Water Water Everywhere! Not a Drop to Drink Anywhere!

Since I was a 10 year old, pollution is a word I have been hearing almost on a daily basis. But until I was a young adult I was never really able to grasp the severity of it. These days, from the air we breathe to the food we eat and the water we drink, one has to take extreme precautions.

But among all of them, it is water that everyone warns you to be very careful about. The most precious drink in this world can also be the most lethal, thanks to the effluents and pollutants that we have been dumping in water sources for generations.

Every person, or at least those who are reading this are, I’m sure, aware of the reasons for water pollution. So instead of looking at the source, we are going to see its affects (to all life forms) and the steps and precautions required to make oneself safe.

Estimates in 2014 showed that water-borne diseases accounted for more than 3.5 million deaths per year. These diseases are a direct result of chemicals in the form of pesticides, industry effluents and so on. The most common water pollutants are chlorides, nitrates, lead, arsenic and flourides. While chlorides can cause reproductive disorders, nitrates affect oxygen flow to the brain and causes what is commonly referred to as ‘blue baby syndrome’. Lead affects the central nervous system while flourides damage the entire spinal cord. Arsenic, which is as lethal as its counterparts, causes liver damage and skin cancer.

Addition of chemicals to water bodies consequently increases nutrients in the water, giving rise to algal bloom. Since the chemicals are mostly toxic, the algal bloom is usually dangerous and is referred to as harmful algal bloom (HAB). HAB can cause serious ailments like rashes, respiratory problems and other neurological effects.

Now many people would have often come across the terms that have been discussed here and even the issues that are persistent but the seriousness of it can only be grasped when experienced first-hand. While many of us can claim to have been affected just because of a case of diarrhoea, there are more pressing issues out there. A few years back I, along with a few friends, visited a local slum. It was a social visit. We were there to help them in any way we could. The plight of many people there affected me greatly. There were people suffering from lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), skin cancer and constant stomach pain and they weren’t even aware that water was the major cause of all these issues. Since then I have personally taken it up as my duty to educate as many people as possible about these issues and how to lead a hygienic life.

Although as individuals we can only make so many changes, together, we can make a real difference. Instead of striving and rallying for unnecessary causes, it is for issues like these that people should try to force governments. At the end of the day, the government is there only because of the people and for the people. It is high time that we took a stand and made a difference. Also make it a point to talk to peers. Help them give up their bad habits and lead a sustainable life.

Fashion Predicaments of an Organic Thinker

‘Fashion’ – Rachel Green’s greatest passion and my worst nightmare. For years my mum choose what I wore and man she was good at it. Unfortunately for me, I grew up, graduated and had to move out in search of a job. In the two years that I’ve lived alone, you could say I’ve not done so bad for myself bar one thing – clothes. People sometimes have an off day, you know, days when their dressing sense goes all wrong. Not for me. No sir! For me every day was wardrobe malfunction day. I could never get it right. It didn’t bother me initially but gradually I got very frustrated. So I did the two things someone in my place would do – fashion magazines and Instagram celebrities (Hey! I’m a single, lonely man living in a metropolitan. Don’t judge me!)

Real Fashion is Slow

I got a lot of fashion ideas alright. But more importantly, I was enlightened about organic clothing and responsible fashion. I have always been an environmentalist, doing my little part to make the world a little better and this was something I really wanted to do. Many have told me that slow fashion was only for the rich and I could see why. But I knew that if I planned properly, then I could definitely afford it. People may say I am stupid for not choosing the cheaper option, they could brand me ‘a show-off’ but I couldn’t care less because at the end of the day what I wore had a conscience.

I have never bought anything extravagant. Fashion, I learnt, is all about what you want. For me, it has to be simple yet elegant. I looked at major fashion designers, especially those inclined towards slow fashion, and focused not on what they designed but rather on what they wore. These people knew their daily wear very well or they wouldn’t be who they are today. It was always plain and simple, and yet very classy. It was all in the way they wore it – a fold here, a crease there, it was very bustle yet important. It was those small changes that differentiated a dork from a dude.

