Action expresses priorities. – Gandhi


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.

 


4 Comments

Catch It If You Can

Rainwater harvesting involves accumulating and storing water either for immediate use, using storage tanks above or below ground; or for future use through recharging groundwater. This article discusses rainwater harvesting for both immediate and future use purposes.

saree rwh

Saree based rain water harvesting.

Storage of rainwater for use is an age-old technique – small collection dams/ponds featured thousands of years ago. Ancient Romans were prolific in rainwater harvesting – each home had its own cistern, storing rainwater for domestic uses. Farmers of Rajasthan and Gujarat have also been practicing rainwater harvesting through the use of several small percolation tanks or talabs and jheels for a long long time. However, the present times have seen a decline in this technique: urbanization, intensive agriculture and industrialization has meant a centralized water management system using modern technology for its supply and treatment.

Why harvest rainwater?

If our previous generations were tapping into groundwater, their capabilities were limited by human and bullock power. These limitations are now overcome with the development of diesel or electric pumps that can extract groundwater at a rate far exceeding that of recharge. 2/3rds of the country is declared as drought-prone, water wars are underway already. We really can’t afford to waste a pure form of water which is freely available to us from nature.

Most of our current water requirements in cities are either met by 1) the municipal water supply system

    Trains bringing 6 million litres of water everyday from Jodhpur to 400,000 people in Pali, in Rajashtan.*

Trains bringing 6 million litres of water everyday from Jodhpur to 400,000 people in Pali, in Rajashtan.*

and/or 2) through digging private bore-wells. The municipal water supply system works on a network of pipelines fetching water primarily from dams. Water losses through these pipelines are tremendous -leakages and foul play with valves are the major culprits of an erratic supply of water for city dwellers. The newer buildings these days do away with the dependency on the municipal water by digging their own bore-wells. A bore-well is a long narrow well that is drilled deep into the ground to access underground water. The bore-hole is covered with a pump to prevent contamination and to ease access. The water is then pumped up for use. Unsustainable extraction eventually leads to a dried up bore-well, which may take up to 150 years to recharge naturally. So what can we do to sustain water supply in bore-wells? Just make the most of the monsoons and recharge your bore-well. If recharged appropriately, it will not only help with water quantity for the dry months but will also improve water quality.

So, what exactly is involved in harvesting this water?

Rainwater harvesting typically involves collecting and storing rainwater runoff from rooftops via rain gutters that channel the water to your tank or bore-well. Most apartments already have gutters and pipes which channel the water off the roofs, and onto the ground (to prevent flooding of roofs). How many times do we see these pipes gushing beautiful fresh water directly onto our tarmac compounds, simply to drain away into the sea!! What is needed instead, is a mechanism by which this rainwater can be diverted into the bore-well and hence stored.

Is this harvested water clean?

While rainwater is pure and clean, it may become contaminated during collection, from airborne particulates or other suspended particulates which settle onto rooftops. A mechanism by which the first flush of rainwater is discarded can easily be designed to solve this problem.In the case of storage tanks, it is crucial to ensure that the tanks are properly engineered/sealed to screen out mosquitoes. Depending on whether rainwater is used for drinking, cleaning or gardening purposes, an appropriate level of filtration is required. Equally, if rainwater is being used to recharge groundwater, it is essential to ensure that clean water is making its way in.

Whether to store rainwater in a storage tank or use it to recharge groundwater?

This depends on the rainfall pattern in your city – if you get rain during the 3-4 months of monsoon, then recharging your groundwater is a better option as a tank has limited capacity for storage. If rainfall occurs most of the times of the year, a tank would be better, as you are constantly using the water and preventing the tank from overflow. Other deciding factors include your current water setup (borewell, tubewell or municipal supply), requirements (for gardening, drinking, toilets etc.), space availability, slope and the geo-morphology. Generally speaking, sites in Pune and Mumbai are better suited to groundwater recharge.

Recharging borewell

Recharging borewell

For recharging groundwater (through borewells):

The diagram here shows you a basic model. Depending on the quality of water, several filtration mechanisms can be built into the design.

For storing in a rainwater tank: Tanks come in a range of sizes, shapes, colours and materials.

rain water tanks

Above Ground Tanks

Above ground tanks are an easy installation and low cost option, provided that space is easily available. Slimline tanks for example, can fit nicely against a wall or behind a house. Often extraction of water doesn’t even need a pump, gravity can work its magic.

