The same theory applies to grocery shopping as well I guess but not exactly in the same sense. Even in an impersonal supermarket or a large chain store if we have questions about a product we should certainly ask.I am not sure if you all do but I certainly don't. I get home and send an email or call and talk to the headquarters, which always does not give the best results, it is too impersonal. I am changing and now learning to ask then and there. The more people ask questions the more careful the businesses will be about where and how they source their products don't you think?
I want to add a disclaimer before we proceed to the second installment of the knowledge gathering posts. These articles are more for my benefit and learning experience than anything else. I am not in favor or against organic, local or conventional food and I will not make any recommendations. I will best describe what works for me and sometimes maybe forcefully but that does not in any way mean it is the only possible way. To be a good consumer we have to be an informed consumer as well. That is my primary motivation.
In the last post we discussed about the different type of seeds. Today we will focus on Organic farming practices.
When can something be labeled organic?
Say for eg. tomatoes, just if the tomato had been grown from an organic seed, can it be called organic? No. A conventional farm takes a minimum of 3 years to be converted to an organic farm. In other words it is the optimal time required for the ill effects of fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide usage to recede and the land can regenerate itself. The farmer also never uses any chemical products(pesticides, fertilizers, herbicide, fungicide etc.,) to increase yield. The organic label is not a purity test rather a standard for a product to be deemed organic.
Can produce be truly organic?
An organic farmer purchases seeds that are labeled as organic but there is no independent test conducted to see if the seeds were contaminated prior to usage, so if a batch of GMO contaminated seeds are mixed with the package of seeds, then the produce is still marketed as organic.
If there are conventional farms nearby using GMO seeds the contamination can lead to the produce not being truly organic. There are also uncontrollable external factors like water, pollution and cross pollination which can affect the organic index of a produce.
All said and done, produce grown without direct application of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides is in itself worth the higher price.
Source- The organic and non-gmo report
Differences in Organic vs Conventional output
"Our rice yields under the organic system are almost as good as before," he says, as his wife scoops up cow manure with her hands and pats it into disks to fuel the cooking fire. "And we're spending much less money on inputs, since we're not buying pesticides and fertilizer — although labor costs have increased."
- Amarjit Sharma,Punjab-India, an organic farming convert from conventional farming.
Excerpt from NPR 'In India, Bucking The 'Revolution' By Going Organic'.
Listen to the full story here.
The yield of wheat were about half after he switched from organic to conventional farming.
With my limited understanding of organic farming methods I was under the impression that organic farming yields were lower and the costs higher when compared to conventional farming methods. But this is not true, proven by the farmer from India quoted above and a 22 year farming trial study conducted here in the US showed that organic farming produced the same yield as conventional while using 30% less energy, water and no pesticides. Source
The single forceful argument given by conventional farming, industrial farming supporters has been the need to feed the growing world population. But the reliance on chemical products to increase yield has hurt the land, taking away the ability to regenerate itself and has harmed the land irreversibly denying future generations the ability to feed themselves. Short term profits and food supply cannot be the only goal. Male trout in the Potomac river are growing female sex organs - if we deny that chemical products in the atmosphere had nothing to do with it, we are probably all kidding ourselves.
Let's go back to 60s and 70s to India, India was a new democracy, food shortages were threatening millions and it needed badly to become self reliant in food production and hence the government's green revolution program. Many farmers like Sharma abandoned traditional farming practices and switched to pesticide, fertilizer usage and high yielding varieties of seeds. Crop rotation was abandoned, the same crop was repeated year after year. In the short term yields soared but then things went south. More fertilizer application was required to produce the same amount of yield and pesticide resistant insects destroyed large portions of crops.
In the end isn't that what it is all about.
"We are not worried about how much yield we will get," he says. "We are worried about our families, and our children. We want them to be healthy. We will never sell or eat poison."
Huge companies promoting genetically modified seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have money and a big megaphone to promote what is best way to feed the world, (of course thereby increase their profits manifold) equating organic farming to a yuppy feel good kind of thing. Nothing can be further than the truth.
What is a consumer to do?
Does this all mean I only eat organic produce? No! I try to make choices the best I can. Organic produce are expensive and in most cases not always available. Some produce more harmful than others, so I either eliminate them or find the best source to get them. My uncle, refuses to eat eggplants bought from the market because they are doused with pesticides. I have witnessed them first hand when I started growing them in the backyard, they are highly pest prone. Best case is to avoid eating them when I cannot grow them but not practical as I don't live in a tropical country. Cut back immensely when the only option is to eat them from the store. I am no way saying this is an ideal solution but this is what I chose to do till I find another viable alternative. There are many such vegetables that have disappeared from our diet this way :( Not an ideal situation. What about tomatoes, onions and other staples. I don't look for organic, they are not available in most stores and so I buy them.
Only a few years ago the price of organic milk was astronomical, fast forward a few years to today, while the price is still high compared to regular milk (which has all become hormone free) has reached affordable levels or we have just learned to live with the higher costs.
If there is enough demand and education the days for good pesticide free produce is not far off.
If buying vegetables is this hard, consider buying fish, there is no organic labeling or is there?. We will tackle that next time.
After all this talk if you are still interested in food here goes,
I mostly have a like, dislike relationship with cabbages. This leads to them either being bought week after week or ignored for months on end. I was going through this dislike phase when I saw the recipe for cabbage roti on Veg Inspirations and went out and bought cabbage and made them the very next day.
1. 3 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
2. 1 tbsp yogurt whey or yogurt
3. 1/2 tbsp chili powder
4. 3 tsp of ajwain
5. 1 tsp cumin seeds crushed in the palm of your hand
6. 3 cups of finely cut cabbage
8. 1-2 tbsp water
9. all purpose flour for rolling
1. In a wide mouthed mixing bowl mix all the ingredients together and make a stiff dough and set aside for half an hour.
2. Pinch of lime sized balls of dough and roll them evenly to 4 inch diameter circle, use the all purpose flour to dust the board and sprinkle on the dough to avoid sticking.
3 Heat a tava and place the rolled dough, cook on one side, flip and cook on the other side. Apply oil if desired.
1. 5 Red tomatoes
2. 1/2 Red onion sliced
3. 3 green chilies cut in 2
4. 2 tsp grated ginger
5. 4 garlic cloves sliced
6. salt to taste
7. seasonings: mustard, cumin and curry leaves
1. Heat oil in a pan and add the seasonings and when mustard starts to splutter
2. add the onion and saute till translucent. add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes
3. add the tomatoes and salt, cover and cook till mushy.