Saturday 12 September 2015

Views | Elijah Choo

                                                          photo by Garazi Gardner
I feel quiet passionately about organic lifestyle, and while I am not all there yet, I never regret starting the journey. I've spoken about the reasons behind my choices and shared a little about the things that I buy, but this time I want to share someone else's perspective. Elijah Choo is a founder of Bodhi & Birch, and he always has an interesting take on things. He kindly agreed to have a lengthy discussion about all things organic with me over the phone.

This is Elijah's story:

Growing up in Singapore there was no concept of organic food, that was just how things were, everything was just grown that way, mostly small scale. Elijah remembers fondly the summers spent at his uncles plantation in Sungei Papan Malaysia, picking his own fruit and vegetables. It wasn't until things got more commercial that the distinction between organic and non organic food had to be made, due to the practices of intensive farming methods.
In his early twenties organic was not something that he thought about, he admits that most of his surplus money would go on material things and it turns out he went through a fase of spending quiet a bit on clothes. Becoming older his perspective and priorities changed. It is about the quality of life, not quantity of things. Organic food is definitely a priority, Elijah enjoys good food. But it isn't just reserved for himself, his dog Molton (a charming chocolate Labrador, who according to Elijah is everyone's favourite) gets treated to organic dog food. He feels that people are becoming a lot more aware about food in general, and that it is becoming easier to find organic produce. For anyone thinking of going down the organic route, food is a good place to start and probably easiest. Even if you don't want to be all organic, some things everyone should be swapping. Soft fruits in particular absorb and retain a lot of pesticides in their skin, he particularly mentions strawberries, grapes and apples. Also switching to organic dairy products is something that he feels would be a good thing to start with.

When we spoke about fashion, Elijah admits not to have given it much thought, purely because he buys clothes so rarely it is not something that has been on his mind. He mentions that it is definitely quality over quantity and he no longer gets swayed by current trends, it is about style that would endure the test of time, and he always goes for natural fibres. His way of thinking is very much the spirit of slow fashion.

If you follow Elijah on social media, you would have noticed that he is very keen on growing his own food. He tells me that he finds it quiet therapeutic. I was under the impression that he has a magic green thumb, but it turns out that he didn't really have much succes with plants until he moved to UK in his late twenties. Having come here without really knowing anyone, growing house plants was something that he turned too (apparently he and his partner share a private joke about it). He didn't actually start growing fruit and veg until they moved to Bittell farm (an epically beautiful place with a 16th century farm house undergoing restoration, I've been given a video tour of the grounds, got to love technology). Elijah has a very interesting approach to growing his food amongst the flowers. He uses an organic seaweed solution, and if there are weeds he will pull them out by hand.

Touching upon the subject of tea, despite having a cupboard full of different types, he mostly drinks white tea. While he hasn't been going out of his way to buy organic tea, he does extensive research the origins of his tea and buys from small growers who often can't afford certification, but don't use intensive farming techniques. He mentions that after harvest white tea is mostly left to air dry and is minimally interfered with at this point. Generally speaking he mainly drinks loose tea, although there are some tea bags in his cupboard those are predominantly cloth bags and mostly gifts.

When it comes to skincare naturally he mostly uses Bodhi and Birch product, with something occasionally from another brand, however his overall routine is very streamlined. He mentions that he strongly believes in less is more when it comes to skincare, and that you don't really need to have lots and lots of products. On the subject of sourcing ingredients for Bodhi and Birch, he tries to use organic ingredients whenever possible, but it is always about what is the best that's available at the time. Due to the nature of organic production, sometimes the characteristics of the current crop simply won't work in the formulations of particular products. The difficulty and dedication that it takes to produce 100% organic skincare is something that Elijah understands very well, he highlights what an impressive thing it is to do, and hats off to those brands that create them.

There was one point in particular that Elijah wanted to make clear, to him organic food is not just about nutrition. It is about sustainability, about the quality of life not just for himself but for the farmers and growers too. The idea of organic lifestyle for him goes much deeper than choosing certified products, it is all about leaving a less wasteful life. Reducing the amount of unnecessary things, using things for longer: be it clothes or furniture. When you are spending more on food you are less likely to throw it away. To him going organic was like going back to his roots, becoming at one with himself.

*Photos in this post are courtesy of Elijah Choo

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