On living a more thoughtful life

On living a more thoughtful life

I have been interested in a sustainable, cruelty-free lifestyle long enough for me to be convinced that it is more than a passing fad. What started as idle curiosity turned rapidly into horror when I came across articles/initiatives that exposed the atrocities that go on silently around us. One was a Yourstory expose on the nightmarish practices of the dairy farming in India. The other was the Freagle project that focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating beagles extensively used in laboratory testing and then euthanized.

Both of these were happening right here, in India. Not somewhere halfway around the world like the sweatshops of China or Bangladesh or the refugees in the middle-east. I think that, to me, was what whipped the rose-coloured glasses right off my face.

Experiments with veganism

My first reaction was to have an impassioned outburst on Facebook and decide to turn vegan by the end of this year. I even joined a couple of vegan groups, talked to vegans, and started researching vegan alternatives to dairy. Since I was an eggetarian to begin with, I thought this would be easy.

It wasn’t.

We stopped consuming all “non-essential” dairy products right away; non-essential to us meant all the products we could live without. This list included butter, ghee, cheese, paneer, khoya, and – we thought – milk. We stopped getting our usual packet of Nandini milk at once and tried to switch to green tea. However, even after a month, our caffeine cravings did not go away. We started cheating by having “just one coffee” at cafes or in the office cafeteria. Vegan alternatives to milk that were available locally or online were made of soy, peanuts, or almonds, but they were far too expensive for us to try on a regular basis. In our hearts, we knew this was not a change we could hold onto.

But waking up to a milk-free, and therefore, coffee-less morning every day ensured that I was constantly reading more on the subject. The more I read, the more I realized that my problem was not fundamentally with consuming animal products or eating meat. Feeling sorry for eating an animal is the adult version of feeling sorry for the deer that’s pounced upon by the cheetah. But what about the cheetah? Nature designed it as a carnivore and this is its only way of sustenance. It’s how the food chain works.

So what really was disturbing me? I asked myself – if I had a cow in my backyard who I looked after lovingly every day, would it bother me to take her milk, whatever is left over after her calf feeds? The answer was no. Would it bother me if the cow belonged to someone else, who treated her right, took care of her, and did not use her as a milk machine? The answer, again, was no.

That is when I realized that the mass-production of dairy, meat, and other animal products and the evil machinery that such industries run on was what was really disturbing me. This was a turning point in my journey.

In pursuit of a cruelty-free life

My focus turned then to what constitutes cruelty and the definition that made most sense was this: preventing an animal from leading a life that is not as close as possible to what nature intended is cruelty. The deer, up until the moment the cheetah springs on her, has led a normal life in her natural habitat. A cow grazing freely on grass and nursing her young is leading a normal domesticated life, even if she is being milked.

I do not think that the entire world turning vegetarian is a sustainable – or even a necessary – option. (Here is why). Free range farming and quick, painless slaughtering seem to me perfectly acceptable solutions. The problem today is the shocking increase in the careless and cruel mass-production of meat because of increasing consumption.

When I was in school, my non-vegetarian friends used to bring fish or meat for lunch once or twice a week – it was a special treat, a little luxury, and of course, an extra dose of protein. In fact, I remember just one classmate, the son of a very famous and successful cardiologist, bringing chicken fry and parottas for lunch every day, rousing amazement and envy in the others. Fast-forward to today, when meat consumption has become extremely high in India (the trends are less easy to spot in the West). I have deliberately referred to a 2013 article here so as to avoid any bias emanating from the recent ‘beef ban’ crisis.

Cruelty-free farming practices is a novel concept for most of the world, with only Australia, New Zealand, and UK having made any kind of progress on this front. I found Compassion In World Farming to be a very enlightening and balanced source of information and action on the subject. This is an organization that was founded in 1967 by Peter and Anna Roberts, British farmers who became disturbed by the increasing disconnect between modern farming practices and the well-being of farm animals. According to their website, this is their goal:

By working in partnership with inspirational supporters, progressive policy makers and visionary companies, we are mobilising a movement for far reaching change in our farming that can feed the world and will improve the quality of life for billions of farm animals worldwide.

It is one that I agree with and one which has spurred me to choose free range, cruelty-free products in my everyday life.

