While ‘global warming’ has become the most debatable and trendy topic amongst thought leaders, politicians, activists and elites around the world, obvious changes in the climate, drowning of the polar bears, unprecedented pollution and epidemic increase in the number of diseases have forced a common person to think about the reasons and consider changes in lifestyle formerly taken for granted. There is a growing sense of personal responsibility for what we as average human beings can do not only individually but as a global community to make this Earth a better place. As conscious citizens of this world, Sikhs have by far the most enlightened view available to them from the teachings of the Guru(s) and the environmentally conscious lives they lived.
In the Slok, Pavan Guru Paani Pitaa, Mataa Dharat Mahat, the gurbani gives the whole environment that sustains us the status of Guru: Water the Father and, Earth the Mother. Furthermore, the Guru Sahib directs us to take care of them as they take care of us. There are numerous examples that guide our lifestyles towards green living exemplified by the institution of Langar that feeds and nurtures the hungry with simple and nutritious food in the most earth friendly way possible and by the sensitivity that the Guru (Har Rai Ji) showed towards conservation and sustenance of flora and fauna and by the un-tired efforts of Bhagat Puran Singh who lobbied for saving trees and reversing pollutions of our rivers.
Yet somehow we have become a community that takes pride in eco destructive displays that feed off of fast food places and extends the use of bottled water and sodas to Langars and Chhabils that trashes the landfills with plastic bottles and styrofoam plates without a single thought about the negative environmental effects our actions have. It’s time to look at these thoughtless behaviors and say, “enough is enough”. We have abused our planet for a long time. It’s time to stop trashing and contaminating the environment with synthetic toxic wastes that our fast and convenient lifestyle produces.
The thought of taking personal responsibility leaves us feeling challenged, doesn’t it? Yes, theoretically we all want a greener planet but what can we, as average Sikhs and consumers do on a practical level? Isn’t it easier to leave it up to the governments and the activist organizations to make a change? No, not if your name is Kaur or a Singh. You are the change agent for the future and at least you can do your part. Simply by making a few lifestyle changes for yourself and inspiring others to do so, you can bring about a revolution in the way we treat this earth!
A very effective reduction in carbon footprint can be brought about by greening our kitchens and by changing our eating habits; Changes here, need not be monumental, but the results are. Small changes that you will make will become the seed for a larger positive impact on our environment. By adapting to these changes in our kitchen, our family of two alone has reduced thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide emission per year. The prospect is unlimited if you all join us.
So open your minds, do your own assessment, and spread the seed. Here is my top 10 to-do list for a Conscious Kitchen – Gurmukh and Green.
10. Onboard with Organic
Why should we?
Excessive use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides has not only poisoned the food we eat but it has overloaded the earth with synthetic chemicals and made it barren. These toxic chemicals make their way into the water supplies and become a part of our food cycle. Organic and sustainable farming methods produce the food with a natural way of controlling insects and pests while using crop rotations and other sustainable techniques to enrich the earth of its natural nutrients that make their way into the food. Organic dairy practices allow free roaming for cows to feed naturally and healthfully, free of BGH (Bovine Growth Hormones) and antibiotics so those hormones and antibiotics don’t make their way into our body.
- In the west, almost every food chain carries organic produce, grains and dairy whereas some specifically specialize in them. Ask your grocer about carrying organic items, if they currently don’t. Yes, organic food is slightly more expensive, but investing in your health is the best thing you will do for yourself and your family.
- In India, organic farming is finding its roots again. Cooperatives of organic farmers who market their products to end users such as ‘Kudrati Kheti Producers’ are quickly emerging. There is a natural farming movement called ‘Nanak Kheti’ lead by Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), a civil society action group headquartered in the Jaitu town of Faridkot district which already has 800 members affiliated to it. The KVM network can provide natural grains, pulses, fruits, vegetables and ghee. Get involved today for a better life tomorrow. See the resource guide below for contact information.
9: Love Local
Why should we?
The average meal in the U.S travels 1200 miles before it becomes dinner on our tables. Buying locally grown food accomplishes the goals of eating seasonal, eating fresh and reducing the carbon dioxide emission associated with the transportation thus being healthy for us and mother earth. Buying local produce also supports the local economy and small family farms. Not only the produce that is trucked, flown or shipped in contributes to global warming, it is also harvested prematurely and subjected to chemical, color or radiation treatments for preserving the looks and texture. Local produce, however, is sold shortly after being picked, which makes it not only fresher tasting, but fuller of nutrients and devoid of preservatives.
