Action expresses priorities. – Gandhi


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Green Ganesh OK Please

Rivers of India have always played a major role in our history and civilization. They have been worshiped in our ancient scriptures, and have been named after gods, goddesses or saints. Ironically, those same rivers are severely polluted by us - either in the form of industrial contaminants, domestic sewage, or as a result of  festivities – one example being Ganesh Chathurthi.  This article discusses the environmental impact of this festival and offers some simple alternatives to celebrate it in a more sustainable manner.

What’s the impact?

Festival-Pollution

Just before the festival begins, life-like clay idols of Lord Ganesh are made my special artisans in sizes that vary from an inch to over 25 feet. These idols are adorned with paint, decorated with flowers, and then worshiped for 10 days, either at a home or at mandappas (temporary structures constructed in a suburb). On the final day of the festival, thousands of devotees immerse their idols into water bodies.

There was a time when these clay models were all made using earthern or natural clay (shaadu maati). However, with commercialization, the clay models are now being made using tin-foil, silver, thermocol and/or Plaster of Paris – an inexpensive, easy-to-mould material made from sulphur, phosphorus, gypsum, and magnesium.  These Plaster of Paris Ganesh’s when immersed in water, take a longer time to dissolve and release the above-mentioned toxic chemicals into the water body. Furthermore, the paints used to decorate the models are chemical-based, releasing heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury into the water. More often

than not, thermocol, plastic and other non-biodegradable materials that are used to decorate these idols, also make their

More Pollution

More Pollution

way into the water bodies. There are no surprises on the day after the immersion when you see pollution and direct impact on the surface of our ‘holy’ water bodies. Lakes, streams, rivers and the ocean are not the only silent sufferers. Litter of plastic, flowers and thermocol are also found scattered on the streets, waiting to be picked up by civic authorities.

Top 7 Eco-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi:

1. Buy natural clay idols

Call 8888 847322 to order

Call 8888 847322 to order

Help bring back the old tradition by buying or asking shop-owners for natural clay idols that are painted with natural colours (organic or vegetable dyes). We sell natural clay and paper mache idols made by a growing network of sculptors from various part of India and by mentally and physically challenged youth and adults. This project helps them all earn an income. To order, contact us +91 88888 47322 or email us on support at greenokplease dot com. Click here for further information on the idol types and sizes.

2.  Other materials

Idols can also be made out of other biodegradable materials such as paper-mache. Click here to see how it can be done.

3. Decorations

For decorations, say no to thermocol, plastic and other non-biodegradable materials. If they don’t end up in the water bodies, they lie in landfills for hundreds of years. Instead, use wood, paper, cloth and other natural materials for decorations. You can buy eco-friendly decorations from us too.

Also, offerings of flowers could be collected and placed in a compost pit. They would be a natural fertilizer for your garden. If you must immerse them, use newspapers to wrap them instead of plastic bags.

4. Immerse your natural clay idol in a bucket of water at home or in a tank. Reuse the water for plants.

This alternative is being adopted more commonly now especially since several cities now ban immersing idols in natural water bodies.

5. A symbolic immersion

Lord Ganesh in Metal

Lord Ganesh in Metal

Some people use a stone or metal idol. A symbolic immersion is carried out – you could even carry it in procession to the sea, hold it in water and then bring it back home. Or you could immerse a ‘betel nut’ which symbolises the idol and reuse the same idol every year.

6. If you already have a plaster idol, simply sprinkle a few drops on it as a symbolic immersion. Then repaint and re-use it every year.

7. Volume Kam Kar

Song and dance are an integral part of the celebrations. However, ear-splitting decibels are not only disturbing but are also a major health hazard.

Moderation is the key to ensuring a safe, happy and healthy Ganesh Chaturthi. Happy Green Ganesh Chaturthi everyone!


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Sustainable Menstruation – a way forward

‘The Yellow Bag Campaign,’ is an excellent initiative started by three young professionals, Rajlaxmi Teli, Sneha Malani and Purva Sankala, in collaboration with local NGO, SWaCH. Their project aims to streamline the waste segregation mechanism for sanitary waste disposal in Pune. Operating since 2007, SWaCh, a co-operative for waste pickers from low income backgrounds, provide door-to-door waste collection and management services in the city. Their focus lies on improving the livelihoods of our waste collectors, ensuring their safety and restoring a sense of dignity in their lives.

