November 29, 2011

What is Christmas without the bells and baubles?


 Thinking about Christmas, I hear the bells chime. I see the twinkling stars winking at me from faraway houses as I walk back home after the Midnight Mass in my hometown Alappuzha. I hear the age-old Christmas Carols fill the misty midnights in my Mother's house in Chamampathal.

I remember my own Christmas Tree in Bangalore that filled my December nights with nostalgia. Lying down on my bed, I peeped through the small opening in the curtains, made with a purposeful intent, and looked at my little tree lit by the flickering lights. In the pale light of their sparkle, I saw the colourful Christmas baubles quiver in the cool December breeze.

Last night, we bought a Christmas tree from Walmart. I promised myself, I will reuse it again and again, year after year, until the synthetic leaves begin to fade and wither. In an attempt to convince myself, I remembered then that the first Christmas tree that I bought for myself in Bangalore, was used for many years; including all the trinkets and paraphernalia. Even today, in my apartment, now, with its door shut and uninhabited, the remnants of my last Christmas lie buried in the darkness of my kitchen closets.

As I get ready to welcome my first Christmas here, I begin to dream of the day I will have my own Christmas tree, a real one, nurtured in a fenced front yard, which will only grow with years and not shrivel and wither with time.


November 25, 2011

Trash it!



The other day, there was a get together at home. We had invited two families for lunch. All in all, there were six adults and seven children. First the children ate, while the mothers stood near by serving them. The mothers did try forcing some stuff that the children probably wouldn't choose themselves, given an option. Just any mother would do the same thing, I thought. Some of the elder kids finished all that was served, some ate bits here and there, some feigned to eat. At the end of a noisy meal, there was lot of food left in their plates. When I was about to clear the table, the two Mothers grabbed the plates from which their children ate and said, ' Don't trash it. I will eat from this plate.' Quite contrary to what I see here when I eat out.

When I eat out, I am not supposed to refill my first plate as it may lead to contamination and infections. If one refills his or her plate thrice, he or she has to eat from three plates. You get those looks if you take the same plate to the buffet counter. Once the waiter at the counter even asked one of my friends to discard her used plate before she refilled it, much to her embarrassment. Not only restaurants, but homes also mirror the same mentality. 'Take another plate. Don't bother, I anyway use the Dishwasher.'

We waste food mindlessly. We use resources mindlessly. 

Trash it. A growing menace these days. One of my US-bred friends' daughter visits me often. In the few hours that she spends with me at home, she trashes half the food that is offered to her. After eating a little bit, either she leaves the food on the table or simply trashes it in the bin herself. In spite of my attempts to subtly correct her, she continues her habit, much to my chagrin.When there isn't reinforcement at home, how will she ever change for the better?

We are a seven billion today. The demand for food grows by the hour. 'Globally, we waste 30–40% of all food produced, or one of every three calories. If we could eliminate waste, we would halve the amount of new food we need to produce by 2050.'

I remember a brief from a MNC client a few years ago. To come up with a campaign to tackle food waste in the cafeteria. Lunch was subsidized and there was definitely excess. The brief  was simple: 'please don't try shock tactics of showing pictures of famished children. It simply doesn't work as we have already tried that. Let's try some thing more stark and in the face.' What could be more stark?  

Using disposable essentials has become the very fabric of our culture. We trash things even before we use them, or after using them partially or marginally. When our children feel thirsty, they open kitchen cabinets where juice is stored in pouches in colourful cartons with pictures of apples and melons, multiple ones piled on top of the other. I remember during my childhood days, how my thirst was quenched at the compound well. All of us drank from the self same heavy metal bucket, each taking turns. When guests visit us, we hand over a bottle of mineral water instead of that customary water that was given in glasses. When hunger comes calling, canned soups, cookies, cakes, biscuits and pre-packaged puddings are chosen by our kids.

I salute the likes of my friends, the two mothers mentioned in the beginning of this post. One, a Doctor by profession and the other an Engineer. Such values am sure come from families. In spite of being here in the US for years on end, I see how their values run deep.

Home is where it begins. Home is where it gets reinforced. Are our homes advocates of such values that our Planet cries for or harbingers of dark days to come?

Photocredit: WRAP Love Food, Hate Waste campaign

November 23, 2011

The Friday that is getting Blacker.



Everywhere people are talking about the Black Friday sale.

'My husband says he is not stepping out of the house. But I want to go.'

'Even I plan to go. Let's go together then.'

'Is 5 am good enough to start?'

'Done.'

Over the past few days, our apartment door met with a flurry of leaflets. Our Post Box is so flooded that we have to empty it every day lest we should miss some important mail. This is just a prelude to all the hullabaloo, carbon emissions, recycling costs and pollution to be caused as a result of Black Friday.


'We are going to replace our Sofa set. Doesn't go with this new place.' The sofa set that is less than a year old will find it's way out soon.

'You get good deals on TVs. Every year we change our TV. Why don't you look for a deal as well. Want to join us?'

Black Friday they say, is total madness. With some retailers opening as early as 12 midnight on Thursday, some of the retail sales force having to compromise on a relaxed Thanksgiving meal and laid back time with family are protesting. An employee of Target, US has started a petition on Change.org against this.

Black Friday shopping dents the environment and wallets too. People rush to shop allured by the 'savings' promise. But as they say, spending can never be saving, it's only an illusion. Shopping on a Black Friday is stressful, and it makes people buy stuff that they never wanted or planned for.

Last year, the total Black Friday sales clocked $10 billion. I dread to translate that to damage to the environment.

As someone said, can we have nothing-to-buy Black Fridays, please?

November 6, 2011

Less is more




'And she took her ragged clothes and with thread she herself spun on a bamboo spindle from a wad of cotton she mended and contrived to cover the rents in their winter clothes. Their bedding she took into the sun on the threshold and ripped the coverings from the quilts and washed them and hung them upon a bamboo to dry, and the cotton in the quilts that had grown hard and grey from years she picked over, killing the vermin that had flourished in the hidden folds, and sunning it all.'                          Good Earth, Pearl S Buck.

When I read this book the first time, I was too small to comprehend the depth of these sentences. I was more interested to know the turn of events in the life of Wang Lung and O - lan. Today as literature around me teems with facts and figures about the fragility of our Planet, I feel an instant connection to the above acts of frugality.

I am saddened to see many virtues disappearing today. There was a time and age when our folks never bought any new stuff home. And old stuff never found their way out just like that.

I saw my first Halloween in the US just days ago. What a display of extravagance and wastefulness? Instances like these are not outliers anymore. We don't realize how we ourselves plant the seeds of a dangerous morrow in our own progeny.

When I stayed with my in-laws soon after the birth of my first child, I remember my mother-in-law telling me about the two decade old mattress and how I ought to be taking care of it. Cloth diapers were much in 'vogue' then and she sensed that I was capable of spoiling her old mattress. I inspected the mattress and to my surprise, it didn't have wrinkles, sagging or crow's feet! During the years that followed, I saw her making use of the summer sun and turning the cover-less mattress in the sun year after year. The mattress cover also underwent strict cleaning processes and was sun dried periodically.

My seven year old is overcome with awe and admiration for his grand dad, my father-in-law who continues to use his 30 year old Bajaj scooter for daily errands. In spite of our repeated offers to buy for him a new one, he simply refuses saying, 'Old is Gold'.

