Society

Riding the organic wave

The section selling organic food at Fabindia Photo: Liza George   | Photo Credit: Liza George



Onam is around the corner and no true blue Malayali, worth his avial or payasam, will miss the traditional Onam sadya. However, when once the vegetables used for the sadya were harvested fresh from the fields, one isn’t sure about the vegetables one buys these days.

And that is where ‘organic’ steps in. Organic, a buzzword amongst health conscious residents in the city, has seen a rise in the number of stores selling organic produce. In addition to the vegetable counter at Gandhi Bhavan, the YMCA stall and Thanal’s Organic Bazaar, there is now Aroma Fresh, Nilgiris and Pathayam, to name a few.

And if the line at the various organic stores in the city is any indication, it looks like many are hoping to recreate the flavours and aromas of the sadyas of yore.

“Flavours somehow come alive when cooking with organic produce, be it greens, pulses or spices. The colour and texture of the fruits and vegetables are also richer. The aromas that waft from the cooked food are also appetising,” says Gangadharan, proprietor of Pathayam.

And it’s not just vegetables or fruits that are available at most of these stores. Many have increased their product range to include everything from organic pulses to flours, sweeteners, and spices. Thus, one can find all the ingredients needed to prepare a completely ‘organic’ sadya. There is even instant payasam mix!

According to the proprietors of the organic stores, sales tend to double during Onam. And as the stores gear up for the festivities ahead, so do the organic farmers. “Most of the farmers have timed their crops to ripen in time for Onam,” says K. Jayakumar of Thanal.

“A lot more people seem to be catching on to the organic wave each day, and as word spreads, and demand increases, there’s a store at most neighbourhoods,” says Suresh Kumar, assistant manager, Aroma Fresh, which for instance, has three branches in the city.

Thanal, which is perhaps one of the earliest to popularise the organic concept in the city, is now open Mondays to Saturdays, to meet popular demand, and Fabindia, which had a small counter dedicated to organic products such as jams and pickles, has expanded its range of goods from cereals to salad dressings.

“It was mostly Europeans, who picked up these goods off the shelves at first, but over the years, we now have many Indians as well and most of them are regulars. In fact, at the start of the month, we set aside their usual order for them, as most of them buy a month’s worth of provisions,” says Alpana Pillai of Fabindia.

Stores like Nilgiris and Spring have branded organic produce like pulses, jams and spices on their shelves.

Although the price of organic produce is on the higher side, many are willing to shell out money on organic products. “New customers do ask us why organic products are priced so high but are convinced when we explain the way yield drops when a farmer starts organic cultivation, and the effort behind raising such a crop,” says Nazeer K. Habeeb of Organic Natural Food Shop.

K.P. Varghese of Welgate recalls how his store ran at a loss when he first began. “We started six years ago. Then, we did not have many takers for our goods and would throw or give away half the produce. Now newspaper articles on the high levels of pesticides and chemicals in food articles are pushing many to look out for organic products. The movie How Old Are You? has also helped promote organic food. The benefits of organic food have encouraged some to discover their green thumbs and practise organic farming in their backyard,” says Varghese.

Most of the customers to the stores are repeat customers with at least a new customer or two coming in daily. “A lot of our customers, especially young mothers, say that their children prefer the food prepared using organic stuff. The fact that the food they cook is natural is immaterial; for them it’s the taste and even aroma that matters,” says Jayakumar.

With organic food finding fixture on the plates of many health conscious residents in the city, it looks like the organic wave is here to stay?

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Printable version | Mar 9, 2021 12:11:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/organic-produce-is-in-vogue-this-onam/article7561515.ece

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