Below ground water tank

Below ground water tank

Below ground tanks are more expensive but also provide more capacity for water storage, and don’t get in the way. They however do need a pump for extraction. Just as a point of interest, these tanks are extremely common in Gujarat, especially in the traditional “haveli” houses.

Whom to contact?

You need to contact a rainwater harvesting consultant. They survey your area and provide you with the most appropriate design for your location. I personally know a very experienced consultant who works in projects in Mumbai and Pune. His charges are between Rs 5000-Rs 10,000 depending on the type of apartment or business. This includes the survey and the designing. Construction costs are separate and depend on your setup. Contact details: Dr Umesh Mundlye: drumundlye@rediffmail.com

Another contact for Pune is Mr S.G. Dalvi. For queries, you can email him on: parjanya48@yahoo.com or check out the website by clicking here. The website lists out projects and costs involved as well.

Please keep your comments/suggestions coming on the blog!

* Photos and diagrams based on Dr Umesh Mundlye’s presentation on Rainwater Harvesting.


Leave a comment

Rustic Art’s Story

Rustic Art Founders

Rustic Art Founders

Green OK Please speaks to Entrepreneur Swati Maheshwari, founder of Satara-based Rustic Art – a brand of Organic, Natural & Handmade products with a range of everyday use products that are free from chemicals.

When and how did the idea of this business come about? How did your team come together? Who/What was the inspiration behind it?



We started the groundwork in late 2010 and officially incorporated the company, Erina Eco Craft Pvt Ltd, in early 2011. We started off with only organic bathing soaps and slowly expanded our range of products. 

My aunt, Sunita Jaju and I started this venture out of our sheer love for natural products. She has a Master’s in Sustainable Development and is a die-hard environmentalist. I am a Communications Consultant by profession. Apart from us, we have our friends who help us in designing, marketing, etc.
We very much inclined towards finding green alternatives to regular, day-to-day products and we wanted to share the same with others. It started with the simple idea of making a pure and completely organic choice of personal care products for the market. The initial response was over whelming and since then there is no looking back!

What are your views on organic living in India?

Indian culture is organic and eco-friendly in its original form. We had been living a completely organic lifestyle for centuries and centuries since everything was sourced from nature be it food or personal care products. However, post the British rule, the situation became different and the Western culture influenced our lifestyle to a great extent. That is when use of synthetic products became rampant. Today, there are certain organizations and people who are trying to create awareness and take us back to the roots, but the number is very small. It is ironic that India needs to re-learn its own philosophy and culture.  

However, government has not yet taken any major initiatives to support non-commercial, small manufacturers. So far, the organic/natural products industry is quote fashion driven. It is ‘cool’ to be ecofriendly.

What are the main challenges your organisation faces?



The struggle that we faced initially and even now is the lack of awareness among people. They don’t understand the difference between organic / natural / chemical based products. They are not aware of how harmful these chemicals are. A recent study shows that chemicals used in day-to-day products are responsible for genital abnormalities in newborns. (Reference: Read here)
Most of the chemicals are either carcinogenic, or cheap cleansing material with toxic substances that should not be absorbed by the skin. Also, when the water rinses off these substances from our bodies, that rinsed water becomes toxic too. That is harmful for the environment.
If you notice, most ‘soaps’ are termed as ‘beauty bar’, ‘bathing bar’, etc and not soaps on their labels. This is because; technically they are not soaps at all. Soap is something that has been ‘saponified’ – the reaction between an alkali and oil. The alkali here is ‘lye’ or sodium hydroxide and oil can be coconut oil / olive oil, etc. To complete the saponification process, it takes minimum 3 weeks – to cure. This ‘saponified’ soap contains molecules that repel dirt and molecules that moisturize the skin. However, most commercial soaps are made of harsh surfactants and contain chemicals like SLS, SLeS, Triclosan, etc

Another challenge is to reach out to a wider market. A little bit more awareness among the people about why they should go for greener alternative is important. However, there is an increased interest in organic and natural products lately. Also, we are small manufactures, so sourcing eco-friendly packaging material can be difficult.

What is your planned business model? What is its aim?

Rustic Art Hand Made Soaps

Rustic Art Hand Made Soaps

We entered this industry because even those who wanted to use greener alternatives to synthetic products could not do so due to lack of availability of ready-to-use eco-friendly products. Using soap nuts as an alternative to soap and detergent is a tedious task. 