I salute them for the virtues that they continue to inspire. For them, its manifest not just in the mattress and in the scooter, but in every little thing that they would or wouldn't buy and use.

During the entire length of my school days, I may have used just a handful of pencils. Now, as I look around, I see them in hordes as numberless entities. I try to inculcate similar values at home, but how will my seven year old ever understand the value of these small things when he comes home with at least a dozen gifts after every birthday party?

An eraser in the shape of a cute little duck. My youngest aunt gifted it to me when I was in the UKG. I still remember that evening. As I stood by the side of the compound well, she returned from College and I dashed to her the way I always did. She opened her little purse and gave the erasers one to me and another one to my brother. That was the first and last time I ever used a designer eraser! I used it at least for a few years. And I treasured it inside a hole in the wall lest my elder brother should take it from me. Each time I needed to use the eraser, I had to slip out of the study table and use it deftly. The things that I possessed were so less in number, but my happiness in receiving a small Parrys hard boiled candy was boundless. Every time I got a five star gifted by a visiting relative, I smiled so much in gratitude that my eyes turned glassy.

Small things were enough to spread so much cheer then.

Today, in abundance, I see tears and unhappiness. In indulgence, I see momentary gratification followed by lingering irritation.

So, what are you thinking of buying this week? Cheer or gloom?




October 25, 2011

From Middlesex to Intercourse!



It was a journey of learning and unlearning. Comforting though, to realize that I wasn't alone in that journey.

From gas spewing highways to narrow, but neatly maintained roads with horse buggies for company.
From multiple car owned townships to multiple horse buggy owned homes.
From Edison, Middlesex County to Intercourse, Amish County was to say the least, refreshing.

When I read about the Amish, I dismissed much of the hoopla for hype. I spoke to a few friends who had been there and none of them raved or ranted. But when I saw the Amish ways of life right before my eyes, I felt wow!

When I read the 'Intercourse' sign, it simply perplexed me. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. How could people not know what that word means? Or rather, not know what it has come to stand for. I dug deeper and unearthed many theories around the name. (arrived at by like-minded inquisitive souls ). This is what I go for: ' comes from the "old English" language which was in use in the early 1800's. It refers to the "fellowship" or social interaction and friendship which was so much a part of an agricultural village and culture at that time. These roots mark the community of faith to this day, and the many evidences of it are experienced by those who care to dig a bit more deeply while visiting this area.'

The Amish are a lot that care for their brethren and the Planet. Love for the Planet is not so explicit in dealings with them. Their lifestyle exemplifies care for the Planet, but they don't harp about that in conversations. (if  at all you manage to get into one) Well, they don't like to be treated as some exotic specimen. After all, for them, they are just normal, ordinary folks. But, for us, who lead such complicated lives, they seem to be totally out-of- this world!


Pennsylvania Amish don't use electricity in their homes. They instead make use of Methane- Gobar Gas, a by-product from their organic farms. There are non-Amish staying with the Amish in Lancaster County. If you find an electric line or pole in a home, you can easily take them for non-Amish.

Contradicting as it may sound, the Amish for whom dismissing technology is second nature is now embracing Solar Energy in Ohio. They say, its clean and they can continue to stay off the grid!

Amish use horse-buggies and Amish Scooters for commute. Children use wooden strollers. I found small kids pulled in one by an older girl after a day at the fields or at School.



If you find a car garage in a Lancaster home, it has be non-Amish

Amish Scooter is actually a cycle, just that you got to push it with your legs and not pedal away like the other cycles. Moving around on the Amish cycle can be more strenuous than the ordinary cycles. 

Our buggy owner, with whom I managed to have a long conversation said that there are five horse buggies at home. What if all the five in the family need to go to five different places at the same time? Also, buggy rides have opened a new form of income for the Amish.So, more the merrier.

There is no internet, no computer, and no mobile phones even! Just a few years ago, some Amish began using land phones. Very few of them use mobile phones too.

Amish marry within their own communities. Divorce? What is it?

One room schools are very popular amongst the Amish. When life gets so simple, at that level, what more do you need? Than a teacher and four walls? 





What surprises me more is that the Amish study only up to the eight grade! You got me right, yes, only till the 8th Grade. After which, boys embrace a trade, and start working and earning right away. Girls undergo lessons in house keeping, child rearing and helping out at the farms.
 
Amish speak Dutch, called Pennsylvania Dutch (a German dialect). But, they are originally from Switzerland and Germany.

Amish and flamboyance don't go together. In fact, they are not 'supposed to' wear any colourful or printed clothes. Men are not allowed to wear the ubiquitous Jeans! Imagine a life without the Jean! Men wear dark, plain trousers with plain suspenders. They encourage black/ dark suspenders. 



During the buggy ride, I spotted a few women working in the fields. Hair covered with a plain scarf and body covered with plain, dark loose dress, white apron and cape. I realized the advantage is you don't need to own many. Just two or three will do. They don't even know what Malls are. Forget shopping! In a world where Consumerism and Carbon emissions go hand-in-glove, there is certainly something to learn from the Amish. (I can almost hear that 'how boring' sigh!)

There are rules that govern even the hairstyle. Men aren't supposed to sport a moustache. Married men sport just a beard. Women aren't supposed to cut their hair!

Humility and submission are values that they uphold. 
Mennonite church guides their life and lifestyle. They follow the Bible- in very literal terms according to some critics. Individualism, materialism and self- reliance are like anathema. The church encourages 'community living' in its true spirit. They don't hire resources or labor from outside, rather, they all pitch in for almost everything- even for building a house for a neighbour! 



The Amish don't have insurance. What if an emergency arises? They look within the community and come together to support the needy. The Amish care for their elderly at home and not send them to the Care homes run by the government. 


I didn't find a single over-weight person amongst the Amish. In fact, I asked our guide who said there aren't many, thanks to their active lifestyle. They have no idea what lifestyle diseases are, then!

But, are they suffocated by the Church laws? Do they die to come out and lead a normal life? Some of them do. There are many books authored by Amish women who have come out. And, therefore shunned from the Community.





But, guess what? At the end of the long conversation, I asked our young buggy driver. 'You have just about heard about the Computer. You are not supposed to go on the internet or even watch TV. But, by any chance, are you on FB?' ' Oh, yes, am, but my parents shouldn't know!' 

Our buggy driver may be an odd man out. Has to be. In spite of the advent of epoch-making telephones, television or even the internet, majority of  the Amish stay true to their beliefs and tradition. Amidst the sweeping changes that redefined America, they survived near-intact even after 300 years of being here. 'They strive in all things to give glory to God, their workmanship is well above par and a lasting testament to their faith.'

The names of places in Lancaster speak loud. Paradise, Bird-in-hand, Intercourse. They connote something spiritual, something natural. For me, it was a day lost in a tranquil ocean of peace, never-ending green fields and hard working people who go about doing their duties without remorse or whining. I don't endorse all what they believe or follow. But, some of them certainly hold water, at least for the ailing Planet!




September 27, 2011

As I smell it, am loving it all the more!

