Cool Buddies

Footprint [by Sharada]

Posted in Animals, Environment, Life by Ratheesh & Sharada on August 8, 2009

I was sitting on my bed this morning sipping lychee twirl, one of my favorite flavors of juice and was wondering how this fruit looks like. It occurred to me that I have never seen or eaten it except for this juice or in ice cream flavors. I have no idea where it came from, where it is grown, how it is prepared. My mind was then drawn back to my childhood when I have drank a lot of juices – apple, pineapple, mango, chikoo.. Somehow lychee never has been in this list. Then I decided to do a small activity – making a list of all the items used in a normal day and trying to figure out how it landed into my hands. We use a lot of things everyday, we take a lot of things for granted, have we ever thought how much it might have taken to bring it to us in the form we are using and how this would directly or indirectly impact nature. We might dismiss this as an insignificant part of the colossal damage, however, on closer look we will be really surprised to know. 

  • Wake up to the sound of alarm – as simple as it might sound, sound of an alarm is one of the loudest and most disturbing sounds early in the morning. It might not hurt our ears as much as it might disturb a bird’s nest next to our window and confuse the poor creature
  • Toothpaste – Choose from a whole range of tooth pastes, blue, red, white.. whatever. Ever wondered what goes into making one (they almost never publish all the ingredients. Most of them that do not claim to be vegetarian have bone powder) and the process involves animal testing to ensure it does not harm human beings (I have never understood how we can conclude if it doesn’t harm an animal it doesn’t harm us, we are so different in constitution compared to an animal). And animal testing does not merely involve brushing a monkey’s teeth twice a day and see if they shine. It means the animal is fed enormous quantities of these chemicals till they show serious of some damage. And to produce one type of tooth paste, it might take thousands of animals who spend their whole lives in a small cage and eat tooth pastes all day!
  • Toothbrush – Tooth brushes are made of plastic, so as you change them every 3-4 months, you keep piling up plastics all your life (by the time you’re 30, you would approximately have used and thrown 90 brushes!). And we can only imagine what chemical reaction the plastic of the tooth brush would undergo when it comes in contact with tooth paste. And, if this did not manage to wake you up, the next one would for sure.
  • Coffee / Tea with milk and sugar – If you are buying coffee /tea powder directly from the place that grows and packs them, you are one of the blessed ones. If you are one of the not-so-lucky ones who buy from the supermarket, you might be buying Mexican coffee, thai tea from all the way round the world. Needless to mention, this would waste a lot of money and energy bringing it all the way to your country. Sugar (processed sugar) uses animal bones to make them white and sparkling (remember what they do to your teeth?). Buying packed milk, whether it is tetra packed or the most hygienically packed, would still come with a lot of unwanted pus, add-ons to make them white and creamy, and the poor cow would have to stand all her life and keep on supplying milk to feed the growing (human) population, so she is pumped with antibiotics and steroids to make her produce more and more milk. And it is better not to ask what happens to her calves, they are taken away almost as soon as they are born for the veal (tender skin)
  • Morning walk in the park – Now you might think, for once, this cannot be of any harm! This is what I used to believe. Of course, my joy didn’t last too long. While we listen to our favourite songs on the iPod and walk or jog, we are unknowingly trampling on a lot of tiny creepy crawlies (caterpillars, snails, small insects). They do not know a “park” is for fooling humans to believe there is some greenery amidst the busy city traffic and that it is better to keep away from these artificial grass and trimmed bushes.
  • Newspaper – This is an obvious one; think of all the paper that goes into making these pages and for what? One day worth of some news and a lot of ads! Of course we recycle them, don’t we? Some of us might do that, but once the trees are cut, we cannot grow them back from paper pulp!
  • Breakfast (bread, cheese, veggies, Tropicana juice) – We are not talking about homemade bread, cheese or juice. Most of them come from supermarkets and again might not be locally made. If you are using veggies that are homegrown or bought from local villagers, give yourself a pat on your back. Most of us buy exotic veggies (non-seasonal) from supermarket stores, just because they are made available and they look “fresh” and “colorful”, which means the supermarkets and giving a tough competition to the local vegetable vendor or the push-cart vendors who toil all day in the hot sun to make a few bucks.
  • Bath (water, soap, shampoo) – If we are having “bath” the Indian way, we would use one bucket (approx 20 litres) of water. If we consider this very “uncool” and try to mimic the west here, we would use a “shower” which means we waste more water than we use. And this actually means denying pure water to some unfortunate people who would have saved it for drinking. Because the water that comes out of the tap is not recycled water, it is fresh water from our rivers. What the heck, we pay for it right? Of course we do, but that does not give us the liberty to waste it. There might come a day very soon where we might not even be able to get pure water for drinking. Ever wondered where the soaps / shampoo / detergent or any other chemicals we use go after we have flushed them down the drain? More often than not, they join back rivers and lakes and pollute them. So the next time you pick up a shampoo that promises to make your hair soft and silky, just turn the bottle around and look for the ingredients. You might find some cryptic names that you would not even have come across in your chemistry lab. And most of these companies do animal testing to make sure the chemicals don’t harm us, or cause cancer (which means the animals are made to pay with their whole life undergoing lot of pain and suffering just for our silky soft hair)