The objective of Rustic Art was never to make money. The objective was to share the goodness of nature! So we are doing that and Rustic Art is a very honest effort. We are promoting ‘sustainable living’ through Rustic Art and we are happy to just about sustain while doing so.

Our raw materials are sourced from organic farms in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We do not have any stand alone store of our own. We sell only through retailers and online-sellers in select cities like Pune, Mahabaleshwar, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad. At present, our turnover is Rs 6 lakh a month. But we expect to break even in another 2 years.

Share with us one shocking enviro fact – the one that impacted you the most. 

Almost all of the regular personal care products contain SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) – a chemical which is ideal for cleansing grease because it is nothing but a very harsh surfactant or a detergent. It is present not only in your soaps and shampoos, but also in your toothpaste, detergents, et al. SLS and SLeS are used by manufacturers because it is inexpensive and acts as a great foaming agent. Their use can have a negative effect on you since they are capable of causing damage to hair follicle, permanent eye damage and liver impairment. 

Majority of liquid soaps (face wash, hand wash and body wash) contain Triclosan – for the fragrance and as an anti-bacterial element. It is also used in kitchenware cleaners. Triclosan is a Chlorophenol, a class of chemicals believed to cause cancer in humans. Parabens, found in various beauty products, are known to increase the risk of breast cancer among women.

Share with us one environmental tip that always stays with you – an environmental tip that others can also inculcate into their lives.

1. Buy bigger packs of groceries to save paper / packaging material
2. Always read ingredient list of whatever personal care products you buy.
3. Do not blindly buy products that you may not need. Till about 15 years ago, we used only home made products on new born babies and children. The same can be done now instead of splurging on unnecessary, chemical based products for your children.
4. Reduce, reuse, recycle – every little thing.

To buy Rustic Art products – check out our store.


Leave a comment

Being Vegan

This article is written by Madhavi Vaidya – a Biochemist, yoga practitioner, golfer and a self-appointed Chef. She writes about being vegan. You can check out her blog for her delicious recipes. I for one cannot wait to buy her forthcoming cookbook – Food for the Heart that will be launched next month!

What is a vegan diet?

Vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients. It is a plant based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and an infinite number of foods made by combining them. Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs and dairy products. Others will not use honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products for ethical reasons.

Why vegan?

Barley Vegetable Soup with Seasame Tortilla chips or flatbread.

Barley Vegetable Soup with Seasame Tortilla chips or flatbread.

People choose to be vegan for health, environmental, and/or ethical reasons. For example, some vegans feel that one promotes the meat industry by consuming eggs and dairy products. That is, once dairy cows or egg-laying chickens are too old to be productive, they are often sold as meat; and since male calves do not produce milk, they usually are raised for veal or other products. Some people avoid these items because of conditions associated with their production.
Many vegans choose this lifestyle to promote a more humane and caring world. They know they are not perfect, but believe they have a responsibility to try to do their best, while not being judgmental of others.

How can vegans/vegetarians get their protein?

It is believed that vegans or even vegetarians don’t have enough protein. This is not true as long as the calorie intake is adequate and the diet has a lot of variety. For example, you cannot  be eating just pasta or soy products. Almost all foods except alcohol, sugar, and fats provide protein. Vegan sources include: lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peas, peanut butter, soy milk, almonds, spinach, rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, broccoli, kale to name a few.

Turnips with Sesame and Lime

Turnips with Sesame and Lime

What made you convert?

I was so convinced by what I read in Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study and Dr. Esselstyn’s book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, that my husband and I decided to become vegan. The trigger was the fact that my husband had a multiple bypass surgery, which called for a change of lifestyle. There is compelling evidence in the research study conducted by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, which convinced us of the importance of a plant-based diet. Being a Biochemist with profound interest in health and nutrition, I saw how closely our diet is related to disease. As Dr. Esselstyn says, if you follow this diet strictly you can be ‘heart attack proof”. That’s a loaded statement and I am convinced after reading all the research done over the last 25 years.
All animal products are very high in fat, which leads to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. These are the lifestyle diseases of today which did not exist 50 years ago. Fat, sugar and salt are the bane of our diet today. The food industry has made sure we are hooked on them. They make food tasty, albeit artificially. We have lost the taste for natural foods. We cannot eat anything unless it is laden with sauces, dressings or syrups. We relish the natural flavors of fruits and vegetables and eat lots of raw greens with a sprinkle of lemon or orange juice. There are 2000 types of fruits and vegetables out there!

