MonthMay 2020

Veganism and health

Today, we are in the middle of a global crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. All over the world millions of people have been infected and are dying everyday. But indirectly, each and every person has been affected as all the economies have shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Most businesses are having a hard time surviving and millions of people have lost their jobs and are unable to meet their basic needs of paying rents or EMI’s and providing for their families. The whole world is crippled and come to a halt.

But what is the root cause for all this?

Raising and killing animals for human consumption breeds disease and is the root cause behind this global pandemic. Despite the obvious need to close live-animal markets and slaughterhouses, these places are still open for business. And this is not the only health crisis caused by consumption of animals and animal products. Let me start with clarifying that,

Meat and dairy are not good for your body.

Shocked?

I know there are thousands of questions popping in your head and I will try to answer all of them, one by one.

What’s wrong with milk?

You can read more about – How an advertisement campaign got us duped into believing milk is necessary for healthy bones here.

What’s wrong with meat?

What’s wrong with fish?

So what is the solution you might ask?

Ditch animal products.

We are anatomically herbivorous and during most of our evolutionary history, we were largely vegetarian. Our body is not designed to eat meat, unlike carnivores.

  • Humans have short, soft fingernails and small “canine” teeth. In contrast, carnivores all have sharp claws and large canine teeth that are capable of tearing flesh.
  • Carnivorous animals swallow their food whole, relying on extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in it, which would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison, because strong acids aren’t needed to digest prechewed fruits and vegetables.
  • Animals who hunt have short intestinal tracts and colons that allow meat to pass through their bodies relatively quickly, before it can rot and cause illness. Humans’ intestinal tracts are much longer than those of carnivores of comparable size. Longer intestines allow the body more time to break down fiber and absorb the nutrients from plant-based foods, but they make it dangerous for humans to eat meat. The bacteria in meat have extra time to multiply during the long trip through the digestive system, increasing the risk of food poisoning. Meat actually begins to rot while it makes its way through human intestines, which increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear chunks of flesh from their prey and swallow them whole. Humans and other herbivores can move their jaws up and down and from side to side, allowing them to grind up fruit and vegetables with their back teeth. Like other herbivores’ teeth, humans’ back molars are flat for grinding fibrous plant foods.

A 100% plant based diet also known as a vegan diet is what is best for our personal health as well as for our environment.

I am sure the next big question that would have come in your minds would be – ‘But is an only plant based diet healthy?

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only healthy, it is healthier compared to a non vegetarian diet.

A whole food plant based diet is the only diet that has been proved successful in reversing lifestyle diseases.

But what about our calcium and protein?

Only 18% of global calorie and 37% of global protein comes from animals.

This shows that we are anyways getting majority of our nutrients from plants. In fact, all the nutrients we get from animals, including proteins, is originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically, all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day. But when you eat it through animals, they come with lot of other burden like high levels of cholesterol, animal hormones, etc.

So why not eat it directly through plants, like its meant to be?

You can get all essential nutrients like protiens, calcium, minerals and vitamins through plants itself. Lets compare few of the basic nutrients we get from certain animal and plant foods. Also, while studying this table it is important to keep in mind that it is not only about the numbers but also how the human body reacts to these nutrients.

I know, you will find it difficult to believe everything I said. So, I interviewed a Mumbai based doctor, Dr. Rashmi Menon to clarify our doubts.

Dr. Rashmi Menon, is a Holistic Medical Doctor and psychotherapist who specializes in reversing lifestyle diseases and homeopathy. She has been helping patients become medicine free and lead a healthy life since two decades.

VD – Is it true that milk actually depletes calcium from bones?

RM – The bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis can lead to small and not-so-small fractures. Although many people think of calcium from milk in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.

Yes, milk has calcium as seen in the lab studies, but only 30 percent of this is actually absorbed in the bones. To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.  This can be easily covered by a whole food plant based diet with inclusion of greens, sesame seeds, legumes, etc, along with exercises which help the bones to absorb calcium as well as vitamin D either directly from the sun or supplementation.

VD – What are the benefits of having a plant based diet? What all diseases can it reduce the risk for and by how much? Is a vegan diet actually helpful in reversing lifestyle diseases?

RM – Since food is a major part of our lifestyle, it is also a major cause when it comes to lifestyle diseases. The animal products in our diet increase acidity, have low fiber, are high in fat and cholesterol, antibiotics, steroids and hormones, all of which hinder the normal functioning of the body.  Over time this malfunctioning manifests in the form of lifestyle diseases. A plant based diet along with a moderate exercise routine can reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases and cancer by about 40%. A few lifestyle diseases that have scope of reversal are heart disease, diabetes type 2, PCOD, PCOS, asthma, obesity, fatty liver, renal disease, migraines, IBS, acidity. Refined, processed food and foods filled with chemicals in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, preservatives and colorants can also have a similar effect on the body, which is why vegans who eat an unhealthy diet can also suffer from lifestyle diseases.

