Friday, July 25, 2014

organic and all that jazz

I was at a cooking class the other day and we were a motley group of women, young and old, mothers with teenage children, young mothers, even a grandmother. We learnt how to bake focaccia and put together salads with pasta, bell pepper, lettuce, rocket leaves, broccoli etc. In other words, there was nothing desi about the cooking and I wondered afresh whether one should have an insular approach  and stick to the vegetables locally available and the local cuisines, or adopt a less conservative approach and include in one's roz ka khana foods from all over the world, even if some of the ingredients are not locally grown. Its a question I have had to deal with only when my children entered their teens and rebelled against the daal, sabzi, roti that a typically North Indian family eats. Mostly, the question's been settled not by me but my children's insistence on having meals with as much variety as possible, with a distinct tilt towards Continental and Far Eastern cuisines. My own opinion in the matter is still in a state of flux! On the one hand, the idea of experimenting with new cuisines is exciting, but the fact that we are rapidly losing large chunks of our cultural heritage, including cuisines, dampens the excitement. Maybe one ought to spend time and effort learning the difficult-to-cook and slowly-becoming-unknown dishes of the local cuisine rather than recipes that come from foreign lands, require ingredients that also travel large distances ( and therefore have a larger carbon footprint), and may not possess the same virtues as the local cuisine which has evolved over centuries and is best suited to the local climatic conditions, soil type, physique etc etc.  

Much more than the local vs international aspect of cooking what bothered me were the discussions on organic vegetables and fruits. I had switched to organic vegetables and fruits many years ago but the same arguments that years ago had convinced me to make the expensive switch sounded more than a little hollow and hypocritical. We are concerned about the effect that chemical laden vegetables and fruits may have on our health, we are concerned about the long term health of the soil and water, we are concerned about our legacy to our children and grand children in terms of food resources, and all our concerns are justified but missing from this list of concerns is the fate of the millions who earn their livelihood through non organic agriculture, of the lakhs who have killed themselves in the past decade because such agriculture is unable to afford them even subsistence incomes, of the lakhs who stand on the verge of a similar fate. We do not question the government's farm policy or lack of it, we do not question the macro picture in which massive subsidies continue to be garnered by the chemical industry under the garb of farm subsidies, we do not question the absence of land reforms, we do not question the government's failure to promote agro based small industries ------- we simply patronise the suppliers of organic food that we know of , and turn a blind eye to the larger issues. 

So while farmers continue to suffer, we sit in air conditioned living rooms and learn Continental cuisine using organic and imported ingredients! I know I will overcome this twinge of conscience and attend the next class ------  its hypocritical, nevertheless. 

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