What changes have you made in your kitchen?

I have started cooking differently and become more creative too. There is such a variety of lentils and legumes that I make them into casseroles with brown rice or barley. If you are making dal add some spinach to it. Add greens to your chole or beans. Make a salad with sprouts. The possibilities are unlimited if you look for it. I have put down all this in my forthcoming cookbook, Food for the Heart that will be launched in July this year.

Madhavi Vaidya

Madhavi Vaidya

About the author of this article:
I am 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. I have been living in Wooster, Ohio for 3 years now and have discovered how much I love cooking.


1 Comment

The Big Deal About GMOs

Genetically engineered seeds have been proposed as the second green revolution in India for a few decades now following the first green revolution of high yield seeds, and increase in fertilizer and irrigation from the 1960s (The Economist 2014).  This claim is based on the increasing scientific consensus on their potential for meeting food security requirements of a growing population and the threats of climate change. However, depending on where you live, you may or may not be aware of just how much of your food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and here in lies the essential problem for consumers: the difficulties in making an informed decision. This article outlines some of the pitfalls of genetically engineered food crops and what we can do as consumers to choose what we eat.

What are GMOs?
GMOs are those whose DNA structures have been manipulated to achieve a variety of outcomes: pest and weather resistance or improved nutrient loads are some examples. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature, and is experimental. The correct scientific term is “transgenics,” and is also often referred to as genetically engineered (GE).

What are the pitfalls?
While the contributions to food security, in pure supply terms, is obvious there are many pitfalls to the adoption of GE crops at present.
First, most GE seeds are developed by chemical and pesticide manufacturers since these crops require a whole slew of their own pesticides and other inputs (GM Watch 2014). The Monsanto Corporation’s ‘Roundup Ready’ technology have caused widespread outrage with their terminator seeds that prevent farmers from saving seeds to use across cultivation cycles (MIT 2014). While the first green revolution was government and international aid funded, the second is agribusiness led and this makes it problematic for many (Shiva 2000, Patel 2007).

Roundup Ready Bt-Cotton Maharashtra

Roundup Ready Bt-Cotton Maharashtra

Second, the resources required to grow GE crops are also much greater than traditional crops. GE crops almost always do better with monoculture style farming in large areas and require vast inputs of land, water, pesticides and fertilizer. There is a need to weigh the externalities of these crops that have so far been ignored. For example, over the past decade plus of BT cotton farming in India, the large increase in farmer suicides have been linked to insurmountable debts incurred in the purchase of pesticides, fertilizer, and seeds (Patel 2007, Sainath 2012, Shiva 2014).
Third, many researchers of food systems have shown that scarcity in food supply is in large part due to the politics and economics of distribution. A recent statistic reports that India suffers the loss of 21 million tonnes of wheat per year with the presence of 200 million ‘food-insecure” people (Johnson and Walters 2014). Amartya Sen’s work on the Bengal famines of the 19th century found there was more than enough food in India’s granaries to avoid those outcomes but were hoarded by the ruling elites (Sen 1981). Much more recently, in light of the National Food Security Act (Right to Food) of 2013, the Public Distribution System has been accused of corruption and inefficiencies (Dhume 2013). Finally, people with severe dietary deficiencies have them because they are unable to afford food not because it runs out (Patel 2007). Improving the food supply with a technological fix that benefits the well placed should not be favored over restructuring efforts.
Finally, due to the lack of labelling requirements, the health and food security benefits of GMOs are difficult to measure. We don’t really know if our food security can be bolstered by genetically engineering food or by making better policies or both. While there is starting to be some consensus on the safety of GE food, there have been no long term studies of the effects of these foods (Genetic Literacy Project 2013). We also do not know the extent to which our food is already genetically modified. In the USA, over 70 percent of food contains GMO sources and there are no labelling requirements for such foods. In India, no food crops have had sustained GMO trials and the Maharashtra government was forced to abandon BT Brinjal trials after widespread protests in 2010 (Nature 2012).
There is immense pressure on governments of developing nations including India to ‘modernize’ agriculture and solve food security issues by introducing GMO crops. Monsanto has signed memorandums of understanding with a number of state governments in India. Regional trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership will further reduce the resistance of governments to agriculture and food policies that favor multinational corporations.

What can consumers do?