Fashion, after all, is what you want it to be!

As a millennial I know that most of my peers, or at least those not bitten by the ‘swag’ bug, don’t care much for looks. I personally think they should! Like many of them, I too don’t care much about what others think of me but I have learnt that looking fresh and smart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Why? It actually helps increase self-confidence.

So dress smartly! Say goodbye to all the big time retailers and start supporting the dress makers at home. Choose organic – it’s good for your skin and nature. Choose handmade – empower the poor. Choose upcycled – say hello to waste and remember, people talk because that’s what people do. The whole wide world is yours, go make your own fashion statement and do make a responsible one.

Organic Food: A Fad or a Revolution?

Let’s face it! The world is changing. The weekdays are getting short while the weekends are getting even shorter. Trying to lead a life, in a metropolitan, especially in a developing country is very difficult, which is exactly my case. There are a lot of things which you feel are out of your control, most importantly – your health. Ever since I moved in search of a job, life has been one hell of a roller-coaster ride.

Sleeping late, waking up early, travelling in heavy traffic to work and back, and hogging on junk food had become my routine. A few months in and my unhealthy habits started taking a toll my body. I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t really control the pollution or my sleep (sometimes my job demanded that I work longer hours). So I did the one thing I could do – manage what I ate. This was a tricky business because once I told my peers that I was starting a healthy diet, advice and tips started pouring in. Although all the suggestions were different, the theme was same – ‘organic’.

At the time, and as a matter of fact even now, I don’t really know if I should take up an organic diet or not. There are arguments for and against it which have put me in bit of a dilemma. So far, I have stuck to conventional food (although my diet now contains more fruits and vegetables and less of junk) only because of the cost factor. Since many people have the same doubts as I do, I decided to put forth the arguments of both the sides in the hope that everyone makes an educated decision.

Organic food – The Saviour

Over the past decade, the consumption of organic food has been steadily on the rise. In many South East Asian countries, especially India, the reason seems to be the health factor. As of 2016, there were 400,000 – 500,000 organic consumers in India, a number which is growing by the day.

For years we’ve been consuming food that has been treated with synthetic chemicals which are unfit for the human body. The chemicals also have a negative impact on nature. It pollutes both land and water. In comparison, organic food is a much better option or so people claim.

In 2007, the INDEPENDENT published an article about the then researches carried out by scientists across Europe. Organic tomatoes, which were the subject of research, contained more vitamin C, beta-carotene and flavonoids compared to conventional tomatoes. The latter two compounds in particular help fight cancer and heart diseases.

Research by one, Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University substantiated this. He showed that organically grown plants contain more antioxidants which are potent in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

In 2006, the NCBI, published an article about the pesticide content in children’s blood. They conducted a study comparing children who consumed organic food and children who consumed conventional food. Results showed that the pesticide content in the blood reduced drastically in case of the former.

Even in case of poultry, birds are injected with antibiotics to help them grow better. But these antibiotics gradually help in the creation of superbugs which, if consumed, are extremely harmful to humans. On the other hand, organic meat doesn’t contain any kind of superbugs whatsoever.

With many scientists claiming that organic products are healthier than their conventional counterparts, people are actually concerned. A lot of people are genuinely worried about their health and the environment. Healthy eating and avoiding pesticide residues seem to be the main reasons for people buying organic food.

Organic Food – Oh it’s just a Sham!

Although the reasons as to why organic is better sound convincing, there are equally significant arguments which may make us think otherwise.

According to Biomedical scientist and former US FDA regulator, Henry I. Miller, organic pesticides can be toxic. Miller contributed an article to the Forbes in mid-2015. The article mentions a study conducted by UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames. He found that almost 99.99% of pesticides in food are chemicals produced by the plants to defend themselves. This means that in case of both organic and inorganic food, the chemical composition would be almost identical.

While Dr Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer in Farm Ecology, University of Adelaide claims that synthetic chemicals are better for the land than many organic certified chemicals.

One of the most noteworthy points in their argument are the fertilizers. In case of organic food, no synthetic chemicals are used. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that organically synthesized or naturally occurring fertilizers are harmless. Another major drawback is that there are no studies which prove organic food is more nutritious.