Yellow Bag Campaign

Yellow Bag Campaign

Waste pickers at SWaCH deal with all household waste including soiled Sanitary towels, napkins and diapers. Pune, alone, generates an astonishing figure – one crore napkins per month on an average. Unfortunately, most disposable sanitary products are non-biodegradable and hence, used feminine hygiene products and disposable diapers are fast becoming a biohazard.
 
This video here takes you through a day in the life of a waste picker – documented by Rajlaxmi Teli.

Ms Malani puts the problem into perspective, “if I calculate my sanitary waste footprint – say I started my period when I was 13 and now I’m 25, so for the last 12 years I have consumed 12×12 (months) x 12 (napkins) = 1728 napkins which can be seen as a huge pile in a gigantic landfill. And this is just MY contribution.”

“With the addition of blood or faeces,” writes Kyra’s Preethi Sukumaran, “used disposables become dangerous for a city corporation to deal with. They cannot be humanely handled by garbage collectors; they contain a cocktail of materials including cotton, a super absorbent polymer, and a whole lot of plastic.” (15 July 2014, The Alternative). Click here for a video on sorting waste documented by Rajlaxmi Teli.

Yellow Newspaper Bags

Yellow Newspaper Bags

So here’s where ‘The Yellow Bag Campaign’ steps in. This campaign aims to inform the citizens of Pune about the SWaCH disposable bags (ST Dispo bags) which are made of recycled newspaper with an identifiable yellow label and a string to allow them to be secured. “At the point of segregation the bags containing the soiled napkins would go into the wet waste – since the dry waste goes directly to the scrap dealers. If a residential society is composting all their wet waste, the dispo bags would directly go into the municipal vehicle to the landfill.” 

“The bag is a sensible way to keep wastepickers (and other stake holders) from direct contact to the soiled napkins. This is part of a larger project on sustainable menstruation. We’re learning about it as we proceed, there’s a sizeable SM movement in our country. We hope to create awareness through public participation. While we to put it crudely our just doing the ‘marketing’ – the real force behind Pune’s waste is KKPKP and SWACH. We wish to see more involvement and support in Pune’s waste movement,” says Ms Malani.

On the availability and purpose of the bags, she continues, “we are hoping to make the sale of these bags feasible at a variety of different outlets including medical stores. The bags are made by older wastepickers and are sold at Re.1/- per bag. Each bag can be used to dispose 2-3 napkins. You are thus contributing to the livelihood of the waste pickers. As the bags ensure that the ‘soiled napkin’ is wrapped up and not visible and exposed to flies and rodents, it protects the waste pickers from health hazards and also ensures dignity in handling while disposing.”

Talking about the issues pertaining to menstruation and sensitising masses about the extent of the problem remains key to finding plausible solutions. On Saturday, 9 August 2014, SWaCH will be hosting a participatory event at Pagdandi Books and Chai Cafe in Baner, Pune for anyone interested to join the ongoing conversation on menstruation, disposal and taboos, engage with waste pickers from the vicinity.

9th August, 4pm-5pm @ Pagdandi Cafe, Baner

9th August, 4pm-5pm @ Pagdandi Cafe, Baner

Ms Teli has written a great piece about the human cost of waste picking and the dire need for more sorting sheds for segregation. (Click here to read) “We as a city need to pitch our voices into waste processes, problems and solutions beginning with segregating at source i.e. in our own homes. We need to provide further co-operation to the cooperative of waste-pickers,” she writes.

So how can one get involved and further their cause?
“Come attend the event this Saturday, spread the word, buy the bags, ensure its regular use in your vicinity and use your freedom to dispose sensibly!” says Ms Malani.

Green OK Please extends it whole hearted support and encouragement to SWaCH’s cause and would also like to raise a toast to Rajlaxmi, Sneha and Purva – it’s extremely refreshing to see Pune’s young guns spearhead a campaign that will possibly further the creation of a robust recycling framework in the city.

 We will be selling these bags on our website very soon!

An interview by Aditi Bhonagiri – a communication specialist who has worked in the field of immigration policy and current affairs. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Development Studies and is interested in sustainable development in the South Asian region.

