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Indian Sustainable Practices: Part 1

Among the mil­lions of species, we humans have now tak­en over the plan­e­tary dri­ving seat and we deter­mine the course of Earth’s jour­ney in the future. We have now entered the Anthro­pocene — an era where human­i­ty is shap­ing the entire bios­phere. The unprece­dent­ed glob­al chal­lenges that we are fac­ing today has not only been caused due to tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, but also due to irre­spon­si­ble and reck­less con­sump­tion. The great accel­er­a­tion of human pres­sure on the envi­ron­ment began in the mid 1950s with 3 bil­lion peo­ple and now we are 7 bil­lion of us. It is not just num­bers that is respon­si­ble for the dam­age, but the afflu­ence and extrav­a­gance that was cel­e­brat­ed by those who got on to the band­wag­on of indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. In this con­text, Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goal 12 which calls for Respon­si­ble Con­sump­tion is linked to all oth­er SDGs and it is this goal than we as glob­al cit­i­zens can direct­ly con­tribute towards.

India has the dual chal­lenge of includ­ing its entire pop­u­la­tion on the lad­der of devel­op­ment, at the same time ensur­ing that the devel­op­ment is with­in the plan­e­tary bound­aries. This com­plex task can­not be achieved only with mod­ern tech­nolo­gies, but with the wis­dom of our col­lec­tive cul­tur­al tra­di­tion. Indi­an tra­di­tion is the only ancient yet liv­ing tra­di­tion. Ancient, yet dynam­ic and con­stant­ly chang­ing with the times and rel­e­vance. Indi­an tra­di­tion has always been against over con­sump­tion of nat­ur­al resources or over indul­gence in the sens­es. This has been empha­sized on a per­son­al lev­el as “Apari­gra­ha”. Apari­gra­ha trans­lates to non — greed or non — avarice. It is the oppo­site of pari­grah, and refers to keep­ing the desire for pos­ses­sions to what is nec­es­sary or impor­tant, depend­ing on one’s life stage and con­text.

अहिंसासत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहाः यमाः ॥३०॥

  1. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.30

In the Sad­hana Pada of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Patan­jali explains the five Yamas, or dis­ci­plines that one must exer­cise for per­son­al growth. Apari­gra­ha is list­ed as the fifth Yama (dis­ci­pline). When the indi­vid­u­als in a nation uphold this prin­ci­ple, there can be accel­er­at­ed eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment with­out over con­sump­tion. Excess on one side always leads to deficit on the oth­er side. In case of excess, char­i­ty was prac­ticed instead of hoard­ing. Bharath was known as the land of “Daana” or offer­ing. The first Yama is Ahim­sa or non-vio­lence. Non-vio­lence has been looked at from the per­spec­tive of all beings on earth and the Earth itself and not from a human per­spec­tive alone. Exploita­tion of nature and nat­ur­al resources, inflict­ing harm direct­ly or indi­rect­ly on moth­er Earth, which leads to loss of habi­tat for oth­ers forms of life, and all oth­er eco­log­i­cal dam­ages that we cause today also were con­sid­ered Him­sa or vio­lence. Peo­ple in India revered and wor­shipped the rivers, moun­tains, ani­mals, and Moth­er Earth and con­scious­ly aligned their lifestyles in such as way as to cause lit­tle or no harm to the the beings around them.

If we observe close­ly our own cus­toms, we can see that sus­tain­abil­i­ty has been the basis of our way of life, and has been seam­less­ly woven into our dai­ly activ­i­ties.

Eating from a Banana leaf:

In most parts of India, food is served on a Banana leaf. This has been preva­lent since ancient times as it is hygien­ic and eas­i­ly dis­pos­able. The leaf has to be rinsed with water and it is not nec­es­sary to use soap. This keeps the food free from chem­i­cals. When hot food is placed on the leaf plate, nutri­ents emanate that fur­ther enrich it and adds aro­ma to the food. Nat­ur­al antiox­i­dants called polyphe­nols found in many plant based foods are abun­dant in banana leaves. Banana leaves are pre­ferred over oth­er leaves since they are big, thick and can car­ry sev­er­al dish­es eas­i­ly. They also have a nat­ur­al wax coat­ing which makes them water­proof. Cur­ries and gravies can be served on them and they won’t become sog­gy. Once the meal is over, it can be dis­posed direct­ly in the soil or in the com­post pit and it turns into soil with­in a few weeks.

On spe­cial occa­sions and large gath­er­ings, when food is served on banana leaves, it can tru­ly save earth from a lot of plas­tic pol­lu­tion. When we con­sid­er the amount of resources and ener­gy that goes into mak­ing dis­pos­able sty­ro­foam plates and the eco­log­i­cal con­se­quences that they have after dis­pos­al, eat­ing from banana leaves dur­ing fes­ti­vals and func­tions can save earth from get­ting stran­gled by mil­lions of plas­tic plates. From the per­spec­tive of health, well­ness, as well as eco­log­i­cal foot­print, banana leaves are the best choice for plates.

Eating seasonal and local foods for low food miles:

Food miles is the mea­sure of the dis­tance the food has trav­elled from the point of pro­duc­tion to the con­sumer. Food that has trav­elled a longer dis­tance before reach­ing the con­sumer has high­er food miles and has con­sumed more fuel along the way. To get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of food miles, con­sid­er a per­son liv­ing in South­ern India, say Tamil Nadu. Fruits that can be grown in Tamil Nadu are man­goes, guavas, water­mel­ons, bananas, etc. If the per­son in Tamil Nadu con­sumes these fruits, the food miles will be some few kilo­me­ters to a hun­dred kilo­me­ters. Con­sum­ing apples grown in Himachal Pradesh would be about 2000 food miles and Wash­ing­ton Apples would be over 9000 food miles! The car­bon foot­print of such foods con­sumed at very far dis­tances from its place of growth is very high, as trans­porta­tion is almost always using fuel thirsty flights or ships. More food miles also means the food is pre­served using chem­i­cals and much old­er than fresh foods. This can be very dam­ag­ing to one’s health if con­sumed reg­u­lar­ly.

Weekly Santhe: Local market

“Loca­vorism” or eat­ing local foods grown with­in a radius of 100 miles has been rec­om­mend­ed in Ayurvedic texts as one of the best ways to stay healthy. Foods that grow in the same envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mat­ic con­di­tions as our body are bet­ter suit­able for our body. Unlike West­ern soci­eties where most of the foods are sourced from Super­mar­kets where import­ed foods from all parts of the world are shelved, in India, week­ly San­thes (mar­kets) are very pop­u­lar. Here, local farm­ers can come and sell their pro­duce direct­ly to the con­sumers. This prac­tice sup­ports local farm­ers and gives them a bet­ter price for their pro­duce by elim­i­nat­ing the mid­dle-men and also leads to sav­ings for the buy­er.

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, Indi­an homes had what is called today as “kitchen gar­dens” and fresh organ­ic veg­eta­bles were avail­able in every home. Sea­son­al veg­etable cul­ti­va­tion was prac­tised and peo­ple grew veg­eta­bles organ­i­cal­ly in their own back­yard. This ensured food secu­ri­ty when cash was not read­i­ly avail­able. Women and chil­dren were nutri­tion­al­ly pro­vid­ed for with these veg­eta­bles in the lean sea­son, when food grains were not eas­i­ly avail­able.

Such localised sus­tain­abil­i­ty prac­tices go a long way in con­tribut­ing to the larg­er glob­al goals of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Our tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge has the pow­er to com­ple­ment mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge, with local pre­ci­sion and nuance.

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