My next door neighbor Venkat is a self-proclaimed health freak and claims to buy only organic. Last week, with my renewed interest in organic (thanks to a strong positive influence from my local organic produce store in Chennai — reStore) I asked Venkat what makes him think that the organic produce he buys is healthier than the conventional one. I got a standard answer that it is free of chemicals and pesticides and blah blah. I wanted to dig deeper and asked few more folks in my community why do they buy organic. Majority of them gave me the exact same standard answer “it is healthier and more environment friendly than the conventional produce”. Unsatisfied after listening to the 30K feet view on why organic is healthy I dug deeper and got a very different but a more convincing answer. I figured that “organic produce never uses pesticides” is far from truth and is a myth, well most of the time. Technically most of the organic produce does use pesticides but it is usually the “organic” version, sourced directly from certain plants and stems. The most interesting insight for me though was that there is no guarantee that using natural source of pesticides always result in non-toxic produce. In fact, many plants, “good” bacteria and fungi produce toxins that are best left alone, let alone be sprayed on crops. Even more interestingly, even when a farm does not use pesticides (i.e. not even from the organic sources), the produce could still be harmful due to heavy use of manure which usually contains non-trivial quantity of pathogens spread through fecan contamination. In essence, after reading half a dozen academic and experiential literature, I’m convinced that, to produce healthiest (arguable) known natural fertilizer, marrying organic matter (such as manure) with non-organic anti-microbial agents is what makes the most sense.
Well, keeping all technicalities aside for a moment, I think that the bare minimum an organic produce lover, such as my neighbor Venkat, should do (before buying organic) is inquire about the source of the produce and understand the methods of crop treatment used. In fact, I’m going to go an extra mile and insist Venkat to visit the “real” agriculture farms that produce his family’s weekly fruits, vegetables and groceries. Doesn’t a die-hard Aamir Khan fan camp outside his mansion in Bandra West to catch his glimpse?