamination or importing of clean soils for replacement. Contamination of soils from various industrial uses of land would also be a factor to consider. These days, there are regulatory agencies that control and monitor the food industry and land use whose advisories would be of interest to the general public.
I share your view that while there are so many things to worry about in today’s world, putting money where the mouth is easier said than done. I would definitely put priorities on: eliminating tobacco (chewing, smoking and second-hand smoke) and excessive alcohol; diet and exercise; proper health and dental check-ups; cutting down of processed foods; air and water quality; stress-free living; reducing salt, trans fat, etc. and certain degree of moderation in whatever we do, positive attitude, etc.

R S Vaghasiya:
I may be wrong in my assumptions but want to put it here.

If supplemented by medicine it does not make any sense in using the organic. The medicines are non-organic and body has to works against any product which does not suit it.

One fundamental logic - south Indians eat more rice and north Indians eat more wheat - the body in case prepares fro these in-gradients  what it wants.
Natural leaving will normally solve most of the issues. Your body is renewed fully once in a year. That's why Ayurvedic medicine course is of at-least three months by what time the body is renewed 90%. 

Anand Ghare (myself):

Organic foods is a somewhat misnomer, actually pure water is an inorganic compound and alcohol, even meat is organic in nature. This term generally means, in India, vegetarian meals prepared from food crops, fruits, roots, vegetables etc. grown without using genetically modified or high breed seeds, chemical fertilizes and insecticides. 
There is a misconception that India is by and large free from these dangerous artificial agents. Actually India has progressed from a Food importer country in 1960s to self sufficiency in food, in spite of almost doubling of the population, only thanks to Green revolution, meaning use of high yield seeds, fertilisers and insecticides. Flouting of norms regarding toxic effluents by chemical and other industries, bad sewage treatment by local bodies and enormous increase in use of chemical detergents by all people has polluted the earth, water and air to such an extent that harmful chemicals have found a way in to the human food chain. So the normal food we are eating in our daily life cannot be called purely 'organic'.
Some shops in metro cities have now a days started supplying 'organic' food at exorbitant prices, but they are patronised only by a few health conscious wealthy people. One of the main problems is the general atmosphere of mistrust, full of stories of rampart corruption and negligence at all levels in trading practices. There is no simple way of checking the food for its being 'organic'. So why spend extra money to get a doubtful product? 
We are not always eating only home made food. What about the food we eat in hotels or bring home from stores, sweetmeat shops or bakeries? Every packaged food item will have some chemical preservative added to it.
Thirdly even if we eat only organic food but not in the right quantity or proportion, if it is too oily or spicy, it is still going to be harmful to our body.
Lastly, at least I have not come across any deterministic explanation correlating the health parameters with the use of chemical fertilizers or hybrid seeds in raising crops. It goes by statistical probabilities.
If we can have a kitchen garden, where we can see what we are sowing, can give pure clean water and natural manures to grow the plants, do not sprinkle any pesticides or weedicides and still protect the plants, we can be sure of its organic nature. The added benefit would be we can then eat the fruits and vegetables with out skinning and washing and losing beneficial minerals and nutrients. But that is a big IF!
At present we can only have small control and hope for the best.

Nandkishore Agarwal :
I wish to share that in India also use of pesticides is quite extensive now as compared to the earlier times. It may still be much less compared to USA. I believe there are lobbies propagating in a big way the use of Organic foods in India also. But the cost of organic foods is much higher in India compared to the normally grown food stuff and that is one deterrent in the wide usage of organic foods. Also because of this reason, even the availability of the organic foods is restricted to some big outlets/ malls etc where people with comparatively deeper pockets visit and who can very well afford to spend money for these things. For a common man, cost of organic foods is still a big deterrent.
I agree with you that right priorities to be taken care of before thinking about or giving priority to organics foods.

Ravi Rustagi :
Traditionally Education and Health were considered the basic needs, and should be affordable in the so called civilised society. Alas, this is not so - both items have been converted to industrial high tech products. This trend started in the USA, and slowly spreading all over the world including India.

Although it is not possible to completely disregard the ho-ho going around, or close our eyes, yet as informed citizens we can make better cost-benefit based thinking.