                                                              (image courtesy: homecookreceipes.blogspot.com)

Nothing like it. Hot steaming Sambar rice made with love. It smells earthy, spicy and wraps me up in happiness! Gifted by a good friend. I write gifted as I really cherish it when someone shares their food or drink with me. I consider the art of sharing food synonymous with gifting. Knock! Knock! on my door around mealtime, and there I get hopeful :)

Sambar is a great dish. But, Sambar rice is different as the ingredients mix so well and it complements fryums or pappadams. The soft, chewy Sambar rice with the crisp fryums! Yumm! This afternoon, Subha's Sambar rice takes me back to whole foods. And, just the way they do a world of good to our fragile bodies, they do good to our planet as well.

Just to dissect this whole food dish that I am devouring right now - the dal gets in the proteins. The colourful vegetables gets in all the vitamins and minerals. Rice promises a steady supply of energy to take me through the rest of the  day. The Sambar masala adds a definite twist and tango! Definitely satiating for the taste buds.

It feels good to see the vegetable gardens peeping out of the apartment balconies here. I see Spinach, tomatoes and even beans! And a whole lot of other greens and beets! A must member of the balconies here is Thulsi and Curry leaf. Seeing the little plant heads peeping out and dancing in the breeze is so heartwarming!

The other day as I was reading Savita Hiremath's post on Papamma, it took me back to the good old days when our ancestral folks found satiety and sufficiency in their own home gardens. I remember the many times when Mom shared with me stories from her own childhood.


It was the 'responsibility' of my grand mom to fend for her own vegetable needs. Vegetables and all related paraphernalia like ginger, garlic, turmeric, and spices came right from the kitchen garden. Ammachy's backyard vegetable garden was so bountiful all the year round with just the seasonal favourites. A few hours before lunch time, being her foot soldier, I would step into the green to pick the vegetables for lunch. I still remember being amused by a vegetable which looked like an ice-cream cone- green in colour- with a tapering stem and a bulb kind of growth at the other end!
(Last night I recollected its name- its called 'nityavazhuthana' in Malayalam!) Its aptly called Clove Bean as it looks just like a green Clove.


Home gardens are so much the need of the hour. Whole Foods too. I remember writing to the Editor of Kerala's leading daily about how they could really be the change agent with their powerful reach and advocacy. Just like how they started a rain water harvesting movement in Kerala with their 'pala thulli peru vellam' movement, the dreamer in me saw a home garden movement shaping up in my home state. This was at least 3 years ago. But recently, when I called home Mom told me about a packet of seeds that her neighbour shared with her. Which came free with a magazine from the media group! Small beginnings, but capable of sparking a great revolution!

As am writing this, I am dreaming of the day when I will step in to my vegetable garden to choose my pick for a meal! Thanks Subha for inspiring this post :)

September 22, 2011

A 100% water positive home in Bangalore?



 I hope you read the title of this post carefully. Aren't you staring at the Computer in disbelief? I did. In spite of knowing about BCIL's (ZED habitats) previously launched properties, I still had to hear it from the horse's mouth to convince myself.

After having lived in Bangalore for over 10 years now, in various locations, I know what water scarcity is. Everyone seems to be running from pillar to post complaining. Right from the Builders to the users, no one seems to be looking at the right solution. Which is well within our grasp, our reach.

I lived in an apartment off Hosur Main Road for a few years before moving into Sarjapur Road. The two main selling points of this apartment were proximity to the highway in addition to the 24 hour Cauvery water supply. But within a year or so, we realized that Cauvery just couldn't meet our need or greed. So, we dug our first borewell. Until then, we depended on the nameless tankers that plied in and out, day and night. Water quality? We were totally in the dark. And no one dared to find out. Even if we found out the source of water or even exposed the poor quality of water, in our heart of hearts we knew that we had no solution otherwise. Hobson's choice really.

Just a year later, the first bore well dried up. Almost painfully. I watched from my kitchen window as the drilling machine dug the first bore well. I felt the pain as they dug deeper and deeper in their quest for water. The first one took good two days of continuous drilling. As the machine cut through the layers and layers of Earth, as she bore the pain in silence, the only external manifestation was the silent whiff of dust that hovered over the green and the cars.

The Association then collected money for the second bore well. All the while realizing that we may never be able to find water in the second one. We moved out, but to this day, their water problems continue and aggravate. A beautiful property with 100% privacy- with no view of neighboring apartments, but, what's the point?

I have heard stories of my friends who live in real premium apartments, but they also face acute water shortage problems. They all depend on the nameless tankers that bring in water from God knows where! No one dares to find out.

In spite of this problem looming large on us, on our nation and on the world at large, how can we continue to live in this state of denial? Is the solution to this problem so esoteric that it needed a water champion like Hariharan to start BCIL? India boasts of so many technological achievements. We are leaders in more ways than one. But, why? why does it have to take so long for the mainstreaming of these WATER-POSITIVE technologies?

BCIL Zed Earth is not just about water. I got carried away by the amazing positive impact that the Zed Earth homes have on the Planet. Zed Earth is 70% independent from the State Grid for power for every one of its 130+ homes.

Zed Food Miles program has already started at ZedEarth with current vegetable production being about 2 tons for the year. Hats off to Hariharanji and team!

I have been able to touch upon just three facets- water, power and food! Delving deeper into the Zed Earth story, I realize that they are truly and almost unbelievably one of a kind in the world. Coming from a true green builder whose kitty has the first ever global LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental design, US Green Building Council)  Platinum certification for apartments, this must be just another logical step.

BCIL has validation to claim that Zed Earth will be by far the largest such ‘sustainable’ residential enclave in the world that relies so little on the world outside for energy or water or its waste management.


I happen to follow lot of green news and sustainability case studies. Most of them seem to be just meandering along the green surface, whereas the challenges lie deep below- where not many seems to be wanting to tread.






September 21, 2011

Consumerism begins at home



Toy vs Toy rooms. Gone are the days when children played without toys. They played with their friends. They found endless joy in stepping outside. Parents or elders found at least a few hours a day to talk to them or to engage them. Why do I even dare make a futile comparison?

We lament about the attention deficit disorders of our children. And about the low attention spans. We are so guilt ridden that every bit of guilt is neatly scrubbed away with a new gadget or a new toy. Added to their already jam-packed toy rooms or play areas.

Birthdays. Yet another avenue to worsen the already bad situation. The other day I attended a birthday party. It was supposed to be a simple affair with just a few friends and their children. Convenience and ignorance can't be tagged together. One is a much desired state and the other is the least desired vice. But, what if they go together?


Snacks were aplenty. All heavily processed. With the number of poisonous chemicals surpassing the number of ingredients. The parents beamed in pride as they took me to the table! What elaborate settings! Including my seven year old, all the kids had a great time devouring the delicacies! So disappointing; not a single item was even remotely healthy. It was really a feast to the eyes with its play of colours. You name it and it is there on the table. But what would you find at the end of that rainbow of colours? Certainly not the proverbial pot of gold!

The kids were playing in the toy room. Or rather a room stuffed with toys? Why does it have to be this way? Why do we buy or allow our kids to be gifted with so many toys? Even if we ignore the scary side effects of these toys, many of them made from plastic or related materials (read toxic), little do we realize that we are promoting a hazardous vice- Consumerism - which can manifest itself in dangerous degrees as the kids of our generation grow up and start making their own choices.

