Tag Archives: vegetarian

Ribbon Fish being overfished in Malvan, India (Image by Pooja Rathod under Creative Commons License)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 3

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

Russia is first among the developed nations to say that they are going to be glyphosate-free by 2025.  Why are we driving our soil to extinction?  Why can’t we pledge to be a glyphosate-free and LibertyLink-free nation?  Why does our government pass legislation that makes it illegal for the Environmental Protection Agency to consider generational toxicity data?

We live in an environment where pig stool is considered such a biohazard that it’s illegal to transport it across state lines.  “Imagine billions of gallons of pig stool outside of Smithfield, North Carolina, or ten times more in Hubei province.  We have these massive pig stool lakes, every teaspoon of which has millions of microorganisms that are all under severe stress from glyphosate and everything else, and they are cranking out viruses at an astounding rate,” says Dr. Zach Bush.

Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
Aerial view of CAFO barns and manure lagoons in North Carolina (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

As he untangles the workings of the virus, Dr. Bush points out that we break down our innate immune system through the mechanisms of soil, water, and air.  While 75% of air samples in the U.S. are contaminated with glyphosate, the wildfires in Australia and California in 2020 also released an enormous amount of PM 2.5 in our environment.  “Sars-COV2 + influenza viruses bind to PM2.5, and when humans experience long-term exposure to this air pollution, it lowers the innate resistance to viral infection,” he explains.  “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always sends out toxicologists along with infectious disease scientists to a new pandemic site.  It’s been long recognized by the CDC that the environment is a critical piece of the pandemic, but they only publish the findings around the virus, not around the toxicity in the environment.”

Setting the narrative of the pandemic right, Dr. Bush points out that rather than focusing on living in harmony with nature, we have created a perturbation in nature and our relationship to nature is expressing itself in a pandemic.  He also asserts that our reductionist belief system that pharmacy is going to fix everything is keeping the vast majority of our country’s population sick and disease-ridden.  “The human body isn’t as delicate as we are led to believe—we are actually quite resilient.  We don’t live in a world where we are under constant attack by nature.  It’s really the other way around: The destruction of nature by humankind has ultimately altered our biology to a point where we have had to maladapt to our self-created toxic environment.  The human species has become a parasite of planet Earth.  We are the disease.”  Dr. Bush makes a plea for cleaning up our soil, water, and air to prevent future pandemics and affirms that the healthcare system will right itself as soon as we fix the food system.

A nationwide study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health corroborates Dr. Bush’s comments on the known connections between PM2.5 exposure and a higher risk of death from COVID-19 and other cardiovascular and respiratory ailments.  The study states that an increase of only 1 microgram per cubic meter of PM2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in COVID-19 death rate.  The researchers wrote: “The study results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

With the pandemic rampant last year, a TIME article questioned: “As the coronavirus has spread through America’s meatpacking plants amid growing recognition that overcrowded factory farms are risk factors for other diseases, some people have wondered whether we’ve reached a tipping point.  Might Americans finally be ready to go easy on their beloved hot dogs and steaks?”  The answer is: “Simply put, no.”  The article quotes Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America: “They (the producers) want them to imagine there’s no backstory, and for the vast majority of people, I think that is still the case.”

As if oceans belong on our planet to supply “seafood”, fish are readily offered when servers are asked for meat-free options in restaurants.  If animal agriculture has ravaged our environment, industrial fishing has been equally devastating on earth, polluting our oceans and waterways.  According to National Geographic, “more than 55 percent of ocean surface is covered by industrial fishing…That’s more than four times the area covered by agriculture.”

As the loss of ocean biodiversity accelerates, it’s predicted that in 30 years there will be little or no salt-water fish.  “Biodiversity is a finite resource, and we are going to end up with nothing left … if nothing changes,” says Professor Boris Worm, a marine ecologist.

Supermarket fish come from commercial fishing or aquafarming.  Both have devastated our ecosystems.  Industrial fishing deploys massive ships–supertrawlers–which remain out at sea for weeks and months at a time.  These ships require large amounts of CO2-producing fuel.  They catch hundreds of tons of fish every single day because they can process or freeze on the ship itself.  “The fishing nets scrape up fish—and anything else in their path—wreaking havoc on delicate ecosystems and ocean habitats.  The United Nations estimates that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling.”  When hauled out of the water, surviving fish undergo excruciatingly painful decompression that causes severe bladder, eyes, and stomach damage.  Fishing lines catch and kill unintended species such as different fish, sea birds, turtles, and whales.  These animals are considered “bycatch” and thrown overboard.  