References:

1. http://www.thealternative.in/society/the-uncomfortable-but-scary-truth-about-sanitary-waste/

2. http://www.thealternative.in/society/one-more-way-waste-segregation-helps-it-keeps-your-streets-clean/

3. http://vimeo.com/97902316

4. http://vimeo.com/98138276

 


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My Dog Comes with Papers

A very dear uncle recently proclaimed proudly to me that his new Beagle puppy came complete with papers certifying how purely bred it was. He was disappointed to see my luke-warm response, and couldn’t understand why I answered, “That doesn’t really mean much!” The conversation got me thinking. My well-meaning uncle clearly loves his little dog, and felt that these papers of pure breeding gave him an assurance of sorts, that his pet was of fine quality. I so badly wanted to explain to him that the papers meant nothing of the sort, at the same time, I didn’t want to deflate his pride and happiness in the new addition to his family. I decided to make this the aim of my next article- to simply create awareness of what a pure-breed dog really is, explore the origins and history of the whole spectacle of creating dog breeds, and empower Indian dog-owners to understand what it really means when they decide to buy an expensive pooch that comes complete with papers.

Firstly, let us re-visit some very basic facts of genetics that you probably studied in high-school biology.

NATURE: We know that Charles Darwin discovered that nature had a wonderful way of selecting and promoting specific traits, which made a species healthier and stronger. For example in cold climates, animals born with thick coats produced more animals with thick coats, and a “thick coat” became an established trait that helped these animals thrive in cold climes. Animals that happened to be born without thick coats quickly died off, and hence the trait of a “thin coat” disappeared completely.

SCIENCE: Another term used in genetics, that may ring a vague bell is “hybrid vigour”. In simple terms, this means that when animals that are completely unrelated to each other mate, the result is that they produce healthier and healthier off-spring. When related animals (for example a brother and sister) mate, they produce weaker and unhealthy off-spring.

History of Dog Breeds

Keeping what Nature and Science had in mind for the progression and evolution of all living species, let us explore how we’ve interfered with this process. From the time that we humans started domesticating animals, we started deliberately mating dogs that had desirable traits, so that more dogs with those traits would be produced. We did this for thousands of years, creating all kinds of dog breeds that served specific purposes- hunting, rescuing, shepherding, etc. As our relationship and need for dogs changed over the years, so did the traits we considered “desirable”.  Lets look at a couple of examples:

The German Shepherd Dog

A dog resembling the original German Shepherd breed

A dog resembling the original German Shepherd breed

One of the more extreme examples is that of the German Shepherd dog. The breed was developed less than 200 years ago in Germany for herding sheep. At the time intelligence, agility, strength and obedience were what defined the best bred dogs. In recent years, “Kennel Clubs” have sprung up in almost all countries around the world. They are essentially a central register for pure-breeds, and a certificate of belonging to a Kennel Club adds credence to the purity of a breed.

In contrast to the original requirements of the German Shepherd breed, below are excerpts for the “breed standard” for the German Shepherd by The Kennel Club (UK) today: “Length measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock, slightly exceeding height at withers. Correct ratio 10 to 9 or 8 and a half. Undersized dogs, stunted growth, high-legged dogs, those too heavy or too light in build, over-loaded fronts, too short overall appearance, any feature detracting from reach or endurance of gait, undesirable. Chest deep (45-48 per cent) of height at shoulder, not too broad, brisket long, well-developed.”

Today’s “show-quality” German Shepherd with the desirable extreme sloping back

Today’s “show-quality” German Shepherd with the desirable extreme sloping back

Only a dog that complies with these types of specifications can be registered as a purely bred dog with the Kennel Club.

The Pug

The Pug is the most extreme example of what are called “brachycephalic” dogs.

A Brachycephalic skull- as desired Breed Standards

A Brachycephalic skull- as desired Breed Standards

Other examples are Boxers and Bull Dogs. Here the breed standard demands that the entire skull area has a “squashed” appearance. To quote the Kennel Club (UK): “The head and skull should be relatively large and in proportion to body, round, not apple-headed, with no indentation of skull. The muzzle should be relatively short, blunt, square, not upfaced. Nose black, fairly large with well open nostrils. Wrinkles on forehead clearly defined with exaggeration.”

The Process of Getting the “Purest” Breed

Well, if I was a breeder and wanted to breed dogs that would win the most prizes, sell for the most money and hence earn myself the best reputation, what would I do? The very thing which Science and Nature are programmed to NOT do! I would keep the gene-pool small (hence a certain amount of in-breeding is necessary) and keep breeding pure-breed dogs with other pure-breed dogs.

What you get is hundreds of generations of Cocker Spaniels mating with Cocker Spaniels- longer and longer ears; Daschunds mating with other Daschunds- longer and longer backs, Pugs mating with Pugs- shorter and shorter snouts. In short, purer and purer breeds!

What are we actually doing to our dogs?

