Tag Archives: #shailajavenkatsubramanyam

A doctor holding a syringe.

An Indian-American Request to Biden: Sign this Petition!

We are requesting the US government to lift the embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make vaccines for India.

India is facing a severe crisis due to the resurgence of Covid infections in the country. Since March infections have ratcheted up, setting new case records on a near-daily basis, with more than 152,000 cases recorded on April 11, the largest single-day tally for the country. Some hospitals in cities such as Pune and Mumbai are running out of beds, and some vaccination centers said they’ve run out of vaccines. Meanwhile, migrant workers have started leaving their jobs in the cities to return to their villages, fearing a national lockdown like the one in 2020 that left hundreds of thousands of migrant workers jobless and without public transport to go back home.

The United States in February invoked the Defense Production Act, which gives the power to control the distribution of products, to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production. Vaccine makers and experts in India have been concerned that the use of the Defense Production Act by the U.S. to boost its own vaccine production was resulting in exports of critical raw materials being stopped. Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India, told The Associated Press that pivoting away from suppliers in the U.S. could result in a delay of up to six months for the production of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax. Serum Institute and Novavax have inked a deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of the vaccine to COVAX to equitably distribute it across the globe.

While prioritizing the needs of our own population is important, this consideration must be balanced with the need to tackle this pandemic on a global level and the current ferocious resurgence of Covid 19 in India will eventually put the US recovery as well as the global recovery at risk. We respectfully request the Biden administration to assist India, its friendly partner, and the world’s largest democracy, emerge from this unprecedented setback during this battle.

Please sign this petition I have put together:

https://www.change.org/p/joseph-r-biden-lift-us-embargo-on-exporting-vaccine-raw-materials-to-india


Prasenjit Sarkar has a Ph.D in Computer Science. His work experience includes working at IBM Research as well as founding and selling a startup in the big data space. He is passionate about education and giving back to society.


 

Should South Asians Give Up Dairy?

I was raised in India as a vegetarian and our family’s diet excluded meat. We did consume a lot of dairy products, mostly milk, yogurt and ghee, and eggs if they happened to be in store-bought cakes. When I entered my teens, my skin broke out into really bad cystic acne. My mother took me to all kinds of doctors, to no avail. Finally, a naturopath suggested to me that I should try avoiding milk products. My mother would not hear of it! Among Indians, it is a long-held belief that milk products are essential for good health. However, when I moved to the US and away from my family, I decided to try avoiding milk products.  Immediately, my skin started breaking out far less. So, even before I knew what the word “vegan” meant, I became one.   

As a graduate student in the nineties, completely avoiding dairy was hard since I did not always have control over the ingredients that went into my food. I was on antibiotics for several years to keep the flare-ups under control. This was problematic. Eventually, the disease would periodically become resistant to some antibiotics and I would have to be switched to another.

Even after all the medical interventions, I found that my skin continued to react to dairy. When my life became more settled, I finally had the time and the resources to control what I ate and take care of my skin without medications. Today, I have been vegan for almost 26 years. I have remained vegan and healthy through many life events – two successful pregnancies (my gynecologists were not concerned in the least). 

Today, I look back on my cystic acne problem as a blessing in disguise.  Without this issue, I never would have found out about the health benefits of a dairy-free diet.  Over time, as the plant-based movement became more prominent, I also learned more about how cows are treated in dairy farms. Prior to this, I had the notion that cows lived idyllic lives grazing on green pastures suckling their young. 

What I’ve learned since then has horrified me. Dairy cows are continually subjected to forced insemination to stay pregnant and lactating. They live in cramped, often sordid, living quarters, and their constantly-used udders often become infected and bloody. Most distressing, they suffer the cruelty of losing their young ones who are snatched away almost immediately after giving birth. Many calves are slaughtered as babies since they are considered “waste products” of the dairy industry. I was stunned to discover the eventual fate of the mother cows; once their milk production declines, they are also sent to slaughter. A cow’s natural lifespan is 18-20 years; but after repeated impregnations and constant milking, a dairy cow is considered “spent” – the industry term for a useless cow – by the age of 3-5 years old. 