Aquaculture farming raises fish in the same unnatural, enclosed conditions as the factory-farmed livestock, and produces enormous waste.  They are also fed high quantities of antibiotics and have alarming levels of harmful chemicals.  Also, it takes up to five pounds of smaller wild fish from the ocean to produce just one pound of fish meat from salmon or bass, two of the most common fish being raised on factory farms.

Dr. Jyotsna Puri, Director, Environment, Climate, Nutrition, Gender, and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development, finds it arrogant to make life and death decisions on the basis of benefits for humans.  “This is ironic since humans have defined a completely new geologic period called the Anthropocene, defined mainly because of the disasters we have wreaked!  THAT should have been a wake up moment for us. But it hasn’t been.  The anthropocentric view of life will have to change.  Every policy is subservient to the demands of Homo sapiens.  We have to change the way we function if we want to stave off the next pandemic.”  Dr. Puri argues that people change behavior when you set up the incentives and the infrastructure to make change possible.  She recommends creating a common global standardized measure to know a corporate’s or government’s impact on the environment and on our climate. 

“Monoculture of the mind–as I have called it–is the inability to see how ecosystems work, the inability to see how diversity is vital…Without biodiversity we will have no health,” Dr. Vandana Shiva points out.  Championing for small farmers who provide 80% of the food we eat globally, she says that if the small farmers are no more, India is not a civilization that is India.  Along with many scientists and researchers around the world, she asserts that GMO crops have brought more pesticide use and created new pests: “Genetic engineering is nothing more than genetic reductionism based on a very false assumption of genetic determinism.”

“These chemical companies cause a disaster, and then from the impacts of that disaster, they create a new market, and make a bigger disaster, and they create a new market.  So, every cost borne by the environment and by the humans becomes a new market of opportunity for the same people who cause that problem.  Right now, the health damages caused by the chemicals and GMOs in our food is becoming the biggest market for a combination of Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Tech, and Big Money.  It’s one big cancerous slop on this planet.”  Dr. Shiva refuses to be subjugated to “digital agriculture and the financialization of nature”.  One of her books, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, discusses the new imperialism of food brought on by the likes of Bill Gates, who has been pushing monoculture GMO crops around the world.  She comments that “the digital agriculture farming without farmers that he is pushing so hard and so violently is the reason that farmers protests in India are being ignored.”

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers a plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture, saying that “avoiding GMOs isn’t just anti-science, it’s immoral.”  The ecological and health safety of GMOs has been questioned by research across the world that has busted these two assumptions: 1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and 2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture allow higher yields. GMO Myths and Truths: A Citizen’s Guide to the Evidence on the Safety and Efficacy of Genetically Modified Crops and Foods has hundreds of citations of peer-reviewed articles that cannot be dismissed.  Since the GMOs are proprietary, and since most university agronomy departments receive massive funding from agritech companies, when a study does document harm, it and its authors are subjected to career-ending attacks. 

In spite of trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, lives, and immeasurable hours of learning lost for school children, isn’t it staggering to know that no public health agency has declared that we will be in pandemic after pandemic so long as the world is so hungry for meat?  Isn’t it criminal that the CDC, the USDA, our politicians, or public health officials never talk about closing the overcrowded and filthy factory farms? 

Yes, sadly, there are places in this world where people are so desperately hungry and live in such dire conditions that they will eat whatever they could lay their hands on.  That’s not the case with most in developed countries where there is an abundant supply of other foods.  In fact, 30% of all food produced globally is wasted, and in the United States alone, we waste upwards of 40% of our food.  

March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)
March Against Monsanto in Vancouver, Canada in 2013 (Image by Rosalee Yagihara under Creative Commons License)

When I hear that “We are all in this together,” or, “we all need to sacrifice and practice our shared commitment to take individual responsibility and civic accountability,” I want to cry out: “No, vegans and vegetarians have not brought this pandemic upon humanity!”  Yet, it is those who perform their civic duty toward their fellow humans and toward this planet–by choosing what they put on their plate for each meal–who are also being forced to sacrifice by locking themselves down and keeping their children from attending schools.  Why are meat-eaters commanding sacrifice from vegans and vegetarians?

