February 17, 2011

Lime juice, nostalgia and the environment

Fruit juices are an all time favorite with me and my family. All the better, if, its freshly prepared. And nothing more delightful than freshly squeezed lime juice. While making a list of things to buy from the grocer, of all the oft-repeated items, fresh lime tops the list.

Lime juice needs no introduction! Needless to talk about its nutrition facts. A rich source of Vitamin C, I remember the umpteen times I cured common cold with what I call 'Vitamin C shots'. That is just concentrated fresh lime juice taken at frequent intervals as soon as you sense the possible advent of a common cold. Simple enough, this has been a sensible solution so far. The cure is so simple that the OTC drugs for Common cold don't even deserve a comparison with this cure, straight from Mother Nature!

As far as my understanding and observation goes, fresh lime grows abundantly in most tropical climates without the intervention of any pesticides. No additional pampering by fertilizers either. Then, why ignore this king of juices? Say convenience. There we come to the most common culprit - Convenience. Why take the pains to squeeze the juice, then add sugar/ salt, then stir it and for those of us who don't like anything solid in our smooth juices, we need to strain it! It must be so strenuous to make a glass of fresh lime juice! And of course, devoid of any glamour value, lime juice is not the 'in' thing today. It's not seen as a drink that one would want to flaunt in front of guests.

The alternates are convenience advocates. We embraced the ready-to-drink category like fish to water. When time is such a premium, when we are tagged and judged by the brands we choose, where does fresh lime stand a chance? I have friends who are of the opinion that this one life must be lived to the fullest, sans worrying about the ingredients written in fine print on food/ beverage packs. Why waste time reading up all that and then getting worked up? Economy must grow. Money must roll. Consumerism must grow in leaps and bounds. People should swarm shopping malls and grocery stores! We have only one life. We must live it to the fullest. Amidst all this sight, sound and fury, activism for the natural is also on the rise. I don't refer to the 'organic' mania which is more a status symbol these days. Some hope, that is for sure.

Back to my love for the lime. It dates back to my eager-beaver days of the youth. Even to my childhood days. My love affair with the lime started with my visits to my Mother's house. Nestled in quiet, those days whispered sweet nothings to me, endlessly. We had to board buses, take ferries, travel by boats to reach my Mother's house then. A good 4 hour journey it used to be. Under the sweltering sun, if it was the Summer vacation time. Finally get down from the Bus and climb a hill which almost seemed to be at a 90 degree angle from the road. After the steep climb uphill, to much relief there is plain land and then descend downhill to reach the foot of the house. That is where one of the fresh lime trees were grown. While walking towards the kitchen, I would pluck a few and promptly hand them over to grandma as soon as I entered the kitchen. I wouldn't talk for the first few minutes, I would eagerly look at Grandma and wait for my welcome drink! She prepared it with water from the courtyard well. There, my lime juice is ready! Then, for a few moments, heaven decides to come down to the kitchen of my Mother's house!.......Blissful moments, I must say!

Then, for the next 2 months, until the Summer vacation gets over, its every day Lime juice! The fresh fragrance of freshly squeezed lime is so fresh in my memory....not the best English, but even today, those memories linger.

Old fashioned.
Stricken by lime juice nostalgia.
Coupled with some degree of love for the environment.
The result is an over-arching love for the fresh juices. Most often, I don't hesitate to shun the packaged juice options. Whenever I buy one of these, I drink the juice (which is not even half as good!) and then feel guilty about throwing the pack into the garbage bag. After all, I live by the theory that what is not good for the Earth isn't good for me, either!

February 11, 2011

Branding, Consumption and the environment

Can branding and the environment go together? At the face of it, I don’t think they do. Think about the food choices that we have these days. Over here, we are spoilt for choice. Any kind of food is up for grabs in any season, in any form, in any place that we choose to have it from. Heavily processed and elaborately packaged. With at least 10 chemicals added to it. Multiple brands to choose from. Each promoted through various means.

Coming to think of it, I wonder if packaging is the actual culprit, and not branding. May be both. The other day I bought some garlic, some potatoes and some onions! Once and for a long time sold as just commodities, today, even they are not spared from branding. And how could I reuse all those packaging? It adds a great deal of convenience to the shopper and to the seller as well. Merchandise looks glamorous. Even the routine garlic and onions! Berries from Chile. They were so fresh and supple. My one year old didn’t spare any for us. But the agony it gave me was terrible. Looking at the perforated plastic zip lock in which it came to me, I was at my wits’ end.

Croaker. Never frozen. Could be from the neighbouring lake. But, guess what it came in? In a big zip lock! So easy to carry it home – no fear of fish stench leaking into the other purchase. Happy better half who bought it home intact. I took the fish out and then threw the zip pouch out for fear of the fish stench lingering in my kitchen. The details are quite disgusting, but the zip lock smelled so fishy that there was no way I could reuse it. And why break my head over reusing this particular zip lock; many more would find their way into my kitchen soon.

The ready to eat category is quite evolved in this part of the world. I remember having many meetings with a category player in Bangalore who had just ventured into the business. Unable to cope with the grossly under-developed freezer chain in Bangalore/ India, they couldn’t expand their business. We felt sad that we couldn’t partner them in their branding endeavors either. But, looking back, I must feel happy that they did not. Even Reliance had plans to venture big time into the ready-to-eat category. Red-tape or accusations of political favouritism, they couldn’t either. Knowing Reliance, they will soon because there is a huge market out there. But, at least a few years got spared in the mean time.

