The debate on organic versus chemicals puts BINDU TOBBY in a dietary dilemma

A friend was recently recounting her hilarious experience of asking for a “gluten-free” samosa. The visibly annoyed lady behind the counter had retorted disapprovingly, “Only the chutney comes free!” Gluten, MSG, poly-saturated, whole-grain bread, fibre-rich biscuits… lately it has become hard to ignore the sound and fury around what goes into our mouths and what we wash it down with. Right from sodium-free table salt, omega fat-free cooking oil, organic curry powders, brown bread, whole wheat pasta, unpolished rice and fresh fruit juices or tender coconut — all silently replacing the ghee paranthas, sugary sweetmeats, oily crunchy munchies, aerated drinks and white breads and biscuits that we once knew only too well.

Is there an organic war that's silently creeping up on us? Is the promise of a sans-chemicals nutritional regimen going to take away the fizz, sparkle and maybe the guilt from our diets?

Says Marina Furtado, based in Florida, “On the whole I feel that the ‘organic' food movement is a lot of ‘hooey' when it comes to packaged foods. Except for the rare organic chicken we buy, I am really not into the whole organic bit. Arguments in favour of it may be valid for perishables but packaged foods are after all, packaged foods!” Agrees Ravi Raman, a die-hard health enthusiast: “There are more sceptics than otherwise around me who think that this entire story about ‘organic' and ‘health-foods' are gimmicks and I can't blame them for that because they often end up being correct. How else will you explain parents spending on readymade chocolate health drink powders in the name of health but hating to get their children a good cocoa rich milk chocolate? He also adds: “Honestly I would rather have fresh food rather than packed, expensive food peddled as ‘organic'. Let's not even start talking of petroleum jelly and mineral oils that are touted as the god sent replacements to the coconut-oil we use!”

Says Vaishali Kasture, another health buff: “I am totally the eat-right kind of person and stick to wheat bread, organic foods, green tea, honey, lots of fresh fruit and salads which have some servings of fruit, steering clear of processed food. I also try and eat three home cooked meals in a day except Sunday night which is eat-out night or order-in night!” She adds laughing, “My husband loves the whole idea of eating healthy but he craves for sugar! Since his breakfast and dinner is usually at home I can control that – simply put he loves food as long as it's tasty and my challenge is to make healthy food which has to be tasty!” She also adds: “You also usually won't find any sodas, bottled drinks or processed foods in my home, except when I'm entertaining guests, ” she exclaims. Mekhala Rao says: “Life can be expensive maintaining lean proteins and broccolli when you can grab a lard dripping burger for half the price, for a week! So the key is to have a balanced lifestyle with adequate exercise, nutrition and some fun thrown in and not just an emphasis on being an ‘organic' or ‘antioxidant warrior'”.

So while the rest of the country debates on Bt versus organic and chemicals versus compost, it is just smart to become more conscious of not just what goes down our throats, but also how many steps you climbed in a day, how many deep breaths you took, how many solitary minutes you spent shutting yourself out from the cares of the world, maybe even how many times you just had a good hearty laugh. What's smarter is also to occasionally relax the fixation on healthy food and allow ourselves the liberty of the (well earned) binge. Like Mekhala quips: “What's the point of living long, if it's only salads you will ever eat, right?!”

It's just plain sensible to know what goes down your throat - so start looking at the labels, calorie servings and nutritional content of packs you open.

Organic and ‘guilt-free' foods often come with steep price tags, so make sure you know what you are paying for.

Allowing yourself to binge once in a while is no crime, there's really no stress buster sometimes like some oily wafers and fizz!

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