Conclusion – Sham or not, it’s Your Money, Your Health & Your Decision

There are valid arguments on both sides, but the grass isn’t really green on either side. People need to do a lot of research as to what they are getting into. Even today, many people who point to health as the reason for going organic, base their facts on hearsay. Which means, in a way, choosing organic products still seems to be only a fad.

One can only hope that this attitude changes and people start researching and understanding about their food habits before taking any rash decision.

Women’s Hygiene: Breaking a Taboo

I am a mommy’s boy. When I was a kid, I used to cling on to my mum like a chimp all the time. Needless to say, I was sitting in the trolley every time we went shopping. Even from my toddler days, the one thing I always noticed while shopping was that my mum bought a pack or two of sanitary pads.

Back then these things were a mystery to me. I had only seen them in ads and thought they were some kind of napkin. Little did I know that, in a way, I was right. What irked me was that we never used these special napkins to dry our hands. Why I had never seen them lying around anywhere in the house. One day curiosity got the better of me and I asked my mother why we never used those napkins. The poor woman, not knowing how to explain it to her child, simply told me that they were women stuff and only women use it.

I’m a 90’s kid and where I come from, computers and internet were a luxury not everyone could afford. So hitting a dead end, I decided to accept my mum’s unconvincing answer and forget about the special napkins.

Years flew by and before I could realise, I was a 15-year-old entering high school. Needless to say, like every other boy my age, I too was very excited because we were going to learn about reproduction and safe sex in detail. While skimming through my biology book I came across the word ‘menstruation’. This caught my attention because I had heard my cousin use the word in passing while talking to my aunt and I didn’t know what it meant.

I was enlightened by what I read. Out of nowhere I suddenly remembered that question I had asked my mother all those years ago. Putting two and two together, I realised that this is exactly why women used the sanitary pads. What I did not realise was that women experience a lot of pain and discomfort during their periods.

In my defence, until that point, no women I ever knew showed any sign of discomfort at any point in time or maybe I was just too ignorant to notice, I don’t really know. But all that was about to change. As tradition and peer pressure dictates, I went to an all-boys boarding school for the final two years of school. On returning, I started to notice things about women which I had never done before. Although I could not fathom the reason since menstruation was the last thing on my mind.

Having been brought up in a patriarchal society, I used to believe in a lot of stereotypes which started disappearing once I joined college. One of them was talking to a girl about her periods. This was mostly thanks to one of my closest friends. Although she was funny and chirpy most of the time, there was a particular period of every month when she became extremely glum and forlorn. It was a recurring theme. Initially, I did not pry but I couldn’t stand seeing her depressed and sad for an entire week every month. So one day I mustered up the courage and asked her what was going on. This is when I found out that women go through extreme pain and distress during their periods. (For men who think I’m joking, imagine getting kicked in the nuts three times a day for seven days if you will. Yeah! I heard it is that bad.)

This revelation increased my respect for women to a whole new level. I started researching more about the ‘PMS’ factor as I decided to be more of a help rather than a hindrance to the women I know, especially during that difficult period. It was during this research that I learnt a lot about sanitary pads.

For centuries women used cotton clothes in order to contain the menstrual blood. But with the turn of the 20th century came the new disposable sanitary pads. At the time it was considered a boon because women in many communities across the world felt (and still do feel) embarrassed to wash their sanitary towels and dry them in the open.

But of late many people, including me, have slowly started realising the disadvantages of disposable sanitary pads. First and foremost, these pads are not particularly cheap. Women belonging to less fortunate communities and rural areas in developing nations cannot really afford them. I read disturbing news snippets of women using dirty rags, and even sand and leaves in place of sanitary napkins. Thankfully, a number of people who have also gone through such hardships are now manufacturing clean cotton pads and banana fibre pads that are highly affordable.