I remember reading about a sort of movement that started in the mid 90s- Which is very well not popular by any scale today. Something like a 100-a year challenge. Wherein people who pledge their allegiance to this movement decide that they will not buy more than 100 things a year! And promise to reuse and recycle as much as possible. I look around and I am pretty sure I can do without at least a few items here. Things which I thought were the sine qua non of my very existense at one point in time, after one or two uses get pushed around here and there. And then one fine day find their way out to the garbage.

Disposable income levels have gone up tremendously for my generation. Am sure many of us will be drawing the kind of paychecks that our parents couldn't even dream of in their days. Even as we grew up with middle class values, even as we got our first jobs, we wouldn't have realized how our lives would change. To the extent that we have become numb to the realities around us. We give in to convenience. To greed. To gluttony. To ill-health and health hazards that aren't far away.

August 30, 2011

Summer holidays of yore


We were never holed up inside. I scratched my head to recollect if I ever watched TV during my Summer hols. There was absolutely no need for it then. TV was never the entertainer that it has turned out to be today. I don't even remember switching on the fan or light as I was never ever home when the sun was out and bright. Forget the air conditioner!

Climbing trees and eating fresh fruit was the norm. We jumped around so much that hunger was our constant companion. None of us took any vitamin or iron tablets. Nor were we taken to the Doctor ever for a lack of appetite!

Whenever a wind blew, and if our judgement told us that it was strong enough to shake the branches of the fruit laden Mango trees, we would hop, jump and skip to the nearest mango tree. There, most often, a feast awaited us. Sitting under that old Mango tree, spread out in our own clique's, we devoured the fresh mangoes. Washing the fruits with potassium permanganate before consumption? Worried about pesticides? Fungicides?

Under the Anjili (jungle jack fruit) tree, we found yet another fulfilling standing ground. After breakfast, (don't ever remember complaining about the food that was served. I only remember asking for more!) we found ourselves busy opening the Anjili Chakka, sitting on the black rocks juxtaposed against the lush green, and feasting on them endlessly until the Sun decided to shine right above our heads!


Those of us who got bored of the Anjili Chakka climbed onto the Kambili Naranga (Pomelo- a citrus fruit) tree which was in the vicinity of the Anjili Tree. Since the Kambili Naaranga tree was just a few terraces below, with its long branches spread out far and wide, we could just about manage to poke a few Kambili Naarangas with long poles while trying not to fall down into the terrace below.


I had my eyes set on a nice and yellow fruit in the terrace right below. Perched on the edge of the terrace above as I nudged myself to poke the exact point on the Kambili Naaranaga stem (the part closer to the fruit where it merges with the fruit!), I heard a loud 'thud' and I was pretty sure it wasn't the fruit. My little brother who was just a few years old then who was eagerly watching the drama tipped over and fell in to the terrace below! There were no emergency calls and no first aid even. A bunch of cousins got together and applied some 'communist pacha' (Eupatorium ) juice on his bruises. That's it. No crying for extra attention or no visits to the hospital. No fuss at all. Eh! ADHD? What is it?

Evenings by the side of the beautiful stream (a tributary of the famous Manimalayar) that was about 10 minutes of hopping, jumping and occasional walking and peeping into the neighbouring homes!
Fishing was the self-proclaimed hobby for some of us. Hours and hours swimming (by those of us who took pride in our innate ability to float on the water without getting submerged thanks to our unbelievably lean bodies) and bird gazing, just when the Sun was about to go down the horizon, Thanka, Ammachy's help would start her pleas to get us home.


The ' chemparathi/ kurunthotti thaali' episodes by the side of the stream was another highlight of those Summer evenings. ( I don't think I even dreamt of shampoos then! But years later, there was a point in time when I thought they were the be all and end all of good hair. It took many years for me to realize the harm they do to our bodies and our environment. They can even cause cancer. Many Shampoos contain Carcinogens! And imagine the harm it does to the environment as well) I was shocked when I read the 'Carcinogens in your bathroom' article. The cooling effect of the 'kurunthotti thaali' continues to refresh my memory pool.

As my seven year old's Summer holidays come to an end, I sigh with relief that he will be engaged at School till I finish my evening cup of tea. But, more than the intermittent relief, I am concerned about the quality of life that I offer him. There is really no comparison with the lessons of life that I learnt from the horse's mouth to how he learns today.

Why should I worry when my children find happiness playing on the lawn? I recently read about Monsanto's popular weedkiller (now sold by many other companies) which is  proven to be carcinogenic and causing birth defects.Long list of perils in fact. So, whenever I see beautiful meadows neatly mowed and maintained with no trace of weeds, I realize its the magic created by the dangerous and toxic weedkillers.

From the processed (read poisoned) snack industry to the toxic weed killers, Summer holidays have been reduced to more inaction and ill-health. Sigh!




 



August 19, 2011

80% of antibiotics produced in the US given to livestock!



This bit of statistics came as a shock. Though aware of the antibiotics- livestock connection, and the antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains to a certain extent, this one rudely came as the last nail in the coffin!

Now, here is the irony of things. Over here, in the US, there is an overriding perception that rules are abided by. Especially when it comes to the USFDA. That is, if something is FDA certified, it must be good enough for healthy consumption. That being the case, what perplexes is the very fact that we haven't come across any meat, milk or eggs that are not certified by the USFDA. The note which says that the meat, milk or eggs are not treated with antibiotics or hormones adds to the credibility factor. So, where does this 80% of antibiotics disappear?

Organic certified consumables come at a premium. They are also USFDA certified. What then is the big difference between the no-antibiotic, no-hormone treated livestock and the organic ones? Just that they are  fed only organically grown feed ? Can all that difference in price be attributed to just the organic-rearing cost?

That reminds me of an article that I read recently about the FDA admitting to the presence of arsenic in FDA approved Chicken. Arsenic is poison and yes, arsenic poisoning dates back to the middle ages. The iconic Napoleon Bonaparte was an arsenic victim, but, not from the Chicken that he ate, rather from a wall paper painting!
As of July 2011, FDA has admitted to the arsenic in Chicken, but (as expected) adds that its 'safe for consumption'. And what stance did the National Chicken Council take? Don't dismiss this for a joke; this is what they seriously said. 'the ingredient(that contains arsenic) has been used to maintain good health in chickens for many years, and that it is used in "many, but not all" flocks', adding "Chicken is safe to eat."

Reading into this story a bit deep, growth-promoting ingredient called Roxarsone can contain arsenic. And who manufactures this ingredient? Pfizer. This has been administered to Chicken since 1940. Yes, USFDA approved Chicken has growth-promoting chemicals added and, it contains arsenic.

Now, the interesting part is that though this Chicken is safe for consumption, Pfizer has agreed to pull feed containing Roxarsone off U.S. shelves. If its safe for consumption, why recall? And why only US shelves? In a matter of a few weeks, in all likelihood, (keeping their sense of ethics in mind), the recalled products will find newer markets.

Whenever I raise an alarm over consumption of meat, I find meat lovers up in arms against me! (including un-avoidable, close friends and family members.) But I also know of a close relative who said goodbye to Chicken after watching a Chicken-Farm video. In spite of being a meat connoisseur himself, I wondered what prompted him to take the abstaining plunge. But I come to understand that in Florida, its now illegal to film the modus operandi of a Factory Farm! How smart!

Unsanitary conditions of Factory Farms on one side. Tons of antibiotics pumped in to make up for it. And then, the drug-resistant bacteria strains. Hormones injected to livestock and early secondary sexual behaviour in young kids being the moot point in PTA meetings and socially responsible doctor forums. Meat consumption, (unless raised organically and in normal conditions) is not good for our bodies. Period.

