Eating for a greener Earth – wondering what that means? We’re talking about organic food products – the kind that comes fresh from the farm and is free of preservatives and pesticides.
As a prelude to Earth Hour on 23rd March, The Park, Chennai, recently introduced a special menu. The food, we’re told, is made from organic food products free of fertilizers and pesticides. Kohlrabi soup with unfiltered apple cider vinegar (Rs 400), Baked pickled rice with tempered sweet potatoes (Rs 675) and Braised lamb ((Rs 875) and yoghurt timbale (Rs 600) were just a few dishes off the menu.
The soup was prepared with kohlrabi, a type of cabbage, which is slightly sweet and very similar to creamy mushroom soup but has a zing of the apple cider that nicely balances with a small dollop of cream. The mildly spicy braised lamb came with cracked wheat and flax seed pancakes and a fresh herb salad. The dessert was something we hadn’t seen before – a yoghurt timbale served with pomegranate hibiscus relish and a melted sugar biscuit with burnt sesame seeds. But the star of the menu for us was the baked pickled rice made from brown basmati and served in a banana leaf with cauliflower and crispy pressed rice.
It was tasty, no doubt. But if you were to cook this at home, how easy would it be to source these indgredients?
“It’s a little difficult. A few decades ago in India, the food on our plates was farm fresh, free of fertilizers – organic. But the Green Revolution changed all that. Now people are rediscovering the health benefits of organic products. While going back to nature is catching on, there aren’t many takers because of the increased prices and it’s treated like more of a luxury,” says Rajesh Ramakrishnan, the head chef of The Park, who created the menu.
So did this food taste drastically different from a regular dinner at any other restaurant or even home-cooked food? We didn’t think so, but perhaps a chef’s trained palate would say otherwise.
“Organically grown vegetables and fruits do taste different but the change is subtle so most people wouldn’t notice it. But think about it – we spray pesticides, use chemicals to ripen fruits faster than normal and use copious amounts of fertilizers – this definitely changes their taste, texture and even colour,” he says.
And it’s not just the nature of the food that changes, but the environment itself. Organic food crops consume lesser water and since fertilizers aren’t used, the ground water doesn’t get contaminated. In the shorter run, the green revolution may yield more crops but in the longer run it sucks all the natural goodness of the land, rendering it useless eventually. This doesn’t happen with organically grown crops because what comes from the nature goes back to it.
For an indiscernible change in taste there isn’t much you’d be sacrificing by cooking the organic way, except spending a little more money perhaps. “Yes the products are expensive, which is the main challenge in making them mainstream,” admits Chef Rajesh.
But expense isn’t the only factor driving people away from choosing organic products. Since they contain no preservatives, they also have a shorter shelf life when compared with other non-organic products. That means you can’t store your vegetables or fruits for extended periods of time.
But Chef Rajesh sees that as an advantage rather than a drawback. “Shouldn’t you consume food fresh? After all, it’s not meant to be stored long term and no one did until refrigerators came along,” he adds.
Maybe he’s right. But right now, the scales aren’t tipping in the favour of all things organic. The only people who will buy organic produce are those who see them as a healthier way to live while preserving the environment. For the rest of the populace, though, going organic requires tremendous effort and expense due to the accessibility and pricing of these fruits and vegetables. Unless this changes in the near future, going organic will just remain a luxury.
The Earth Hour special menu is available for lunch and dinner at 601, The Park till 23rd March.