Tag Archives: virus

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.


 

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 1

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 2 and Part 3!

“My dream in 1987 was that I will not let the Monsantos have a monopoly over the seed.  They cannot pretend they invented the seed, they cannot pretend it’s a machine that they put in place.  This illusion is too much of an abuse against the creativity and creation of the earth.  I decided to protect the seed because I didn’t accept it being in the hands of a few people just for profit and monopoly.  I could not accept the untruth of the seed being patented.  For me saving seeds and exchanging seeds is maintaining the continuity of cycles of life in farming, in nature, and in society,” says environmental activist, author, and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva, explaining her life’s work.

Dr. Shiva continues: “Monsanto and Bayer have a long history.  They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides in the two world wars…Industrial agriculture is nothing else but a subsidy to the continuation of the war that started in Hitler’s concentration camps.  And in the process, we have destroyed the land, destroyed biodiversity, destroyed insects, butterflies, pollinators, and we have destroyed the farmers.”  She comments that it’s not going to work to have “the whole world declare a war on a little virus because humans have lost every war against microbes.  They turn out to be so much smarter…The garden is going to be our savior in the time of artificial intelligence.”

A virus that has locked down the world and robbed the livelihoods of millions for over a year now has a message for humanity, if only we could pay attention to it – we are just the tip of biology on this earth.  The pandemic is not a natural disaster, but a human-caused disaster.  If we do not respect the rights of other species or our fellow human beings, our planet will continue to evolve, even without us.

“It was a bad day for viruses,” Moderna’s chair Noubar Afeyan says about the day when he got the first word of his company’s clinical trial results.  “We may never have a pandemic again.”

As tempting as it is to believe, I find it more realistic to go with the thesis of Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How to Survive a Pandemic“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as HIV/AIDS.  Where did this virus come from?” he asks in the preface of this book.  The current coronavirus pandemic may just be a dress rehearsal for the coming plague.  We are heading toward a much deadlier pandemic–a hundred times worse than COVID-19–which would threaten our civilization, he argues.

As he delves into tracing the roots of many pandemics to industrialized animal agriculture, he also mourns the loss of more than half of the Earth’s tropical forests that have been cleared due to the expanding livestock production.  This “hamburgerization” of the rainforests has set the stage for disease emergence and transmission in many ways.  As the rainforests of Africa were destroyed for logging operations, gorillas and chimpanzees were shot and sold as food.  Tracing the roots of HIV to bushmeat, he writes: “Someone butchered a chimp a few decades ago and now thirty million people are dead.”  Human outbreaks of Ebola have been traced to exposure to the dead bodies of infected great apes hunted for food.  

“Increasing consumer demand for animal products worldwide over the past few decades has led to a global explosion in massive animal agriculture operations which have come to play a key role in the Third Age of emerging human disease,” says Dr. Greger.  His details on factory farming practices are eye-opening for meat consumers: “The stress associated with the routine mutilations farm animals are subjected to without anesthesia–including castration, branding, dehorning, detoeing, teeth clipping, beak trimming, and tail docking–coupled with the metabolic demands of intensive production, such as artificially augmented reproduction, lactation, early weaning, and accelerated growth rates, leave animals extremely prone to disease.”  

Dr. Greger also lays out the environmental impact of factory farms throughout this book.  He cites Robert F. Kennedy Jr. describing North Carolina’s hog farms: “Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into 10-acre, open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze into North Carolina’s rivers.”   What about Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in alfalfa sprouts and greens?  The bacteria from chicken and cattle manure get onto sprouts as the level of infection in animal feces has risen with the intensification of factory farming.

“There is shit in the meat,” says Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation.  Writing about the processing of chickens at factory farms in her book Spoiled, author Nicols Fox says that the “final product is no different than if you stuck it in the toilet and ate it.”  As he narrates the filthy conditions at factory farms, Dr. Greger argues that it is easier to blame practices that may be culturally foreign, such as wet markets and bushmeat, than it is to look at our own plates in the mirror.  The first hybrid swine flu virus was discovered in North America.  “With massive concentrations of farm animals within whom to mutate, these new swine flu viruses in North America seem to be on an evolutionary fast track, jumping and reassorting between species at an unprecedented rate.”

In a gut-wrenching account of the abuse of animals, Dr. Greger writes: “A hen needs 291 square inches of space to flap her wings, 197 square inches to turn around, and 72 square inches just to stand freely.  U.S. commercial battery facilities typically allow each bird an average of 64 square inches.  Laying hen warehouses can average more than a hundred thousand chickens per shed.”  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a single gram of manure from an infected chicken can contain “enough virus to infect 1 million birds.”

These animals are bred to be sick.  In the 1950s, the industry could raise a five-pound chicken in less than three months.  This now takes an average of forty-five days. Broilers with a faster growth rate are under physiological and immunological stress that makes them more sensitive to infectious diseases.  Dr. Greger says that H5N1 ought to have been the wake-up call to industry breeders that myopic breeding schemes prioritizing growth over health concerns threaten the continued viability of their industry.  Unfortunately, “the message does not seem to have gotten through.”  