Factory farms pose bigger risks for the environment. Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide are potent GHGases and are the undesirable by products of livestock digestion. Methane in fact is many times dangerous than CO2. In the U.S., cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane per year into the atmosphere, accounting for 20% of U.S. methane emissions. What surprises me is the big talk US gives on reducing GHG emissions and how they go around the world with their policing tactics!
Livestock raising and the deadly factory farms are digging the Earth's grave. Period.

watch HBO's 'Death on a factory farm' film clips here.

Image courtesy: Clare Druce

August 13, 2011

Pride and Poland Spring!

Well, whats the connection? If you are seen with a bottle of Poland Spring, (the biggest brand in the US, I guess. Yes, am guessing, and I admit I haven't dug into those murky numbers) you have arrived in life. Poland Spring cans, bottles-minis and micros and dispensers- here, there, everywhere.

A guest comes home and asks for water- there the refrigerator door opens and out comes a 'green', 'eco-friendly' Poland Spring bottle. You go to a business meeting, there comes Poland Spring. The meeting gets over with unfinished and abandoned bottles on the tables. Back in India, whenever I carried my unfinished bottle of water with me after meetings, I got those weird stares. Or rather, stares from people who thought I was weird.

Looking at the way we consume mineral water, I wonder how we ever lived safe and sound, once upon a time when there was no mineral water. And what a misnomer it has come to be- Mineral Water! As if the ordinary, water sans glamour we drink is devoid of any.

Dressed up water is here to stay. Bottled water sales forecasts indicate steady growth for many more years to come. Water being a basic necessity, and the belief so ingrained by now that except bottled water all other water is not safe for consumption, it has to be.

Bottled water is born to the mother of Consumerism. Buy whatever you need to buy, you have the paychecks coming in. Throw things after using it once, because you don't need to keep it. And you simply don't have the time to wash and save. What are you saving after all?

How can we miss this vicious circle? We throw billions of used plastic bottles back to the Earth along with other toxic and non-degradable waste. Then, these so called sustainable and socially conscious, profit making concerns pump water from the deep water tables (which get deeper by the day thanks to the depleting water tables), subject them to numerous chemical treatments and sell it back to us. We buy it in hoardes and gulp it down thinking we have access to the best standards of living on the planet! How sad! Ignorance is really bliss.

Thinking about bottled water, I go back to one of the images from my childhood. A much sought after Pediatrician from Mumbai, my aunt taught me the basic lessons of bird-watching. During her Kerala sojourns, I always spotted a green glass bottle with her; filled with water from the compound well. Before she stepped outside home, the bottle found its way into her bag! More than the consumerist angle which she detests by all means, it must have been her fear of 'foreign particles' from plastic bottles that made her patronize glass bottles. Thanks to my impressionable age then, to this day, I never step outside without clutching a bottle of water.

Why talk so much about bottled water? When I go friend-visiting, I get shocked observing the rate at which we embrace the disposable culture. When friends come visiting, they seem alarmed (and not awed as I so wish often! ) by the fact that I still make fresh juice at home and serve it in glasses! I get a feeling that I belong to an entirely different generation. Even my seven year old doesn't spare me at times. There have been occasions when he complained about the missing chemicals in the home made food.' Amma, please could you put some chemicals into this?'

As I write this post, I am imagining the layers beneath the Earth under my feet. Stifling with all those disposables and bottles that we so thoughtlessly used and threw. And the depleting water tables. The toxic levels of water rising by the day. Billions of Poland Spring bottles along with many others waiting for deliverance.

So, what are we waiting for?

Image courtsey: PUR water filters.


July 22, 2011

Tamales and Pancakes



"Diego, all day we have worked at making happiness. Sometimes you just have to take what you have and embellish it. Sometimes you have to make something out of nothing. These ingredients alone don't add up to much, Diego. But together, they make the most deliciously delightful, scrumpt-il-icious tamales!"

"All afternoon, Diego and his tia* sat side by side spooning savoury tamale fillings into cornhusks spread with masa*, Soon the house was filled with laughter."

Ana Baca's bilingual tale of making tamales is a beautiful story of folk lore as seen through the eyes of a small boy Diego who works very hard in the fields to take care his sick mother. As I was reading it to my six year old last night, though he is not a great eater himself, he said he couldn't wait to eat Tamales!

Ana Baca took me back a good decade and a half. And it so beautifully reminded me of the joy and pleasure of cooking; especially, whole foods. Convenience and the need to be on the go have been impetus enough for the first processed foods to make their advent. But even as we progressed and came up with the machinery and mechanics to prepare food easily and in no time, even after we discovered that cooked food can be stored fresh, we continue to go back to the convenience of processed, ready-to-eat foods. Now we are habituated enough to even realize that we aren't eating the best. We are after all creatures of habit.

I swell with pride and joy thinking about the way Pancakes evolved in my family. Pancakes made with whole wheat flour and stuffed with coconut and sugar or coconut and jaggery with a sprinkling of cardamom powder is just the recipe to make happiness out of an ordinary day. I modify a bit and change the stuffing to chopped dates, nenthrapazham*, grated carrot and coconut. No need to add sugar as dates ensure they take care of it well. Instead of water, I add whole milk and badam powder to the whole wheat mix. I would love to add eggs as well, but, try to stay away. Just 20 minutes of chopping and pancaking, but I get so happy seeing the glee and hearing the wows around the breakfast table. And those 20 minutes are enough to see me through the rest of  the day when I proudly announce, what a way to jump start your day!

I used to hover around Ammachy's stove whenever I saw her getting the paraphernalia ready to make pancakes. The sights, sounds and smells are still fresh in my memory. Making pancakes is just an excuse for me to go back in time and spend a few minutes with her. Most of the ingredients were home grown, the milk from the cows whom Achachan* reared with so much love and care. Eggs from the hen coop just in the backyard. The hens weren't so disciplined those days and I recall how my eyes grew wide as I found eggs right in the kitchen under the firewood storage shelves. Remember the way they proudly kokkarakko after each egg :)

Traditional recipes mostly employ whole ingredients.Whole flour, whole fruits, whole nuts, and what not. Cliched as it may sound, what is good for our bodies and souls is also good for the Planet.

Imagine...inspired by the urge for some healthy cooking, you dance your way into the kitchen, put your hair up, play your favourite music station or hum your favourite tunes and joyously mix and match ingredients. Raise a toast to eating fresh. Say cheers to eating local.

* tia : Spanish for aunt
* masa - Spanish for dough
* nenthrapazham - ripe plantains known in Kerala
* achachan - fond way of addressing Grandpa in Kerala

Picture courtesy: The Kerala Kitchen by Lathika George

July 21, 2011

Puma running for Green



There is more to Puma than meets the eye. Puma is the first company in the world to have an E P&L. That is an Environmental P & L. The first time I read about it, I dismissed it for green wash. But, almost all the so-called green news portals are going gung ho about the E P& L and I cannot but notice the depth and details.

To attach a price to its environmental footprint in quantifiable terms is no easy task. The botton-line result is a precise €94.4m (£82.6m) per year. Wow! That too, after taking into account its end-to-end supply chain! Right from the end retailer to the Cotton fields! There may be shortcomings and assumptions made, but at the end of the day, I think this is indeed a commendable feat.