I also learned that cows produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gases, which contribute strongly to climate change. According to an article published by the BBC, in 2015, the dairy industry’s emissions were equivalent to more than 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2!  This makes up around 3.4% of the total of all human-made greenhouse gases. This means that dairy’s contribution to global warming is comparable to that of all aviation and shipping combined (which are 1.9% and 1.7% respectively)!  Also, in order to grow food for livestock, prairies, wetlands and forests are being cleared. This makes livestock raising the number one cause of deforestation, which is also a leading contributor to climate change.

So, here is my message to my fellow South Asians.

Some of you feel that dairy is an essential food for health, or maybe you possibly worry about being deficient in key nutrients such as calcium if you avoid dairy. 

What I would like you to know is that consuming dairy is absolutely unnecessary for human health.    

In fact, recent studies have linked dairy consumption with a number of major health problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses. It is possible to get all the calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients you need while eating a healthy, balanced, and cruelty-free plant-based diet. These days, delicious non-dairy milk such as oat, hazelnut, cashew, soy, almond, and hemp, as well as non-dairy cheeses and yogurt, can be purchased from most grocery stores.  All you need to do is to try some of these non-dairy products, find the ones you like, and stick with them for about a month.  After this, your taste buds begin to adapt and you eventually lose the desire for dairy products. There are also tutorials on YouTube on how to make your own plant-based milk and yogurts at home. I urge everyone to entertain the thought of going vegan! And I know you can make it work for you. Do it for yourself, for the cows, and for our Mother Earth.   


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State. She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos

It’s Just a Little Cancer. No Need to Make a Fuss.

Monday, December 1, 1967, 4:21 AM. Bombayites were rudely awoken from their slumbers as the world around them shook.

It was the devastating Koyna earthquake.

My mother recalled being panicked at the steel “Godrej” cupboards rattling together.  “Aiyayo, what is happening?”, she screamed (I am guessing that is what she said since I was not born yet). My father (without opening his eyes), replied, “It is just an earthquake. Go back to sleep.”  

I have heard this anecdote repeated with a mix of mirth and pride by my mother when she wanted to poke fun at my father.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I know that one is not supposed to roll over and sleep if an earthquake were to hit. Having said that, I have to admit feeling awe at my father’s stoicism. I cannot recall a single instance in my life when I have seen my father panic about anything. He faced family, medical, career, and financial challenges (with my mother’s firm support) without alarming his family. I wonder what it was about my father, he always made life look so easy.

Was it his disciplined lifestyle?

Was it his matter-of-fact attitude to life?

Was it his firm belief in God and his daily prayers?

I do not know where he draws his strength. But, I know his family draws strength from him. On Wednesday, October 9th, 2013, when his wife of 56 years passed away, he walked into the hospital room, stroked her head, turned around to his children, and calmly instructed them to start making phone calls to get “the body” home and make arrangements for the funeral. I remember that day being one of extreme sadness.  However, there was no panic about how we would get through it. If a man who had lost his beloved partner could think clearly and behave with dignity, it automatically meant that his family could as well.  

My version of the Koyna earthquake moment came on January 2015, when my father’s prostate cancer, that had been slow-growing until then, entered Stage 3, and the doctor, in a very worried tone, told my father that it was time to start treatment. I was scared. My father told the doctor calmly, “It is only a little bit of cancer, there is no need to make such a fuss”.

Author’s father during his cancer treatment.

The look of disbelief on the doctor’s face was amusing. I knew my dad well and would not have expected any other reaction from him. My father underwent radiation treatment for 9 weeks, 5 days a week. The radiation center was a good 20 minutes away from our home. We would drive back and forth listening to my father’s favorite old Hindi songs. The weeks flew by and as we reached the final stretch of the treatment, my father wistfully talked about how much he enjoyed the drives, the music, and the company of the lovely nurses who took quite a liking to my father. On his suggestion, we gave a cake as a thank you gesture to the medical staff on the last day of radiation. My father posed for photos with them, and I felt like a proud parent of a high school graduate. We got through it.

Today, in the era of the pandemic and political, social, and economic uncertainty, I realize that my children are probably looking to me to get hints about how to react. I do not possess my father’s courage. But, I simply recall all the incidents in my life when my father must have been concerned but did not show it. Just like my father did through his actions, I try to convey to my children that this will also pass and I hope that they will remember to pass on that message to their children.


Shailaja Venkatsubramanyan has taught information systems at San Jose State. She volunteers with the Plant-Based Advocates of Los Gatos.