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goodfoodgood is a web portal which provides information about food and ingredients to people around the world. We take the dinner conversation online to share knowledge and inspire others to care about what they eat.

This thing called organic

I hear the word organic a lot these days. These past two years, actually. At work, in the stores, at parties, on the news. Organic tomatoes, organic tea, organic eggs. Everyone seems to be going organic, or dismissing the concept completely, or at least having an opinion about it. Whatever it is, they seem to know their way around the word.

I haven’t had a chance to make my mind up about it; I guess I just don’t know enough. I have a sense of what the word means: it refers to food that is produced without the use of additives like chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Which should make it healthier to eat, as well as better for the environment. But I don’t know what difference it makes to the food really, other than making it more expensive. At India where I live, a kilogram of regular wheat flour (we call it atta) costs Rupees 20. Whereas a kilogram of organic atta, sold by the popular organic and traditional boutique chain retailer Fabinida, costs Rs 55. (One Euro is equivalent to Rs 65; a dollar is about Rs 48.)

Bannas wearing the organic label. Here they say 'Bio', which is another term for organic produce, used especially in Europe.

They say it tastes better

I’ve bought too little of the organic variety to tell a difference, but people say it tastes better, and has more nutrients and fibre. I have bought organic eggs though, where the price difference is comparable to that of flour: Rs 20 for half a dozen regular eggs, while the organic kind cost Rs 50 for the same number. But the reason I buy them is different – the organic eggs come in a nice, secure, package where the eggs sit snugly in their grooves without my having to worry about their breaking. They are also, somehow, cleaner. And I like that; it means I don’t have to wash them under the tap, scraping the dirt off the shells with m nails. A couple of my friends told me these eggs are much tastier, but I can’t tell. The yolks are a little yellower, bordering on orange, but that’s about all I can detect. And so far, they haven’t filled me up with miraculous energy or positive thoughts or general goodness.

My friend James, who works in a local food initiative called Mandela Food Co-operative in Oakland, California, says organic coffee tastes a “helluva” lot better than big brand coffee. “My favourite is this fair trade, organic company called Uncommon Grounds. Once you have that, you get hhow much more pure and strong real coffee is, compared to the commonly available stuff.”

Smart packaging

The eggs make me wonder, though, whether being organic is all about the packaging. Most of this stuff looks a lot classier, in India for instance, the organic look is more traditional, more hand woven, and more guilt-inducing somehow. (Go the Fabindia website, www.fabinida.com, and check out their products). It will always say ‘organic’ in big, bold letters, and it invariably has a note saying that this tea or this flour was produced without the use of chemicals or additives. It gets my back up a little, I reckon. As if the regular stuff I buy is dirty, adulterated, meaner somehow.

Organic, vegan, handmade chocolate bars.

So I asked Tim Mälzer, a prominent television cooking show host and chef in Germany, who knows much more about these things than I do about it. Tim also runs a very popular 150-seater restaurant called Bullerei in Hamburg. “I don’t like these terms, organic and green and ethical, so I don’t use them. But 70 per cent of the stuff I use in my restaurant is organic. Earlier, I too would go for the best product I could get at the cheapest price but in the past two years I have realised that organic is better. What I don’t like is bombarding people with these terms, so I don’t say that the restaurant uses mostly organic products. I would like to be all organic, but at the moment, this is all I can afford,” he says, before rushing off to another of his many projects. I will spend the next few months in Hamburg this year, and I hope to understand what he means by this. Why, especially, does it have to be so much more expensive than the regular stuff?  I once spoke to the wife of a senior Greenpeace employee for a story, and she told me that she sometimes sneaks food from supermarkets in and throws away the wrappers so her husband can’t see because organic food is so expensive. (You can read the rest of the story here: http://openthemagazine.com/article/living/the-difficulty-of-being-a-green-spouse)

The Price of Going Organic

And is it really that much better for the environment? One of my uncles is very, very particular about what he eats. A few years ago, he switched to organic dal (lentils) . My aunt told me that the stuff took almost an hour to boil whereas the non-organic sort is done in 20 minutes. That got me thinking. If you’re saving the environment from sprayed chemicals (by using organic) but using three times the amount of fuel, is that more green?

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  1. September 24 2011 // Supriya Chattopadhyaya

    Great reading!

    • November 8 2011 // Wanita

      Superb information here, ol’e chap; keep burning the mdniight oil.

  2. October 6 2011 // Bláthnaid Deeny

    I wonder if part of the reason organic food is so expensive is because it’s a niche market for a lot of people – not mass production and less competition. I agree that another part of it is charging more because the market is willing to pay more. Luckily there’s a not-for-profit cooperative near me that reduces the price a little. I keep buying when I can afford in the hope that I help reduce the price in the medium and long term.

  3. November 8 2011 // Kayo

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for wirting!