  • Dress up (clothes, hair gel, sunscreen, makeup) – Talking of clothes, let’s admit it, we are all brand freaks, aren’t we? Given a choice between a locally made cotton shirt and a cool Lee / Levi shirt, which one would you pick? (no points for guessing that the former would cost a lot lesser). Make up, hair gel, sunscreen, body spray or any other beauty or grooming products would mean unless you are careful to research about the parent company that manufactures it, you would be buying foreign products and /or the company might be doing animal testing. No company would admit that they do animal testing, they never show how the product was manufactured, and they always hide it behind the flawless face of the models that are trying to sell them. So all you see is this model, who looks absolutely out of the world and a product that would take you there.
  • Mobile phone – The radiations from the mobile phone towers and devices are harmful for health. Not just that, they might be interfering with the frequencies that other animals and birds use for communication. They can also have harmful effects on their tender brain.
  • Travel to office (bike / car) – Most of us use petrol / diesel run cars and bikes. This would mean, pumping a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We all know about the ever increasing problems caused by the greenhouse gases. So this is definitely a killer. And we are burning away fossil fuels at an alarming rate, as you can imagine, this has become a very precious commodity with wars being fought over them.
  • At the office (AC , Computers, generator, coffee cups, paper napkins, paper for printing) –  Let us take a typical corporate office as an example, we are enclosed in a building covered by glass on all sides (not necessarily windows) with AC running 24 / 7. And we wouldn’t be aware of power cuts since there is always a generator or a battery backup to keep the AC running. Most offices also come with a pantry with a coffee machine, with use-and-throw paper / plastic cups, paper napkins, which means a lot of paper used per day and a lot of garbage generated with little concern about where it goes. And the glass buildings are a major contributor towards global warming and not just that, they confuse birds that fly right into them and smash their brains in the process.
  • Lunch / snacks (eat outside in an eatery) – .We are more and more mimicking the western culture of use-and-throw. Even traditional restaurants use a lot of paper / plastic utensils to serve food (for hygienic purposes) which results in a large amount of garbage which is not bio-degradable. In good old days, the hotels would refuse to pack food if we did not carry a container for the liquids and most packing was in old newspapers. Now things have changed, plastic bags have taken over due to their convenience for both the hotel owners and the consumers. These days it is difficult to convince them to not give you a plastic bag.
  • Grocery shopping (supermarket, packed food) – On the way home from office, you pass in front of the supermarket and decide to stop for some shopping. Of course, you did not expect this, so you are not carrying a bag for the stuff you buy. No sweat, the shop owners are more than happy to pack the stuff in plastic bags. I remember a store near my house which had become unpopular because they frown when people ask for a plastic bag, they would expect people to bring their own bags. Next time you shop, just spend a few minutes examining the stuff you just bought. I bet most of it would be packed food! We are again aping the western culture here; in good old days you would have cooked most of these at home and maybe never even heard about the rest of them.
  • Watch TV (news, ads) – We are stuffed with 24 / 7 news these days. And we spend more time watching commercials than actually watching a movie or a program. Even prime time news is not spared; they are forced to take a break for the commercials. When was the last time you got a chance to complete a movie in one and half hours? We are bombarded with unwanted information all the time, this adds to our mental clutter. It makes us feel dissatisfied with our lives and leaves us a hope that buying that brand of washing machine would improve our family relations and get us sparkling homes with white spotless walls!
  • Dinner (for a change, home cooked) – We are totally dependent on gadgets in our kitchen to get things done and most of them require electricity. Gone are the days when cooking would take hours since it involved hand grinding, kneading, powdering etc. Now, it seems we are totally equipped to finish cooking in no time with all the latest gadgets that do the work for us, when we can sit back and relax! (unless there is a power cut)
  • Sleep (fan, cooler / heater, AC) – Global Warming is a big word, it is meant to be talked about in conferences by world leaders, it does not affect us common people. Right? Wrong! Have you noticed that you use the fan more often that you used to around five years ago? That you are saving up for an AC and want to escape the heat. Just five years ago, we had not heard of middle class home having AC, but now it has become a common practice especially in hot cities. This is a vicious cycle, since using these gadgets increase global warming, and we cannot stop using them because of the rise of temperature which is due to global warming! 

