I spent a major part of my youth blissfully unaware about the words organic and sustainable.
Growing up India, I was lucky enough to still belong to a generation where vegetables and fruits were local, where milk bags/bottles were washed and returned, where my mother would store grains and mill them locally as per what we required. We grew up in simpler times, meals were always home cooked and a meal out was definitely considered a treat and not a convenience!
Our dietary choices were not governed by “isms” but by common sense and culture.
Life took me out of the country, and my habits literally changed 180 degrees. Between being on my own, studies and work, I found myself relying on quick fixes, packaged foods, paying little attention to the small (and later big!) signals my body was sending me. From being a very healthy, fit person everything started snowballing. I fell for the same marketing tricks of convenience and locked away my common sense into the vault!
In 2013, after an insane pregnancy, which is a story for another time, I was fortunate to be a mother to a beautiful baby girl. Maybe it was the mommy fog that helped clear out the haze, or maybe my maternal instincts kicked in to ensure that I did my very best for my daughter. I suddenly wanted to know more about where our food was coming from. I started reading more about the impact of plastics, first in the food we consume and then in the bigger picture, about what we are doing to our planet.
While trying to find ingenious ways of trying to get my child to eat vegetables, I rediscovered local vegetables. I started reading labels of all processed food packets, the most valuable lesson I learnt was if it sounds like it belongs in a chemistry lab, it probably does! I started reading about indigenous grains, millets, rice variants and gradually more about the organic and sustainable movement (also read Why Go Organic?).
The switch has definitely not been overnight, my daughter is 7 and there are still days when I am battling chocolate dipped oreos! But then there are days when she chooses a slow fermented whole grain sourdough bread slice over commercial white bread, and those days are the wins.
It is a journey, there is no rule book and you cannot just make the switch with the snap of your fingers. The way to go is small steps in the right direction. So here are a few suggestions that can get you on the bus to returning to a simpler life…
1] Check your neighbourhood for stores and community markets that support local organic farmers, small sustainable businesses and environment friendly options. You can also look at websites like ours that can make it easier to switch to being thoughtful!
2] If you have kids, husband, parents, in-laws, try and be gentle with the change. We have been engrained with so many well-marketed schemes that the change could be difficult. Be gentle, give it time, organic is a way of life in thought as well. Try a small change like moving to bamboo toothbrushes and reusable straws.
3] If your family consumes milk, find a responsible, local dairy. A farm that welcomes you to meet the cows, considers their well-being is a good place to start. A good dairy farm will allow the cattle to graze freely, have them free roaming through the day, allow calves the first drink of milk always, not pump their animals with medication to increase output. The cattle will not be drained using some surgical steel equipment and kept in wards akin to chambers! Remember there was a time when milk didn’t come in sterilized tetrapaks. We seem to have been brainwashed into thinking that sterile, untouched by hand milk is somehow good for us even if it is loaded with chemicals and hormones responsible for all kinds of health issues.
The milk at my home now comes from a farm, where I can easily go and meet the cows. When I receive a call that there will be no milk for a few days because the cows are a little sick, I don’t fret. I celebrate that the people involved do not put the well being of the animal at stake for a few extra bucks, and over time my family has accepted that milk doesn’t come from a machine. Even though it has its ups and downs, we know that when there is no milk, we just learn to live without!
4] Read, and read some more. There is so much information available online. It can feel overwhelming, but knowledge truly is power. It is only through reading numerous books, web articles and blogs that I have learnt so much. Share the same with family members so that they are also aware. So many times I was taken aback by information because we were indulging in certain things only because we didn’t know any better!
5] Micro-segregation at home level. I cannot stress this enough. Micro-segregating your waste is one of the most important but commonly overlooked practices.
Segregating wet and dry garbage, teaching your house staff what that actually means and following this principal daily is the first step towards segregation. Most people do not even understand the actual difference between wet and dry gabage. Wet garbage does not mean a container that had yogurt, wet garbage means COMPOSTABLE garbage. Dry garbage includes everything else. Which is why we also need to micro-segregate dry garbage: ewaste, glass, plastic, paper, etc!
A simple act of washing, drying and segregating every single plastic packet that enters your home has so much impact. Dirty packets end up in landfills no matter who you give them to, clean and dry plastic is the only kind that goes to be recycled in different formats. Find the local agencies that collect segregated waste and KEEP this garbage segregated to ensure it reaches the correct endpoints.
6] Switch to environment friendly house cleaners. Ditch the bleach and chemical loaded detergents, they are bad for you and terrible for our rivers. Natural Floor cleaners, Utensil Soap, Laundry detergent and even Toilet cleaners can now be easily found. This is a great first step. In my experience, I found that while it took time to convince my family about personal care products, nobody even noticed when I made the switch in the home department!
7] Carry your own cloth bags wherever you go. The most simple uncomplicated step that all of us can make today: whatever it is you need to buy, carry your own cloth bag. The world has enough plastic to worry about, you do not have to add one more bag to that worry and all it takes is to remember to be prepared. I keep a cloth bag in my handbag, and atleast about 5 in my car!
So while this may sound like a lot to do, when I first decided to be conscious, I did each of these steps one at a time, until they became a habit! Then I added a new step.
Like I said the struggle with oreos is still real, and the process is always on-going, but if we make it a habit to think before we act, I think there is a fighting chance to for us to be returning to a simpler life.
Next post from the series: Simple Celebrations