As far as I am aware, a product’s cost usually depends on its constituents. I wanted to know what made the disposable sanitary napkins expensive, well beyond the reach of the less fortunate. What I discovered made me flinch. Disposable sanitary towels are usually made from bleached rayon, cotton and plastic. They also contain BPA and BPS, two chemicals that disrupt embryonic development and are linked to cancer. Ever since I found this, I have made it my mission to tell people to switch to reusable organic cloth pads. First my mum, then my cousins and aunts and now a few friends. The number of people I have been able to reach out to is far less than I would have liked but I am trying.

The major problem, I feel, in many developing countries is that children are told not to talk about periods. This is a huge mistake. Menstruation is a natural phenomenon and only through discussion can we make life more comfortable for the ladies. My request to everyone is to lose their prejudice and inhibitions and be more open. Health and hygiene are of utmost importance, so kindly start using and reusing cloth pads that are made from organic cotton. Yes, many people will find it weird initially but just like everything else in the world, it will become normal with time.

 

 

 

Pollution: The Adversary We have Learnt to Live With

‘Pollution’ – a word which we hear very often but do nothing about. It was almost 14 years ago when I actually realised that pollution wasn’t just a topic in school which helped me score marks but rather an issue everyone in the world should be concerned about. That was when I was 10 years old. Through the years my concern for the environment has grown enormously, but sadly so have the sources of pollution.

Growing up, I have heard many people say how beautiful western countries are. It was usually the USA or the UK that they spoke about. The irony was that these were the same people who littered in public places without a second thought. As an environmentalist and as human being I consider it my duty to educate my fellow homo sapiens about the various types and sources of pollution and methods to contain them.

Not many people are aware of the importance of segregation of waste at the source. It is the most basic thing every child should be taught. Separating organic waste from non-biodegradable waste makes recycling much simpler. Since organic waste can be composted and most inorganic waste can be repurposed or upcycled, the amount of waste that goes to landfills can be drastically reduced.

Kitchen or rooftop garden is a concept that is on the rise in many major cities throughout the world. It involves growing edible plants in your balcony or terrace. The best part of such home gardens is that nowadays, most urban dwellers prefer organic farming. This means using natural fertilizers and manure. Luckily there are many companies which provide solutions and technologies which help compost organic kitchen waste. This compost helps increase the fertility and water retention property of the soil. By using this in your kitchen gardens, you can increase your produce.

While there are efficient methods to responsibly dispose organic waste, handling synthetic waste, especially plastic is of higher concern. Research by the National Geographic Society shows a gigantic accumulation of plastic debris, spanning from the Western shores of North America to Japan. Called the Great Pacific Garbage patch or the pacific trash vortex, it comprises of Western Garbage Patch which is located near Japan and the Eastern Garbage Patch which is located near the US. The patch does not exactly look like a giant island as many think, but rather comprises of tiny bits of plastic called ‘microplastics’. Almost 70% of the debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

So how do we tackle this issue? First and foremost it is important to reduce the use of plastic, especially polyethene covers. It is wrong to expect governments to ban plastic as it does have its uses. But when we stop using them, the demand for it decrease and simultaneously the production. Once the production has been taken care of, we move onto the plastic that is in existence. This is where upcycling comes into play. Instead of dumping it in landfills, any plastic product that is considered waste can be repurposed into materials of utilitarian value. Consider for example vinyl records. Unless you love vintage products, most of the old vinyl records are just pieces of junk unless you decide to get creative. There are many upcycling companies who now sell clocks and other funky wall hangings repurposed from the vinyl records that were previously deemed waste.

I myself have bought wall hangings, a clock, a keychain holder, chair and table, posters and other awesome stuff, and my room look lively these days. The products are made from either reclaimed wood, old vinyl records or some or the other kind of non-biodegradable plastic, which would otherwise go to landfills or oceans causing harm to nature, flora and fauna.

Along with plastic another major cause for concern is global warming and climate change. Again, back in school we did learn about methane, CFC’s, vehicle emissions, industrial emissions and effluents, and aerosols. We also learnt about the depleting ozone layer, arctic melting, increasing sea levels and global warming. But how many of us have taken the steps to tackle these issues? Again, like toddlers do, we point fingers at one another or the government. But has it ever occurred to you that common citizen like us are the actual force who can put an end to all of it by working together?

