Saturday, 28 January 2012

My Organic Pilgrimage in South India

Hello bloggie friends!  Are you still with me?  I wouldn't blame you if you've forgotten me in favour of those other blogs.  You know, the ones where they post frequently ;)

My blog-o-sphere absence is because of two things:
  1. My camera broke so I have no interesting photos to share. 
  2. I'm working on a super exciting project that has taken up most of my time here in India.  More on that in a few weeks ...
As I've mentioned before the place where I stay in India has a kitchen team, and they provide the food for the teachers, students and yoga vacation guests ... soooOooo that means I don't really have a lot of control over the food I eat.  At home its mostly raw green veggies, green smoothies and vegan, sattvic cooked foods.  Here it's mostly rice, sambar and dosa (all vegetarian of course).

When I first ventured to south India in 2010 I couldn't find anything organic.  Sure, big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have health food stores selling organic items.  But I'm in rural south India.  Sometimes we don't even have electricity!

To my surprise this year I discovered a few items using the word "organic" on the package.  I was skeptical at first.  "Yeah right," I thought.  But a funny thing, turns out it's actually legit.  Here's what I've learned about organics in India:

Similar to our system in North America, India has several third party organic certifiers.  If a product meets the certifier's standards, the package can feature their logo, thus reassuring the legitimacy of the product's organic claims (of course, finding genuine organic products is a problem back home too.  See my previous post on this topic for more information).

But here's where it gets interesting ... organic certification takes a few years.  Back home a product cannot bear the certifier's logo until this lengthy (and costly) process is completed (often it can take up to 2 years!).  One franchised company, Fab India, actually categorizes organic products depending on where the company is in the certification process, and then uses a corresponding logo to signal to customers where they are in this lengthy process.  This process is broken down into 3 steps:
  1. Natural - Produced by a farm that uses 100% organic methods, but has not taken the steps to officially certify (possibly due to the large costs).  This category also includes products that are mostly organic but may contain non-organic preservatives, dyes or flavourings.
  2. In Conversation - Producer is using organic methods but has not yet completed the 3 year process in order to be considered organic. 
  3. Certified Organic - Producer is recognized by a third party organization as using 100% organic methods.
I love it!!  Okay I know at this point I've probably lost a lot of you, but for those of you that are organic nerds like me, isn't this great?!  See other examples of my organic nerdy-ness here and here.

So far all of the organic items I've found are pre-packaged (teas, spices, lotions, etc ...).  I haven't seen fresh fruits or veggies marked as organic yet (again I'm just referring to my small corner of south India), but unless there was some kind of package with a certifier's logo on it, I wouldn't trust any organic claims anyhow.

So there you have it!  My organic report on south India.  Rest assured, you haven't heard the last of this from me.  So stay tuned for many more posts on organics!!

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