Talk about Food and Enviorment; one can go on and on. Food – if not local, has to be packaged with a great amount of care, has to undergo lot of processing, has to be shipped, transported from across continents, countries, counties to reach us here and now. Here and now is the guiding force these days. We want everything right here, right now. We are willing to pay any price for it. Little do we realize that our children will pay a huge price for it as they are stepping into a trembling planet with a lopsided eco-system. Is that what we want to leave behind? Just as we urge companies to be guided by the morality of profit, can we be guided by the morality of consumption?

Morality of Consumption.
I earnestly hope it becomes a buzz word, a moot point for introspection and action.

February 10, 2011

If it was so easy, the whole world could have it's consumerist ways forever. This must be the simplest equation I ever came across in my whole life. Smaller Cap is equal to Less Plastic. If it were so, can we urge all the bottle manufacturers to pay heed to this?

I was rather amused by this note on the bottle label that my hubby brought to my attention. 'Eco-slim' cap - must be the idea of the advertising agency who designed the label, I thought.

Plastic is everywhere. The ubiquitous material which packages everything so conveniently. Convenience - that which defines our thinking these days. Everything must come to us in the most convenient form. I don't count myself out of this vicious circle of convenience. I am an addict of the convenience mantra too. But may be a bit conscientious than some of the others.

I am no environmentalist either. Well, I would like to be one, but simply don't have the courage to practise ALL that I preach. I do live by A FEW principles. But, I am selfish. Let's come to it. Unlike many of my friends who would do anything for the Earth, I do things selectively. Thinking that 'something is better than nothing'. That's probably what Poland Spring would have thought when they decided to reduce the cap size of their mineral water bottles.Whilst it looks very simple, I understand that it calls for a whole lot of changes right at the plant level while a bottler decides to change the cap size. Some pains and some thinking have gone into this for sure. That may be just the beginning of a long journey; for companies like Poland Spring and the rest.

Arm chair consulting is hated. It is so easy to talk from a distance. To be critical about what others do. If it is so difficult for me as a person to make simple changes in my lifestyle, to what extent can I blame companies who thrive on their products/ innovations/ gimmicks for profit?

Where am I getting to?Let's look around. On one side, there is a consumerist wave sweeping over with companies churning out anything and everything to please the human senses. On the other hand, there is strong advocacy for the Earth. The argument or wishful thinking that 'global warming is a myth' doesn't hold water any more. Well, its proven. Almost everyday. All around us. There definitely is a problem. Right now, right here. Can I be the change that I wish to see around? Can I make simple lifestyle changes everyday that would save the Earth its face in the long run? I come to understand that if I am able to reduce my urge to want lot of things that I see around, ( i hate advertisements in that sense!) I reduce my environmental footprint. It may be too small to be counted as carbon credits, but little drops of water make the mighty ocean. The small changes that we make today can have a big enough impact on our planet!

To sum it up, I am in no way against the eco-slim cap initiative. Well, it may have drawn at least a few journalists to write about it, it may be touted as gimmickry by critics, but at the end of the day, something is better than nothing!

Sleeping with the Goose!

Sleeping with the Goose.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the Pillows filled with Goose feathers. My husband bought them from the Ikea Store in New Jersey the other day. Pretty sure he did not know that the pillows contained feathers! Quite happy with the great deal that he got, he proudly displayed the pillows to me. Being the curious buyer that I am, I started reading the packaging literature in bold and fine print. Well, hypo-allergenic. Came as a bit of relief. Though amused initially, later I started feeling uneasy about the whole affair!

We had just moved into our new rented apartment in Cator Ave, NJ. With so much luggage to be unpacked and two jet-lagged kids to be attended to, there wasn’t much time left to think about the Geese who once upon a time owned those feathers. I was not in the right spirit either. Snow snow everywhere, not the time to be spirited. Further, I was going through the worst jet lag ever. However, as I put my head down on the pillow, I started getting a very avian feeling! I felt (I still feel today, the third day after the uneasy purchase!) the whole room smelled avian! It was as if I was sleeping in a hencoop (I am not sure how Geese smells like. But I guess it must be closer to the chicken smell!)

I just couldn’t get myself to rest on the pillow. It was very suffocating to sleep in that room. First night passed by without much drama. Thanks to the jet lag. Second day and night; I experienced the worst feelings. I am not sure if my heart flies out to those Geese, to whom my family should be grateful in a way. I am not sure if I am even haunted by their souls.

As darkness fell, the Geese started thronging in my head. Like swarms of worms slithering on each other. Held so close to each other that there is hardly any space for the Geese to move around. That’s why the comparison with the worms. Sounds disgusting, right? I wondered for a moment if I was feeling disgusted by the whole thought and  the smell. As night came, the Geese really filled me up! With the weirdest of thoughts. I slept with out the pillow.

Third day morning. I gathered my arguments against the Pillow. Infamous by now. At least in my mind. I told myself. Listen, you are going to talk to the guy who bought them from the store. He thinks they are great. And moreover, he got them for a great bargain. No feelings for birds as such. No romanticized pseudo-environmentalist either. But, I still did share my feelings with him. About the pillows. What greeted me was his ever hilarious, boisterous laughter. He couldn’t be more amused. Well, let him be.

While the avian smell continues to linger in my whole house, my mind wanders around the Geese. Are they reared only for their feathers? What kind of conditions are they reared in? Or, are they hunted down from their long flights of fancy? Breaking the amazing formations that flocks of Geese are known for. Overcoming the wind-resistance that they beautifully encounter with their near-scientific formations. May be Google will throw up some answers.
I have been accused and at times credited for my sharp olfactory sense. It worked against me here too. But, one sense leads to the other. Just like the olfactory sense opened up my emotional sense. In a way, it touched a chord with my inner self. That which shares a corner for the living.

Writing about the Geese takes some burden off my mind. Let their souls rest in peace!