Why does Food cost so much at Organic stores? OR Is ‘Organic’ a new brand label only for snobs?
by Radha Gomati, Feb-16th , 2017
Ouch! The title hurts.
The reality hurts even more.
But it is time we shared our take on the issues involved, our concerns, our thoughts and our pains regarding this issue of costing.
Do note as you read-This is the legitimate sincere voice of a miniscule minority taking risks while trying hard to stay put and pull off a miracle …That too, a very simple Miracle -just ensuring the provision of non toxic, delicious, ethically produced nourishing food which is not a luxury but a necessary essential for maintaining Body & Spirit with the respect they deserve.
Even to realize the simple mission of ensuring good food, which is but the natural & fundamental birthright of us humans as with all other beings in Nature, the odds that have to be tackled are so humongous that it fills our entire field of vision with its cataract, blinding us totally .It is that cataract that we wish to address in this edition of Ambrosia.
However it is not with the scholastic authority of subject experts hailing from domains as complex ,vast and varied as say-Economy, Politics, International Relations, Commerce, Ethics, Ecology, Spirituality as the topic of Food truly deserves that we speak, but as Visionaries who are actually trying to live the talk; As Real time Farmers/Food Processers/Producers ,who are also by the way, Merchandisers providing a platform for other genuine producers, trying to sustain in an urban centre like Bangalore ,through a tiny chain of Organic Shops, the cherished dream of a market that is fundamentally different.
Let us start examining the issue of Food and its pricing by first looking at Agriculture. This is one form of human production, and that too the most basic, that doesn’t take place under the safety of a roof under controlled conditions.
Our pride as a species does not permit us to accept the timelessly true fact that no matter what attempt of control is made by Man, agricultural produce invariably depends on the never fully predictable, ever elusive, delicate and mysterious interplay between soil, sun, moon, air, mist, dew, rain and the interventions of other non human beings like birds, insects, animals even other plants. To this please add the power of intent & state of mind to the additional list of intangibles whose affective power over the growth of plants and their outcome all farmers swear by (even small time gardeners lovingly tending perhaps to just a few precious pots and Grow-bags in a small terrace or tiny balcony will endorse this ).
Facilitating that everyday miracle… which is the precious process of alchemy of the elements that begins with the sowing of seed to the harvest of the life affirming bounty of food upon our tables-this is what the humble farmer does on a daily basis.
This is what he/she has done effectively based on a wisdom gathered over millennia of practice.
It is thus not only a form of essential service but also a sacred one based on value. By its very nature and the natural ‘risks’ involved, farming food is not designed to be a standardized centralized massively scaled enterprise. On the other hand it is small in scale and involves intelligent responses that are highly context sensitive. That is the very nature of this work.
We know well that our attempts to ‘control’ and ‘boost‘ production in any area of human enterprise invariably moves towards centralization &homogenization with its attendant intolerance and disregard of all local variations and difference. It is just the way its innate logic unfolds.
Then how can such a model be imposed on agriculture without jeopardizing the value and nature of the produce, which is something that something that we simply cannot afford to trifle with –our food ?
The first and most serious consequence of imposing such a mechanical industrialized model with the negation of his/her traditional sources of knowledge and lived wisdom is the shattering of the farmer’s self esteem & self confidence .Verily his/her living context.
The farmer’s harmony, involvement & self reliant tuning with his/her domain of action is thrown out of gear. Now dependent on urban based power centres of knowledge, technology and the cheap sops of unstable subsidies that are dispensed as ‘compensation’ for this shattering, he/she becomes insecure, diffident, silent and sullen.These are the damages inflicted on what one may call ‘the Heart space’ that sets the grim climate for the manifestation of the rest of the cataclysm.
The second and simultaneous consequence is the shattering of the vital links that kept local markets, a locale of exchange, sustained by trust, warm value-based relationships and glad acknowledgement of mutual dependences, vibrantly alive. A gracious way of Life erodes into indignity and disappears .
Like how a hundred lies are not enough to cover up for the first lie uttered, the rest follow - the building of huge dams, the haphazard attempts to link riverine systems that we anyway know so little of, synthesizing ever new chemical fertilizers , pesticides & weedicides deadlier by the day or even, in the hi tech ambience of research labs, descending into the hitherto out of bounds in-space of seeds attempting modification of their genetic content to suit the needs of our species to the detriment of all else- The consequences of all these actions have proved to be highly disastrous.
For how can measures that may boost some other more mechanical form of production be expected to work when thrust upon Plants who are but living expressions of a delicately balanced system of relationships between the realms of the human, the non human, the cosmic, the elemental and the mineral that viewed together, in their totality, is like a Being in itself with a mind all its own?
How does one put a price on it?
We can read this sentence as an exclamatory one touched by awe. How does one put a price on it?!
We can also re read this sentence in a flat prosaic manner - How are we pricing produce? What are we paying the farmer?
We come face to face with the harsh ground reality that Agriculture is that ONE area where produce is NOT priced in accordance with all the usual criteria that goes into deciding the price of produce/goods from any other domain of production, which are: Price of raw materials, time & effort involved in their procurement, transportation, cost of labor, steps of processing etc.
