co-founder of Haryali, an organic produce store, discusses the importance of eating additive-free food and supporting local farmers
he News on Sunday (TNS): What are health/ organic food products? Why have these terms gained popularity?
Mahrukh Beyg (MB): The term ‘organic’ in the context of health foods refers to products that have been produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified organisms and chemical fertilisers. These products are cultivated in a way that promotes ecological balance and preserves biodiversity.
In the context of Haryali, organic foods may also be certified by the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, ensuring that they meet specific organic standards. Health foods, in general, are those that are considered beneficial for one’s health and well-being, often emphasising natural, unprocessed and nutrient-rich ingredients. I strongly advise people to read the content label of a product.
TNS: Are health foods effectively more nutritious than the products available otherwise?
MB: The focus on being preservative-free and pesticide-free suggests a commitment to healthier options. Organic foods may have higher levels of certain nutrients and antioxidants. The overall nutritional differences are often considered significant for most consumers.
Also, the primary appeal of organic foods lies in the avoidance of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms. Many people choose organic products for reasons related to environmental sustainability, ethical farming practices and reduced exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, rather than solely for enhanced nutritional content.
TNS: What are the benefits of consuming organic foods or organic products?
MB: The benefits include maintaining hormonal health. Synthetic additives in food cause havoc in our bodies. When eating organic, one has more energy as the quality of the product is top-notch. You are promoting a healthier lifestyle and supporting local farmers and produce.
Eating organic means giving your body a break and assisting it in taking care of itself. We are designed to help our body with food that will help heal and nurture us from inside.
TNS: What type of products are in your store, and what do they include?
MB: Haryali categorises its products under three labels: Organic (certified), natural (tested by PCSIR for being preservative-free and pesticide-free) and homemade.
TNS: How did you come up with this idea of a store?
MB: Haryali was launched to promote healthy and clean eating in Pakistan and supporting home-based entrepreneurs. I and a partner began a food market a few years ago. We wanted people to embrace a healthy lifestyle and boost awareness for local farmers and local produce. We eventually took different paths. This led to two different entities. The store has been operational since 2016.
TNS: What was the community’s response like?
MB: The response has been positive, with Haryali aiming to build customer trust in the supply chain and create awareness about healthy and organic living.
TNS: Has inflation impacted the sale of organic products and produce?
MB: Economic uncertainty may lead consumers to cut back on discretionary spending, reducing demand for organic products. Factors such as price sensitivity, supply chain disruptions and increased competition with conventional options can contribute to fluctuations in the organic food market during times of inflation. That being said, consumers who truly value the difference organic products make still purchase those.
TNS: How has your experience of the market competition been? Has the market become saturated?
MB: Competition is beneficial for several reasons. First, it encourages innovation. Also, consumers have more choices, ensuring that such players in the market continually improve their offerings to meet evolving consumer preferences. This prevents market saturation and encourages ongoing growth and development.
TNS: What has the process been like for you, so far?
MB: I was always eager to bring about a positive change in how people perceived the food and crafts of Pakistan. I wanted people to see that most of us spend money to buy products which are poisoning us. We are what we eat; poor choices in dietary habits are the reason diseases are becoming more common.
I became more motivated when I got diagnosed with Hashimoto Disease, an incurable auto-immune illness, which brought with it six other auto-immune diseases. It took me seven years to heal with a complete lifestyle change. 2012 was the year my liver failed to function. It remained inactive for forty-two days. That was when I decided that if I ever get up again, I would educate people about toxicity levels and how the food we eat makes or breaks us. This changed my outlook on life and forced me to be more assertive in my goals.
Healthy eating in Pakistan is the need of the hour, not because it’s a trend but because it can save lives. I quit my medicines one by one and came up with alternative home remedies, making sure all my food was free of additives and preservatives. This, in my opinion, was an absolute requirement. I needed to introduce this culture to a wider audience.
Haryali was the brainchild of my former associate and mine – motivated by personal reasons, as mentioned, the idea matured. Slowly and surely, following a lot of hard work and some setbacks, Haryali became a healthy foods and organic lifestyle brand. Over time, it also became a symbol for women empowerment as sixty-five percent of our vendors are women, running businesses from home. Haryali encourages and supports NGOs, the crafts culture, and of course, healthy alternatives to food consumed in everyday life.
TNS: Are people receptive to the concept of an organic farmers’ market?
MB: Our customers are mostly young, health-conscious individuals aware of the damage pesticides and preservatives cause. They know the difference between authentic products and those which are not. Opting for natural and organic food is not a fad. It’s a lifestyle.
TNS: Why should people buy local?
MB: I believe in local produce being the best for health, promoting the economy by supporting home businesses and starting a positive domino effect for Pakistan. Buy local, be local.
The writer is a freelance contributor Opting for natural and organic food is not a fad. It’s a lifestyle.