Puma worked closely with PwC and Trucost to come with up the epoch-making P&L. Now, what does it entail? And what does it say about the writing on the wall? Is green marketing here to stay? And isn't the message to the Corporate fraternity loud and clear? I have been following green marketing trends for sometime now and must say there is room for hope.

Puma analyses its GHG emissions and water consumption throughout its core business and supply chain and tags a price to it in its P&L. It also plans to take into account the social impacts of its supply chain going forward. Which will lead to an Environmental & Social P & L. Way to go, Puma.

As one would rightly aassume, raw material production accounts for the highest relative impacts of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) and Water Consumption within PUMA’s operations and supply chain. It doesn't stop there. Puma in its action plan, plans to find solutions to reduce its environmental impact.

Guess what is the most water intensive activity in the production of a t-shirt? It occurs right at the initial step – the cultivation of cotton. Environmental impact being highest at the Tier 4 Supplier level, for Puma this means greening from the grass roots itself! Easier said that done because its challenges galore at that level.

Puma in consultation with Pwc and Trucost estimates that, in 2010, the environmental cost of its supply chain was €94.4m.Well, that may very well motivate govt.s (if there are any motivated ones) to make environmental impact disclosures mandatory. That day may not be far.

Thats a whole lot of numbers and details. To end this note on something more visual and promising, watch this video where a Puma bag disappears in water in just a few minutes! And don't miss the numbers at the end of the video! 192 tonnes of plastic and 293 tonnes of paper every year!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpEH6wQ7K8Q&feature=player_embedded

July 13, 2011

Ammachy vs. Delmonte


The other day, as I was scanning the aisles at a Mallu* grocery store in Queens, I couldn't but pick a bottle of Pineapple Jam (strictly made in adherence with CFTRI, Mysore norms). The ingredients seemed to be just about ok. Artificially flavoured. I got stuck there. I weighed my second option. To make it at home. Having been just a visitor to this country, I haven't invested in the right vessels. Making Pineapple Jam at home didn't seem encouraging enough. I finally gave in.

As soon as I reached home, I couldn't wait to inhale the pineapple smell! Its often the smell of food that takes me back in time. Memories and food smell- they seem so intertwined.

Pineapples grew aplenty in my Mom's house. I could eat one whole Pineapple by myself. I have memories of this little girl marveling Ammachy* meticulously cutting and carving the Pineapples. And then, in no time, I dig into the juicy pieces. I don't even spare the central core despite it burning my tongue. For that I keep scraped coconut ready. Ammachy's home remedy for burnt tongue. Just eat a few spoonfuls of freshly grated coconut if you over eat Pineapple!

Depending on the availability, and after everyone is done with their share of fresh feasts of the fruit, (I had the lion's share most of the time!) the kitchen is abuzz with Jamming! The big Uruli* in which Ammachy made Jam is as fresh as yesterday in my mind! I am seeing it now in the window of my memory. She had her own recipe - simple enough, but now I am getting high on the irresistible smell of pineapple jam simmering with cloves in her kitchen. Cloves - plucked from the tree just two terraces down the kitchen. I feel my senses opening up one by one. Now I hear the sound of the Jam boiling in the hot Uruli. And the clanking noises of the ladle scraping the sides...and stirring...

Often I volunteered to help her. My self-discovered incentive- while clearing the well-cooked/ slightly burnt jam-in-progress from the sides, help yourself to occasional interim reliefs! By now, I am there in the oldest kitchen that I have seen in my life....scraping the Jam from the sides of the Uruli and devouring it with a grin :)

The Jam is then packed into her set of earmarked bottles for various families. After the vacation, back home, Ammachy's home made Jam goes as the preferred accompaniment with all breakfast dishes. Ranging from bread to dosa to even puttu!

Along with Jam, we also brought in fresh pineapples with us. I eagerly planted the Pineapple heads in my courtyard and checked on them every other day. I remember peeping into the centre to see if there were signs of a fruit ready to head out!

Long journeys back in time. But, memories; they partner so well to reminisce fondly of a colourful, nutritious past...and inspire to recreate at least a few of those memories for my Children.

Far away from home and from home grown Pineapples, my other option to eat fresh Pineapple (mass cultivated, therefore with all the perils as well) is Delmonte. It almost looks artificial with all the fruits of uniform size, shape and colour. As if they were machine- manufactured in batches!

I realize there is really no comparison at all. Inspired by my childhood memories, whenever I had the calling and the urge, I have planted Pineapples and have made Jam from them as well. The carbon credits that I earn at my consciousness counter is inspiration enough to eat fresh. To dismiss processed food whenever I can. To nudge my friends to go back to cooking fresh.(There are some who have given up cooking for good!)  To encourage the ones who plant their own gardens. To at least try to help nurture a healthier generation.

* Mallu - colloquial for - of Kerala origin
* Ammachy - Grandma in Malayalam ( language of Kerala)
* Uruli - traditional cookware used in Kerala made of bell metal

(Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

June 20, 2011

The Upma that won $100,000 hands down





Last evening, when I called home, my mom told me about the Indian Chef who came first in the Top Chef Masters conducted in Los Angeles. Floyd Cardoz, now a NY based celebrity chef answered the clarion call of ‘memories’- the contest theme, with Mushroom Upma, which am sure has attained much name and fame by now.

I love upma. And I love the waymy upma-recipe has evolved. I was inspired by my mother-in-law who adds grated carrot, thinly sliced beans and ripe banana (nenthrapazham in Kerala) in addition to the customary ingredients. Depending on the availability, in addition to these, I add chopped dates, raisins, nuts (whatever is there at the moment) and Dill leaves after the flame goes off.( I die for their flavor) The softness of raisins, dates and the semi-cooked vegetables is so palatably balanced by the crunchiness of the nuts. All this coupled with the Dill aroma, I proudly consider my upma a well- balanced and highly delectable dish. But, never did I think about adding mushrooms.

When mom told me about the mushrooms she recently picked from her backyard, it took me back a few years. Almost a decade. Just like how Cardoz’ upma simmered in memories, his mushroom upma and my conversation with mom took me back to the golden days of my Childhood.

I love the thunderbolt back home in Alappuzha. I get amazed by the enormity and power of thunder and lightning. Furiously interspersed with a heavy downpour in the backdrop of thick, lush, wild green, it creates a magical effect. The thunder bolt brings with it many good things. One is the Thunder- Lily or May Flower which looks like a bigger, fuller version of the Indian Paintbrush. After the first thunder of the season, they rise and shine. They are bulbous and have been there in the front yard for ages now. But, we get to see them only after thunderous nights.

Yet another thunder-follower is the mushroom. They are so predictable in my backyard. After thunderous nights, it used to be my duty to pluck them which would then be taken for the day’s super fresh mushroom delicacies. Those days, I never thought about the beauty of this phenomenon. It seemed to follow a natural pattern. The mushrooms after thunder was just the norm and it was taken for granted. But, today, looking back, I am amazed. And as I think about walking around my backyard eagerly looking for the freshest mushroom heads, nostalgia oozes all through my porous memory reservoir…

There are so many more reasons to remember those days with gratitude. One is definitely the nostalgic value of so many special memories. I always thank God for memories because there are so many people out there who don’t know what they are. 