A dead hen at an industrial egg farm in Taiwan. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur at We Animals)

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic we have had, Dr. Greger points out:  “Bird flu viruses have been detected every year in the U.S. since the mid-1960s.  In just the last five years, the United States has suffered more than two hundred outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, including H5N1, H5N8, H7N8, and H7H9, resulting in the deaths of more than fifty million chickens and turkeys.”  He explains that by adapting to chickens, bird flu viruses hit an evolutionary jackpot.  And, by adapting to chickens, the viruses may be adapting to the human race–another multibillion-host bonanza for the viruses. 

Dr. Greger also reports the meat industry’s efforts to cover up the information on disease outbreaks over the decades.  The industry’s attempts at poultry vaccinations have led to viral mutations and vaccine-resistant strains.  He quotes industry insiders who admit that truly informed consumers are the last thing they need: “If most urban meat-eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being “harvested” and then being “processed”….some, perhaps many of them, would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat.” His book presents many stories of outbreaks in factory farms from New Jersey to Oklahoma as well as of the cover-ups by corporate producers and veterinarians.

Considering the role of funding for the meat industry, Dr. Greger mentions that the World Bank, which has funded large-scale livestock projects in developing nations, has acknowledged that there is “a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security are threatened” with large factory farms.  While production profitability has been the sole consideration, critics have argued that human and animal health and welfare, soil health, biodiversity, climate change, social justice, equity, good governance, and environmental stewardship have been completely ignored. 

In painstaking details throughout his book, Dr. Greger explains that reckless animal agriculture practices have given rise to endless diseases caused by humans.  The root causes behind the Third Age of human disease are “anthropogenic,” meaning human-caused.  “As climate changes and ecosystems are destroyed, pathogens will become ubiquitous, constantly mixing and mutating to find new animal hosts and new avenues of infection.”  Referring to pandemic influenza, Nobel Prize winner scientist Joshua Lederberg said: “Some people think I am being hysterical, but there are catastrophes ahead.  We live in evolutionary competition with microbes–bacteria and viruses.  There is no guarantee that we will be the survivors.”

Is it possible to prevent future pandemics?  “As hard as it is to imagine a virus more ominous than H5N1, intensive poultry production on a global scale is a relatively new phenomenon.  As poultry consumption continues to soar in the developing world, there is no biological reason that bird flu could not evolve and mutate into an even deadlier niche…Even if H5N1 never developed the capacity to go pandemic, it may only be a matter of time before the new poultry factories of the world breed the deadliest of combinations,” claims Dr. Greger.  He offers a moratorium on factory farms as one of the solutions: “If the development of animal agriculture marked the “start of the era of zoonosis,” then the scaling back of animal agricultural production may hasten its end.” 

“We may be one bushmeat meal away from the next HIV, one pangolin plate away from the next killer coronavirus, and one factory farm away from the next deadly flu…Tragically, it may take a pandemic with a virus like H5N1 or H7N9 before the world realizes the true cost of cheap chicken,” Dr. Greger declares as he concludes his remarkable book.

In an interview with Senator Cory Booker–who has unveiled a bill to reform the farm system–food revolutionist and author John Robbins says that 80% of the antibiotics that are used in the U.S. for all purposes aren’t used as medicines to treat bacterial infections in human beings, which is the rightful use, but they are used as feed-additives in factory farms and in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  If this continues, we are heading into superbugs when no antibiotic will work on human infections.  Senator Booker says that his bill is a “real leverage point to look at our food systems in America, and to take steps to correct this injustice” where 90% of our agriculture subsidies using taxpayer money is going into four monocrops.  “A significant amount goes to feeding livestock…and the rest of it goes to things that make us sicker, like corn syrup.  That’s why my kids in Newark can find a Twinkie product cheaper than an apple…We have a savagely broken food system; these powerful interests protect it, and this is not for the small, independent family farmer.  This is for the big multinational corporations who get billions of dollars because of our subsidies.”  As someone who believes that change can start with a single person, Senator Booker quotes an old saying that change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.  He calls on citizens to double down on their activism and find ways to demand a change by working with local legislators, house members, and senators on these issues.

Preventing farmer suicide protests. (Image by Navdanya)

As for Dr. Shiva, she took the inspiration from Gandhi’s spinning wheel–which was against the Satanic mills of England that had colonized the world and created slavery–and started saving seeds to fight American agrochemical company Monsanto’s tyrannical control of seeds, and has since worked tirelessly with small farmers.  Her organization, Navdanya, has built 150 community seed banks in different parts of India.  Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds.)   “Whenever a farmer has a seed, they are not in debt.  Because it is the seeds bred for chemicals or genetically engineered seeds that need chemicals that get farmers into debt, for seed, and for chemicals.  That’s the primary reason for about 70% of the debt…First they said without chemicals you can’t grow food.  Then they said without GMOs you can’t grow food.  And now they are saying that without digital agriculture you can’t grow food…The Corona crisis is forcing humanity to shake the myth of certainty and predictability.  The entire mechanistic industrial ideal which assumes total control, total prediction, and has got us in this mess, assumes separation that we are not part of nature and we are masters.” Dr. Shiva proclaims that uncertainty and non-separation from nature is the way the world is woven.

 Continue on to read the rest of the series: Part 2 and 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.


 

Sushant Singh Rajput Jolts Global Mental Health Dialogues

Trigger warning regarding mental health and suicide.