I was dismayed to hear from an Aunt in India who proudly exclaimed, “Now we can eat everything in every season from every corner of the world, just like you because such supermarkets are coming up everywhere”. My heart went out to the local Sabzi wallas and farmers and I did not know how to explain to my Aunt what I would give to have the comfort of buying great local produce everyday at home -- produce that never saw plastic packaging, refrigeration or a colored wax coating.
Look for local farmer markets. They are everywhere. Ask frequented grocery stores to carry more local foods. We enjoy a long summer farmer market in our area held in the town square every Saturday. Food just means so much more if you know your money is going directly to the farmer who worked hard for it.
Some areas also have a Community Share Agriculture (CSAs) where you prepay and the farmer delivers a crate of local produce to your doorstep every week. See the resource guide below.
8: Revert to Re-usable and Biodegradable
Why should we?Paper plates, napkins and plastic dinnerware waste the environment, increases bulk in trash and kill trees. Real dishes, cloth napkins, and steel cutlery enhance the eating experience while reducing toxic trash and saving trees. For household cleaning, switching to green products such as recycled paper towels and biodegradable cleaning supplies will ensure that you are not dumping toxic wastes into the water supply. But remember, we can't buy our way to a greener world. It takes behavioral change, which often involves buying fewer products, not more. Every product has an environmental cost, from processing to transportation to disposal even though it may be produced out of recycled material.
- Replace chemical cleaners with good old fashioned baking soda and vinegar and go for biodegradable dishwashing soap.
- Use old towels as rags for cleaning counters and floors.
- Pack lunches in reusable lunch bags and washable containers instead of plastic wrap and bags.
- Keep a set of cutlery at work and wash after each use instead of using disposables.
- In India, advocate reverting to Pattal ware (Plates and Bowls made from the tree leaves) for community meals and Langar. The pattal products are completely biodegradable and may be discarded after a single use but used for composting. They are a biodegradable, disposable, and an inexpensive alternative to modern paper or plastic utensils while they promote cottage industry.
7: Efficient on Energy and Water
Why should we?Clean, Potable water is fast becoming the rarest natural resource. What we take for granted here in water affluent places, is a rare commodity in the world and our overuse and wastefulness affects the availability of water to the rest of the world. Even here in Georgia, U.S.A, we have faced critical water shortages and droughts that have caused many of us to rethink our behavior.
Think of the world water supply as a single tank with several outlets; some fat holes and other places just a few pin holes. Fortune to live near fat holes does not give us the privilege to drain the supply and deprive billions living near pin holes. Women in some countries walk up to 5 miles everyday just to fetch 2 buckets of water for cooking and drinking. The same is true for energy; electricity and natural gas which we take for granted are mostly produced from non-renewable resources and produce significant pollution in the process. Go easy on their use!
- Soaking your beans, lentils and grains overnight and using a pressure cooker reduces the cooking time and energy by up to 80%.
- Eating more raw foods is not only healthier but also more environment friendly. Add whole fruits, sprouts and salad to your diet.
- Reuse the water used to wash veggies and fruits for watering your plants.
- Chose the right appliance for the job. Heat the water in a kettle not in open pot. Use the toaster oven instead of a large oven for small jobs like toasting nuts. Use smaller pots for cooking small portions. Little changes make big differences. You will be saving thousands of gallons of water and energy making some simple common sense changes.
- Use the appliances such as dishwasher only when full. If washing dishes by hand, fill the sink instead of letting the water run.
- I want to step outside of kitchen to address just this one. The appliance that is the biggest energy consumer in the household resides in your laundry: your clothes dryer. Revert to the old fashioned clothing line folks! There is nothing wrong with using solar heat to dry your clothes in your backyard. Make it a chore for your children. Teach them to conserve energy as well. It was my change for this Earth Day; I just put a clothes line in my backyard; It took a 20 ft. rope, two trees and 5 minutes to do it.
6: Reduce Restaurant trips (unless if it’s the Dhabas of course)
Why should we?
By reducing the dependency on fast foods, restaurant foods, soft drinks and processed meals and replacing with nutrient-rich, home-cooked meals you will improve both your and the planet’s health. By reducing those trips and eating a family dinner in your kitchen, you'll not only reduce gas pollution and food wastage but also build a stronger foundation for healthy living for your children. By eliminating those empty calories you will lose weight and feel great.