Officials across the E.U. as well as in the U.S. have called upon citizens’ sense of duty and empathy, promoting messages of unity and communal sacrifice.  But, nobody is asking: “Sacrifice for whom and for what?”  Do we sacrifice for those who want these factory farms to keep butchering and producing meat for their dinner plates?  Do we sacrifice for those feeling complacent driving their Teslas and flaunting biodegradable disposables priding themselves that they are doing a huge favor to planet Earth – while completely ignoring that the most powerful choice one could make for the well-being of our planet is our food?  Do we sacrifice so that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the factory farms and vaccines, while the Food and Drug Administration lets multibillion-dollar industries sell ultra-processed foods that keep our population sick and dependent on pharmaceuticals for a lifetime?

Do we sacrifice for the politicians and public health officials to order lockdowns while we never hear our government talk about pulling out all the junk foods, sodas, alcohol, vaping products, cigarettes, guns, disposable plastics, GMOs, and glyphosate from our stores?  Do we sacrifice for our government to subsidize Roundup Ready and LibertyLink crops which deplete our foods and hence our bodies of all the vital nutrients?  Why is there no discussion from our public health agencies about nutrition and lifestyle, guiding us on disease prevention?  

Why do 60% of Americans live with chronic health conditions?  Why are our politicians allowed to subsidize Big Ag that has only focused on herbicides, monocrops, and GMOs, to produce crops that grow faster and bigger but depleted of protein, vitamins, and minerals that the crops contained half a century ago?  How do the WHO, governments, and pharmaceuticals around the world get away with spending billions to invest in band-aids of vaccines after vaccines rather than address the root causes that bring about these pandemics?  Our students have been locked inside their homes because of the pandemic.  Why does producing cheap meat have priority over the well-being and health of our future generation?  Why should vegetarians and vegans bear the brunt of the irresponsibility and inhumanity of those who are not satisfied to consume the abundant plant foods that Mother Earth has to offer?  Is the U.S. the only country that has foods and drugs under the same administration?  Isn’t this counter-intuitive?  

“We need to be prepared for whatever COVID-24 is going to look like,” says  Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.  In that case, shouldn’t President Biden prioritize banning factory farms, glyphosate, and LibertyLink, in order to prepare the U.S. for future pandemic threats?  Isn’t prevention always better than cure?  Isn’t it a global problem that we are killing 60 billion animals a year for human consumption?  As Dr. Shiva asks, are we going to have a world view of regeneration – with our role in regeneration – or a world view of conquest and war?  

Last year, with COVID raging, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone – mourning the millions of helpless, intelligent, turkeys that got butchered and broiled; mourning the Native Americans who lost their lives and land; and of course mourning the enormous losses we have suffered due to a pandemic.  What’s “happy” about this holiday knowing that it’s precisely this human behavior that has encouraged the meat industry to produce the cheapest, the cruelest, the most irresponsible meat that brought this pandemic?

Industrial turkey barn (Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)
Industrial turkey barn (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from Djurrattsalliansen)

Organizations like Food and Water Watch have been calling upon citizens to ask Congress to ban factory farms as they “place our public health and food supply at risk, pollute the environment and our drinking water, and wreck rural communities–while increasing corporate control over our food.”  Activist organizations like Environmental Working Group that question agricultural practices, use of toxic chemicals, and provide information on environmental and water quality issues are being drowned by the continuous onslaught of corporate greed, while those who choose not to eat meat feel powerless about their tax dollars going toward subsidizing butchering of animals and egregious agricultural practices that are destroying our ecology.  

Mahatma Gandhi had said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

Dr. Michael Greger writes: “As long as there is poultry, there will be pandemics.  It may be us or them.” 

Or, as ecologist Rachel Carlson put it succinctly nearly sixty years ago, “Nature fights back.” 

In the afterward of Dr. Greger’s book, Dr. Kennedy Shortidge–who discovered H5N1–appeals: “We have reached a critical point.  Today’s COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest in an increasingly harrowing viral storm threatening each of us.  We must dramatically change the way we interact with animals for the sake of all animals.” 

