Mindful Living and Everyday Choices
Life with a toddler severely constrains my grocery shopping expeditions. Instead of browsing through the store, looking for stuff I need and buying a number of things that I don’t, I now make a detailed and painstaking list each month. This labourious exercise has had an interesting side effect, though. It has made me pause and consider my choices, simply because I was putting everything down on paper. Along the way, I made up three thumb rules for sustainable grocery shopping
1. Buy Local, Buy Seasonal: When food doesn’t travel very far, it is fresher, healthier, and more sustainable. Funnily enough, it is now harder to find local food and vegetables, with Washington Apples and Malta Oranges being displayed prominently in many large shops. In addition, some habits are hard to break. For instance, when I first moved to Assam, I was tempted to buy the familiar rice varieties of Ponni or Sona Masuri rice from Tamilnadu and Telangana. In time though, I discovered small-grained, partly polished local rice varieties that went really well with traditional south Indian food. Similarly, buying from farmers at the weekly haat allows me to stick to seasonal fruits and vegetables.
2. Reduce Water-Intensive Foods: Sugarcane is one of the most water-intensive crops in India. Ironically, is often grown in rain shadow regions using borewells, grossly depleting groundwater. The processing of sugarcane to produce pearly white sugar crystals is also a water-intensive procedure. So, consider buying less sugar and reducing its usage in tea, coffee and confectionaries.
On the other hand, millet crops need very little water, are drought resistant and can be grown in a variety of soil conditions across the country. Most of us are used to having wheat or rice as staples. Since food is often an emotional issue, completely shifting away from these grains may be difficult. On the other hand, it is possible to supplement our daily food intake with millets. Some people add small amounts of samai (Little Millet) to idli and dosai batters. Others add jowar (Sorghum) powder while making rotis.
3. Avoid Synthetic Chemicals and Cleansers: Many of our personal care products (soaps, shampoos, and detergents) produce persistent foam that can choke our water bodies. Plant-based surfactants like soapnuts and grain-based cleansers like lentil powders are good for your health as well as the environment. The grey water produced in this manner is easily used by banana plants or Canna lillies, without any energy-intensive water treatment procedure. Grey water is often half the water usage of a house. So simply buying these cleansers can make a big contribution to a sustainable life.
Today morning, the person who helps clean our cars told us that using an anti-dandruff shampoo would give the car a lovely shine. There was an ancient bottle in the bathroom that was no longer being used, and I handed it over to him. I remembered reading that synthetic surfactants were initially developed for removing grease from cars. When I told my husband about this, he renewed his commitment to using my grandmother’s shikakai for his hair.
These are simply overall pointers, though. I myself break them in some small way nearly every month. For instance, the joy of cooking in cold-pressed sesame oil makes me source it from Coimbatore. I also firmly associate summers with Banganapalli mangoes. So while I enjoy local varieties, I cannot resist lush Banganapallis with numerous black dots. I buy them, even though I know that they have traveled half the length of the country. If a choice feels like deprivation or involves guilt, it isn’t really sustainable, so embrace your irrational, sentimental sides as well.
Stay happy, stay comfortable, and enjoy being gentle on yourself and the environment!