- Plan a menu for the week ahead of time to cut down on shopping trips. Thinking ahead the night before (for example, soaking the lentils or beans) also makes the job quicker and easier.
- Simplify traditional recipes by forgoing the frying of onions, ginger and garlic and instead cooking them raw along with main items - saving time, energy and cutting down on saturated fats.
- Keep healthy snacks, like nuts or dried fruit, in your car, so you don't need to waste time and gas sitting in a drive-through for some junk when in need.
- If you are on the run, put your money in local eateries such as Punjabi Dhabas or local flavors of Pop and Mom diners that make real food. Retrain taste buds to like the real food taste instead of frozen and reheated processed food. It is unfortunate that even in India our new generation prefers to eat out at McDonalds’ and KFC than to patronize the local dhabas that make fresh and healthy food.
5. Buy Bulk and Banish Bottles
Why should we?
For bottled-water addicts, trading in the convenience and cool looking bottles for good old tap in a reusable glass container may seem like a status downgrade. However, consider this: according to National Geographic magazine, Americans alone buy more than 8 billion gallons of bottled water a year and toss 22 billion empty plastic bottles in the trash. So what’s the problem? Nothing if plastic was biodegradable. Plastic takes anywhere from 500 to 1000 years to degrade and not in a bio friendly way. The toxic little pieces of broken plastic eventually find their way into the water supply or end up in ocean and guess where else ? In you!! Through the fish you eat or water you drink. Oh, and by the way some plastic bottles can be toxic while in use too. Canada just declared it is taking some types of plastic bottles for babies out of the market because they contain bisphenol A, a known toxin.
Why buy bulk ? Because, packaging pollutes. While individual packs are convenient, measuring out snacks, nuts or granola from a big jar into a reusable box for lunch or car takes only a few seconds. Not only do companies charge a premium for individually packaged goods, you will save on trash bags to throw out all that excess garbage, save the landfills and associated transportation emissions.
Going for natural snacks like fresh fruits, dried fruits and nuts eliminates the intake of toxic preservatives, additives, colors and flavors in your diet while minimizing packaging.
- Buy a reusable neoprene bottle and use it till it breaks. If you do not trust the lead content in your local water supply, get a filter for your home and fill your bottle from that. Remember the facts above when you reach for bottled water at the convenience store or a lunch meeting. If you must purchase a water bottle, please recycle it.
- We save our pasta sauce jars and glass juice bottles. Unlike plastic which leeches at higher temperatures, these are safe left in the car. We get called cheap, but that's a small price to pay for the reduction in our CO2 footprint.
- Instead of packaged veggies and fruits, go straight for the bin. If you eat a particular food in quantity, such as yogurt, choose the large container and spoon out what you need instead of buying several individual tubs. (Better yet, make the yogurt at home).
- Substitute fruit juice with a wholesome fruit. Not only do you save the environment, you get additional fiber along with all the vitamins and minerals intact, which the pasteurization kills.
- If you are or have children into sports, buy powdered electrolytes and mix in reusable water bottle instead of buying prepared products such as Gatorade.
4: BYOB – Bring Your own Bags
Why should we?
According to the National Geographic magazine, more than 500 billion plastic bags are consumed worldwide in a year. Most of degrade toxically, go to landfills or get littered and in the end provide hazards to animal and marine life. Over 100,000 birds and marine life die each year, due to an encounter with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags. So is paper better? No. Americans alone use 10 billion paper bags in a year. That's over 14 million of oxygen-producing, carbon consuming trees that are cut down to provide pulp needed for shopping bags. The shopping solution? Bring your own reusable bags.
- Purchase and use canvas or laminated bags. As soon as the groceries are unloaded; go put them back in your car trunk so they are always there when you stop for shopping.
- If you have ethnic prints or embroidered bed spreads lying around for ages; too beautiful to discard; get some shopping bags made out of them and give them the showing they deserve
- As further incentive, it would help to know that reusable bags are the status symbol of the decade. Also they are a great statement makers.
3: Revert to Roots (Convert your Lawn to a mini-farm)
Why should we?