The following factors could help, in matter of saying yes or no to organic food -
i. Develop Self- Awareness: which food items are consumed in more quantity in the home, sort of A B C analysis, and the relative increased cost if OF?

ii. Make Proper Choices: A veggie or daal if consumed with its skin should be organic. OF stays fresher, and tastes better too from my experience in America. 
Kitchen garden is a good suggestion, but I do not know if it is viable in the metro towns. But it can be selective container-based gardening in the balconies.

iii. Develop Healthy Habits: Cook fresh meal as much as possible in the home. Then you know what you are eating, as well as less or no over-eating?
Eating out or partying be restricted. 
I may add- in my teaching job in Pennsylvania State University, I decided to give 10 bonus marks if a student cooks one meal a day in the apartment. Students welcomed the idea, it saved them money, it became a life-time hobby, plus their health and grades improved, and they wasted less or no food.

Time and Technology are on your side. This is a positive outlook.

Sushil Chadda :
I have read with interest the comments by all. Largely it depends in trust on the vendor that what he is claiming is really so.
At kharghar navi mumbai , a new shop had opened selling only organic products but prices were very high. On my query how do i know that what you are selling is organic. His response was crisp that i trust my source and sir balance is your choice.
The shop is closed now in less than six months due to low business.
Similarly i had difficulty in deciding a vendor store at govandi selling organic mangoes transported from Gujrat as claimed by him , to buy at three times the price. This was during mango season when you find variety and abundence in market on every street.
Therefore i agree with all the comments  on the technology of growing food products in modern days & associated advantages on health (not deterministic) and endorse without reservations the observations of Ghare ji in indian context.

Finally there is some good news for Indian enthusiasts for "Organic Food".

A K Chandra : Forwarded message ----------

Dear Friend,
CSE has been a strong advocate of what we call 'good food' - food that is good for nature (rich in biodiversity), nutrition (not junk food and without poisons) and livelihoods (where local people derive benefits). A few years ago, we had published our book, First Food, which many of you I know have seen. In this book we celebrated the diversity of such food and recipes from across the country.

To take this work forward we are organising an Organic Farmers’ Market on January 30 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The event will bring together farmers who will showcase and sell their produce - healthy, nutritious and pesticide-free vegetables, fruits, millets, staples, oils, milk products and more - and will also offer an opportunity to sample healthy dishes.

On this day, we are also planning a series of talks and interactive sessions on the issues that matter to us from how to grow vegetables and making our own compost. We hope to also have live cooking demonstrations so that we can together celebrate this food, that we have always known and loved and rebuild a strong tradition of food as nutrition in the country.

My colleagues and I will look forward to meeting you on Saturday, January 30, 2016, anytime between 10am to 3pm on the Margosa Lawn of the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. We are finalising the programme for the day and we will send that out soon. Otherwise, please check our website: or for more details.

Please bring your own carry bag(s).

Best regards,
Ranjita Menon
Programme Director – Environment Education Unit

- Freshest organic farm produce of vegetables, fruits, pulses and staples, oils, healthy dairy products, whole grains such as millets and much more.

- Through the day, attend interactive sessions on kitchen and roof top gardening, composting, live cooking demonstrations.

- Meet the Farmers who grow organic produce

- Feast on Winter Foods such as Makki ki Roti and Saag; Pickles; Smoked Lassi with Ajwain; Raagi ka Poora; Chila with Chutney; Herbal teas; Healthy salads

January 30, 2016 : New additions

Ravi Rustagi :
A very significant topic was missed- how to feed the exploding population?
A few years ago, my grand-daughter had performed a research study on the scientific logic in favour of vegetarianism-
1. Over 90% of grain produced in America is used to feed livestock- cows, pigs, lambs and chicken- the animals that finally wind up on the dinner tables.
2. Per the USDA information, we get back one pound of beef for every 16 pounds of grains.
3. It takes over 5 000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.
4. A diet based on grains, veggies, and beans will support 20 times more population than a diet of meat.
5. If the earth’s arable land were used primarily for the production of vegetarian food, the planet would easily support a human population of 20 billions or more.
6. A visit to an American slaughter house is an eye opener; you instantly change to vegetarian diet. Such a visit is almost banned. It more horrifying than terrorism.
6. Americans are paying more for meat than they think- in terms of rising health issues, environmental issues etc.

In short, the world hunger problem is largely illusory.
I am amazed at the advanced Indian thinking declaring cow as holy, an economic asset more than 5 000 years ago.
Hats off to my India, and the Indian people.

Palivela ANANDA RAO :
This is a great subject put on record. Due to the various reasons like famine, increase in population etc,. the whole world had put lot of efforts in green revolution and white revolution and finally achieved almost success in providing the food for all. Now it is known to all including the little farmer that the use of chemical fertilizers and  pesticides had resulted the depletion of soil which was developed over millions of   years. Now the little farmer finds this chemical cultivation is no more economical and as per literature and Youtube lot of farmers are going for organic means of cultivation.