Because with the breakdown of identity & self esteem, the disintegration of local markets, the debt traps of bank loans to buy chemical fertilizers and the like, the farmer is forced to rely on middlemen who quote their price for the farmer’s produce leaving little or no say for the farmer himself or herself to speak up in the matter.
Caught in an artificially imposed situation but one with very real material consequences, while our farmers, driven to desperation make a bid to end their lives, we, in our ignorance of the tragic larger picture rejoice when the prices of produce plummet in the market, conditioned to think that cheap food is our inalienable &unquestionable right. We are not trained to remember that as beings who depend on food for sustenance, it is also our duty to safeguard the farmer and the field by the simple informed choices we make.
The miracle of Life and Clean ,Safe ,Ethically raised ,Good Food which is the basic Value which sustains it … This is what is belittled, undignified and crushed under the top heavy technocratic models of agriculture that is promoted by Governments & Corporations ostensibly aimed at providing as much cheap food to as many as possible. But in wholly negating all issues of sustainability ,ethics and safety,what is reached to our tables is nothing but the tears of the exploited as also life negating toxins in the guise of food that do to our minds & bodies the exact opposite of what food is really meant to do-which is to bless, nourish ,elevate and replenish.
When wholesome foods, raised with the graceful attitude of inclusiveness reaches our tables, they energize not just our bodies by the act of eating & drinking, but our hearts and souls as well. Add that little lift in awareness, just enough to gladly acknowledge every human (& non human element as well ) that play their role in the daily miracle of food - The results though subtle are truly joyful & amazing.
Please take our word for it. Because this is what makes us tick. This is what we live by every day at Lumiere.
True, our cities are unplanned conglomerations that seem to have been built on the assumption that we are some form of robots that have no need for drinking clean water ,consuming fresh food , breathing quality air or even defecating properly without spoiling anyone else’s premises or resources;
True, we have no well thought provision either for safety, provision to store /conserve water, grow food or safekeep green open spaces for children that also works as a city’s green lungs .Nor have we demonstrated the sensitivity, imagination or the sense of magnanimous inclusiveness to provide for all kinds of beings who with their mere presence enrich our experience of life.
True, we never thought of implementing no traffic strictly pedestrian zones, building & eco conservation norms that will ensure health and wellbeing of its citizens in the long run.
But it is within this unplanned chaotic mess that we must work together, stubbornly, protectively raising a beautiful and do-able dream with unflagging spirit of providing wholesome safe food for the good of all.
We are aware that this movement is growing and in tiny pockets at least.Farmers are reclaiming their lost dignity and power, waking to the true greatness and possibilities of their vocation. The more the merrier. May healthy competition imbued with a spirit of self awareness and cooperation kick in amongst groups of many, many such farmers that will certainly help lower the current benchmark of Organic Food prices .
As of now Lumiere thrives in taking up the challenge to counter this system in every possible way we can, creating a small oasis of value and shared happiness, right from the way we practice farming to our extremely fair and ethical procurement policies from other likeminded producers.
You can see this in our selection of books at our counters; In the celebratory sensibility at work in every small detail in our space-right from the shelving, the light weight rope handled shopping crates crafted out of upcycled pine wood waste to the transparent glass and wood containers that show off our range of fresh condiments &grains and the textured walls created with natural materials sometimes embellished with beautiful &meaningful murals...
Have you noticed our name boards, a differently styled one for each of our three shops all crafted lovingly out of natural/up cycled materials?
Can you name another shop that offers a glass of a lovely fresh juice blend [that too,a new one everyday!]as a welcome drink or places a generous ‘madhurabharani’or urn of natural goodies like a mix of sugar candy or jaggery bits or nuts that you& your family can help yourselves from?
Next time you visit us, feel free to walk into our kitchen and take a look at our fantastic and totally uncommon range of preserves in their various stages of preparation [for eg: Aloevera & Ashgourd jam, Punarnava leaf pickle, Hibiscus Petal syrup to name but a few]; Breathe in the heavenly fragrance of whole wheat baked delights-varieties of cookies, muffins, cakes &breads as they emerge piping hot from the oven.
Feel at home when you come to our shops. We would be totally delighted if you did!
If you cant make it here, it’s OK. Step into our online store, just reach out for your phone and call us.
We will deliver quality produce at your door step at no extra cost within the prescribed distance radius if your orders are above INR 500.
We will be glad if you can make the time to join us in visiting our farms ,even if they are a bit far off [another reason BTW for being forced to up pricing a little. This is a global phenomenon, a price we pay almost world wide today for ill planned urban development in an oil-driven economy where food simply cannot be grown at our doorsteps as they were meant to be, but transported by trains and trucks over long distances].We could cook freshly picked veggies, share a meal and certainly lots of good ideas together …
Maybe someday not too far into the future we can even offer you a place to stay over awhile away from the din of the city with your loved ones and even join us if you like as we work with our trees ,creepers and plants.
… Why not?
Lumiere sustains after all, on an unwavering and loving commitment to the spirit of LIFE!