Sushant Singh Rajput, Disha Salian, Sudha Devi lost to mental health

Mental health has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Headlines relating to suicide have sent shock waves through the community. A successful tinsel star, Sushant Singh Rajput and his former manager, Disha Salian, succumbed to their mental health within one week of each other. And in a tragically poetic fashion, as Sushant Singh Rajput’s last rites were performed, his sister-in-law, Sudha Devi, passed away, who had allegedly stopped eating upon learning of his death. The rippling effect of mental health ran its course.

Popular for his acting in both TV and film, the 34-year-old actor, delivered a strong anti-suicide message in his last seen 2019 film ‘Chhichhore’. On June 14, 2020, the actor was found in his Mumbai home. He was reportedly suffering from depression. A week earlier, he had written a heartbroken Instagram story addressing the suicide of his 28-year-old former manager, Disha Salian.

Is it the lockdown and the resulting loneliness or is it the disease itself?

“It is both,” said Dr. Farida Sohrabji, Regents Professor and Interim Head, Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Texas A&M College of Medicine, at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services, June 12, 2020. Both the molecular impacts of the virus and the pandemic-related isolation leads to depression,” she said.

The impact of social isolation can be quite devastating in many ways. Social isolation increases the risk of cardiovascular ailment, heightens the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and increases mental health issues. Not interacting with people increases the stress hormone cortisol and weakens the immune system. People who don’t have the virus but are being socially isolated slip into depression. The senior population, or those with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, etc., are isolated for their own good. They are entrapped by voluntary confinement and fall prey to depression.

And then there are those that are infected by the virus.“The virus enters the body through the nose,” says Dr. Sohrabji, “The nose is somewhat exposed to the brain and the virus can end up in the brain in the olfactory system (how we smell things). This area is strongly implicated with depression.”

Additionally, the full-blown inflammation caused by the virus has an effect on the brain and mood of the patient. “The proteins that fight the virus slash and burn cells in the war against the virus and the resulting inflammation can lead to depression,” she said. “ The medical community’s first thought was that the virus is akin to a respiratory disease but it has been noticed to be more than that. A broad basket of mental issues has been caused by it.”

Social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus can lead to depression and anxiety, while those infected with COVID-19 can experience mental health issues, including depression. Being cognizant of the dangers caused by the lockdown can help us help each other stay sane and safe. 

What can help?

A study by Harvard Medical School has a unique solution. Foster a pet. Pets have a calming effect. Dogs’ calming effect on humans appears to help people handle stress, the study says. Research suggests that people with dogs experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. That means that their heart rate and blood pressure go up less and return to normal more quickly, dampening the effects of stress on the body.

The power of touch appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog. Having a dog is good for your heart too, says the study. Besides, dog owners tend to get more exercise as well. As coronavirus spreads across the US, Americans have stepped up to foster and adopt animals, keeping them out of shelters.

Contextualizing

”We come up with our sort-of explanations, even if they are not particularly persuasive, and then file the event away,” says Malcolm Gladwell on suicide. “I keep coming back to how important context is in understanding behavior.” 

The incontrovertible fact is that Sushant Singh Rajput, Sudha Devi, and Disha Salian were casualties of mental anguish during the lockdown. Rest in peace to all the lives that have been lost due to mental health.

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author whose interest in history has led her to chronicle our life in times of COVID. How many more must we lose?

World Health Organization: The Lost Genie

Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore US President, Donald Trump. Known for not mincing his words and rarely playing diplomatically, he recently tweeted that, Corona Virus is a very bad ‘gift’ from China to the World. 

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266014911127306240?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1266014911127306240&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Findianexpress.com%2Farticle%2Fworld%2Fvery-bad-gift-from-china-trump-in-his-latest-rant-on-coronavirus-pandemic-6431932%2F

Whatever Trump says or does makes a difference. He has provisionally suspended the funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) and accused the WHO of being Pro-China, mishandling the Corona Crisis. A few days back he wrote a letter to the Director-General of the WHO, threatening to exit the global organization. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

And now he has finally announced to end US’ relationship with the World Health Organization… 

It is evident in history that whenever any crisis emerges, it challenges all the previously existing structures, organizations, and institutions. A global crisis like COVID-19 is very much capable of either reducing our existing institutions as redundant or tagging them as completely outdated.

Donald Trump has put WHO in an embarrassing spotlight and while, we may or may not agree with him, we also cannot ignore a few basic analysis points.

WHO came into existence on 7th April 1948 and its identity centered around the global population’s health. WHO, as a global health body, should be held liable, accountable, and responsible for missteps regarding the current pandemic.

Covid-19 has threatened the very existence of humanity. The invisible attack has proved that the WHO is not adequate enough for serving Global Health.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, WHO failed to gather timely information with its epidemic surveillance system, and paradoxically praised China for its effort to contain the virus. 

China mislead the World, as well as the WHO, about COVID-19, many global reports clearly suggest. Whistleblowers were targeted by the Chinese government and human-to-human transmission was completely denied, initially. WHO should have kept a close eye on misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19.

WHO is obligated to inform communities about their rights and obligations with respect to health. Undeniably, acting as ‘Information Intermediary’ is the most vital function of WHO.

If one goes on to analyze the WHO’s Constitution, Article 1, states the objective of WHO is the attainment of the highest possible health for all. Article 2, highlights various functions of WHO, which include taking all ‘Necessary Action’ required to attain the highest possible level of health. Note that, Article 2(q), says that it is the function of WHO to provide information, counsel, and assist in health-related fields. Article 2(r), says that WHO work will be to assist in developing an ‘Informed Opinion’ among all the people about any matter related to health. 

