The founder of Khalis Market Rizwan Naeem tackles the all-important questions: organic or not? He writes about the real benefits of organic food, and edifies us on what to expect from local growers.
Industrialization has pushed capitalistic expectations from something as pure as food. This has resulted in adulteration, GMOs, artificial preservation and conventional farming methods that increase yield. Since we as consumers are the end users of all this, the impact in recent times has been a scary one, enough to push societies to find healthier alternatives. One of these mainstream solutions is Organic.
But, how do we, Pakistanis, fit into this? Have we gone through the industrial revolution or capitalistic nightmares that would put us where these western countries were at in a not so distant past? The answer is yes and no. There have been dreams of maximum yield per acre, less spillage on your shelf products, so we have adapted to a somewhat non-organic lifestyle.
Technically, organic is a method or set of guidelines used to grow veggies, fruits and certain processes implemented for dairy and meats. This is achieved using unadulterated land, Natural fertilizers (compost) ,Heirloom seeds, Natural feed and hormone/medicinal free animals,
Naturally made pest and insect repellents, Naturally rich water, Proper harvesting, Clean supply chain systems and storage.
Organic is also inherently used for products that can go back to the soil that they once came from without creating a chemical or artificial eco-impact.
When Khalis Food Market started in Pakistan about three years ago, it came as a respite for a number of people who were weary of this growing adulteration in our regular diet. People flocked to the market in swarms, looking for their favourite veggies, value added items and to find the contacts of local farms and producers of daily consumption items. Although the market never claimed to be an organic market, it does provide access to people who produce or provide items using at least three to four of the above mentioned SOPs.
With newer markets popping up in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, it is very important to take your vendor to task, especially if they call their product organic. Ask them questions and assess if they know what they are talking about. There are two aspects to what kind of organic items we find in the market.
Raw items include wheat, milk, eggs, veggies, fruits etc. When inquiring about raw items, ask questions about location of the land, kind of pesticides and fertilizers used, what kind of seeds are sown, storage and transportation. Make sure that they are doing at least 80% of the items for them to be considered close to being organic.
Value added items are finished products or by products that require simple natural processes. This includes breads, cheese, achaars, chutneys, jams, ice creams etc. This is where it gets tricky. People will call their product organic, but is it really. It mostly is homemade, fresh and local, but organic is sometimes questionable.
For this you can ask the vendor or supplier about the items or produce used in making these value added items. Are the ingredients organic and if so, how? An organic Achaar must contain at least 85% organic ingredients for it be considered organic. But if your vendor buys apples from the regular market and makes a jam, then it is simply home-made jam and not organic. It may be preservative free, healthier but not organic.
Now, the million rupee question, if the jam example above is used; is the jam good for me, even if it is not organic. Given our country, society, dynamics and lifestyle, the homemade jam is definitely very good for you. It is local, it is fresh, it is free of preservatives and maybe additives. So what if it is not organic, it is made in the healthiest way possible and most importantly it is traceable to the purchase of raw ingredients used.
Keep in mind, Organic is set of rules that govern bringing to market place, natural and healthy foods. If people are using old school, back to basic methods in their production and they items are as natural as nature intended, it is as good as organic. The most important thing is to ask, question, understand the season produce and have expectations that are naturally possible.
Ask for more from your local farmers, producers. Listen to them about natural cycles and food seasons. Work with what is naturally made available. Do not go looking for mangoes in the Winter!