The first thing we are doing is removing the very valuable hybrid vigour that comes from cross-breeding. By restricting the gene-pool we are encouraging more homozygosity (less genetic diversity) and more health problems. Think of what in-breeding practices have resulted in, in certain human populations that have historically done this over generations.

The second thing we are doing is selecting for traits with little regard to the actual effect these have on the animals. If a human was born with the small skull size of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel so much so that the brain literally gets crushed, or if a human experienced a life-time of wheezing from breathing difficulty as does a pug, a dozen surgeries would be performed to correct these defects. In the case of these dogs, these “defects” are deliberately introduced to meet breed standards, and are considered not only normal, but desirable! The list goes on.

  • Chronic ear infections in Cocker Spaniels due to abnormally long ears
  • A life-time of skin infections due to excessive wrinkles in the Shar-pei, the Pug and the Boxer
  • Perpetual eye problems due to small skulls and bulging eyes in the Pug and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Arthritis and Hip Dysplasia in fast growing, large breeds like Labradors, Great Danes and Rottweilers
  • Anal tumours and Hip Dysplasia due to sloping backs of German Shepherds
  • Painful Spondylitis and Paralysis in long-backed dogs like Dachshund

A third effect of pure-breeding is the inadvertent selection of unwanted traits, while trying to select for desirable traits. For example:

  • The ridge on the Rhodesian Ridgeback is linked with a condition called Dermoid
  • Meeting with the specific breed standards for English Cocker Spaniels has lead to increased aggressive nature
  • Collie Eye Anomaly has been shown to affect 80-90% of dogs classified as “Collies”

Of course not all pure-breeds are sick or diseased, but several studies conducted around the world have shown that pure-breed dog owners consistently face higher veterinary bills than owners of crossbreeds.

So, where does all this information leave us?
The purer the breed -> the better its papers, prizes and reputation -> the more in-bred it is.

Much research and scientific study is being done on modifying breed standards of Kennel Clubs, on genetic testing to weed out harmful genes, and on responsible breeding that contains a certain amount of out-breeding and cross-breeding. However, for the reader as a potential dog owner, the first step is to really understand what it means when someone proudly proclaims that their very purely bred, expensive pet dog comes complete with papers! The aim of this article is not to condemn Kennel Clubs, Dog Shows, or breeders. It is simply to demonstrate the extremes that the “pure-breed” culture has taken us to. We need to take a step back and re-assess what we really want. Is our primary aim to own happy healthy dogs, or cute/exotic/long-eared/giant-sized/miniature/wrinkled dogs? Remember, as nature very cleverly programmed it to be so- the healthiest, happiest and hardiest dog is the one that is least pure-bred. A non- purebred does not necessarily mean a mongrel from the street. It simply means a dog that has not been deliberately bred to meet breed-standards defined by a Club that certifies its purity!

About the writer of this article
Uttara Kennedy grew up in India, subsequently obtaining her degree in Veterinary Science in Queensland, Australia. She worked as a small animal veterinarian for 6 years in Australia, during which she also successfully completed the Membership examination with the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists in the Animal Welfare stream. She was newsletter editor for the Melbourne branch of the Australian Veterinary Association, in which she introduced a special feature “On Animal Welfare”.

Uttara moved back to India 5 years ago, and worked for two years in a small animal practice in suburban Mumbai. She is currently studying online to complete a Masters in Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law with the University of Edinburgh. Her work and study have given her great insight into the practical and ethical aspects of animal welfare.

 

REFERENCES:

1. http://www.cawc.org.uk (Breeding and Welfare in Companion Animals:
The Companion Animal Working Group Report on Welfare Aspects of
Modifications, through Selective Breeding or Biotechnological Methods, to the Form, Function, or Behaviour of Companion Animals
Published by the Companion Animal Welfare Council May 2006)

2. http://www.rspca.org.uk

3. “Pedigree Dog Breeding in the UK: a major welfare concern?”- An independent Scientific Report commissioned by the RSPCA

4. Course Notes: International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law: Companion Animals, By Dr. Jenna Kiddie, Paws for Change.

5. Photos of German Shepherds taken from Wikipedia (German Shepherd)


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Green Speak with One-O-Eight Cafe

Bree Bhosale – owner of One-O-Eight Cafe in Lane 6, Koregaon Park, Pune tell us about buying local and eating healthy. “At the end of the day, I just want people to come feel at home, relax and let go and leave feeling light and happy!” This is exactly how we felt- a must visit cafe in Pune!

