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.