Generally, there are few distinguishing essentials that determine efficient governance by any international organization.

First, the one who leads the organization makes a significant difference. Without a proactive leader, an organization as paramount as WHO may remain inert and passive. This is especially true in WHO’s context, where Article 28(i), authorizes the Director-General of WHO to take all necessary steps to combat epidemics.

Second, what power does the organization has if any member State violates its guidelines or recommendation?

According to the WHO’s constitution, Article 63 mentions that each member shall communicate promptly to WHO on important laws, regulations, official reports, and statistics related to health. Article 64 says that each member shall provide statistical, epidemiological reports in a manner determined by the Health Assembly. And Article 65 points that each member State shall transmit on the request of the Board such additional information pertaining to health.

To ensure the credibility of any organization, it is most important that its guidelines are binding on member States. In case any member violates its mandate, then the organization should have the power to penalize it. 

Lastly, the organization’s source of funding should be transparent and autonomous. Independent sources of funding make a tremendous difference in the efficiency of any organization. Financial autonomy plays a very significant role in making any institution equitable, fair, neutral, and bold in taking decisions. But WHO lacks financial autonomy and transparency in its funding.

USA has been the biggest donor to WHO contributing almost 15 percent of its total Budget under Assessed Contribution, the amount each member State pays to WHO according to the GDP. Over time, the Assessed Contribution has declined and Voluntary Contributions have risen, which include funds from private organizations. This reliance on Voluntary Contributions should be reduced to contain transparency of funding.

One thing that is clear is that the WHO has a GREAT responsibility in global health scenarios. The saying goes “with great power comes great responsibility” but the saying holds true the other way around as well. At least some bare minimum power is needed to ensure the efficient working of any institution. If this great responsibility is not complemented with bold, autonomous decision-making power, then failure of such an institution shouldn’t be surprising at all. 

Priyanka Singh is an Economics Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India). 

Sujeet Singh is Political Science Assistant Professor, Delhi University(India).


Featured image by Thorkild Tylleskar and license here.

Image of Director-General by ITU Pictures from Geneva, Switzerland and license here.

A Parallel Pandemic in the Shadows: Women Affected

Coronavirus brings the simmering issue of gender inequity to a violent boil. 

A barrage of data can leave you with less information than the data dictates. For some, it has become a hobby to get instant updates on Coronavirus infection rates, death rates, and trends. 

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”, Maya Angelou advises. Yet, the reductive nature of statistics are difficult to escape. One data point can blind us to the barriers of entry, the treacherous path, the years of turmoil, the fallen and left behind, and the unseen. 

Numbers indicate that men are being affected by COVID-19 at higher rates. But where does that leave our women?

In the US, prior to the pandemic, the workforce was 51% women, revealed Dr. C. Nicole Mason, President and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, at the May 22, 2020 EMS Briefing. A staggeringly high statistic, one that has taken many years to reach. From an inaccessible job market to wage gaps, having a workforce that was representative of women was an achievement.

However, from the time the pandemic began, that number has dropped to 47%. The last time such a distribution existed was in 2000 –  a complete loss of the gains made in the last 20 years, in a short 3 months. 

Global trends indicate that women are – on and off the frontlines – being affected by what is now being called the Shadow Pandemic. Dr. Estela Rivero,  Research Associate within the Pulte Institute for Global Development’s Evidence and Learning Division, shares that women are being burdened with the unpaid work that accompanies shelter in place orders. 

Unpaid work is defined by labor that has no direct remuneration; taking care of the house, your children, your children’s education, caregiving for the disabled and elderly all fall under this category. Imagine, if you were to hire someone to do said work, you would be paying them 24 hours a day. Women take on these extra tasks in conjunction with a part-time or full-time job. 

“Who is bearing the brunt of taking care of the children? Who is bearing the brunt of the online schooling?”, asks Dr. Beatrice Duncan, Rule of Law Advisor for UN Women, when she speaks about the increase in unpaid work by women. 99.9% of women, globally, are experiencing a spike in unpaid work and Duncan implores the collective to rationalize the impact of this gender disparity.  

Women are disproportionately impacted by unpaid work and caregiving during the pandemic, Dr. Estela Rivera informs. A quick look at the two tables above indicates that the burden of unpaid work has fallen on women prior to the pandemic. 

Coronavirus brings the simmering issue of gender inequity to a violent boil. Women, all around the world, with or without the pandemic, have been doing more unpaid work AND on average, work more hours (unpaid and paid) than men.

(Dr. C Nicole Mason, left; Dr. Estela Rivera, top-right; Dr. Beatrice Duncan, bottom-right)

“COVID-19 has, really, exposed some of the fragility of our economic, social and political systems”, Dr. Mason articulates. “We knew that there was something underneath the numbers. Even though women were in the workforce in record numbers, many women and families were still struggling to make ends meet. Measuring the economy by low levels of unemployment… didn’t capture the day to day realities of women and their families.”

Women are overrepresented in the health, education, and hospitality sectors, all of which have taken a hit during the pandemic and historically have lower pay. With unemployment for women jumping from 3% to 15% in the US, during the shelter in place, they are facing the loss of jobs, inadequate savings to survive the pandemic and potentially, having to make the difficult choice to choose work over their children. 

