From Organic to “Specialty Vegetables”February 2, 2007
OK time to move on from trans fats to other health issues. But still on the subject of food labelling…
Shoppers at the Fairprice X-tra hypermart in Ang Mo Kio might have noticed a recent change in “labelling” at the vegetables / fruits section. When the hypermart first opened, there was one “island” prominently and boldly labelled ORGANIC. No more. That island is now labelled “Specialty vegetables”.
Why the change? Maybe because I had complained.
Because only about 1/4 of the vegetables / fruits on the island are organic. The rest include hydroponic / aeroponic vegetables – which are totally opposite to organic – as well as mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
Organic vegetables are 100 percent natural. They are grown in naturally rich soil or using natural compost as fertiliser. Plus, they are not sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and other poisons.
Hydroponic / aeroponic vegetables are 100 percent unnatural. On the one hand, it is true that such vegetables are also not sprayed with harmful pesticides. But the similarity ends there. They are grown in water / air, and fertilised with chemical solutions. This is not the way God or Nature intended them to be grown.
Thus, it is highly misleading to lump them all together under the label “Organic”. I pointed it out to the staff the first two times I visited the hypermart. The second time I complained, about two weeks after my first visit, I was told that management had already been informed. The third time I visited, about 10 days later, I saw the new signboard.
Fairprice could have solved the situation in two ways:
- Remove all the areoponic / hydroponic and other non-organic stuffs
- Change the “labelling”, which was what it did.
Either way, Fairprice would have done the right thing by not having a misleading signboard. But the fact that Fairprice opted for solution #2 is a sad reflection of the very low interest in organic foods among Singaporean consumers. Imagine, a huge hypermart like Fairprice X-tra, in one of Singapore’s most populated housing estates, cannot support even one small island of organic vegetables and fruits.
If you ever get a chance to visit the Jaya Jusco supermarket in Johor Baru (slightly further north from Carrefour), you will see a dramatic contrast. There, you will find a huge organic section, comprising about 30 bins and shelves of organic vegetables, fruits and packaged / bottled / canned organic foods.
Sure, shop space is cheaper in Johor and I suspect the organic section at Jaya Jusco is sub-leased by Country Farm, a Malaysian organic foods importer / distributor.
Even then, the smaller Jusco supermarket at Permas Jaya has a sizeable section of organic vegetables. It sells three different brands of organic vegetables – Zenxin, ABM Greenhill and Suan Mokkh, plus a fourth brand, Grace Cup, which is compost grown, almost as good as organic.
And what’s significant is that I often see ‘ordinary shoppers‘ – such as those who buy harmful foods like margarine with trans fats – also buy organic vegetables.
On the one hand, it is true that consumer awareness about organic foods has increased over the years. On the other hand, I think many vegetables (oops! just spotted this typo, I mean, many consumers) just buy whatever is on the shelf, so long as it looks good and the price is acceptable.
And in JB, the prices of organic vegetables are very acceptable. For less than RM3 (S$1.30) you can buy fair amounts of organic or compost grown vegetables like cabbage, spinach, kangkong, chye sim, long beans, lady’s fingers, eggplant, cucumber, Japanese cucumber, etc… including organic ‘specialty vegetables’ like mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Add another RM 1 or 2 and your options increase. I ever bought organic coriander for the grand sum of RM0.85!
To fair, some of the organic items at Fairprice are very reasonably priced too. For example, a bag of about 10 to 12 organic apples sells for only $5.95, which is about the same as what one might pay for regular, pesticide-laden apples.
The one item that I highly recommend at Fairprice is the Organic musk melon from Thailand. It sells for $7.95 per melon, or sometimes $8.50, I guess depending on the harvest. It might seem costly to some people. But this is the same species of melon that, if you buy the Japanese-grown variety at Japanese supermarkets, might cost you $80 or more!
I have never tried the Japanese versions but I suppose they taste better. At such prices, they ought to. But the Thai organic variety at Fairprice is absolutely delicious. The first time I ate, I said to myself, “Wow!”
Go treat yourself to some organic musk melon. I believe they are available at all Fairprice outlets, as I have seen them at several. If you happen to be at Fairprice X-tra in Ang Mo Kio, look for them under “Specialty vegetables”.