VD – Can you share some real life stories of your patients and how a vegan diet has helped people reverse lifestyle diseases.

RM – A vegan diet can definitely help people feel lighter and more healthier. Eating wholesome real food meant for the human body otherwise called a whole food plant based diet with high raw, has helped hundreds of my patients reverse their disease. It eliminates everything that physically triggers the body to dysfunction.  Sharing just a few here:

A 60-year-old lady with 10 plus years of diabetes was able to get off her medicines in a month by following the wfpb plan, stress reduction methods as well as a moderate exercise plan.

A 40-year old lady, diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and was able to see re-absorption of some of her breast lumps as well as calcification of the rest in a one year time period.  This was possible partially due to the inculcation of a strict high raw wfpb regimen.

A 45 year old professional suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes for 8 years saw a reduction in his blood sugar and blood pressure readings within a month of starting the plan, and was gradually able to get off medicines within the span of 6 months.  Here too, the wfpb diet played a majpr role.

A 30-year-old saw the PCOD cysts disappear in two months follow up sonography.  She was able to follow vegan diet 100% and the wholesome part around 50%. 

VD – If this is true, then why do many dietitians and doctors still suggest milk, eggs and meat to be included in a healthy diet?

RM – Over time we have formed the habit of disintegrating food and depending on lab tests to find out how much of the identifiable nutrients are there in the food and to segregate them and apply them in our diet.  This does not take into consideration the fact that the human body as well as the food found in nature have so many components and nutrients in them which we are still in the process of identifying. Since we believe only what the lab says, if we were to take a drop of milk to the lab and test, it will show a certain amount of calcium, protein, etc.  What it will not show is, how much of the same is absorbed into the body and what are the other effects of the same on the body.

The dairy, poultry and meat industry has grown into a big organisation providing employment to many people. Since it is important to keep the demand on, most studies on the merits of these products are also funded by the same industry. But the best study is the one which we experience ourselves.  One of the best things to do is to just drop these animal products from our diet for just one month, and keep notes on the changes observed in the body—physically and mentally.  This is the only study which cannot be manipulated.

VD – What about vitamin D and B12? Is taking supplements for these vitamins safe?

RM – Whether vegan or not If we live in an urban setting chances are we will need to take B12 and Vitamin D supplements.  Vitamin D is a hormone created under the skin on exposure to sunrays and then stored in the liver.  Due to the pollution particles in the air in the cities the the sunrays that reach the skin are low quality.  Add to it our indoor lifestyle and use of sunscreens, the city dwellers then to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.  

Vitamin B12 is created by the bacteria present in the mud.  In the urban space our exposure to mud is extremely limited.  This mud also is high in pollutants and chemicals, which in turn kill the bacteria. If one is eating meat or dairy, the animals are fed these supplement and it is the second hand supplement that our body gets. Still, 90% of non-vegans from cities have severe B12 and D deficiencies. It goes undetected because unless you tell the doctor you are a vegan, you are not asked to get a B12 or Vitamin D test done. If one were to  live in a village and live a life without modern trappings, living close to nature and natural mud one may not need first hand or second hand  B12 supplements, whether vegan or not.

Yes, in an ideal world, supplements should be avoided.  Alas, we do not live in an ideal world.  So we can do the second best.  That would be to take check for these deficiencies via blood tests and supplement accordingly.  Over supplementation can be as harmful as a deficiency.

VD – Anything else you would like to share 

RM – People have been living a healthy life for years without having any animal products in their diet.  That itself proves that it is possible for a human to live without animal products.  Then to add to the exploitation and abuse of these innocent animals becomes a choice.  A choice which we can all choose to avoid without ANY harm to ourselves. Like every other diet or lifestyle, a balance in eating and making wise choices are important. 

If you have more questions about a whole food plant based diet and wish to consult with her, please drop a comment below or email me on vidhi228@gmail.com and I will share her contact details with you.

Sports is going vegan

Slowly, as people are becoming more and more aware and finally accepting the science that meat and dairy are bad for ones health, more and more athletes are turning vegan. Traditionally, athletes believed that the only way to meet their daily protein requirement was via meat consumption, but with increased awareness around nutrition, this has changed. They have realized that many plant-based foods are actually richer in protein than meat. Plant based diet gives endurance athletes an edge as a vegan diet can enhance athletic performance due to enhanced cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol and weight loss.Also, plant based diets are more conducive to recovery.

Meat-free athletes from tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams and Novak Djokavic to Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton to NFL’s Derrick Morgan and Davod Carter to the current Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli have all adopted vegan lifestyles and proved the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet.