For those who reach for any kind of meat or seafood, I implore you to ask yourself: Am I bringing our planet one step closer to enormous suffering from yet another pandemic–and one step closer to extinction–with my choice?

Go back to read Part 1 and Part 2!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

Local seeds and produce (Image by Drona Chetri from Navdanya)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 2

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!

Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture.  It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis.  With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated.  This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry.  Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already.  COVID added many more millions.  The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops were unable to sell when all the long-distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID.  

“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world.  So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health.  When we add all that together, we will realize that we would not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Dr. Shiva explains.  She gives an example of biofuel–which is made to look very efficient–and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel.  But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than its substitutes.  “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times Indian population…They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion.  I can tell you the U.S. model can’t feed 1.3 billion.” 

Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers–which would leave them at the mercy of buyers–Dr. Shiva says that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5%.  Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty.  She says that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the U.S., the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth. 

John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up more than 80% of farmland.  “Right now, 81% of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products.  That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth.  But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil.  We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations…The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.”  Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he says that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20% oxygen for the planet were burning.  According to TIME, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history.  In Brazil, cattle account for 80% of deforested land.  Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests?  To make quick money to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world. 

There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr. Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein.  In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.”  One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian.  But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed.  The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald’s and KFCs, and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive.  So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world.  The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes. 

Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others.  Dr. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible.  She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”.  There are Three Ns of justification–Dr. Joy argues–that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary.  She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable–if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.”  This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary.  She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings;  Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences;  Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.

Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)
Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)

Renowned, multi-disciplinary Dr. Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction.  In 2019, Dr. Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms.  “Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions.  If we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in.  There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,”  Dr. Bush comments.

One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosatethe active ingredient in Roundup – is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment.  It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant.  Dr. Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act as an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food.  Glyphosate is only one of 260 chemicals in our food system.  “Glyphosate is at over 5 billion pounds of consumption worldwide and it is, unfortunately, a water-soluble toxin.  A water-soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70% water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil, and for the bodies that live off of those plants.” 

Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick.  The third-largest crop we grow in the U.S., right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.  Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for bacterial life.  It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil, and also kills life in the gut.  So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health.  Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human.  As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of the diversity of microbes within our gut, which parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.

Dr. Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world.  He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80% of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys. 

“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence.  You could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s…Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Dr. Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.

Dr. Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions.  Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes.  Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. 

Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto.  They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink.  LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the E.U., the U.S., and Canada.  Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops–genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate–disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction.  LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest.  “The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57% over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level and one in four women is struggling with infertility.  We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life.  We are failing as a biologic species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us.” 

Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 percent of all produce consumed in the U.S., Dr. Bush says: “We stopped growing food in the United States.  If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted…Our supply chains are tenuous…Kansas–our most agricultural state in the U.S. where 90% of the acreage is agriculturally managed– imports 90% of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.”  He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics. 

Dr. Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years–four more American presidents–we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75% cancer rates.  “Our food system is 1.2 trillion dollars a year, our medical system is 3.7 trillion dollars a year.  We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care…We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation…The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and world view, whether we be a farmer or a physician.”  

Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children.  Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them.  Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.” 

Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

Oil-free and Plant-Based Food Serve Up A Healthy Desi Diet

Two years ago, I could not imagine cooking and eating oil-free food. Cooking good food was synonymous with a liberal splash of cooking oil in everything from simple sabji to biryani.

I loved cooking all my recipes  with lots of oil, though I knew it was bad for my health. Every dish began with a bottle of cooking oil right beside me.  As a foodie I relished food glazed with oil.

Homemade chakalis were my favorite. As a vegetarian, I assumed that oily snacks were okay, given my healthy vegetarian diet of fruit smoothies, brown rice, sambar, vegetables and beans.

But I often wondered why I was putting on weight despite my plant-based diet. In Atlanta, I met Shobha, and my perspective drastically changed. Shobha is an advocate of plant-based foods, inspiring folks to thrive on plant-based fare with zero oil!  That simple conversation with her had a profound impact on me.

I joined Shobha’s WhatsApp group and my plant-based health education began.

I discovered that the persistent ache in my knees was inflammation from the excessive oil in my diet.