GMO Crops

GMO Crops

As consumers without much insight into the complexities of food supply and labelling rules we need to stay aware to be able to make informed choices. For example, avoiding foods or oils from soy or canola which are the most genetically modified crops is a start. Some food producers are proactively labeling food as ‘NON GMO’ so paying closer attention to labels is advisable. All food crops, including organic varieties, have pesticides so finding local growers who can answer questions on inputs and process helps immensely. Finally, the onus on staying aware and always seeking out knowledge about our food is always on us.

About the author:
Lekha Knuffman has a background in environmental governance and human behavior. She spends her time tending to her canine and human charges and fighting her habits of consumption by being more mindful of the environment and the lives of others.

With contributions from: 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 agrarian development in the South Asian region.

References
(GM Watch 2014) http://www.gmwatch.org/index.php/articles/gm-firms (accessed on June 5th 2014).
(Dhume 2013) New Delhi’s Hunger Games. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323393804578557050745156758
(Patel 2007) Stuffed and Starved: The hidden battle for the world food system. Melville House Publishing, Brooklyn, NY.
(Johnson and Walters 2014) Food Security. In Gill, Martin (Ed.) The Handbook of Security [Second Edition]. Palgrave McMillan, London, pp.404-427.
(MIT 2014) web.mit.edu/demoscience/Monsanto/about.html (accessed on June 6th 2014)
(Shiva 2000) Stolen Harvest: The hijacking of the global food supply. South End Press, Cambridge, MA.
(Shiva 2014) Seed Monopolies, GMOs and Farmer Suicides in India. http://www.countercurrents.org/shiva100114.htm
(Sen 1981) Poverty and Famines: An essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford University Press, NY.
(The Economist 2014) http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21601850-technological-breakthroughs-rice-will-boost-harvests-and-cut-poverty-they-deserve-support
(Genetic Literacy Project 2013) http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21601850-technological-breakthroughs-rice-will-boost-harvests-and-cut-poverty-they-deserve-support (accessed on June 6th 2014)
(Nature 2012) http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/08/indian-parliamentary-panel-slams-gm-crops.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+news%2Frss%2Fnewsblog+%28News+Blog+-+Blog+Posts%29


Leave a comment

Happy Father’s Day!

It doesn’t have to be a festival of crackers or chemical-laden colours for us to have to try and be more conscious. This Sunday 15th June is Father’s Day and Green OK Please brings you a few ways to a green, healthy and happy daddy.

I always find it hard to choose the perfect gift for my father. The man has always given me whatever I asked for. I have to admit I have given him some pretty random gifts which included a home golf set, an electronic key finder, a tablet case, a phone case, a camera case amongst other things which I’m pretty sure found their way into a corner of a cabinet where other useless things lie until they gain some vintage value.  So this led me on a quest to find something that wasn’t just adding junk to the planet, but would actually be useful and sensible.
Here are some gift ideas for those of you who are in the same confusion:

Solar Chargers

Solar Chargers

  • Help Dad keep a check on his increasing electricity bills and dying gadget batteries. Solastica brings you a range of power banks, battery chargers for your cell phones, tablets, etc. Buy them at amazing discounts here.
  • Looking for something more personal – choose him a pair of boxers and a vest made from organic cotton and dyed using medicinal herbs. Throw in a large shower towel too.
  • For everyday use items, you could even add to his toiletry kit with this organic shaving bar or this shampoo.
  • Here’s a different version of the standard male gift – the wallet. These wallets are made of Tyvek paper which is durable, water resistant and eco friendly.
  • As daddy’s girl, you’re obviously extremely concerned about his health. For a lovely selection of natural wellness herbs and medicinal plants, you could check out Arundel Farms.

    Arundel Farms

    Arundel Farms

You could always buy your father a present but what would be really special is to make him something. Start the day with a lovely organic breakfast served to Papa in bed.
Here’s a special recipe that the lovely Divya Desa has posted on her blog specially for Green OK Please. Divya is a twenty something who has worked in the restaurant and entertainment business since she was barely legal. Her passion for all things delicious led her to experimenting with food and flavours, which she finally decided to start writing about.

Father's Day Breakfast

Father’s Day Breakfast

This recipe could be done with regular ingredients but is best served with fresh, organic ingredients.
For free range eggs, get Brown King eggs and Happy Hens – both are cage free brands. You can get organic milk from ABC Farms and go to Govinds Dairy for milk, yogurt and butter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.