I interviewed Kuntal Joisher, who is a vegan mountaineer and the first but not last vegan to climb the Mt. Everest. Many climbers have started following his example now.

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai, the man who became the first vegan to Climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds.

I have been a Vegan for the last 18 years, but I have never had issues building lean muscle mass on a vegan diet. When I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs! Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

To me Veganism is about animal liberation and saving animal lives. That’s the first and foremost. Animals are here sharing the planet with us, they are not here to be used by us. Hence, I not only climbed Everest on a vegan diet but all of my mountaineering gear was also vegan, made completely from animal-free material. I used a one-piece synthetic suit, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather.

Kuntal Joisher

Beauty of veganism – Substitute not sacrifice

The beauty of vegan food is that you do not have to give up on the taste of your favorite animal based foods like meat or dairy as there are amazing substitutes available for all animal products from milk for your tea, to curd, ice creams, cheese and even meats and sausages!

Dairy milk can be replaced using plant based milks like cashew milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, pistachio milk, coconut milk, hemp milk etc. There is so much choice available and the best part is that you can decide your preference based on the texture and flavor you like and also other factors like cost, local availability etc. Also, these milks can be very easily made at home ensuring they are pure and preservative free.

Cheese, mayonnaise, curd and ice-creams are also possible from these plant based milks. There are many retail products available in USA and Europe for the same. In India, we have small vegan businesses catering to all these needs who are slowly expanding to reach bigger markets. You can check out few of them here.

Meat can be replaced by mock meat options made from soy, peas, seitan etc. Recently, around the world the products of mock meat brands like the Impossible burger and Beyond meat have taken everyone by surprise as they replicate the taste, look and texture of meat perfectly. Innovative companies like GardeinNew Wave FoodsOcean Hugger FoodsGood Catch, and others are creating fool-your-friends vegan versions of fish filletscrab cakescoconut shrimptunascallops, and even caviar. Even in India there are mock meat brands like Gooddot, Vezlay and Nutrela.

Also, more and more vegan restaurants are cropping up all over the world. You can check out a list of Indian vegan restaurants here. For people in Mumbai – Imagine Cafe, is Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. You can read more about them here or visit their Instagram page.

Is veganism expensive?

Like any other diet and lifestyle, veganism can be as cheap or expensive as you make it.

Veganism is expensive, is a myth. In fact, vegans survive mainly on beans, rice, grains, fruits, and vegetables which are way cheaper than meat and fish. Replacing meat burgers with a veggie burger patty will be the cheapest option ever but if you opt for processed specialty mock meat patties it might sometimes be more expensive, especially since most of them are still imported to India. However, it should be remembered that these meat-alternative products are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. Cheaper foodstuffs like tofu, mushrooms, aubergine, chickpeas and jack fruits can be used at home to make delicious meals mimicking meat products.

When it comes to milk and milk products, it is important to know that globally all the governments heavily subsidize milk. And in spite of that making most of the plant milks at home turns out to be much cheaper. And what could be better than making your own milk, fresh at home whenever you need it, ensuring what your are drinking is of the best quality and preservative free? Retail prices of plant milks are still high comparatively as they are not subsidized by the government and the demand is comparatively quite low. Once the demand starts increasing, the prices of even these store bought milks will go down.

We as consumers have the power to change the world. What we demand is going to be produced. If we demand more animal free products that’s the direction the business world will take.

Kuntal Joisher, vegan mountaineer
Cost comparison of animal milk vs various plant milks
Cost comparison of animal milk products vs plant milk products

And that day is not far. Already in the US, the dairy milk consumption is declining and demand for plant milks is rising.

Source: USDA

Also, in the grand scheme of things, the vegan diet is the most inexpensive diet on this planet as once animal products have been eliminated from the menu, chances of getting diseases has been comparatively reduced by a lot. Our health is priceless. Add the cost of health care and insurance, prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, doctor visits and hospital stays, and you can easily see how meat, dairy and egg-eating is the most expensive lifestyle around!

Downside of the health movement

Health is a complex issue and has two parts to it – physical health and mental health. It is also a privilege. Those with economic privilege have better access to high quality healthcare and are much more able to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as regular exercise, access to better quality food and time and resources to have proper home cooked meals. By positioning health at the level of the individual, it sometimes neglects the socio-economic and genetic determinants of health. Nobody has complete control over their health, regardless of the lifestyle that they lead. We can try and do our best, but there is no guarantee. Another major problem is that today, more than being strong and disease free, weight is conflated with healthiness, and being thin is assumed to be symptomatic of being healthy. Conversely, fatness is assumed to indicate a lack of healthiness. The weight stigma experienced by people in larger bodies, even from healthcare professionals and their own families, does not help improve their lives or lead to health but affects their mental health even more. The emotional costs are incalculable.  Hence, it is important to ensure that we don’t overemphasize physical health and overlook mental health.