One-O-Eight Cafe

One-O-Eight Cafe Lane 6, Koregaon Park, Pune

Tell us a bit about your journey to India and the organic lifestyle you follow? What was your inspiration?
 
I always had a fascination with India and knew one day I would visit. My first journey to India was 10 years ago and it blew my mind – I experienced very intense culture shock as I landed in Mumbai and then headed to a hill station in the south to learn about Ayurveda massage and medicine, I feel in love – with the people and the place and then sometimes it drove me mad too! Then 4 years ago I had the privilege of meeting my now husband who at the time lived in Melbourne. Pune is his home town and thus why we have chosen this as home. 
For more than half of my working life I have worked in the hospitably sector being exposed to all types of foods, cafe’s and events around the world. I got a job working in a vegan & organic cafe when I was about 19 and this was my first education of organic foods and how it doesn’t just support us and our body but the earth too. That was my first introduction to eating clean. Our lifestyle in Sydney is all about being outside, so we would go to farmer’s market where there would be organic produce and the farmers that grew it would sell it and that was how we shopped – I loved it! I’m not so into supermarkets….IMG_9884

 
Why did you decide to open one-o-eight? What’s your business story? And what makes one-o-eight cafe different from other cafes in Pune? 
 
Interestingly I had always wanted to open a cafe….I just kinda forgot, until I started telling my friends our plans and they all started to remind me! 
After Rajan and I got married we just got clear on what we wanted to do with our life and how we wanted to spend our time. We both wanted to do something together and we wanted to spend time in Pune with Rajan’s family and I really wanted a cafe and yoga studio, a space where I could teach Art of Living courses. It’s for selfish reasons!!  Good food, coffee and yoga classes all at my finger tips! All my favourite things. I think initially it was going to be more my thing, but I like how Rajan became more involved than expected because we make a really great team and we both contribute something different. It’s been fun working together and I love all the people we meet in the cafe. It feels like home.
I think what makes us different is the exceptional coffee and the balanced menu. When I say balanced, I feel there is something for everyone on our menu from super healthy to not as healthy…but we don’t put anything weird in the food….no additives, no preservatives no white sauce in pasta…we make cakes n biscuits eggless, we do some raw foods and some not. At the end of the day, I just want people to come feel at home, relax and let go and leave feeling light and happy! 
 
What does the term organic mean to you? What essential ingredients do you insist on using organic at your cafe? And why? 
 
Organic means no pesticides or herbicides have been used in the growing of that particular vegetable, fruit or ingredient and it’s in it’s natural state – gmo free.
Organic milk n cheese products, sugar, olive oil, coconut oil all the lentils and flours. I just want to use food in it’s most original form and that it doesn’t got through any kind of processing. Our intention is to become 100% organic in time.
 
What according to you is the importance of buying local produce?
 
I want to see the community and economy in which I live flourish and that can only happen if you support your neighbours & country in which you live. India produces such amazing fruits, flowers, vegetables, spices but some of them you can’t even buy because it all goes into export! It’s all very interesting. It confuses me to eat an apple from Chile that has had a long journey to make it on my plate, from picking to packing to flying (and what products do they use to keep it looking so fresh?!) when I could get one that has been grown in the same soil in which I walk?! I enjoy the relationships buying local develops.
 
Share with us one tip/mantra that you live by to stay healthy and environmentally conscientious?

Bree Bhosle

Bree Bhosale

Be happy. If you are happy then you make the best choices for yourself and those around you. 

 
Your top three favourite organic recipes at One-O-Eight cafe that our readers should come and try. Go ahead tempt us!
 
I love our Ragi Cookie, I’m always amazed by how tasty and healthy it is! 
The raw snickers as its the most delicious little cup of heaven. Think of a snickers bar, but smaller and without the guilt! 
Bowl of Goodness uses no oil and has organic sprouted lentil’s with steam and raw vegetables. I could go on….but I will leave it there! 


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Vegetable Barley Soup

Barley is a high-fiber food. Blend it with lentils and vegetables for a big dose of nutrients. Enjoy this soup with some multi-grain bread and it becomes a very satisfying and tasty meal.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients

Barley Vegetable Soup with Seasame Tortilla chips or flatbread.

Barley Vegetable Soup with Seasame Tortilla chips or flatbread.

