I am known to have hipster tendencies. I follow a mostly vegan diet, I shop at farmer’s markets, I compost and I just started my foray into zero- waste. And with that, I just gave away how long I have been away from my land of origin. I grew up in the India of the 90s and the early 2000s with two very traditional parents. I always wondered why they did what they did, and they never cared to explain anything to me. What I saw but never understood, was how conducive the traditional Indian lifestyle and social practices are to sustainability of our planet, until I moved to the United Stated of America.
When I came of age, my parents chose the man of my dreams. Lucky for me, he did turn out to be my knight in shining armour and whisked me away to a land far, far away. A land that makes all dreams come true, a land where you have unlimited freedom, a land where you could live tucked under your blanket all day if you wanted to, because every convenience was available to you at the touch of a button.
I slipped into my new life with absolute ease. My cupboard was now bursting with more clothes than I knew what to do with, my fridge was stocked with more food than we ever needed and walking to get to my destination was a thing of the past. Like every suburban American wife, I did groceries once a week at a neat supermarket that stocked the cleanest and nicest looking fruits and vegetables. Lentils, beans were all portioned out and individually packed. There was no local baniaya scooping out rajma from a large sack, weighing it in a balance and pouring it into a torn sheet of newspaper that “chotu” would clumsily deliver home.
I would scoff at my mom who was so disorganized, she needed to run out to the nearby crowded and very untidy sabzi mandi to buy fresh coriander leaves every other evening. “Why can’t we Indians plan ahead?” I would think. My dad would walk up to five kilometers only to get a broken old phone repaired, how cheap, I was convinced that Indians will never change! I got those for under 10 bucks at Walmart. Surely I could have sent him a new one.
As far as I could tell, this new land had it all. Opportunities, nature, space, high speed internet and Netflix. What more could anyone want in life? Well, I was only about to find out! Netflix is a dangerous tool in the hands of a former wonderer. As I explored the endless entertainment options available to me, I stumbled upon documentaries that would forever, change my life.
I started learning and researching about American factory farms – confinement facilities where animals are tortured for their meat and dairy. I was already a vegetarian and decided to go vegan. I discarded everything from my pantry that had even the slightest traces of any animal derived product. I was hooked to this new found lifestyle.
I started to read up on anything that talked about a pro-vegan lifestyle. It only fueled my vegan obsession to learn that vegans have a significantly lower carbon footprint than omnivores. Now, I was not just satisfied eating a plant based diet, I wanted to do everything in my power to help the environment.
My search led me to find farmers’ markets that sold local fruits and vegetables. These sabzi mandis were a weekly, make shift gathering of local farmers selling produce grown not far from the area we lived in. These farmers’ markets were gaining popularity every minute and doctors, nutritionists, environmentalists and health nuts were all jumping on the bandwagon. I was thrilled. I was feeding my family just right. Vegan, check…. Farmer’s markets, check…. I didn’t think I was using a lot of plastic anyway, what more could I possibly do to save the planet?
More books and more Youtube led me to find what is called a zero waste lifestyle. A growing movement where people endeavor to produce no trash at all. Those accomplished in this field pride themselves in only producing a quart of trash over a period of two years.
How did they achieve this? They only shop at local stores where they can bring their own compostable or reusable bag to haul their purchase that is sold in free form out of large sacks as opposed to being prepackaged. They use a toothbrush that decomposes after the owner is done using it. They buy non homogenized milk (a rarity in the States) and highly advocate making their own butter. They walk rather than drive to their destination. They use homemade pads made of highly absorbent cotton to wick away blood from the monthly menstrual cycle. They wrap and carry lunches in a square cloth folded into a teardrop shape. Some individuals are taking this a step further. They are lobbying for the “Right to Repair” (repair.org) so they can reuse old appliances.
As I read and understood their practices and lifestyle more, it made me sick. That’s exactly what I had seen my parents and grandparents do all along! How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so blind? When and why did I become so embarrassed of the practices handed down to us? Around the 18th century, a few white people waltzed into our lives, and challenged our archaic practices. Convinced of our boorish, unrefined behavior and we slowly started to westernize our practices. Not all western influence is bad, some wonderful changes have come about as a result. But why did we not have the faith that some of our practices are time-tested and will do us and the planet good?
We do we feel entitled to take those long showers when we were all taught as kids to bathe out of a bucket? Why don’t we stop and think about that disposable cup from Starbucks when we used to be perfectly happy with the way cutting chai was served to us? Why do we need plastic when we all remember that vision of our mothers or grandmothers walking home with their woven straw bag carrying that day’s dinner back from the grocer? I am not saying we throw all the modern day conveniences out the window, but can we bring back a few of our old life lessons? The planet really needs more of us Indians and South Asians with our age old wisdom! Let’s spread this wisdom and resume our age-old practices!