For me, Veganism is not about health, it is about ethics, and health is just an ancillary benefit.

What you eat and how it affects your body is a personal choice as long as it only affects you. So you might chose to indulge in unhealthy foods like oil, sugar and processed junk foods even after knowing it is not that good for your body just like you might indulge in alcohol or smoking. Its an informed decision, that you are making.

But, it stops being a personal choice the moment what you are eating affects millions of other lives.

I would like to conclude by saying that, meat and dairy are not only bad for the environment and our personal health but over and above an extremely unethical and cruel food choice made to selfishly satisfy human taste buds by exploiting, torturing and killing millions of lives every single day.

I will speak more in detail in my next article about the most important reason and the essence behind adopting a vegan lifestyle – Compassion.

References:

Milk is unhealthy

https://www.veganfirst.com/article/milk-is-unhealthy-here-is-why

https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/health-concerns-about-dairy/calcium-and-strong-bones

https://www.pcrm.org/news/blog/more-milk-more-problems

https://www.pcrm.org/news/news-releases/doctors-group-tells-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee-ditch-dairy

https://www.peta.org/living/food/reasons-stop-drinking-milk/

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/milk-hormones-cancer-pregnant-cows-estrogen/

Meat is unhealthy

https://www.evolvingwellness.com/post/15-reasons-why-you-may-want-to-reconsider-eating-meat

https://www.bustle.com/articles/137865-8-reasons-meat-is-bad-for-you-yes-even-chicken

https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-reduce-your-risk-of-diabetes-cut-back-on-meat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/health/drug-companies-antibiotics-resistance.html

Fish is unhealthy

https://www.peta.org/living/food/is-fish-good-for-you-heres-why-not/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/cannibalistic-feed-biomagnification/

Other references:

https://nutritionfacts.org/

https://www.knowyourmoney.co.uk/personal-finance/cost-of-going-vegan/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bethkaiserman/2019/01/31/dairy-industry-plant-based-milks/#d2754e51c9ed

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/milk-sales-drop-by-more-than-1-billion-as-plant-based-alternatives-take-off/

https://medium.com/tenderlymag/healthism-in-veganism-its-time-to-call-it-out-174903d477da

Veganism is Environmentalism

Today our environment is in serious trouble. We are in the midst of terrible ecological devastation and mass extinction.

In a landmark UN report, 2018, the world’s leading scientists warned that there are just twelve years to keep global warming under 1.5 celsius or we significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, and other extreme temperature changes.

Twelve. Years. Two of which are already gone.

That timeline is shocking. Generally speaking, conversations about climate change usually end up including fossil fuels. Mentioned far less are the ways that animal agriculture contributes to the changing climate. Confused?

Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass (i.e. zoo mass) was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoo mass. Raising animals for food is the single greatest human-caused source of destruction to our environment.

Land and Rain forests

Animal agriculture is very land intensive. Of all the roles trees play in climate change, their role as carbon sinks might be the most important. A carbon sink is anything in nature that holds or stores more carbon that it releases, like trees. They manage this by acting like a sponge and soaking up carbon and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free and wrecking havoc on climate patterns. But animal agriculture is the biggest industry leading to deforestation.

Greenhouse gases

Water

Waste

Oceans

The fishing industry affects a number of marine conservation issues, including: fish populations, water pollution, and habitat degradation.

The fishing industry needs to be significantly decreased in order to maintain healthy marine environments around the world. Oceans of the world may be fish-less by 2048, and irresponsible fishing practices are being held as one of the major culprits behind this potential disaster.

One of the most detrimental techniques is bottom trawling, in which fishermen drag a net along the bottom of the ocean floor. It disturbs the bottom of the seabed, stirring up significant amounts of sediment and damaging the coral species which is a vital component of healthy ocean ecosystems as it provides shelter to a number of deep sea-dwelling species. The sediment that is brought up from the bottom of the ocean floor can be carried along by currents, reaching areas of the ocean located miles away. An overabundance of sediment creates murky waters, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater plants and creating dead zones of oxygen deficiency. Additionally, many of the organic pollutants that have settled into the sediment are stirred back up and reintroduced to the food chain, beginning with plankton and moving up to humans. The UN has estimated that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling. Blast fishing and cyanide fishing are two other practices that are detrimental to marine habitats. In blast fishing, fisherman use explosives to kill large quantities of fish. The explosives do more than kill the fish, however, and also cause destruction to underlying habitats such as coral reefs. Cyanide fishing is a similar practice, but uses cyanide to kill large quantities of fish. Fishermen spray this poison throughout coral reefs, Then collect the stunt fish and place them in freshwater for roughly two weeks. The fresh water is believed to cleanse the fish of any remaining cyanide. In many places, these practices are illegal, yet continue to be used.