2 tablespoons pearl barley, soaked for 3-4 hours
2 tablespoons whole red lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste
¼ cup carrot, cut into half-inch cubes
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup spring onions, chopped with the greens
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons cilantro (coriander), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
1. Drain the soaked barley and keep aside.
2. Take a deep heated saucepan and sauté the onion for 2 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, sauté for a minute and add the barley, red lentils, carrot and salt.
4. Let it cook on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes.
5. Now add the tomato, spring onion, cumin, cilantro and pepper and bring to a boil.
6. Sprinkle the red chili flakes on top or in individual soup bowls.

About the Author:  

Madhavi Vaidya

Madhavi Vaidya

Madhavi Vaidya is a biochemist by education, a yoga practitioner by interest, a golfer by passion, an exercise freak by compulsion, a gardener by hobby and a self-appointed Chef by choice. She have been living in Wooster, Ohio for 3 years now and have discovered how much she loves cooking. Her book “Food For The Heart” will be launched this Sunday at the Poona Farmers Markets at 1:30pm.


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How Does My Garden Grow

Our guest blogger Prerna Kumar – a healer, life guide and an avid reader and writer writes about her learnings in growing a terrace garden. For more, you can check out her blog here.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row.

I have some sea shells and round stones, no pretty maids to line up, and I would definitely love to have some silver bells hanging about in my garden. Yes, I have a garden, a terrace garden, to be exact. Every morning I find that this garden made of pots and plants brings to me happiness, gratitude and at times pleasant surprises.It is source of pure joy to plant something and see it grow. But the path to this joy is often marred with some failures and disappointments. But they are like learning curves, which lead to even greater satisfaction and happiness. 1-Pictures1-001

I was not always keen on getting involved with plants, or even flowers. My mom has always maintained a thriving garden, and when I moved to Pune, I started to miss the greenery. I tried to bring the green in my life with a few indoor plants, but only managed in withering and eventually killing them. It seemed that the proverbial ‘green thumb’ will always elude me.

To cut a long story short, with some help from my mom and a local gardener, I was eventually able to plant and surprisingly keep alive a few flower plants (roses, carnation, petunia, money plant, palm-tree, tulsi etc.) and green indoor plants. I slowly understood the importance of just enough water, sunlight and shade. After doing so and enjoying my beautiful flowers and green plants for some years, I finally felt that I am ready to try my hand at growing vegetables.

It was only last year that I endeavoured I finally took the leap. It started when some seasonal plants withered away. Instead of getting more seasonals, this time, I got some vegetable seeds. I had a chilli and a lemon plant, but they were more like standard fares, rather than actual vegetables.

The reason I wanted to start growing vegetable was that I had become frustrated with buying small amounts of mint, coriander, curry leaves etc. due to their short shelf-life and also finding them frequently out-of-stock, with in the nearby market or in my refrigerator, when I needed them urgently for some cooking.
I decided to plant first mint, then coriander. The mint is still thriving, it has already given us minty lemonades and chutney for 2 seasons now. The coriander, well, was a lost cause.

I began with tomatoes, curry leaves, mint, herbs like rosemary, parsley, sage and oregano, local variety of cucumber, and Bhindi (or Okra or Lady’s Finger), and graduated to more chillies, and turai (Ridged Gourd), cherry tomatoes and capsicum. So far I have have had 6-7 crops of okra and just as many of the ridged gourd, along with continuous crop of tomatoes, chillies, herbs and the curry leaves.1-Collages1

However, not all endeavours were successful. Some were surprisingly so, like the tomatoes were ‘fruitful’, from the day one, but some refused to yield more than a few bits of produce like the cucumber. I learned later that the cucumber plants had become overcrowded in the pots they were in, and so the fruit of the plant just did not get enough nutrition to grow.

One other major disappointment for me was an old round chilli plant, which had borne fruit one season, but had become plagued with insects and some other diseases. This whole year, with the help of my gardner, I nursed that plant and willed to become healthy. I cannot express by joy when this season we saw flowers after 4 years, and then small chillies finally! I was over the moon! My beautiful, hot, delicious chillies were growing again! We had done it!

The success on the other hand, make these disappointments totally worthwhile. For example, the cherry tomatoes are growing and blooming effortlessly, and we are enjoying their produce in our salads with utmost delight. Everyday I am amazed at these tiny little treasures. I am now waiting for my round chillies (they look like green cherries) to come up to speed, so we can once again experience their extremely hot temperament.

If you too wish to experience this connection with Mother Nature, and maybe a connection with soil and all things that grow in there, call out to you, I would like to offer some tips:

  1. Choose things you like to eat. If you are not fond of brinjal (eggplant), and you start growing it, chances are you will end up neglecting the plants, especially if you are new at it. Choose the vegetables that you like to eat, and ones that you will need in everyday cooking, like chillies, lemon, curry leaves etc. Growing simple plants will give you the confidence to go further into growing vegetables.

