I remember the first time I actually understood what chemicals in food meant. It was when I’d forgotten an apple in my bag during a particularly hectic week. This was several years ago, in the US, where Genetically Modified (GM) foods are the norm, and where the flavours of fruits and vegetables, as we know them in India, are long-gone.

Almost three weeks later, when work ceased and an aspiration to being stylish beckoned, I emptied my bag – and found a slightly smaller, yet very eatable apple. I cut it open and it was fine. And that scared me to bits. A feeling shared by many after the now infamous series of McDonald’s experiments with burgers, where people photographed them over months, with no discernable difference in the burgers.

This spurred me to start reading about organic foods, pesticides, chemicals, genetic interference and more. When my brother, Ashmeet Kapoor, started our company, I Say Organic, in India, it was something of a relief. Finally, I could walk the walk too.

Do you want fries with those McVeggies?

We live in an age of instant gratification. This might seem obvious but I’d like to invite you to think about what this means. We treat everything like a fast food restaurant order. Definitely food, but also gadgets, love, health, social change…and greed of any kind.

The latter is one of the reasons why we’re in the pickle we are today. We want crops to grow faster so we can grow more, sell more, and get rich. We want certain foods all through the year, regardless of the cost to nature and us. We want to eat like the first world, all glossy veggies with vibrant colours. And sadly, we’ve succeeded.

Let’s narrow it down.

We also live in an age of mass forwards and scaremongering. Pesticides is such a generic term. Let’s get specific.

Chlorpyrifos. Impossible to spell, impossible to cure. It’s an insecticide that affects the central nervous system. In Punjab, the food bowl of India, cauliflower samples contained over 117 times the permissible amount of this chemical residue.

DDT, that old favourite. It’s found in tomatoes, which we all use daily. And is a carcinogen that affects the reproductive system. Tomatoes still have almost 100 times over the permissible limits of this now recognised poison. Farmers in Anantapur, a district that produces 90% of the total groundnut yield, have clearly said that they use DDT to ensure higher productivity.

Every day, an average Indian consumes vegetables which contains over 70 different kinds of pesticides. Let’s just think about that for a second.

I Say Organic. But what do I mean by organic?

Much like gluten-free, organic has become something of a buzzword. It’s cool, it’s hipster, it’s aspirational, it indicates you’re conscious of what you’re putting in your body and et cetera.

But to us at I Say Organic, it’s much simpler. Going organic, eating organic, living organic – is just living with nature. It’s actually a philosophy that we’ve seen our parents and grandparents follow – eating healthily, eating everything, eating seasonally, recycling and using very little plastic. It’s living naturally, without coming in the way of what the earth does for itself and us.

And today, more than ever, it is vital that we come together and move, collectively, consciously, towards a healthier, more sustainable future.

India has a future in Organic Foods

A Nielsen study claims that one in four Americans are devoted organic consumers. That’s 25% of the population, a sizeable amount, and hopefully more than the number of Trump voters.

But when you compare American and Indian figures, as we love doing in other subjects, you realise that in sheer numbers, India has the largest population – of organic farmers, across the world.

Organic farming in India is practiced in more than 12 states, with a total production of 4.72 million hectares. In 2013-14 alone, organic food production was over 1.24 million tones. Now here’s the fun part - most of this food is exported. Outside. To other countries. Amazing, isn’t it?

So while we’re growing fresh, chemical-free vegetables and fruits, we’re sending them out – and reaching for a juicy, cheese-laden MahaPreservative Mac. Is that what globalisation means?

The organic marketplace

I Say Organic started in 2012, to connect organic farmers directly to customers. We chose going online as a transparent, easy way of creating a marketplace where customers could choose to eat healthier and safer, and farmers could earn a more viable income to continue their sustainable way of life.

And the claim of something being organic is extremely easy to make – as this is still an area that isn’t really regulated and is often subjective. Which is why we ensure that when we say we source from an organic farm, it isn’t organic from last year or two years or five. It’s been organic for decades. And we take being organic seriously enough to ensure not only chemical-free produce, but seasonal produce that doesn’t necessarily look good, but tastes good and helps you feel better.

But why is it so expensive?

It isn’t. It is marginally more expensive (around 30%), because demand is not proportional to supply. As demand goes up, prices will automatically come down. And it takes longer than chemical-infused produce to grow, with more natural risks to the crop. Yes, that makes it slightly costlier. But safer. And the cheaper option in the long run.

The benefits of going organic

There are many. I have my own success story – that of triumphing over PCOD in two years of organic food and exercise, after suffering for over 10 years. But the situation is dire - cancer, frequent illnesses, an over-dependence on antibiotics because of increased resistance due to chemicals in our system – these are all problems linked to usage of pesticides in our food.

And these are solvable. Across our rapidly growing customer base, we have consistent reports of improved immunity, improved resistance to allergies, better well-being, more energy and quicker healing. That too, across age groups.

And going organic has its benefits for the environment as well. It reverses the greenhouse effect, maximizing carbon fixation due to crop rotation. Loss of top soil is a result of chemical use over time – this fertile layer is critical to food production and its sloughing off is a grave threat to production capacities now. With organic farming, top soil is not just retained, but renewed. When you don’t use chemicals, there is no runoff and no harm to aquatic life or dead zones or global warming – all major environmental concerns today.

I Say Organic’s aim is to make organic food affordable for everyone, and organic farming a viable way of life for farmers. The only way forward to jointly, as a society and people, decide that we want to make a conscious choice about how we eat, what we eat and what effect it has. To show the farmer who is growing quality produce that because he cares about us, we will return the favour. The time is now.

(Aakanksha Kapoor is Head, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, I Say Organic)