FAQ

What if everyone starts eating only plants? That will also lead to increase in the agricultural land requirement and lead to deforestation etc.

No, it wont. Raising animals is very resource intensive as opposed to cultivating crop for direct human consumption. Animal based diet is 16 times more resource intensive than a vegan diet, whereas a vegetarian diet is 3 times more intensive. Hence, if everyone in the world ate a plant based diet even after factoring the increase in demand of land for human crops we will be able to return almost 80% of the total land today under agriculture to the forests. (Assuming, the level of global calorie intake stays the same)

How much would changing my diet actually help? I am just one person! Can I really make a difference all by myself?

Source: Aleksandrowicz et al, PLoS One

As you can see, it would definitely make a big difference if the world’s heaviest meat eaters scaled back even moderately, helping to free up land to feed everyone else. If many people collectively made changes to their diets, it will add up.

Why is animal agriculture resource intensive?

Instead of directly eating plants and getting our nutrients from there, human as usual tend to do it through animals who themselves get their nutrients from plants. Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats and corn; however, they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. An animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass known as feed conversion ratios (FCR) (i.e. feed: meat). The range of FCRs is  according to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry. The larger the animal, the larger the percentage of that animal’s body mass is inedible material like bone, skin and tissue. The second reason for meat production’s great resource intensity is due to its immense scale. Globally, there is a projected “food animal” population of over 20 billion, almost thrice that of the current seven billion humans the planet carries, with the animal count expected to rise along with human population growth. It all adds up.

What about grass fed beef and free farms?

Most cattle spend their first year on pastures eating grass, after which they are typically moved to a feedlot, where they are fattened up with grain. By contrast, “grass-fed” cattle keep grazing on grass until they are slaughtered. But, on the flip side, grass-finished cattle which are not given antibiotics etc. also take longer to reach slaughter weight, which means they spend more time burping up methane into the atmosphere. Because of this, some studies have suggested that grass-fed beef can actually be worse for the climate over all.

Is organic produce better than conventionally grown produce?

Organic produce is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, which is definitely good for your health. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better from a climate perspective. In some cases, it can be a bit worse as organic farms often require more land than conventional farms.

Should I worry about whether my produce is local and seasonal?

Transportation accounts for only about 6 percent of food’s total climate footprint. Anything that’s in season where you live, whether you buy it at a local farmers’ market or at a supermarket, is usually a good choice. Things get trickier when it comes to out-of-season produce. Some fruits and vegetables that are shipped by plane can have a surprisingly hefty carbon footprint. In some cases, though, there can be an advantage to food that’s shipped in from elsewhere grown in its natural environment than to buy a local variety that was grown in an energy-intensive heated greenhouse.

Also, many believe that air-freight is more common than it actually is. Very little food is air-freighted; it accounts for only 0.16% of total transportation involved in the food supply chain, as most foods are transported by ships. Many of the foods people assume to come by air are actually transported by ships – avocados and almonds are prime examples and crops even when shipped at great distances, its emissions are much less than locally-produced animal products.

Even almonds are very water intensive. Is’nt that bad for the environment?What is the environmental impact of different types of milk?

Yes, almonds are more water intensive as compared to other nuts and grains. But even they use 50% of water per litre as compared to milk from cows.

This graph is a good representation of the environmental impact of different types of milk, per liter.

Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science

Why aren’t governments speaking more openly about how harmful animal agriculture is for the environment? How come we have never heard of this before?

Reducing your carbon footprint by eating less meat and dairy rarely gets attention. This strategy has been recommended by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and a host of other highly-regarded researchers and organisations.

Industry and lobby groups have traditionally had much economic and political power. They push heavy consumption and meat marketing campaigns which target our insecurities, attempting to convince us our brain development is linked to hearty meat intake. Governments under the pressure of these lobbyists and capitalists aren’t acknowledging this openly or making policies that could aid in this shift.

Religious and cultural associations are definitely there as well. It is a difficult shift to make mentally and it appears we don’t want to be put off our food by acknowledging the implications of our diet. And hence, as we say, ‘Ignorance is bliss!’

I would like to conclude this answer by quoting a speech given by Greta Thunberg a climate activist who is only 17 years old –

We are about to sacrifice our civilization for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue to make enormous amounts of money. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. Even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You say you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. But I do not care about being popular, I care about climate justice and the living planet.

To all of you who have never treated this crisis as a crisis. To all the political parties that pretend to take the climate question seriusly. To all of you who chose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change it self. Your silence is almost worst of all.

We are running out of time. We are standing at a crossroads in history. We are failing but we have not yet failed. We can still fix this. It is up to us. The real power belongs to the people.