If women are to re-enter the workforce with equal footing, creation of new jobs, equal wages, increased basic pay, childcare provided by employers, flexibility with schedules, and social support systems for women, need to become part of the government’s structural dialogue. 

The economy and its jobs have changed and recovery requires adaptation. Otherwise, the violent boil will overflow, destroying everything in its wake. 

The path forward begs the question: What policies do we need long term for women and their families to succeed? 

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Corona Chronicles

I have a confession to make: secretly, I was kinda happy when India went into a total lockdown on March 25. Come on, I was feeling only what your average overworked, stressed out middle-class working woman felt. The disease was bad, but I was happy to take my staycation.

But I was not going to laze through 21 days. I had plans – house cleaning, writing, being the light of my family, getting lighter … all that good stuff. 

Day 1: Woke up with a sense of awe. We were witnessing history! Realized that there was no newspaper. Worse, no housemaid. For 21 days. An icy hand clutches my internal organs. A week, I can get by, but three weeks? 

Upside: Had a nice long nap in the afternoon. Felt really rested.

Day 2: My mother was absolutely right – housework never ends. No point in slaving, you have to do it all over again … in an hour’s time. New rule: no one allowed to walk on the floor or change clothes. And if anyone wants to eat the rice, sambhar, rasam, veg fry, and curds, they could use their fingers and palms only – no plates allowed. 

Upside: Have started watching re-runs of re-runs old shows.

Day 3: A day of realizations.

  1. My neighbor’s baby has colic. My neighbor has a baby. Really? Just exactly, who is this neighbor?
  2. A family that stays at home eats too much. I have to cook often and in large quantities. Ergo, more dishes. Aaarrrrgggh!
  3. Love my family. I just don’t want them around all the time.
  4. Eating healthy when confined to the home – an oxymoron. Also, how long will my stash of snacks hold out

Upside: Discovering the joys of binge-watching.

Day 4: I hate housework. I-HATE-HOUSEWORK. Once this lockdown is over, I’ll burn the house down. Finding it hard to binge-watch Friends and Big Bang Theory while wondering – ‘Who the h**l is doing their dishes and cleaning their apartments when they are at that d***n coffee shop or the Cheesecake Factory?’ This thought sucks the fun out of watching the shows.

Upside: Begun reading a book … more than a page at a time!

Day 5: Going to commit murder. A man in the next building keeps singing off-key and loudly along with his stereo. Hoping his family will do him in themselves. If they can’t, I volunteer.

Hearing about immigrants in cities trying to go home. Terribly sad for them. Okay, I’ll admit – my suffering is small potatoes. By the way, do I have enough potatoes?

Upside: Gave myself the day off. Read a wonderful thriller.  

Day 6: Dying of housework. Wiping all the torches, electric lamps and burned out bulbs, even gas stove – but no genie. I now know who I love the most – the maid. If anyone offers to bring my maid back in return for my family … well, I guess that’ll never happen (sob).

Sick of Friends. For just how long did this show run?

Upside: Today, a resident set things up so that we get veggies and milk packets every morning. Yay! 

Day 7: Today, my husband went out, as a volunteer for shopping for our apartment complex. I suspect he was just itching to get out of the house. When my hunter-gatherer returned from the mythical land called Outside, I made him give a step-by-step account of the entire half-hour trip. It took 45 minutes. A highlight of today.

Huge Upside: Husband took over the dishwashing duties. 

Day mmm-hmm: Missed a few days of journaling. Hell, missed a few days of life – got my dates wrong. I cheered when I found we had a couple fewer days to go of the lockdown. I have gone from being merely grouchy to being depressed as well. 

Upside: ?????

Day something or the other: Today, my husband got another chance to escape … needed salt! Bit down hard on a pillow and stay that way to prevent myself from asking him to buy a ton of snacks. 

Day sometime-during-week-two: Am all weirded out. Vocabulary stunted as we use only the words Corona Virus, Covid-19, lockdown, self-quarantine, shut up, and how the hell should I know. Still hate housework, but we now have a truce going. I’ll sweep, but the corners have to fend for themselves. If my boss can’t deal with it, she can do the work herself. Oh, wait, I’m the boss. Dang it.

Upside: All of us are healthy. We are all home, we are together. Watching TV footage of all the migrant laborers trying to get home – heartbreaking. Hunger and uncertainty in the camps – scary. And sick people in overflowing hospitals and the deaths … at least we aren’t going through that.

Day end-of-week two: Identified new syndrome – Lockdown-Induced Writer’s Block. Wonder if people will still be interested in the same things post-COVID. Still can’t get over the unreality of the situation. Is this lockdown a waste of time, or the best idea ever?

The mood around town is strange too. Most people are taking it as a time to relax. Some are going out anyway, once or twice a day. There is some seriousness but it’s not all gloom and doom. 

Summer is in full swing. The heat is killing. It’s enforcing the lockdown better than the fear of Coronavirus.

Upside: Birds are singing like gangbusters. We’re seeing bulbuls and parrots far more than before.

Week 3 beginning day-(Name starts with M or something like that): Conflicting feelings:

Happy because I’ve Corona eyes – dark circles are completely gone.

Upset, because I’ve Corona hair – shaggy and roots are showing.

