It’s a balmy October morning and Swara Kamath, 32, is going grocery-shopping in Mumbai. But she avoids the street vendors and doesn’t pause at the kirana store. Kamath’s food is reaching her via Volvo bus from Udupi, Karnataka, nearly 900 km away.
Every three months, Kamath goes to the depot to pick up her consignment - 10 litres of sesame oil, 10 of coconut oil, and 10 kg of seasonal vegetables, fruits, and bamboo shoots from natural farms.
“Every week, we transport over 100 kg of groceries from across Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to Mumbai, Goa, and Mangalore,” says Kailash Hegde, manager at Anant Travels. “People have to reserve their spot two to three months in advance. Two or three years ago, my customers were mainly people trying to get special foods from their native villages. Now I have young couples asking where they can get the best avocados.”
Hegde estimates that he gets thrice as many orders as in 2010. “Buses are the main method of transportation, because they are cheaper,” he says.
Kamath says the food her family sources from Udupi is tastier and fresher. “It’s not about availability,” she adds. “The only thing we order that we don’t get in Mumbai is some types of gourd vegetables.” Kamath has been ordering her groceries long-distance for five years and is among a growing number of urban Indians seeking alternatives to the pumped up or worn out food supplies and produce available in their local markets.
Some are forking out up to 100% more for free-range milk from cows that are massaged daily, unprocessed oil, and produce from farms where there is no sowing or ploughing.
“If you can get better food, why wouldn’t you?” says Parinita Ganesh, 27. For the past month, Mumbai-based Parinita and her husband have been getting their milk all the way from Sarda Farms in Nashik, 165 km away.
Managed by Dutch farmer Frank Baesjou, who says his cows need to be “healthy and happy”, these bovines are free-range, and get daily massages and organic feed.
“Our customer base has grown from 300 customers in 2011 to 9,000 today, most of them in Mumbai and Nashik,” says Sarda spokesperson Jaidev Mishra.
Parinita, meanwhile, says the fact, that the milk, priced at `70 per litre, costs almost twice as much as regular packaged milk, doesn’t bother her. “We’re both foodies,” says the NGO project manager. “And the milk tastes much fresher, without the weird aftertaste of most packaged milk. Now, our daily filter coffee has the kind of froth we never got with regular milk. It’s like a cappuccino.” Chennai-based Astra Farms provides a similar product - free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk. They supply across the city, with plans for a branch in Bangalore by January, and have seen their customer base grow to 3,000 over three years. One of their customers is 47-year-old Prem Kumar Nagendran, a Chennai-based IT consultant. “The milk tastes like what I used to have as a child,” says Nagendran. “A lot of the gastric issues I had have disappeared since I started drinking this milk in January 2014.” Bangalore-based nutritionist Anupam Menon says that it’s not uncommon for health issues to disappear once people start sourcing food with more care. “Clean eating is the new buzzword,” he adds. “People used to be happy with reasonable pricing and moderate freshness. But now, amid increased reports of chemically-tainted food, people want to know what happens to their food between the farm and their table.”
PACKING IT IN
Delhi-based PR executive Sophia Rastogi, 23, says her family sources oil, grain, vegetables and fruits from villages in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, and Roorkee, Uttarakhand, so that their food can taste authentic. “The whole family travels to each destination about once a month, for the weekend, and that’s when we pick up our food from the natural farms,” she says.
The story behind their food has become more important to people, says eco-nutritionist Kavita Mukhi. “Now, it’s not just organic. People want to know where their food comes from, what went into growing or making it,” she says. “It’s a small but fast-growing demographic.” When it comes to health benefits, there is no stark difference, especially if your entire diet is not ‘clean’, cautions Dr Richa Anand, nutritionist at Mumbai’s Hiranandani hospital. “For example, there’s no point having ‘natural’ vegetables and then eating out on the street,” she says.