Whew! Finally, we have completed our guilt-trip through the day and it is time for some rest after all the brain churning facts related to seemingly innocent day-to-day acts. While we are having that much needed sleep, let us go over to the other side, to a village and get a perspective of a daily life of a farmer. Of course I am no farmer and have never lived in a village, but this is how I would imagine it to be like (the example chosen here might be an idealistic village which is not modernized and where people are self-sufficient) – 

  • Wake up to the sound of cock-a-doodle-doo!
  • Chew on neem sticks from the backyard for cleaning and polishing teeth
  • Fresh cow’s milk from your family cow which is lovingly brought up in a lot of space for grazing around freely all day and the milk is taken only after the calf had enough
  • Morning walk is not needed (since rest of the day is not spent sitting in a place) J
  • Simple breakfast of ganji (starch water from the cooked rice seasoned with some salt and pepper powder). The rice is grown in the land which is harvested by the farmer
  • Bathe in local pond without using soap or shampoo
  • Wear simple cotton clothes which is made by cotton grown in the village and made locally by weavers
  • Go to work by walk or by bicycle
  • On the way to work, meet up with a few friends and catch up on the news
  • Physical work to till the land from morning till evening
  • For lunch have home-packed ragi balls with sambhar made out of seasonal vegetables grown in the backyard
  • On the way back home, pay a visit to local fair (santhe) and pick up some basic stuff needed for home
  • Chat with friends, play some games for entertainment
  • Have a simple dinner cooked from home grown ingredients
  • Sleep outside on the porch with the cool breeze 

Now, you might protest saying that you are no farmer and you are born and brought up in a city and your life is tied closely to the city and your job is in the city. So obviously cannot go back to a village life. I totally agree and respect this. But this was just a comparison to show how simple life can be and how we complicate it with unwanted goods. Let us now see what we can do to improvise on our city life to be as close as possible to a self-sufficient village life. We cannot achieve 100% but you would be surprised to know how small changes can make a huge difference. 

  • Try switching to natural way to clean your teeth, it could be neem sticks (perfect) or atleast go for a tooth paste that is vegetarian and does not test on animals and manufactured locally (in the same country)
  • Use soap / shampoo / detergents that are locally made, contain organic or natural ingredients (lesser chemicals) and have certified that they do not test on animals
  • Try to resist temptation to buy news paper, instead subscribe to a e-paper or headlines
  • Buy coffee / tea from its source (coffee / tea plantations) and avoid using milk, use brown (unprocessed) sugar or jaggery
  • If you have a garden space, grow your own vegetables or else buy from farmers directly whenever possible (do not get fooled by corporates that claim to help farmers by buying from them directly, make sure this claim is well supported by facts). Use seasonal vegetables and fruits only. If you do not know of a source from where villagers are directly helped, then buy them from the next door vegetable vendor or push cart vendors (instead of supermarkets)
  • Always choose locally made products, grocery instead of branded, foreign items sold in supermarkets. Most of them are available locally and will work out cheaper too. Try and avoid packed / canned food, more often than not they contain chemicals to preserve them which might be harmful
  • Consciously minimize water usage all the time (washing, bathing etc)
  • Always carry a bag for shopping, as a rule. If no bag, then no shopping
  • It is cool to go to work on a bicycle. It is not just cool, it is healthier option too
  • Always buy locally manufactured clothes, shoes etc. Also take care to avoid leather, silk, animal fur etc. Do not go for branded stuff
  • Whenever possible make best use of natural air and light in homes and offices
  • In office, be proud to sport your own snazzy mug instead of using paper cups

 All these are simple yet very effective ways to help the world in our own small ways. It just requires some amount of extra research to find out the alternate products and requires some extra effort to turn off that tap when not needed. But it goes a long way.


One Response

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  1. umi said, on August 17, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    great article. im proud of ya.

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