On those occasional feel-great days, when I feel blessed with a decent degree of wellness, I thank my genes and my upbringing. Eating fresh was the norm. Eating local was just the only option available. Home is where I learnt that things can be used again and again, which we now jargonize as ‘recycling’. Home is where I learnt that what belongs to the Earth must go back to the Earth itself. Like the waste generated in the kitchen say from vegetable and fruit peels always used to go back to the kitchen garden. They simply wouldn’t find their way out of my courtyard into some garbage pile to rot without a purpose! The fallen leaves were never cursed as they were gathered and gracefully sent back to the Earth itself. To find new life under the topsoil. The fallen leaf-bed also doubled up as sun-screen and moisture-retainer in summer for all the fruit-bearing trees in the courtyard.

These days, I get vocal about Zero food miles. I love to read and listen to experts talk on ZED. (Zero Energy Development) I almost patronize ZED ambassadors and practitioners. Though I try to fulfill my grocery needs from the nearest outlet/ market, I am pretty sure all of that I buy is not local. And may not be fresh stuff either. But, then, that’s what dreams are for. They are the most powerful discovery of the human mind. I swear by them. By their powerful after effect on human development and progress. True, we live in a world rife with problems. But, I would rather not get pushed around by them, but, be led by the power of dreams! I dream, therefore I am!


June 7, 2011

Living in a body of disappearing lungs...


How would you and I live if we knew that our bodies were slowly losing their lungs? Pretty gruesome, bizzare. If it were the naked truth, will it change us forever?

World Environment Day. WED. One more has come and gone. This time, India played host. And our 'Confidence in a Kurta', the most popular Environment Minister ever, Mr. Jairam Ramesh stole much of the limelight. Tell me something new!

I don't mind if he steals much of the attention. That's well-deserved. With him at the helm of Environmental affairs, Mr Ramesh has put the spotlight back on the Subcontinent by standing up and against the who's who of violation. 

Aptly called the Lungs of the Earth, forests play a vital role in keeping us hale and hearty. They help maintain a state of equilibrium. Well, we cannot put a halt to the much-needed development. But, then, how do we take care of all the Greenhouse gas emissions in a natural way? Forests do. They mitigate the risk caused by unmindful, unplanned development, to put it in simple terms.

What happened to all our Forests? To the Lungs of the Earth? They are fast disappearing. I cried when I came to know that Haiti has lost 94% of its forest cover. A country torn apart by disasters and rife with internal tension! What can make their woes worst? Ignorance is bliss, at its best playing in Haiti. The only source that they have tapped for creating fire for cooking is logs from the forests. May be they were just ignorant of the reality. Getting a meal in time itself is like a luxury for many people there. Then, even if they were an aware lot, how could they bother about the future ramifications so much? The third most hungry nation in the world with all the nation's wealth controlled by the 1% rich, would you blame Haitians? I would rather look into my own lavish, pampered lifestyle to make changes. My life throws many possibilities that perhaps is non-existent for a Haitian.

To even touch upon the depleting forest cover in India, the Amazon rainforests, or any other part of the world is a daunting task. But, what hurts the most is how the well-heeled and well-informed contribute to de-forestation. The most abused resource today is Tissue paper. Step into a restaurant and observe the uncleared tables. More than cutlery, more than the tables or chairs around, there are used or half used or un-used tissue paper thrown carelessly. When some of the educated elite clean the work areas in their kitchen with rolls and rolls of kitchen tissue, no logic can work.

More than half of the world's timber and 72% of paper is consumed by 22% of the world's population. Can we intentionally opt out of this 22%? Just a few simple things and we can at least start to feel good about the amazing possibilities that are right in here.




May 31, 2011

Eat the chips, not the bag please

Were they caught unawares? I suppose they were. A 11% fall in Sales would never have shown up in the pre-launch research. Frito Lay was certainly in the dark. Or they got carried away by the green proposition. It happens often. But, after a year and a half, they have come over and above it. The compostable Sun Chips bag which was once a green marketing fiasco is today a successful category pioneer.

Green marketing is not dead. Its here to stay. But, to say the least, green marketers must be thick skinned. Failure may be the first logical step as proven by many pioneers. Like how BCIL, the ZED builder from Bangalore struggled and fought all odds to find takers for their green homes! To put on a strong face even as initial attempts fail, and to go on the path of research and trials tirelessly is a true leader's trait.

About a year and a half ago, Frito Lay introduced their Sun Chips in Compostable bags. Well, it sounds unbelievable to eat Chips from a bag that can very well be part of your garden compost! But, it is a reality today. The first bags that were introduced were way too noisy for the average chip-consumer to accept. You Tube swarmed with funny videos of the Sun Chips bag. Sales dipped. Company withdrew the Compostable bags.

A year and a half later, they made a come back. With less noisy bags. And their website says that they listened to the consumer feedback. Well and good. Sales went up. Customers are happy.

I was amused to see the video of the Sun Chips bag decomposing.Must be pretty exaggerated, but here is the link: http://www.sunchips.com/healthier_planet.shtml


Why should Frito Lay shed so much sweat over a Chips bag?  I think its just the most obvious step for a Company that churns out thousands of Chips packets by the hour. They may have garnered so much press coverage with the launch of the bags. That's what Google says. Well, they also got a lot of bad publicity in the bargain, but as someone said, any publicity is good publicity!

While Frito Lay basks in the glory of the compostable bag, I am trying to convince myself that it is indeed an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint. I am not for a second blind to the damage a company like Frito Lay does to the environment with its many plants across the globe. But, just like their California plant which runs on Solar Energy, I fervently hope the Compostable bag is just the beginning of many more to come.

Cancer the No.1 killer in China


I don't know if I can ever be like Alex. I remember how he wrote to me once that he hates development that is against the environment. We were discussing about industrialization and its after effects. That was in reply to my mail which was all about the once-beautiful tree-lined roads in Bangalore.Wide roads or narrow roads lined with shady trees? The Government does give options to choose from!

I am happy to drive on a wide road. Especially during peak hours, as I find my way through the hustle and bustle of the City, I thank the Government for its attempts to ease traffic. That is why I say I can't be like Alex. Who has kept to his beliefs, who has stood by his convictions for more than decades now. He is well into his retirement and has never owned a car to date! Wherever he goes to, he uses only public transport. Recently he was in Bangalore, Madurai, Trivandrum and Alleppey. Spent 10 days in toto and traveled only by Public transport.

To my knowledge what the Government does in Bangalore (and in many other Cities as well) is to say the least, very myopic.They widen the roads. Whatever comes in the way is mercilessly chopped. They build flyovers. Build and rebuild highways. And, then, once traffic becomes intense on the highways, they build flyovers over them and call them elevated highways.

I remember how Air, the cycling movement started by an enterprising Bangalorean struggled to reach the Government to influence them to think about cycling lanes. Air and its members tried their best to influence policy making. We cycled often and with key people like CEOs of reputed companies, got written about and spoken about in mainstream media. This was 10 years back. And look where we are now. Nowhere.

Talk about Industrialization and we end up in China. A marketer-friend of mine once went to China to identify vendors for her Company's road-navigation device. She came back and said she almost fainted seeing the condition of sweat shops in China. They did seem like really down the value chain, deep down!