I was shocked to find out that all cooking oils, from soybean to canola oil are highly processed. High temperature and chemicals are used to extract oil, a  process that make their nutrients go rancid.

When I learned that one tablespoon of oil has 120 calories, I nearly fainted. I felt so guilty! All that processed oil in my everyday food!

The more I discovered, the more I realized how little I knew about how cooking oil affects the body.

Processed oil is responsible for so many health issues – obesity, constipation, inflammation, heart attacks, and more.

And yet, the information you read on websites and news articles is really so confusing and overwhelming.

Are cold pressed sesame oil and coconut oil safe? Is olive oil as healthy as  nutritionists claim?. And what about using “just a little oil’. Vloggers and sharers of recipes suggest 4 to 5 tablespoon of oil per pound of vegetables. Doctors and nutritionists urge folks to include oil in their diets, as oil fat is essential in the absorption of some vitamins, and the healthy functioning of cells and tissues.

So what’s the truth?

Our modern diet and lifestyle is driving the upsurge in diabetes, heart disease, and blood pressure. The reality is that oils have extremely low nutritive value. Both the monounsaturated and saturated fat they contain is harmful to the endothelium, the innermost layer of the artery, and that injury is a gateway to vascular disease.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s olive oil, coconut oil, or canola – my takeaway is to avoid all oil. And since diabetes and heart disease run in my family, I made an intentional decision to drastically cut back on oil in my everyday cooking.

At first, it was hard. I automatically reached for the oil when I started cooking. I had to really make a conscious effort to stop myself!

Magically, my WhatsApp group delivered. They shared amazing pictures  of oil-free recipes and dishes.

In the span of few months I was cooking up a storm of  tasty, zero-oil dishes, from upma to masala vadas, and cookies to cakes. No unhealthy oil!

Now, I’m on a roll. Here’s how.

In delicious cakes and cookies, I substitute applesauce and banana for oil .

I get healthy fats from fresh coconut, guacamole, almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds. My zero-oil channa masala and rotis are delicious. To sauté onions, I just use a tablespoon or two of water instead! Going oil-free has helped me to explore so many interesting food items and cooking techniques .  Fortunately, my family loves it too!

I’m simply awed by the tasty and nutritious dishes I can make without a drop of oil!

Growing up, I loved deep-fried peanuts and spicy lentils. Now I simply roast sprouted green gram, channa dal and peanuts in the oven, and while it’s still warm, I mix in chili powder and salt. Yummy! My husband couldn’t believe it had no oil at all!

Studies show that Indian Americans have high rate of heart disease. In fact many vegetarians assume that they are thriving on a healthy diet, even though their food is rich in carbohydrates, fats, cholesterol and sugar. Sugar and all-purpose flour are white poison. I realize that cooking oil is colorless poison.

Once or twice in a week, I  use cold-pressed sesame or peanut oil as they offer a healthier option than highly processed vegetable oils.  Occasionally, I have a deep fried treat, during festivals and on special occasions, but no longer need to open my chakali box!

My mindful eating habits have produced a happy result – fortunately, I no longer suffer from knee pain  and my weight has stabilized.  I know my new plant-based diet with zero oil, and thirty minutes of exercise, is playing a pivotal role in my leading a healthy lifestyle.


Kumudha Venkatesan is based in Atlanta and often writes about the vegan lifestyle and spirituality.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash
Photo by Jo Sonn on Unsplash

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

Saying it With Thanks – New Thanksgiving Recipes

In early September, I joined my husband as he went back to his village in Palakkad, Kerala, after a ten-year hiatus. He had grown up in Palakkad in a large joint family with his grandmother, mother, brother, and sisters along with several uncles, aunts, and cousins, with about twenty-five family members under one roof. His grandmother’s home looked exactly as it did over fifty years ago. The kitchen had seen a makeover, but if the walls could speak, they would tell stories of the people who lived there—sons, daughters, cousins, grandchildren, marriages, births and deaths, celebrations and feasts all held under the watchful eye of his grandmother, the benevolent family matriarch. Her integrity and strength were the foundation on which this home had been built and sustained.