From cosmetics to household cleaning products, cruelty is built into practically every lifestyle product we use today. While I have not managed to replace all of these,  I am constantly researching alternatives. Here is a list I have compiled and which I will keep adding to as I experiment with and review products.

Milk – we have switched to buying Europaea free range, grass fed farm milk, available online on Amazon and Bigbasket, and offline at Foodhall, VR Mall. We also like the fact that it is associated with the sustainability farming program Origin Green and takes measures towards sustainable farming practices. As this is a product imported from Ireland, it costs Rs.115/litre as opposed to about Rs.40/litre for Nandini.

Some more alternatives that seem to be available in Bangalore and which I am planning to explore include:

  • Vrindavan milk – I like their principle of ahimsa milk. According to their FAQs section,

Our cows are treated with love and care. We don’t stress them to produce more milk. We also maintain our cows even after their milking years are over to avoid cow slaughtering.

  • Indus milk – They again mention that their desi zebu cows are free-grazing and the calves are allowed to feed first before milking happens.
  • The Right Moo – Free-range cows, although foreign breeds, and fed on organic grass.

Cosmetics – Apart from a few expensive niche brands, most cosmetics brands available in India have parent companies that test on animals somewhere in the world. Don’t be fooled by their corporate websites that say they are “against animal testing” or “we do not test our products on animals”. This could mean – as it does in heart-breakingly large number of cases – that they buy animal test reports from other agencies (essentially outsourcing this bit) or test the individual ingredients (not the ‘products’) on animals.

Look for the leaping bunny logo on the products or an explicit disclaimer that they do not test on animals on the product label before you buy. Brands I rely on are:

  • Lotus herbals
  • Biotique
  • Cholayil pharmaceuticals (Medimix and Cuticura are their most famous brands)
  • Himalaya
  • Vicco (I swear by their toothpaste – I’ve been using it for years!)
  • Plum Goodness (I’ve been using their day/night creams for over a year and they are fantastic. Not only cruelty-free, but also free of SLEs, parabens, and the like).
  • Arvind Laboratories (good old Eyetex and Dazzler, which have been around for years. I wrote to their corporate office and they have written back confirming that neither their products nor the ingredients are tested on animals.)
  • A2Naturals.in has a whole host of home and personal care products that are not mass-produced, cruelty-free, but not vegan.

Floor cleaner: We switched to Gou Ganga about a year ago and have never looked at any other cleaner since. The product has a mild fragrance and cleans our balcony (where our dogs pee, let me add) like a breeze.

Washing powder  – I have switched to natural soap nuts for my washing machine instead of using detergents that not only maybe tested on animals but which are also harmful to the environment. I was initially skeptical about whether these would get rid of the used smell on the clothes and boy, they have worked wonders! Highly recommended as they are also very, very cheap.

For those who prefer powders, here are some alternatives I found (not tried):

Both these websites also have a wide range of personal, pet, and garden care products that are chemicals-free, sustainable, and cruelty-free. Please research each before buying as I have not tried out all of them. For a list of brands that DO test on animals, see here.

A vision for 2017

The more obvious choices were made easily – SR exchanged his leather wallet for this cool, washable, durable canvas one from Wildcraft. But there are so many more changes to be made, from dish wash soap to cleaning liquids and I hope that by the end of this year, we will be able to reduce our cruelty footprint to nothing.

Have you thought about these issues? I’d love to know – do comment below. 🙂

 

 

Becoming A Better Writer

I rather fancy myself as a writer. I tell people unhesitatingly that writing is the one thing I do well. In fact, I write for my living.

So, it was a real shock to discover that recently, my writing has begun to bore me.

When I read what I have written in the last few months, be it blog posts here or writing done at work, I get a feeling of monotony. All my works seem to share a dull sort of sameness. I can almost predict how each piece will begin, flow, and conclude.

This scares me. This prospect of becoming bad at something I was good at. I simply cannot afford to lose this one thing that I am sure of about myself.

So, I am making some fundamental changes in my habits, which, I believe, will make a significant difference to the quality of my writing. Or at least, to how I feel about it.

1. Reading Right

These days, all I’ve been reading are light-hearted novels that don’t offer much by way of cerebral food. My excuse to myself each time I picked up such a book from the library has been that I am mentally exhausted and just want an easy read.