Day Wed/Thurs. Week 3: Yay, only one more week to freedom. I am feeling far more upbeat than before.

April 15: India’s lockdown extended until May 3.

Hell, I’m putting all activities on hold as I concentrate on saving my sanity.

Good luck to you too!

Lakshmi Palecanda moved from Montana, USA, to Mysore, India, and inhabits a strange land somewhere in between the two. Having discovered sixteen years ago that writing was a good excuse to get out of doing chores, she still uses it.

Should California Reopen Its Economy? Yes!

Should California Reopen Its Economy? Yes!

by Mani Subramani

There are many unknowns with respect to Covid-19.  We don’t know when we will have a vaccine.  We don’t know when we will have an effective cure or when we will have widespread testing.  Yet we know several important facts. Covid-19 is NOT like the flu.  It spreads much faster and is much more deadly.  The death rate in the US is approaching 5.7% of the people who tested positive compared to the Flu which is around 0.1%.  

Based on what we know, the only way to protect lives is to avoid or significantly minimize transmission. As of today, this goal has been achieved by excellent planning, anticipation, consistent communication, and early adoption of the Shelter In Place order in California.  We have been able to maintain adequate spare ICU capacity over the past few months.  This has resulted in a much lower death rate in California in comparison to New York. Countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, and Taiwan have implemented an effective strategy based on testing, quarantine, and tracing. 

There is widespread support for the measures adopted by the state. However, it is completely unsustainable. Coronavirus is expected to be around for a very long time. Maintaining current levels of economic disruption can be devastating to the economy and cause a collapse of small businesses, communities, and maybe even cause social unrest.  

It is estimated that 50-60% of all small businesses are on the verge of failure, Heather Knight writes. Small businesses are just not able to receive any help from the small business protection program. She estimates that San Francisco alone could lose unto 1.6 B in tax revenues in the next two years due to small business failures.  Less than 10% of small businesses were helped by the first round of funding and the second round of $350B offers little hope for small business owners. This should come as no surprise given the ineptness of this administration. 

Governor Newsom and the local officials deserve all the credit for monitoring and getting the disease under control this past two months.  They have begun a slow process for reopening which began May 18. But the time has come to go to the next stage and provide guidelines, rules and recommend appropriate PPE to ALL businesses, so they can open. Yes ALL businesses including hair salons, restaurants, ballparks, and movie theaters to open.  

California, let’s lead the way and open with all deliberate haste.

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

**************************

Should California Reopen Its Economy? No!

by Rameysh Ramdas

The most fundamental duty and obligation of a government is to safeguard its citizens and ensure their safety. President Trump and some Republican Governors are ignoring the advice of experts and urging the end of the shelter in place, reopening public places. This is a grave mistake. 

During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the second and third waves reportedly killed upwards of 20 million people – all because the Government decided to open up the economy after just a month of shutdown. 

While the economic impacts of the shutdown are devastating, the economy cannot and should not be prematurely opened due to economic concerns. Dr. Tom Inglesby, Director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others such as Professor Leonard Fleck of Michigan State University, has cautioned that we risk an even larger wave of infections if we rush to normalcy too soon. President Trump and lawmakers across the country should listen to these wise words of caution. 

Gavin Newsom permitted a Phase 2 reopening starting May 18, 2020 in California, with varying levels of restrictions on specific counties. Santa Clara, one of the last counties to join the order, was burdened by slower economic growth if they resumed stricter shelter in place orders. Clearly, health professionals are still apprehensive about the new rules. 

Let us wait until there is a complete elimination of new infections or the widespread availability of a vaccine before we resume our normal lives. 

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.


This article was also published as Should California Reopen Its Economy? No!

Should California Reopen Its Economy? No!

Should California Reopen Its Economy? No!

by Rameysh Ramdas

The most fundamental duty and obligation of a government is to safeguard its citizens and ensure their safety. President Trump and some Republican Governors are ignoring the advice of experts and urging the end of the shelter in place, reopening public places. This is a grave mistake. 

During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the second and third waves reportedly killed upwards of 20 million people – all because the Government decided to open up the economy after just a month of shutdown. 

While the economic impacts of the shutdown are devastating, the economy cannot and should not be prematurely opened due to economic concerns. Dr. Tom Inglesby, Director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others such as Professor Leonard Fleck of Michigan State University, has cautioned that we risk an even larger wave of infections if we rush to normalcy too soon. President Trump and lawmakers across the country should listen to these wise words of caution. 

Gavin Newsom permitted a Phase 2 reopening starting May 18, 2020 in California, with varying levels of restrictions on specific counties. Santa Clara, one of the last counties to join the order, was burdened by slower economic growth if they resumed stricter shelter in place orders. Clearly, health professionals are still apprehensive about the new rules. 

Let us wait until there is a complete elimination of new infections or the widespread availability of a vaccine before we resume our normal lives. 

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

**************************

Should California Reopen Its Economy? Yes!

by Mani Subramani

There are many unknowns with respect to Covid-19.  We don’t know when we will have a vaccine.  We don’t know when we will have an effective cure or when we will have widespread testing.  Yet we know several important facts. Covid-19 is NOT like the flu.  It spreads much faster and is much more deadly.  The death rate in the US is approaching 5.7% of the people who tested positive compared to the Flu which is around 0.1%.  