GRETA THUNBERG

Conclusion:

  • Modern agriculture inevitably contributes to climate change, but some foods have a bigger impact than others.
  • It is definitely good to buy stuff locally as far as possible and eat organic as it is better for ones health but what you eat matters a lot more than whether it’s local or organic, or what kind of bag you use to carry it home from the store.
  • Beef, lamb and cheese tend to do the most climate damage. Pork, chicken and eggs are in the middle. Plants of all kinds typically have the lowest impact. Hence, a vegan diet is being considered as the most environmental friendly.

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only good for the environment but also ethical, cruelty free and good for your personal health.

I will talk more about the same in my next few articles. Follow my blog for regular updates.

References and sources:

All the data has been taken from reliable sources. I have listed down all the major websites and articles I have referred to for the data. Most of the statistics are global averages, but some of them might be more specific to USA/Europe as many of the studies are carried out there.

https://ourworldindata.org/

https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts

https://www.culinaryschools.org/yum/vegetables/

https://www.geo41.com/water-uses

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron

https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-the-fishing-industry.html

Article from The New York Times

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/09/30/can-a-burger-help-solve-climate-change

www.forksoverknives.com

Book – No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg

Caste discrimination in India – An ugly truth

I first learnt about the Indian caste system while studying history in school. The caste system was formalized in a legal treatise called Manusmriti, dating from about 1,000 B.C. Manusmriti is a code of conduct put together by Brahmins, mainly for themselves, and some other “upper” caste communities. The text defined karma (actions) and dharma (duty) for Hindus, who today represent the majority of India’s population. In it, society was divided into four strictly hierarchical groups known as ‘varnas’ as shown below.

Pyramid showing social hierarchy

Over time, as social segregation and caste prejudice deepened, another layer of Shudras emerged at the base of the pyramid: Dalits, meaning “divided, split, broken, scattered” in classical Sanskrit. They got their other name — “untouchables” — because their mere touch could supposedly defile. I will refer to them as Bahujans (literally means “people in majority”), referring to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Castes (OBC), along with religious minorities.

But in school, I also learnt about the fight against caste discrimination by great leaders like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule. And how after a long and difficult journey finally on 26th January 1950, India came under liberal forces as a sovereign, democratic and republic. And for the longest time, I was under the misconception, that this was the end of the age old caste system in India.

Recently, I read a couple of graphic novels depicting the stories of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Bhimayana – Experience of untouchability) and The Phules (A gardener in the wasteland). Reading the story of Ambedkar, gave me goosebumps. Even as a child, the kind of discrimination he had to face for basic needs like water was heart wrenching. And he was, what I would call, privileged among the Bahujans as his father worked for the then King of Baroda, resulting in him always having proper clothes to wear and access to education. He got the opportunity to go and study at the Columbia University in America and the London school of Economics which was otherwise extremely rare among their caste.

“In Columbia University, I experienced social equality for the first time.” – Ambedkar in Columbia Alumni News, Dec 1930

In spite of being so highly educated, when he returned back to the city of Baroda in 1917 to serve the state and repay his debt to the Maharaja by working as a probationer in the Accountant Generals office, he could not find any motel that would let him stay. The government offices were also prolonging allocating him official quarters without any rhyme or reason. Even his friends did not welcome him to their house. He had to give up on his obligation to the Maha

raja and run back to Mumbai, just because he was an untouchable.

These books opened my eyes to today’s harsh reality and I started probing around and reading more on prevalence of caste discrimination in the 21st century.

The Ugly truth

Caste is an unfortunate and ugly truth in Indian society. For generations of Indians, the ancient code of social stratification known as the caste system has defined how people earn a living and whom they marry.

Most of us feel that caste is no longer an issue. But that’s not true. Even today in 2020, caste is very much real. 70 years after the caste system was abolished by the constitution, India still practices untouchability. Despite reform efforts, deep-rooted bias and entitlement hold firm among higher castes, while those on the lowest rungs still face marginalization, discrimination and violence. 

Here are some of the very few selected recent examples to look at :

This article was published in ‘The New York Times’ in 2017.
You can check out the full article here

And all this violence was just a result of a Dalit like Mr. Sardar speaking out and demanding what is rightfully his. He was beaten up and scalped for insisting on being paid the wages (about 5200Rs ) the higher caste landlord owed his son for working at his rice paddy.

In September 2006, an upper caste mob, according to eyewitnesses, paraded a mother and her 17 year old daughter naked,raped and killed them. Their brothers aged 19 and 21 too were murdered. Their bodies were dumped in a canal. This gruesome incident occurred in Khairlanji, Bhandardara, only 780kms away from Mumbai but too far it appears to muster national outrage.