Think about the amount of water, fertilizers, weed control and fungicide you use to keep that lawn green. Plant fruit trees if you have the space or go for a vegetable and herb garden. Punjabis have a long connection with agriculture. Guru Nanak, after returning from his journeys, settled in Kartar Pur and farmed. Re-cultivate that connection with the earth. Once you feel that connection with food, you'll change the way you eat. It becomes so much more real, and so much more a part of you. It also brings appreciation for the farmers who make their living nurturing their fields for your food.
I remember visiting Punjab as a child and snacking on a huge carrot or a radish or sugarcane without one knife touching it. Now, our young ones would have no clue what to do with them.
Start community based agriculture share practices. You don’t have to grow the whole array of kitchen vegetables; just a select few coordinated with your friends. Gurdwara provides a perfect place to exchange your tomatoes with Binder’s Bhindi and Maninder’s home grown Methi.
- You can start with a single window pot of basil and move on to an herb garden with fresh mint, peppers and a rosemary bush then gradually up your level to a vegetable garden.
- Already there? Start your compost pile. It’s not as challenging as it sounds. Keep a bucket with a lid in your kitchen right next to your trash can and deposit all your vegetable and fruit peels in it. Once a week empty the bucket in your compost pile and turn the pile over. Add dried up leaves, yard clippings for brown material when you have them. You will not only have healthy compost for your garden but you will reduce your take out garbage amount by more than 50%. That amounts to saving in transportation and landfill area. Go to ehow.com and type compost to learn more.
2: Welcome Vegetarianism
Why should we?
The resources needed to raise, slaughter, process, refrigerate and transport animals for meat : such as livestock feed, water, fuel and land greatly exceed those required for raising fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains – upto seven times more! As the world population multiplies and giant corporations get greedier, the space used for raising animals is reducing, resulting in their exposure to high levels of diseases and toxins from their own waste products, antibiotics and growth hormones. Runoff from meat farms pollutes the water source and methane gas produced by them directly adds to global warming. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet alone give one a reason to say good bye to meat. Most diseases including major killers such as heart disease and most cancers have a direct link to animal based diet. I don’t even have to address the inhumane way the cattle are treated from birth to death.
- Go vegetarian three days a week and slowly increase. While using meat, use it as an addition instead of as a main dish, adding it into dishes loaded with vegetables, grains and herbs.
- Substitute meat with foods high in protein such as lentils, beans, tofu and nuts.
- Still worried about protein and other nutrients ? Green foods such as Spirulina have more protein, rare amino acids and B12 one typically attributes to a meat diet. Vegcooking.com has tips to make your transition easy.
1: Nurture the Neighbor in Need
Remember people are a big part of the environment. The no. 1 job of every Sikh kitchen is to feed the hungry. Hunger is everywhere; hunger for nutrition that is. Even in our middle class neighborhood in the USA, our kitchen finds a needy family almost every week. It may be a sick neighbor, a friend who just had a surgery or an elderly person. Many have learned healthy and green ways of eating and benefited. Some who did not have a clue about vegetarianism and health foods are more conscious of what they put in their bodies now. They have learned to eat more vegetables, appreciate more fruits and learned how simple it is to cook beans and rice at home from scratch. They have learned to grow sprouts and fresh herbs.
By focusing on our needs vs. our wants we can afford a lot more in time and money to feed not only ourselves but a neighbor in need. Wherever a Sikh lives, the neighbor should know where to turn to in case of need. They should know the magnanimity and power of a Conscious Kitchen, of Guru Nanak’s kitchen.
In the end, Simply open your mind and evaluate your role as a conscious Kaur and Singh of the Guru. Educate yourself about the issues concerning the planet today. Know that the Guru has empowered you and that even from your own kitchen, you can be a beacon of change. Implement the change and talk to your communities about it. If we all make a resolute and collaborative effort, we can implement positive changes for ourselves, our children, our communities and our mother Earth.
Conscious Kitchen Resource Guide
For Natural Food Cooperative, Products and Farmer’s Directory in Punjab contact:
Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM)
Umendra Dutt Bishnandi Bazar JAITU-151202 , Faridkot- Punjab Phones:01635-503415 , 09872682161 firstname.lastname@example.org
Harjant SinghVPO- Rai Ke Kalan, BathindaPhone: 9417620814
Ajay Tripathi Jaitu 9915195061 email@example.com
· Calculate your ecological footprint at http://www.earthday.net/footprint/
· For a directory of eco-friendly and holistic health products including farmers markets and food coo-ops for U.S, U.K, Canada, Australia and more: http://www.greenpeople.org/index.htm