Is China myopic about development? About industrialization? We are not talking about road widening here. We are talking about Cancer in China. With 25% of deaths attributed to Cancer, that too lung cancer, can China continue to aid and abet its coal-fired power plants and numerous factories that spew the most poisonous gases?

"By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity." This is just an excerpt from China's own Earth Policy Institute. The usual plagues of poverty- infectious diseases and infant mortality have given way to diseases of the affluent cities- they go on to say.

I am forced to agree with Alex and his tribe. As China continues its march towards Industrialization, what we realize is that the No. 1 killer in China is also the No. 1 contributor to global warming. Burning Coal. We come back to the same old belief that what is not good for our bodies is not good for the environment either. 



May 24, 2011

How about a ride on Dandelions?



I nearly picturized it. It must be beautiful. To drive a Car made from Dandelions! What a perfect timing to talk about this ubiquitious weed than these days of Spring. Dandelions here, Dandelions there and Dandelions everywhere. But who thought of putting them to better use than the mundane.

I have stepped on a few Dandelion heads. Not intentionally. But, by mistake. I have plucked the flowers. And played with my son; blowing the withering heads. But, never did I think about making a Car with them. May be, a bouquet of flowers at best. I am not an automobile manufacturer. Definitely not an automobile company feeling guilty about its Carbon footprint. Or trying to score brownie points with the larger masses. Or, to give them the benefit of doubt, a company genuinely trying to reduce its Carbon footprint.

Ford has been at it for awhile now. Delving deep into the Dandelion weeds to see if they qualify as plastic modifiers which can be employed in car manufacture. Have you ever stepped on a Dandelion root? Well, if you do, you will see a milky white substance similar to rubber which could be put to better use. Of course, it has to meet certain durability standards as well.

Sounds gimmicky? It did initially. But then I went on to read about their  soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled plastic, recycled resins for underbody systems, recycled yarns on seat covers and natural-fiber plastic for interior components!

As long as they are not taking away (some one's) food to create their cars, I feel enough reason to cheer about. That is some amount of change. On one side, they churn out gas guzzlers (we can talk enough about fuel efficiency, but, at the end of the day, gas guzzlers remain gas guzzlers. However, I do admit that compared to what kind of cars we had say 5 or 10 years ago, now they are a lot better in terms of their environmental impact.), but on the other side, they are trying to be sustainable.

Fear of new legislation may be the necessity to invent, but, at the end of the day, something is better than nothing. We all demand cars and better cars and the best in class. So, they exist. Why not change the very fundamentals of that existense?

May 19, 2011

Use only what you need



"I walk around in my house without putting the lights on till the last rays of the Sun bid farewell ....I know the exact place of things, I don't need the light even in the night to locate something." Yet another influencer-friend of mine. Someone who NEVER preaches, but ALWAYS practises sensible green thinking. And has been practising for the past few decades.

While visiting another friend of mine, I couldn't but notice the contrast I saw there. The family lives in a palatial mansion, if I could call it so. A really beautiful house. What I liked the most is the abundance of natural light in the house. You can practically live without lights in that house; well, only if you choose to. All the rooms have huge windows; so huge, if you open them you can practically walk in and out of them! The roof is really tall, which makes the rooms airy and leaves you with a very 'breathe-easy' feeling.

But until I left the house, I was overcome by guilt and grief. I felt suffocated through and through.

I am no rebel when I stay in someone else's house. I try to go by their laws. If I stay long enough, I try my influence-tactics. But, only if they show an inclination.

As soon as my friend is up, she puts many lights on. Including a beautiful chandelier that adorns the dining space. That is 6 CFLs. I kept opening the blinds just to let the natural light in. They stay in a well-lit part of the world that is so blessed with the Sun. But, to this day, I cannot understand why we put thick blinds and then cover them up with at least 2-3 layers of expensive curtains. All this, just to block the sunlight from coming in! The whole house is so well-set that if you move a curtain here or there, it looks like the order of the house is disturbed. It gives you a feeling that you have put an unwanted blotch on a beautiful painting.

I notice the huge chandelier in the living room is on; another 8 bulbs that is. Then, 2 in the kitchen..and then I lost count. I noticed six tall windows in the living room. It opens to the beautiful backyard. Once I opened all the blinds and stood in awe looking at the greenery outside. The peaches and apples dancing in the breeze. I almost thought they were making faces at us! As if asking;' What are you guys doing in there when its so beautiful out here?'

The TV is literally on all the time, but no one watches in particular. And every one the least bothered.
Yes, we are not bothered at all. But, we do bother about the vagaries and vicissitudes of weather these days.

'It was never like this. Why is it getting so hot by the day?'

'It has never rained like this in NY. We have no idea when its going to end.'

Back home, when I speak to people in India, they talk about the number of airconditioners that neighbours are buying. And with a sigh, they say, ' if its so hot in April, what will May be?'

'Just can't step out. The Sun is very harsh'

We have everything at our disposal. Including the will to display some basic discretion. Why do we consume more than we actually need? We may get a huge pay check at the end of the month that will easily pay off our power bills. But, can we at least exercise a little bit of caution? We love to play the moral police. Can we police our own morality here, a bit? The morality of our consumption. I hope the day comes sooner when we count consumption as one of the building blocks of morality.

May 5, 2011

What happened to those Easter eggs?


They looked so artificial, but, colourful and convenient. I saw my friend buy them in dozens although she did not need so many. Can't help it, it comes in standard number packs. So, what if I don't need so many? Though it looked synthetic, I tried to appreciate them keeping their reusability in mind. I found them easy to use and reuse. Not many hassles.

The kids loved to take their Easter eggs to School for the Easter egg hunt. Mom filled them with goodies. Tiny cars, mini trucks, candies and jelly beans. True; we live in a world of abundance. After some years, probably, kids won't appreciate a bit; things that we value a lot. In a class of 15, all 15 get 15 Easter eggs to School. So, each of them goes home with 15 Easter eggs and 15 Easter gifts!! As they came home from School, they eagerly opened the first few Eggs and then threw the rest hither thither.
The egg halves were strewn all over the living room. The gifts were too frivolous for them to even take note. They happily popped in the candies and jelly beans. Blame them for their hyper-hours thereafter! That's the new in-thing these days - 'sugar-high'.

I wondered what would happen to all those colourful eggs. There were about 30 eggs in total from the two kids and then the remaining unused (nothing happens to the eggs during usage. they are as good as new) ones. What if they found their way to the trash bin? They did, indeed.

I can't expect my friend to be like my mother or mother-in-law who simply can't throw anything into the trash bin. Their reusability fundas and resourcefulness have left lasting impressions on my mind. They are a different generation all together. I remember how much I had to cajole my mother-in-law to trash at least a few from her 're-usables collection' as I was cleaning the kitchen cabinets and storage spaces just before a marriage in the family! My respect for them only grows as I look around and see abundance and callousness get married right in front of my eyes. Its really an unholy one.

There are kids who don't even know what Easter eggs are. Forget about the Easter bunny and the Easter gifts. And here we are spoiling our kids. But then, what can I do about these Easter eggs? Its the School's directive to send them.

As I saw the bright Easter eggs in the trash, I realized they would never go back to the Earth. Easter eggs symbolise a new start, a new life, just like how life emerges out of cracked chicken eggs. But, here, our Easter eggs will always remain in the Earth, like unlucky souls for whom deliverance is a far cry, an illusion...