In June 2017, a groom was threatened for riding a horse to his wedding – because doing so is considered an upper caste privilege. And this is not the first time a Dalit riding a horse to his wedding has been threatened. A similar incident occurred in 2015 when  villagers hurled stones at a Dalit groom in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

In June 2018, three Dalit boys were stripped, beaten and paraded naked by villagers in the western state of Maharashtra last week for swimming in a well that belonged to an upper-caste family, police said.

In October 2011, six Dalit women were gang-raped in a village of the Bhojpur district which has a long history of violence against Bahujans. But the worst part is things are not getting better with time. Even today on 6 April 2020, amid the national lock down, five people belonging to the Dalit community have been injured in Bhojpur district of Bihar after they were fired upon by members of dominant caste groups on Sunday night.

And if you think that untouchability exists only in the villages , that is not true. Not only does caste resist changes by time, it also manages to transcend the rural-urban divide.

Recently in Delhi, three students training for their civil service exams were beaten up and evicted after they were discovered to be Dalit.

This article was published in The Telegraph in 2008.
You can read the full article here.

A similar incident happened with the sister of my friend from architecture college in Mumbai itself. It took her a long time to be able to rent a room. And after a long search when she finally found a place, it was on the condition that she would never go near the temple in their house.

“Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls,” said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables.”

The data collected by the India Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research says-

  • More than 160 million people in India are considered ‘Untouchable’
  • About 27 percent of the Indian households still practice untouchability
  • Since, Brahmins come on the top of the caste chart, 52 percent of them still practice untouchability
  • Only 5.34 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste
  • It is most widespread in Madhya Pradesh with 53 percent practicing untouchability. Madhya Pradesh is followed by Himachal Pradesh with 50 per cent. Chhattisgarh comes on the 3rd position with 48 percent, Rajasthan and Bihar with 47 percent, Uttar Pradesh with 43 percent, and Uttarakhand with 40 percent
  • The survey also shows that almost every third Hindu practises untouchability (33-35%)
  • Every hour two Bahujans are assaulted; every day two Bahujans are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.
  • Nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Bahujans, according to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 2003 in Vancouver, Canada.

Caste and reservations

For thousands of years, education was denied to the majority of the population of our country on the basis of one’s birth. Seven decades ago, the founders of postcolonial India outlawed caste discrimination in the constitution. Yet caste remains a significant factor in deciding everything from family ties and cultural traditions to educational and economic opportunities, especially in small towns and villages, where more than 70% of Indians live. Nearly a third of Bahujans make less than Rs. 100 a day, and many don’t have access to education or running water. Untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered “unclean” or exceedingly menial, and for very little pay. One million Bahujans of a specific sub caste work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. It is estimated that over 600 sewer workers die every year. That is more than 10 times the Indian soldiers killed by terrorists. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and oppression. Very few of them hold office jobs. 

“Reservation” is a tool to give education and jobs to the oppressed on the basis of their caste – that very caste on the basis of which they were earlier denied education and jobs.

For many Bahujans education is the only way out of poverty, but that isn’t easy. Many upper caste and privileged people think that these reservations are not fair. They feel that it robs people with merit of opportunities. Even I used to be one of them till few months back when I realized we are so self absorbed that we cannot see the big picture beyond our own selfish needs.

Reservations are not meant to fix caste inequality , but to prevent caste supremacists from outright denying the less privileged their right to learn altogether.

Some people feel that reservations discredit quality and talent. That is a myth. Even the reserved seats ate allotted based on merit. For example:

2012 Cut-Off Marks in Medical Colleges of Chennai

This table clearly shows there is hardly any difference between the cut off marks between the open category and the reserved seats. It is true that this difference might vary from course to course and college to college but the underlying fact that reservations are like charity and not merit based is false. Also the idea that low caste people are inactive and not interested in education is an upper caste myth where the lower castes are so objectified as unworthy, that the idea that they too study to create careers simply does not occur to the thoughtless flock of upper caste privileged people taught to resent their very presence. If anything these people have to work ten times harder to even try and reach the same stage, overcoming obstacles at every level. Many of them leave their education mid way at an early age itself as they are unable to bear the teasing in the classroom not only by their fellow classmates but many a times also by teachers.

Some people believe reservations should address economic vulnerability and not caste. – Vidyut, who has a keen interest in mass psychology and uses it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country gives a very logical reply to that –

“It is like saying, we will fight one kind of inequality but not another. Removing protections to one kind of vulnerable group in order to assist another is not a better method, it is fundamental inhumanity that refuses to take responsibility for the whole range of assistance needed. Replacing caste based reservations with those that are economic capacity based will have an extremely predictable result of filling seats with high caste poor people and disenfranchising the lower castes while pretending that this is a more just system. Poverty, on the other hand, does not necessarily need reservations, but assistance. Lack of economic resources can be fixed with free tuition and funds to enable study.”