    Garden Produce

    Garden Produce

  2. Get seeds of good quality. This is very, very important. Find a good local nursery and get good seeds. To order organic seeds, click here. For some vegetables, you can harvest seeds from the actual vegetable by drying it out and then using the seeds. For cherry tomatoes, I brought dried some cherry tomatoes and used their seeds. They have worked wonderfully!
  3. Know your pests and pesticides. Your plants will attract various insects in various weather. For example, my lemon plant is right now being attacked by green leaf-eaters. We have to carefully remove them, while ensuring that we do not touch them with hand. Organic pesticides are your best bet, as the chemical ones will also send the chemicals to the fruit/vegetable, and negate the value of your organic home-grown food. You can also make your own pesticides with the help of neem extract/leaves and spray them on your plants.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get help. You can get it online, from a friend/relative who is into growing vegetables, or you can hire an experienced gardner to help with planting and maintenance. However, please understand that hired help will not be deeply invested as you may be about your vegetables. You have to get involved and ask questions and discuss your plants’ issues. Yes, like a mother does with her children’s teachers! Trust me, your plants need your constant involvement and attention.
  5. Even after you are no longer a novice, you may need help in maintaining your plants. The soil in Pune gets very tightly packed very easily, and then the roots are not able to ‘breathe’ anymore. This also obstructs water flow to the roots, which may cause the plant to wither away, even while you may be faithfully watering your plants. A good turning of the soil with a trowel at regular intervals, like once in two-three weeks, helps keep the soil airy. It’s hard work, and if you have more plants than you can manage, getting a gardner is a good idea.
  6. Don’t give up if something doesn’t work out. Treat it as a valuable lesson. Find out what went wrong, and correct it the next time. It is disappointing to see the seeds and effort go to waste, but does that mean that you should not have tried? Of course not! Sometimes, even failed efforts produce surprising results, besides being instructive and educational. I had tried my hand at sowing some garlic, and though I could never grow a single bulb of it, I did manage to get some soft leaves of garlic that turned out be great for making chutneys! So it was not a total loss. Those chutneys were delicious, and I am looking forward to growing garlic again soon, this time in not-so-shallow a pot.
  7. Try composting. I must confess I have not yet been able to do it, but I am planning to do it quite soon. This helps you to make a contribution towards the environment by using your leftover food, vegetable and fruit peels and other food wastes to make organic fertilizer for your plants. This make stout plants grow faster and healthier. For instructions on composting, click here.
  8. Do it with friends/neighbours. If you can form a group or community with your friends and neighbours, you can actually enjoy the hole process manyfold. When you become good at it, you can even barter some produce and feel like a true farmer! Not to mention all the money that you save! It’s been a year since we have paid for mint and curry leaves, and very soon our tomatoes and chillies will also become more generous.

In the end, it is all about having a kitchen garden that is a source of both joy and healthy food. I find that things grown in my own humble terrace kitchen garden are more delicious. They bring more than produce to my life – they are my very own and personal connection to Mother Earth and her bounty. You can choose to attach as much or as little meaning to your home-grown vegetables, but you will not be able to deny the freshness and nutrition that they bring to your daily plate of food. And after all, we are what we eat.

About the Author:

Prerna Kumar is a Tarot Card Reader, Life Guide, Healer and Writer. She works with crystals and energy healing too. She loves reading and writing, and is a big fan of the superhero culture. She loves her work both as a Guide/Healer and a Writer, as it allows her to help people, express herself and also to grow as a person.
Check out her blog at www.myquestformyself.blogspot.com and her Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/PrernaTarotHealing.


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Vegan Chocolate Truffles

truffles-1-4

Our guest blogger Nupur Dave writes about being a vegetarian abroad and shares with us, a delicious Dark Chocolate Truffle recipe. Click here to read the recipe on her blog.

The smell of meat fills the office shuttle.

I turn around in my seat, twice. The first time to check if it is really meat he is eating, and the second time after I muster up courage to say “Sir, is that meat? The smell is overwhelming”. This time, I did not want to let it go. Last month my co-workers steak was killing me, and I had suffered in silence sitting opposite him, holding my breath.

The man in the bus complies, but only for a few minutes. He resumes huddling over his to-go box, tearing the chicken, re-filling the bus with the stench. My opinion does not matter to him.