The village consisted of some 100 plus row houses with clay tile roofs arrayed on the sides of a single road. The library was situated across the road from his ancestral home; the village pond was sure to fill up during the monsoons, and there were two temples at walking distance. My husband had spent many hours in that small library, reading all that he could lay hands on.

As we were walking to his aunt’s house, a man with a toothless, smiling face walked towards us. He looked like he had jumped out of the pages of R.K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. This tall thin man with thick glasses had a large man bun right on top of his conical head. His bare chest was disproportionate to his large tummy, and a white dhoti was tied around his small waist. “This is Ramu,” my husband said, a.k.a. “Kozhimuttai Ramu” as he was affectionately called by everyone in the village. “Kozhimuttai” literally translates into a hen’s egg. “Without him, I wouldn’t have passed my GRE exams and made it to America,” my husband reminiscences. “He was the head of the library, and he had the power to either let me in or keep me out—from Western novels to Wilbur Smith, from Perry Masons and Robert Ludlums to stacks of Reader’s Digests, encyclopedias and more, it was he who gave me the access.” Thank You Mr. Ramu for helping this man dream big, even as he grew up in this small village, I thought to myself.

Then there was Nallepilly Ayappan, who lived an hour away. He was a homeopathic doctor who treated children with issues from malnutrition to manic depression. He took time to share his extensive library of books and was full of interesting insights that made an impact on a teenager, eager for a sense of direction. His home had served as a quiet getaway. As I stood in Ayyappan’s backyard looking at the papaya and jackfruit trees, hibiscus, and pumpkin trails, he told me, “write about the panikoorka plants, they have so much healing power.”

So, this Thanksgiving, who are the Ramus and Ayyappans that have impacted your life in myriad ways? Who would you want to call or write and say two special words—Yours Thankfully!

As you think about who you plan to reach out to, here are some interesting recipes with papayas, jackfruit, and pumpkin for your Thanksgiving meal.

Ripe Papaya, Avocado, Cherry

Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad
Papaya, Avocado, Cherry Tomato Salad

Tomato Salad Ingredients
1 medium ripe papaya seeded and cubed
1 avocado peeled, seeded and cubed
10 yellow cherry tomatoes halved
1 Persian cucumber sliced
1 green chill minced

Dressing
1 teaspoon ginger
1 lime juice
1 teaspoon chaat masala powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk the ingredients in the dressing together and reserve it in a small bowl. Place the papaya cubes, tomatoes, avocado, chili, and cucumber in a large serving bowl and refrigerate it. Right before serving, mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Jackfruit and Pumpkin Chili

This is an interesting recipe that requires a good quality root beer. This is a recipe that meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans can enjoy.

Ingredients
1 can green jackfruit, drained, washed
and chopped
½ can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon oil
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large red onion minced
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 tomatoes chopped fine
2 green chilies minced
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt to taste
1 cup root beer
¼ cup water

Garnish: Cilantro chopped and sour cream (optional for vegans)

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the clove, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds, and bay leaf. Add ginger-garlic paste and minced onion and sauté till brown. Then add the tomatoes, green chili, turmeric, garam masala powder, coriander powder, and salt to taste. Add the jackfruit and cook for 2-3 minutes with a little water. Once the jackfruit is soft and cooked, add the root beer and pumpkin puree and let it stew for another 10 minutes on low heat. Check and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream.

Spicy Papaya, Pineapple Sangria

This is a great drink for the early afternoon before the Thanksgiving meal. The serrano can make it too spicy if you leave it for too long. If you can find edible dry hibiscus flower you can cook it in simple syrup and add it to the sangria. It gives it a sweet flower taste.

Ingredients
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 bottle white wine (like Riesling)
1 ripe papaya chopped
1 cup ripe pineapple chopped
1 serrano chili slit
Basil leaves for garnish

Heat the sugar and water and make it into a simple syrup. Place the chopped papaya and pineapple in a large serving pitcher. Add the white wine and simple syrup and mix. Add the serrano chili and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove the serrano in an hour if you don’t want it spicy. It gets spicier as you steep it longer. Serve cold with ice cubes and basil leaves. 


Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team-building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area.

This article was first published in November 2017.

healthy life

The Practical Vegetarian

I am a practical vegetarian. In a world where vegetarians are already marginalized, and fringe groups are further sub-categorized into vegans, pescatarians, raw foodies, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and on and on, I have invented a new category.

