Cool cows & hot chicks, time for happy eatingPLANNING a happy meal for your Sunday brunch? How about "stress-free" milk to go with the "cage free" eggs from your neighbourhood organic food store? Welcome to the next level in the organic food revolution. Think shiny happy chickens and cows that line up for morning and evening walks.
'Natural' food is widening your options and coming up with an interesting mix for the palate. Milk from a "stressfree" cow is what Organic India's global CEO Krishan Guptaa pushes as the USP of his company's organic ghee: "A cow produces milk for her calf. We first let the calf have its fill and do not use machines to extract all the milk. Our cows live in an open area where they are free to walk around and graze to their heart's content in the fields. This, naturally, takes away any fear or restrains in the cattle's minds and hence we have marketed our product as tension-free cow's ghee." Ergo a happy cow equals a happier customer.
Guptaa pegs his product on "India's 5000-year old tradition" and says the purity of his product lends it more potency. So the ghee from a "stress-free" cow would last twice the length of a 'regular' pack of ghee. "I tell people that what is not good for them is impurity. And all things pure, be it ghee or neem, carry the goodness of Mother Nature. It is for us to make the best use of these gifts of nature," he says.
He isn't the only one marketing Indian hoary traditions in service of our taste buds. Ahimsa milk, or milk produced without harm to any living being, produced at a Hare Krishna farm set up by Beatle George Harrison, recently went on sale in Britain. The milk will be sold for £3 a litre in shops around Harrow, London, where there is a large Hindu community. Not only are the cows milked with ancient Sanskrit prayers playing in the background, they are also given a full Hindu burial after they die.
Meanwhile, Keggfarms, one of the oldest poultry organisations in the country, makes sure the birds in its poultry houses are not stuffed in 8x8 inch battery cages. While they are given feed sans any chemical agents, another essential trait in their breeding is their access to sunshine and fresh air. "They are not only kept away from cages but allowed to maintain a social order of their own. We try to make sure they are happy birds since every living thing must be treated with humaneness," says Vinod Kapur, the owner of Keggfarms. With the Keggs brand flying off the shelves from around 300 outlets in the Delhi-NCR region and plans to extend the retail network to Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chandigarh among others, happy cows and chicken are clearly the way to go. "In India there was no concept of quality or fresh eggs, only of the cheapest eggs. We combined our emphasis on quality with the tenet that every life form, whether plant or animal, needs to be treated with respect," he adds.
Research has shown that the flavour and yolk of an egg are determined by the diet and breed of the hen. Farm fresh eggs tend to have dark yolks where as chicken eggs from battery hens have lighter eggs. Controlled, low-intensity light is also used to delay sexual maturity until the bird's body is big enough to produce larger eggs. While most eggs come in white or brown shades, the Aracuana, a breed of chicken developed in Chile lays blue to green chicken eggs!
And if milk and eggs weren't doing it for you, you might want to go in for "relaxed meat". There are scientific studies to prove that high stress levels in cattle are likely to alter the acid levels in their meat, affecting its colour, taste and texture. The technical term for meat that has been damaged by this sort of stress is "dark cutting meat". Vegetarians, take heart
THEN, there is Japan's legendary Kobe Beef. Long-standing legend has it that the Tajima breed of Wagyu cattle in Kobe are fed organic grains, Japanese beer, and even sake to make that perfect steak. "The terms 'organic' and 'free-range' are often used as little more than marketing gimmicks designed to fool compassionate consumers into purchasing more meat, eggs or dairy," says Poorva Joshipura, chief functionary for PETA India. Joshipura believes that the only way we can ensure not contributing to the suffering of animals is to stop eating them. While animal rights activists are hardly likely to support the pampering of cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse, the fact remains that there are some brutal practices going into traditional cattle-slaughter. A realisation that better treated animals will produce better meat is likely to ensure at least some relief for the animals.
Vegetarians, take heart. Even cheese is coming with a certified "vegetarian" tag. Godrej's nature basket store which stocks a variety of cold cuts, meats, cheese and organic foods, offers vegetable red cheddar for the more discriminating customer. If you're a strict vegetarian, you will want to avoid cheese made with "traditional" (animal) rennet (fat) and should look for cheese with rennet that is made from plants or microbes. Unfortunately, this information is not always on the labels of cheese that has been pre-cut and wrapped by a store. But that is now changing. "Most cheese is animal-fat based so a vegetarian cheese is one which uses plantfat instead. While this hasn't replaced regular cheese, it has become an addon to cater to a certain type of customer," says Uttam Singh, food specialist at Godrej's Nature's Basket GK II outlet. The common thread running through this interesting but sometimes weird sounding spread: Conscientious cuisine is here to stay.