HYDERABAD: A heart wrenching post on social media website recently – about a three-year-old boy who died of sarcoma of the pelvis. An environmentalist questions, do we still have people saying why good diet? We should enjoy all kinds of food even if it is unhealthy? True, food is not the only contributing factor for good health. It is the outcome of a combination of factors – physical, mental, emotional and social and the challenge is to isolate the impact of food on a person’s health. But the three-year-old is too young for all these.
The mother, of this boy, who is left with his surviving twin brother wants to give him the best.
The first thing that comes to mind – Organic food.
Is it as safe?
Health experts and consumers have long debated whether organic food is more nutritious and safer than conventional foods. “Today the word ‘organic’ is many times misunderstood as simply being food grown without chemicals. Due to increasing commercial benefits of using the word ‘organic’, many products are being shoved under its banner,” says Narsanna Koppula, founder, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives.
Contrary to what most people believe, “organic” does not automatically mean “pesticide-free” or “chemical-free”. “Under certain laws, organic farmers are allowed to use permissible level of chemicals on their crops,” argues Seetha Anand Vaidyam, founder Ananda Foundation and also an environmentalist by choice.
She also points out that it is high time we know our grower personally. “Everybody should have direct contact with the farmer. We should also understand where the produce is coming from. There is no guarantee that it is without pesticides. It’s a point to consider, given the substantially higher cost of organic foods.”
How safe are they?
Narsanna Koppula shares that arsenic is normally present in the soil. “It is harmful if consumed more than required. Organic farming practices only do not add any more toxic substances that aggravate this problem,” he informs.
The general consensus seems to be that organic produce is better than non-organic products. “In the current socio-economic-environmental context, it is possible to adopt 100 per cent organic farming practices, but it may not be possible to have 100 per cent organic food. One cannot control the pollution in the post-harvest and marketing processes. Also, the pollution is not just in our physical environment (soil, water, air, seeds) but also in our consumerist lifestyle and capitalist systems that neglect the impact of activities on the ecosystem,” explains Narsanna Koppula.
Agreeing with him, Seetha says, “It may not be 100 per cent organic but definitely better than that loaded with chemicals. At the end it is our choice to select between organic and conventional.”
Is it worth the money?
Organic food makes you pay more. “But the prices can be brought down if people start growing them at home. We can all farm on some level,” Seetha suggests. “It’s the demand that is driving the higher market prices for organic food today,” says Narsanna Koppula.
People turn to organic food to avoid pesticide consumption, which increases the risk of cancer. “Organic food does contain small amount of chemicals. But conventional food has more than 400 chemical pesticides and the residue remains even after washing. Children are specially vulnerable to pesticides,” says Dr Vanaja Ramprasad, Green Foundation, India.
Taking the case of the three-year-old, Radhika Rammohan, from reStore, a not-for-profit group promotes local, organic, traditional foods, says, “Why something is unhealthy may not be obvious to a mother who takes trouble not to give kids ‘junk’ and cooks at home. However, most foods today come to us with residues of chemical toxins – pesticides, preservatives and so on.
And the chemicals in ordinary everyday items like furniture (particle board off-gases formaldehyde), home cleaners, household pesticides, car fragrances and so on can all cause cancerous growth.”