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From "The Daily Star"
27 January 1998

Natural Food store Takes Us Back to Basics:
The Country’s First Organic Supermarket Opens in BeirutF

Nadine Alfa
Daily Star staff

For the first time in Lebanon, a supermarket offering all natural, organic products sold in environmentally friendly packaging has opened in Beirut. Located in Ain al-Tineh, the All Natural Drugstore offers everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat, poultry, fish, herbs, jams, dairy products, beans, grains, medicine, soaps, and even shampoos all with 100 per cent natural ingredients. Organic refers to products raised, grown, stored and processed without the use of synthetically-produced chemicals or fertilisers, general manager Ahmad Khater explained. “That means no pesticides and without any additives or colouring. “Products are also void of growth hormones or regulators which increase an animal’s size and weight in order to push up profits,” he said. There is even a section devoted to diabetics and special diets, with two nutritionists on hand to answer customers’ queries.

The store is part of the Organic Canadian International Association which provides information and hi-tech systems of what products can and cannot be used. “For example, to make our jam, we expose the fruit to direct sunlight instead of heating it, which kills the fungus bacteria and destroys healthy natural vitamins,” he said. Khater, who is also a medical doctor, said various common diseases such as cancer, hypertension, heart attacks, and cholesterol could be prevented if people had proper and natural nutrition like “in the old days”.

“In every medical report, there are conflicting arguments regarding the relation of cholesterol to hypertension and heart attacks. In some places of the world, people have high levels of cholesterol and very little heart attacks despite a high consumption of fat, and in other places it’s the other way around. I firmly believe hypertension and heart attacks are prevented when people depend on nature for food to strengthen their bodies,” he said. White bread could be a major cause of heart attacks because of the processing whereby vitamin E, which the body uses to fight cholesterol, is removed, he said. Cancer is caused by three main factors, he said: pesticides and chemicals used in agriculture; food industrialisation which includes artificial ingredients, additives and preservatives, and a lack of vitamins and minerals in the body. “Instead of eating fresh fruit, people are consuming chemically produced juice or fruit. The only solution is to get back to basics, to the way things used to be, and eat organically grown vegetables without poisonous additives or use of foreign material,” he said.

Khater described the 20th Century trend in food marketing as unfortunate. He said it was easier to use chemicals and pesticides because plants and animals grow bigger, gain more weight, and look better for marketing and sales. “People, especially in this part of the world, place more emphasis on the way food looks. All I can say is that if it looks that good and that big, then it is definitely not organic,” he said. Khater said that although farmers in Lebanon spray pesticides over vegetables which customers can wash away before consumption, the chemicals are not just external. “Nowadays, they mix the pesticides with water and spray it over the ground. So, you really cannot wash the harmful stuff away because plants drink it in from the soil.” Khater added that “organic food was quality food and not quantity food,” which is why the drugstore only sells fruits and vegetables in season.

The store raises its own calves, cows, sheep and chicken on their farms in the Bekaa while most of the vegetables and fruit are grown on their other farms in the south. The $1.5m project took two years to materialise and requires more time and effort which explains the higher cost. “For a good breed of chicken without any hormones or antibiotics which are used in Lebanon, we lost 1,200 chickens until the breeding became correct,” he said. Khater said it takes him at least four months to raise the chickens and feed them seeds that are completely natural, which is “a big expense”. He said that the more people buy organic food, the lower the price will become.

In general, the prices were about LL1,000 more than elsewhere but in some instances cheaper than those offered in luxury supermarkets. “It’s really not that expensive, especially when you consider your health. But the more people eat organic, the cheaper I can offer it,” he said, adding that it would depend on the Lebanese “changing their habits and eating organic instead of poison.”

The products are sold in environmentally friendly packages such as cloth, pottery made jugs, or glass containers that can be reused at home or returned to the shop for refills.