I am a vegetarian by birth. I don’t eat meat, fish or eggs. I don’t touch meat and I am strict about it. Easy enough in India, incredibly hard outside.

It is a warm Sunday morning, when I groggily enter south beach cafe to wake myself up with its vast breakfast menu. I quickly gather from the menu that my only choice is the club sandwich, ordered specially vegetarian. I am hungry so I chirp my special order and look eagerly at the waitress. The waitress raises an eyebrow. She hesitates, then declares the sandwich cannot be made vegetarian, because they are too busy on weekends.

I am speechless. This is ridiculous. I’m not asking them to do a chicken dance; I just want a sandwich without meat. My lady is firm in her resolve. No special vegetarian orders will be honoured. Anger bubbles inside me, and I hide my face by looking down at the menu card. What is wrong with these people? Why am I given step-child treatment? The impatient waitress flashes a plastic smile, and her eyes convey, “make up your mind quickly or just get out”.

I order a cafe’ latte. I am intolerant to milk, but this cafe’ leaves me with no choice. Suddenly, I get a phone call! I grab my purse and storm out of the cafe, glancing back to mouth an unfelt “thanks” to the waitress. I think I’ll just eat at home.

I was lucky I got to go home. My worst experiences have been away from home, while flying, where there is no escape. Once, on a 15 hour flight to Sydney, an airline (that rhymes with ‘Ignited’), offered me a choice between ‘Chicken Something 1 and Chicken Something 2’.

Where is my Vegetarian meal?”, I asked. I had specifically opted for a vegetarian meal in my flight details. The stewardess was indifferent and arrogant. I got neither an apology nor food from her. I survived the 15 hour flight on the generosity of my co-passengers who gave me their fruit bowls and some bread. It drove me furious. I sent a flaming email to the customer service. How would anyone be so insensitive and arrogant to think everyone eats meat? Why am I treated like a second class citizen because I am vegetarian? I got no answer.

I’ve been meat-abused many times before: Meat carelessly served as Vegetarian; Waiters turn hostile; Hosts feel hurt; “Change your gloves” is taken as an insult and no, a ‘cheese burger’ actually has meat in it!  I trust no one. I always check my meals like a squirrel, digging around to see signs of unfamiliar texture, before I eat it. It is an ordeal to eat out with co-workers. I’ve been dragged to sea food restaurants for elaborate team dinners, job interviews in steak houses, all justified by “you’ll find something vegetarian”.

The attitude towards vegetarians varies. It is sometimes that of pity, like “She eats only vegetables”, or mockery “You’ll never know how heavenly bacon tastes”, or the idea of vegetarian is incomprehensible “Why can’t she pick the chicken out of the salad and eat the salad?”. Occasionally an understanding person, will put forward a “I hope this doesn’t bother you”. The gentler ones are curious about I’ve lived without meat and protein. Well, good morning, there is a life without meat! I have my wholesome Indian meal of daal, roti and a variety of lip smacking subji’s, and I miss nothing.

Fake meat is a concept, opened for the community of meat-giveuppers. It works for them, but is a concept I cannot digest. I wouldn’t eat anything called ‘vegan sausage’  just like teetotallers don’t drink ‘root beer’.  What’s the logic, you would ask me? Well, none, other than the rhetorical question of “Why would I want to eat anything that tastes like meat?”. “How yuck”, I would say, shuddering.

Then, there are the pseudo vegetarians. They call themselves the ovo-lacto-fisho-eggo vegetarians, who “almost never usually eat meat”, except chicken or fish if they were stranded on an island. They are often stranded on an island. I learnt one day, that it is better to stick to your principles 100% of the time than 99%. Which is why I wonder the psychic of an almost-vegetarian.  Perhaps, there is no right or wrong. As a ‘Brahmin’, I am supposed to be vegetarian, but in ancient india, the Brahmins themselves ate meat while they lived in the forests. So I shouldn’t judge. I have taught myself that choices of diet are like religion. Don’t discuss, don’t convert.

But yet, I am proud. Perhaps the discipline of maintaining a certain lifestyle, makes a person feel strongly about it. Abstaining from say, eggs, doesn’t require much willpower, but the rule itself makes me feel in control of myself. The frugality of certain foods has defined me as a person. I am proud to say “I am a vegetarian, no eggs”.

Nupur Dave works at Google and lives in San Francisco. For the last 2 years she’s been a keen foodie and blogs regularly on various experiences and food.

 

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