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The organic brandwagon


There's a new breed amongst us. You can spot them at 'farmers markets' and at organic grocery stores, shopping for fair trade ragi, sage incense, hand-made soaps and loose-leaf teas. This breed eschews conventional grocery stores, throws around phrases like locally-grown, sustainably-raised, grass-fed, free-range or pesticide-free and advocates ideas such as raw food and veganism.

Meet the eco-snobs. You often find them grilling a restaurant server over whether the eggs are freerange, the lettuce locally grown or the strawberries organic. If you are not buying or eating organic, there's nothing you can do to redeem yourself.
Organic vegetables and fruits aren't what you buy from the colony sazbiwala. The organic food movement was initially constructed as a response to the industrialisation of agriculture or the Green Revolution. Today, reams of newsprint and hours on television are dedicated to healthy living and eating. Everywhere you turn, you hear "organic is healthier" or "organic is greener". From fruits and vegetables to breakfast cereals, beverages, cosmetics, personal healthcare products, detergents and even clothes, the demand for organic products has over the years grown manifold, especially in cities where processed foods is known to be wreaking havoc with our bodies.

For most, it's not a question of whether we want to eat healthy, environmentally-friendly food - who doesn't want that? The question is whether organic needs snob value.

Organic food is no longer just alternative food for the health-conscious. It is the stronghold of the privileged. Boutique organic stores have popped up in posh markets and malls where organic brown rice and millet sit next to organic jams and preserves, propagating the view that organic food is expensive and only meant for the rich folk. Organic products are marked up - usually one-third more, making them an expensive proposition for an average household. For most consumers, especially those that can afford it, organic has become a label that's fashionable to flaunt, like a brand.

Ashmeet Kapoor runs I Say Organic, an online service that delivers 100 per cent organic vegetables and fruits to your doorstep within the National Capital Region. Since being launched in May 2011, he services 500 unique households a month and 2, 000 households. Kapoor has seen demand increase as the organic movement catches speed but he realises that there are different motivations for different people to jump onto the organic bandwagon. "It could be a mix of environmental concern, health benefits and even social awareness but yes there are a few that espouse the cause because it's trendy. I have heard people telling their friends about how organic their lifestyle is when in reality they buy the stuff perhaps just once or twice a month, " says the 27-year-old, who sources oranges from Nagpur, sweet limes from Tamil Nadu and pomegranates from Maharashtra for I Say Organic.

Ragini Mehra is a known name in the health and beauty industry and now runs The Kirana Shop in Delhi's Meherchand market, one of the capital's understatedly posh shopping areas. A total convert to the organic cause, Mehra stocks everything from pickles to grains to flour, tea and jams. Driven by a need to eat healthy, she gets many customers who stock up on organically grown brown rice, wholewheat flour, green tea and naturally-made sherbet. While she actively encourages the alternative style which is organic, she too realises that the elitist tag has come to be associated with the movement.

"It happens everywhere, doesn't it? It happened in the art world. There are always going to be certain kind of people who will be attracted to anything new and with that, the hype will also come. But I would urge most people to look beyond that, " says Mehra, who is also a wellness consultant.

Apart from its snob value, organic also seems to have its own language. The jargon is also designed to make those who choose to eat conventional, mass-produced food guilty. David de Rothschild, an adventurer and environmental activist, has a complaint against the green movement. "To the outside world, green is still an exclusive club on the consumer level. It's often pitched - buy a solar panel, buy a hybrid car or organic fruits or vegetables. It is so expensive and unattainable. And it's reduced to making people feel bad about not wanting to live a healthier life or save the planet. 'Oh you don't have organic cotton? You don't eat organic produce? You're a bad person'. "

Interestingly, according to a study published in May 2012 by Social Psychological and Personality Science, organic eaters tend to congratulate themselves for their moral and environmental choices, affording them the tendency to look down on others who don't share their desire for pesticide-free living.

Kapoor says he often comes across people who are perhaps a "little overzealous" about the whole organic debate but wouldn't go as far as calling them snooty, like the report. "They are just proud of the fact that they support the cause, " he says.

Reader's opinion (3)

Priya May 16th, 2013 at 20:43 PM

Further, research also shows that organic production cannot match conventional farming yields. If we have to feed the world then organic farming is going to lead us to a major food crisis! It is indeed a very elitist fad!

Priya May 16th, 2013 at 20:41 PM

No, there is no extra nutritional benefit of eating organic food. The only plus is the lack of pesticides. The univ that I work for in the Netherlands has an extensive research programme on organic farming and research there is showing an additional problem of organically derived pathogens.

Prajakta AdsulMay 16th, 2013 at 20:14 PM

Why this zeal when research has shown no benefits of consuming organic food compared to the conventional food. All gimmicks of the wealthy!

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