Based on what we know today, the only way to protect lives is to avoid or significantly minimize transmission. As of today this goal has been achieved by excellent planning, anticipation, consistent communication, and early adoption of the Shelter In Place order in California.  We have been able to maintain adequate spare ICU capacity over the past few months.  This has resulted in a much lower death rate in California in comparison to New York. Countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, and Taiwan have implemented an effective strategy based on testing, quarantine, and tracing. 

There is widespread support for the measures adopted by the state. However, it is completely unsustainable. This virus is expected to be around for a very long time. Maintaining current levels of economic disruption can be devastating to the economy and cause a collapse of small businesses, communities, and maybe even cause social unrest.  

It is estimated that 50-60% of all small businesses are on the verge of failure, Heather Knight writes. Small businesses are just not able to receive any help from the small business protection program. She estimates that San Francisco alone could lose unto 1.6 B in tax revenues in the next two years due to small business failures.  Less than 10% of small businesses were helped by the first round of funding and the second round of $350B offers little hope for small business owners. This should come as no surprise given the ineptness of this administration. 

Governor Newsom and the local officials deserve all the credit for monitoring and getting the disease under control this past two months.  They have begun a slow process for reopening which began May 18. But the time has come to go to the next stage and provide guidelines, rules and recommend appropriate PPE to ALL businesses, so they can open. Yes ALL businesses including hair salons, restaurants, ballparks, and movie theaters to open.  

California, let’s lead the way and open with all deliberate haste.

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.


This article was also published under Should California Reopen Its Economy? Yes!

One Nation Under God

We’ve been witnessing some amazing resilience in the time of the Corona crisis. The governments around the world, doctors, entrepreneurs, educators, community members stepped up in unprecedented ways to support the system, support one another. It’s fascinating to see the kids transitioning to a brand-new lifestyle with great dexterity. 

But what’s going on within us, if each of us is considered a nation?

The ancient scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma talk about “self-reflection” in all 4 of the Vedas and the corresponding Upanishads. Although we, as humanity, are fascinated by these questions – who we are, where did we come from, where are we heading to – in recent times most of us been busy running around the clock to contemplate on our elemental existential purposes. 

I was a bit scattered at the beginning of the lockdown but I found myself in this ecosystem of learning. Discussions about ancient wisdom, talks about public policies, exchange of lifestyle-related notes among friends .. everything surfaced at my fingertips, in the comfort of my home. 

I chanced upon a physicist turned philosopher, life-coach Dr. Prasad Kaipa, who shared an in-depth analysis of self-reflection in reference to the scriptures. Right from the Rig Veda (the oldest written Veda) to Sama Veda, Yajur & Atharva: our ancestors gave us step-by-step subject matter guidelines.  Relevant to our current situation as the Corona-crisis demanded this contemplation, asking us to look into our very core, our relationship with nature and nurture. 

Photo credit: British Library, photo by Jeffrey Boswall, a natural history broadcaster, film-maker, and producer.

The process starts with the concept of “Prajnanam Brahma” – Introduced in the Rig Veda and concluded in the corresponding Aitareya Upanishad. It talks about the nature of our true perspective. The BIG picture perceived by our unique sense – the consciousness. According to this, by fishing out irrelevance, Neti Neti in Sanskrit (not this, not this), we land on our true nature. 

Next, “Tat Tvam Asi” – Introduced in the Sama Veda and the conclusion drawn in Chandogya Upanishad. What is it that’s not been seen but becomes visible, within us, around us? Never heard, but becomes audible? Unknown becomes known…

By merely asking these questions, we get in touch with our humility. Everything is not known to us, yet. Hence, the scope of pursuit. It gives us eligibility. Takes us to the path of inquiry on how an incredibly small seed can give rise to a tree, how the consciousness of the living beings (Jeeva Atman) is part of universal consciousness (Param Atman). We relate to it by experiences. 

Ahm Brahma Asmi” – In Yajur Veda, concludes in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. After thinking and experiencing, we meditate on the concept. Through astute practice, we feel oneness with the Supreme Divine. It’s possible to attain bliss by connecting our consciousness with divinity. 

I’d like to mention here, after probing this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the enormity of fall-out in “interpretation” at the very conceptual level, as shown in the popular TV series on Netflix: Sacred Games. Amazing depiction – horrors of human ignorance. Through the journey of the protagonist, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, we see the tale of reflection, rejection, retribution, redemption, and finally .. hopefully, renewal. Beautiful! 

And, then? 

The culmination of self-reflection comes with the realization of “Ayam Atman Brahman” – Conceptual introduction in Atharva Veda with conclusive notes in Māṇḍūkya Upanishad. It’s not about humans manifested in social hierarchy. It’s about preservation and sustenance through our thoughts, actions, practice, and pursuit, in perpetuation, day after day, year after year, age after age, with grace and gratitude for all that we have, all that we don’t. And, all that we wonder about, aspire to become. We are in this together. 

Soma Chatterjee is the Diversity Ambassador for India Currents and a Board Member for Silicon Valley Interreligious Council representing Hinduism on behalf of HAF

Inputs from Dr. Prasad Kaipa. Co-author of From Smart to Wise, You Can, and Discontinuous Learning


Featured image and license.