Last week, on the way back from the library, SR asked me, “Do any of the books you read influence your writing?”

And for the life of me, I couldn’t even remember the names or plots of the last 15 odd books I had read!

Going ahead, I have decided that at least one of the books I pick up each week will be by an author or of a genre that I have not tried before. Some of the books/authors that I want to read are:

  1. The Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami
  2. Atonement & The Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan
  3. A House for Mr. Biswas – VS Naipaul
  4. The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
  5. Till Death Do Us Part – Mahaswetha Devi
  6. No Full Stops In India – Mark Tully
  7. Take A Girl Like You – Kingsley Amis
  8. An Accidental Man – Iris Murdoch
  9. Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym

2. Involved Reading

From being a detail-oriented editor who was very engaged with every book I read, I have now become a very lazy reader. I am no longer as involved with the characters in the books I read, nor do I spend time thinking about what I have read or observed.

Even the worst of books teach you something-what not to do, if nothing else. By not learning from the scores of books I have read in the past months, I have let a lot of learning slip through my fingers.

Going ahead, this is one thing I am certainly going to change. I will review every book I read on Goodreads, so that my insights are recorded, and may perhaps even help someone else make a decision about a book.

3. Writing More

Often during the day, on my way to work, or while watching TV, or playing with B & B, ideas strike me. I tell myself, “Now, there’s a good topic to blog about!” and then promptly forget about it.

When I see bloggers I follow take up challenges of writing every day, I always think that you should not force yourself to write. That the urge to write and the words must flow on their own.

I now realize that by not compelling myself to write, I have ended up not writing at all. Soon, months and years will pass, and I will regret these wasted days then.

I still don’t believe in setting myself a target number of posts to write. But I have made up my mind that every time I have a thought or a good idea for a blog post, I will not let it slip. I will write about it, even if it’s just a paragraph.

Gratitude

Gratitude

I was not born a dog lover. In fact, until 2 years ago, I was ambivalent towards dogs, perhaps even a little scared of them. On one fateful trip to Sakleshpur, I met Shunti, the dog belonging to the home stay where we stayed. She made me fall in love with dogs. Six months later, we brought home Buttons, a 2 weeks old Indie pup someone had tied up in a garbage bag and left to die. He turned my life upside down.

Before we brought him home, we were plagued with doubt. Our financial situation was not particularly bright. Butto needed a lot of time and attention, being so young, which we weren’t sure we could give. We would no longer be able to travel as often… Despite the nagging doubts, we brought him home anyway.

And gave him up for adoption 2 months later. Believing that it was for his best. The 3 weeks that he was away from us was the darkest, bleakest period of our lives. We looked at each other, speechless, our life empty. The patter of his little feet echoed around us. It took us a 3 week battle to get him back, and each day of it only made us surer that we needed him to survive.

SR and I are both staunch believers, and we know that it was God who gave Buttons back to us. We will forever be grateful for that second chance.

In the past year that I’ve had Butto, I’ve swung between frustration and delight, felt my heart swell with love, felt crazily happy in the bleakest of times… I have cried into his furry little body, and laughed as he licked my tears away with his worried expression… I have scolded him and cuddled him. Kissed him and held him. I have died many times in between when he fell sick.

As I write this, Buttons is sprawled on my lap. Running my fingers through his soft fur and listening to his quiet, even breathing is more calming and relaxing than any yoga maneuver I could attempt.

Butto has changed the two of us forever. SR and I are now far more patient, more relaxed, more appreciative of the truly priceless things in life. He has taught us to love unconditionally and believe without questioning. We’re still learning though.

Someone once told me that my dog is very lucky. That’s bullshit.

It is we who are lucky, blessed, to have him in our lives. Because a world without our little fellow is not one worth living in.

This post is not just a tribute to Buttons. It is also a call for action. If any of you is considering adopting a dog, but holding yourself back because you are not sure how he will fit into your life, do remember that all it takes is commitment.

A promise you make to a dog that you will love and protect him for the rest of your life or his, whichever is longer. Once you make that promise, everything else will fall in place. Work, travel, money… there will be workarounds to everything, if you commit.

What you will get in return is indescribable. But I promise, it will be heaven.