The organic cultivation is costly because the farmer has not been educated much to recycle the waste  produced during harvest. Majority of agricultural produce is being consumed by the urban areas and the waste of the vegetables etc is not being taken back to farmer for recycling to form the compost. This is the only way we can improve the soil. The urban population is only responsible for this problem. We are only receiving from the Anna Data, but not giving any thing in return. Some part of subsidy provided for supply of chemical fertilisers can be diverted to a scheme which can convert the vegetable waste  in urban areas in to compost and supply to farmer as a goodwill.

It is really unfortunate that all our organic waste is going to dump yards.

What we can do least is by not throwing our vegetable waste and convert in to compost in house and use for our balcony/ terrace gardening. Every society can collect the vegetable waste and use it in their lawns and plants.

We should grow vegetable plants in the balconies and terraces instead of ornamental plants. Compost/ vermi-compost created from our home is adequate for our balcony plants. Growing leafy vegetables in containers in balconies is the best option. Leafy vegetable we eat in Mumbai are grown in very bad and un-hygienic environment.

In addition we can enjoy the growth of vegetable plants like sprouting, flowering and fruiting in our balconies. Harvesting and eating our own produce will give lot of satisfaction even though it is little.

In nutshell the organic is only the means of cultivation and no other choice for the Humans. We have to protect our mother earth.

Anand Ghare (Myself):

Since this aspect of meat production indicated by Shri Rustagiji was not covered in earlier debate, it was not included in the first edition of this blog post. 
Actually the cattle is not fed with food grains in India.  They are given the chaff to eat and when they are lucky they also get green grass (in rainy season). The high yielding varieties of wheat produce less amount of chaff and increased mechanization in farming practices is rendering oxen superfluous. The husk produced by harvesting machines may be used else where for burning as the bagasse from sugarcane is used. 

Thus the agro-economics has taken a Topsy turvy turn. Hope it will revert back to Indian traditional way soon because of the pressure of necessity.
Shri.Ananda Rao has made a very valid point that urban population is not giving back its organic waste to agriculture. The farmers are also some what ignorant about importance of recycling. I know some NG Organizations around Pune and Nasik are trying to popularize mini bio-gas plants that serve three fold purposes. 1. Get energy, 2. Get natural manure 3. Reduce burden on waste management systems of Municipal Corporation. Unfortunately public acceptance is slow in coming but we hope, it will catch up.
Mohan Rao :
 Home-gardening and home-composting are definitely worthy ideas to pursue given the availability of terraces, balconies and the limited size of lots in Mumbai buildings. There should be an arrangement to import clean soils if necessary due to soil contamination due to the history of the lots (previously industrial zones, cottage industries like foundry, various metal industries such as smelting, refining, metallurgical shops etc).  Another arrangement for organic farming would be greenhouses which could provide large prepared areas for growing all-season harvests such as tomatoes which have large markets in city environments. This may help in alleviating the dependence on expensive organic vegetables from the market. In the past development of urban areas has been rather ad-hoc driven by population influx than properly planned and perhaps in the case of new cities under development, a more holistic approach needs to be adopted.  however it may not help the harvesting of grains such as rice, wheat etc. which requires substantially larger fields and animal husbandry to manage oxen, cows etc to generate large amounts of animal waste for composting. Large-scale agriculture and farming would still remain in the realm of non-urban areas.

 Mohan Rao  wrote:
 Further to my earlier blog below, I read about some new info which may be of interest to you as well as our friends.
A new ‘revolutionary’ urban farming technology seems to be in the offing in a university in Canada (Ryerson) which aspires to quadruple the amount of produce in urban communities currently spouting on green roofs using technology to automate these green roofs. Using technology programmed with precise algorithms and wireless nodes, food growing on roofs would be made possible and easier on any roof. Furthermore with the well-known hydroponic technology, farmers can grow produce in four or more tiers upright saving space. The new technology is being tested in a “Growing North” project in Nunavat, a territory in Canada. The technology may be outsourced as an economic opportunity for Canada.

Palivela ANANDA RAO :

Mohan Raoji has nicely pointed out towards sprouts. All we know that the sprouts are the power packs of vitamins and other important nutrients required for us. Very small space is enough for growing the sprouts/ micros. Unlike Canada, we in India are very fortunate to have tropical atmosphere. Most of the time through out the year India has right temperature for germination of seeds. We all should have sprouts/ micros in our food preparations and salads.

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to read all the observations on how to keep the Annamaya Kosa in a good,healthy state. Pranamaya,Manomaya,Vigynamaya Kosas also need lot of attention to keep them good,and healthy.Only then, one can experience Ananda!Raghavan.