A practical vegetarian is someone who almost always eats plant-based food when that choice is available. And when that choice is not available he/she is open to eating whatever food is available and doing so with gratitude. The difference between being a strict vegetarian as opposed to a practical vegetarian is the world of difference between easily following a kind diet and struggling to stick to a rigid regimen.

Strangely, when growing up in India, where it was easy to be a vegetarian, I was a meat eater; and now, living in the United States, where it is easy not to be a vegetarian, I have chosen to be a practical vegetarian. Part of the reason is that it took time and a shifting of consciousness to really understand the virtues of eating mostly plant-based food. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote in One Hundred Years of Solitude, “Wisdom comes to us when it is of little use.” Over time, the wisdom sunk in. And I must confess that Alicia Silverstone’s talk at Google on her book The Kind Diet was a tipping point.

It was easy to embrace the virtues of vegetarianism. If you’re part of the yoga and consciousness community, you may be all too familiar with these and not need repetition.

The impressive and long list includes lower body weight, reduced cholesterol, and lower risk of developing cancer and other diseases. In addition, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental damage: air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, loss of biodiversity. But being a global citizen, a professional in the tech industry with a passion for travel, and a rootless nomad of sorts has meant that I have had to adapt or die. The last few years have taken me to 53 different countries as far apart as Iceland, Mongolia and Bahrain. In Mongolia, outside of the capital Ulan Bator, boiled mutton was the only item on any menu in any restaurant. In Buenos Aires, my business school classmate laid out the most delicious food he had lovingly prepared to make up for the 10 years we had not seen each other—Empanadas stuffed with minced beef. And on the long-haul United flight returning from a day of meetings in New York, when the attendant came to the last row where I sat hungry and tired, all she could offer me was a turkey sandwich.

And so it is that I have adapted to survive. I eat only plant-based food when I have the choice in front of me. And I gratefully eat whatever is in front of me when I don’t have the choice.

Tips for being a practical vegetarian:

Eat plant-based foods. Do this as much as you can when you have the choice. And eat them as close to their natural state as possible. If you can point to something on your plate and see that it is a carrot or an eggplant or a bean, that is excellent. And if it is not cooked or processed in any way, you are in dietary heaven. We are fortunate at Google, where the chefs in our cafes lovingly lay out a wonderful spread of plant-based food to choose from—often from farms within 150 miles of the campus and sometimes even grown on the campus.

Put color on your plate. Nature has done a pretty good job of building the right signals into us. A plate that is exploding in naturally occurring greens and red and pink and purple is visually appealing. But it is also likely a healthy plate with a balanced set of nutrients you need.

Choose and eat consciously. Put things on your plate mindfully. Be conscious of what plants, fruits and vegetables you are choosing. Be conscious of how much or how little you need to feed you body and your taste buds. And eat mindfully too. Be aware of the taste, texture, smells of the food you eat. Be conscious of the natural goodness and life energy that is packed into that crunchy lettuce, juicy carrot and sweet grape.

Eat with an attitude of gratitude. The simple truth is that each plate of food in front of me has involved about 60 people whom I will never meet. The person who planted the crop, the person who fertilized the field, those who picked the crop, transported it, chopped it, cooked it. Most of the them were toiling away in jobs less comfortable than mine, and doing jobs I am incapable of. I don’t know about you, but without these people and their skills I might actually starve to death, unable to grow my own food. I try to remember this and eat thankfully.

Don’t beat yourself up—be practical. Having said all this, I also recognize the fact that the dietary choices of others in this world may be different, and that is where the practical aspect comes in. If I don’t have a choice of plant-based food, then I am okay with eating animal products. In my book being vegetarian 96 percent of the time is good enough. I get the health and ecological benefits of a vegetarian diet. It makes my life easier. It make my host’s life easier. And it makes it easy to travel to Arusha, Papete, Liberia, Koh Samui, Banjul, Tiruchirapalli, Gdansk, Karahnjukar . . .

During the day, Gopi Kallayil works as Chief Evangelist of Brand Marketing at Google. He teaches yoga, travels the world, speaks, writes, sings, lives freely and joyously. At other times he espouses radical ideas like eating plant-based food and can be a general threat to orderly, civil society.