A Physician’s Story from the Frontlines

I have been an Emergency Medicine Physician for almost 20 years. I have worked through numerous disasters, and I’m used to the daily grind of heart attacks, gunshots, strokes, flu, traumas, and more. It’s par for the course in my field. Yet nothing has made me feel the way I do about my “job” as this pandemic has—that knot-in-the-pit–of-your-stomach sensation while heading into work, comforted only by the empathetic faces of my colleagues who are going through the same. I am grateful for their presence, knowing they are both literally and figuratively with me, that they understand and accept so profoundly the risks we take each day. I also hope that my friends and family forgive me for my lack of presence during this time—precisely when we need each other most—and that they realize that their words, their encouragement, and their small gestures that come my way daily are the fuel that gets me through each day. This is a story for all of us.

I met my patient, Mr. C., on my first real “pandemic” shift, when what we were seeing that day was what we had been preparing for. He was classic in his presentation, his X-ray findings, his low oxygen levels… we just knew. And he was the nicest man I had met in a long time. Gasping for breath, he kept asking if we needed anything, and that it would all be okay. He told us he was a teacher but that he was learning so much from us, and how much he respected what we were doing. The opposite could not be more true.

We had to decide how long we would try to let him work through this low oxygen state before needing to intubate him. His levels kept falling and despite all our best efforts it was time to put him on the ventilator. He told us he didn’t feel great about this, “but Doc, I trust you and am putting myself in your hands.” That uneasy feeling in my stomach grew even more in that moment. But he, with his teacher’s steady voice, kept me grounded, where I was supposed to be. I saw his eyes looking at me, seeing the kindness in them, even as we pushed the medications to put him to sleep. To say this was an “easy” intubation is an understatement. It was not. He nearly left us a few times during those first minutes, but he kept coming back. We fought hard to keep him with us. The patience and strength of my team that day, truly remarkable.

I handed him over to my friend and colleague, Dr. Ginsburg, and her team in the ICU, and her calming voice reassured me that they had it from here. And then for the next twelve days, I waited and watched his progress, knowing the statistics, and how sick he was when he got to us. They did their magic, and just yesterday my new friend Mr. C was extubated. I decided to go “meet” him again.

Mr C. was in the COVID stepdown unit, recovering, without family. Nobody was allowed to visit him; even worse, his wife had been home alone in isolation for the past fourteen days, too. My heart broke thinking of how that must have been for her. I cautiously went into his room, donned in my PPE, and when he saw me, he stopped for a second. A moment of recognition.

I introduced myself. “I’m Dr. Akbarnia, Mr. C. I was the last person you saw in the ER. You told me you trusted us to get you to this side. Looks like you did just fine.” He started to cry. He said, “I remember your eyes.” And I started to cry. What he didn’t know is that, at that moment, I realized that we do what we do exactly for people like him, for moments like these. His strength, his kindness, his calming words to me meant everything. At that moment, my heart (which had been beating over 100 bpm since this pandemic began) finally slowed down.

I sat down and we talked. I told him that while he is here, we are his family. He will always have a place in my heart. And whether he knows it or not, he will be my silent warrior and guide as I take care of every patient, COVID or not. He will fuel me until the day I hang up my stethoscope.

Dr. Akbarnia has been an ER physician for 20 years.

(Picture and story posted with full permission from patient)

In the “Age of the Coronavirus” – A Reflection

I sipped my morning coffee and browsed through the news, social media and emails. Spain declared an emergency and locked down.  The situation was still dire in Italy. Testing was woefully inadequate in the US and published numbers were the tip of the iceberg.  Toilet paper, cleaning supplies and frozen food shelves could not be restocked fast enough in supermarkets and grocery stores across the country to keep up with the wave of panic buying.

Sigh. 

Three other items caught my eye.  

The Times had a heartwarming story about how Italians nationwide – under lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – took to singing and playing musical instruments from their balconies and rooftops, with “piano chords, trumpet blasts, violin serenades and even the clanging of pots and pans” spilling from people’s homes” to show that they would get past this together, and to thank all the medical personnel on the front lines fighting the spread of the virus.

A good friend in Switzerland sent me a WhatsApp message.  “People have been hoarding toilet paper here,” she said, “empty shelves.” She also forwarded a video (it likely took multiple forwards to get to me) showing a young man in a coffee shop paying for his coffee with single sheets of toilet paper, and the barista asking for one more sheet, as Abba’s classic song plays in the background.  Money, money, money, must be funny, in the rich man’s world.

And then I saw this post on the social networking platform for local communities, Nextdoor:

“I’d like to take a moment to reflect on our current situation by bringing up a quote from the author C.S. Lewis.  It’s from an essay titled “On Living in an Atomic Age”. I’ll let Lewis say what he says best:

‘In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation…

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.’

“On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays”

Lewis wrote these words 72 years ago.  We must heed his advice today. Let’s not panic. Let’s be sensible. Let’s use common sense. Let’s adopt common courtesy. Let’s pull together towards a common cause.

Carefully follow the simple, sensible advice of healthcare professionals. Wash your hands, Maintain social distance. Stay indoors and avoid contact with others as much as you can. Be prepared to sacrifice some of your needs for the common good.  It’s not just for you. It’s for everyone around you, and for everyone around them.

Together, we will eventually emerge victorious from the “Age of the Coronavirus.”

Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. 


With gratitude to Joel Filipe for the use of his beautiful photograph from Unsplash.com