At 23, I am pretty young. But in this short space of time, I myself have seen drastic climatic changes. I hail from a humble town called Ooty, which lies all the way up in the Nilgiri hills in India. While I was growing up as a school child, the months of June and July always saw heavy rains, December to January was when the frost set in, and March to May was when the sun was up and shining. But over the years things have changed. For a few years, the rains were delayed and then they completely disappeared, the summers have been hotter and winters are not what they were 15 years ago. When someone like me can see the changes, I do not understand how people in their mid-50s say they can’t.

Now that I am living in a metropolitan, I see too much population, with a lot of vehicles, causing too much pollution. The so called educated class is doing things which are contrary to that title. For instance, as a person who has lived here for over a year and a half, it makes me question the use of personal vehicles by almost everyone for commuting when actually the need of the hour is fewer vehicles on roads. With many companies sharing workspaces, isn’t it common sense to carpool? Why take five different cars when five people, all from the same area or on the same route to the office, can use one car and split the cost of fuel?

It is high time people stop being ignorant and take action. The world needs us as much as we need it. If you are indeed a responsible parent and a responsible human being, then I am sure you would be more concerned about pollution than you are about your child’s grade. Do not force them to learn for marks. Instead encourage them to learn for gaining knowledge. Take actions and inspire the next generation to follow in your footsteps. For without the world there is no you nor I and all the materialistic things would mean nothing.

Natural, Organic and Herbal – The Difference

In recent times, I have noticed a rather larger number of people talking about organic or natural or herbal products. The terms are so misleading that I thought they were one and the same. I wasn’t one for checking the ingredients of a product. If someone I knew told me it was natural and good, I blindly went for it.

Now, if there is one good habit I possess, it has got to be reading. I love reading Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Fredrick Forsyth, John Grisham and the list goes on. What I also like is stumbling upon random, interesting articles when I am aimlessly surfing.

It so happens that the other day, while on my online adventure, I landed on an article which spoke about the difference between organic, natural and herbal. Me, being the misinformed genius that I am thought, “Is there a difference?” I started reading and blimey! Not only are they different from each other, they are so different, I wonder how many people notice it. So I decided it was time I took matters into my own hand to educate my fellow ‘lovers of the natural’ about the obvious differences.

First up – natural. As the name suggests, products in this category are supposed to be fruit-basket-391414_960_720.jpgmade from completely natural products like flowers, vegetables and fruits. None of the ingredients are supposed to be synthesised in labs. The catch is, the raw materials can be subject to synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals. But in reality, not all natural products comprise of completely natural ingredients. Since there is no regulation on the word ‘natural’, even products that contain just 1% of natural ingredients can be termed as natural. I sincerely advice you to check the ingredients before a purchase. As you can see, names can be deceiving.

Moving on to organic. “Organic” is the buzzword of the century. Organic products are similar to natural products in many ways. Many argue that they are the best of the rest, since no chemicals, not even synthetic fertilizers can be used to manufacture organic products. The
y simply can’t contain any chemical additives. Companies are required to follow stringent rules and regulations to get an organic certificate for their products. To gain the ‘organic label’, a product must comprise of at least 70% organic ingredients. Certifying agencies, be it government or private, are very particular about this number. Organic farming encourages soil and water conservation and reduces pollution.

Finally, there is herbal. The term ‘herbal’, is usually associated with medicine. These are products that are made from herbs and plant extracts which have specific medicinal properties. In countries like India, China and Egypt, herbal medicines have existed for many millennia. Herbal products can be chemical free, but more often than not, they aren’t. There are no rules dictating the percentage of herbs an herbal product should contain. Most of the herbal products in existence comprise of a large number synthetic chemicals and just a handful of herbs. Again, it is highly essential that you go through the ingredients of any herbal product before you purchase. It is always better to research about such products rather than walking into a shop and picking one up, without really knowing what you are buying.

So that’s the difference between the much coveted organic, natural and herbal products. Hope you find it informative, and make responsible and sustainable choices henceforth.