It is true that a few rich lower caste people are benefited by these reservations. But isn’t that true with everyone and everything in this society? All educational institutes have management seats for privileged people who get in just by giving huge donations. Also don’t Bahujans deserve some concession for the generations of their ancestors being ill treated. “Also, in order to try and control this phenomenon, a logical move would be to put a rule that goes “people richer than XYZ must seek admissions through the general quota” and not occupy seats meant to protect the deprived. But that will not happen, because the last thing they want is for more competition in their “merit”. They’d rather point out to the privileged few and use it as an excuse to deny all. – she adds.

To conclude, whether we like it or not, it is a fact that our society is divided into groups based on castes. Reservations were introduced to end the dominance of certain groups and give the neglected and oppressed groups a push so that they could become equal to the other groups and hold a respectable place in the society. In an Utopian India, where caste discrimination has been truly abolished in all its forms, there will be no need of reservations. But not before that.

Caste and political representation

Enforcement of laws related to caste discrimination would be stringent if more people of this background are a part of our governance system. To allow for proportional representation in certain state and federal institutions, the constitution reserves 22.5 percent of federal government jobs, seats in state legislatures, the lower house of parliament, and educational institutions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The reservation policy, however, has not been fully implemented. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (1996-1997 and 1997-1998) report indicates that of the total scheduled caste reservation quota in the Central Government, 54 percent remains unfilled. More than 88 percent of posts reserved in the public sector remain unfilled as do 45 percent in state banks. A closer examination of the caste composition of government services, institutions of education and other services, however, reveals that even though Brahmin’s represented only 5 percent of the population in 1989, they comprised 70 percent of the Class I officers in governmental services. At universities, upper-castes occupy 90 percent of the teaching posts in the social sciences and 94 percent in the sciences, while Dalit representation is only 1.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

During elections, already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials,

Dalit villagers who do not comply to voting for certain candidates have been harassed, beaten, and murdered. Bahujans who have contested political office in village councils and municipalities through seats that have been constitutionally “reserved” for them have been threatened with physical abuse and even death in order to get them to withdraw from the campaign. In the village of Melavalavu, in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district, following the election of a Dalit to the village council presidency, members of a higher-caste group murdered six Bhaujans in June 1997, including the elected council president, whom they beheaded.

Caste and marriage

Marriages within the caste is the norm of the Indian society. To think of marriages between castes is a difficult and socially unacceptable proposition. Even today, the custom of marrying only within the caste, known as endogamy, has not changed and inter caste marriages are frowned upon. In 2011, the rate of inter-caste marriages in India was as low as 5.8%. 

The condemnation can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence. On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on as a punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.

Shockingly, urban households do not have a higher probability of inter-caste marriage than rural households. Ironically, metropolitan cities have the lowest rate among urban areas. Based on NFHS 2006-07, caste endogamy is also unaffected by how developed or industrialized a particular state is, even though Indian states differ widely in this aspect. Tamil Nadu, while relatively industrialized, has a caste endogamy rate of 97% while underdeveloped Odisha’s is 88%.

Resistance and progress

India needs to break the shackles of prejudice, discrimination and violence that keep more than one-quarter of India’s population at the bottom of socio-economic hierarchy and targets of hate crimes if it one day aims at becoming a global superpower. Today, grassroots efforts to change are emerging, despite retaliation and intimidation by local officials and upper-caste people. There is a growing movement of activists, trade unions, and other NGOs that are organizing to democratically and peacefully demand their rights, higher wages, and more equitable land distribution. In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, its the first time there is an active recognition of the people who are doing the work that society’s hygiene rests on. A group of concerned citizens – academics, rights activists and others – have written an open letter to all minister in the Central and state governments, as well as society at large, to highlight the plight of sanitation workers and list measures that can be taken for their welfare which includes ensuring they are classified as health workers and paid a minimum wage of at least Rs 20,000 per month along with a proper health insurance and allowance covered under the description of ‘hazardous works’.

Caste discrimination is like a disease in our society. And like any other disease we need to eradicate it from the country. We need to monitor the cases of caste violence and treat them with justice and social reform. When we reach a point where humanity has won and caste discrimination has ended we can remove the reservations which are like “vaccines”. You wouldn’t stop vaccinating the population before a dangerous disease is eradicated, right?

Vidyut added

Remember, each one of us play an important role in keeping this discrimination alive in our country. If all of us start changing our own thoughts and behavior, educate others and bring this grave issue to a limelight, we could slowly bring this inhumane discrimination to an end.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/india-s-caste-system

https://aamjanata.com/democracy/10-things-to-remember-when-discussing-caste-reservations/

https://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03.htm

https://www.forwardpress.in/2019/08/why-caste-based-reservation-is-a-logical-social-justice-measure/

https://homegrown.co.in/article/18426/untouchability-is-still-widely-practised-in-india-says-recent-caste-survey-findings