Natural Health

Natural Health

Eating right to good health

ecently, I quite unexpectedly met a group of German visitors to India at the home of a friend who has been promoting the conversion of garbage into compost for ever so long. Her organisation Clean Air Island collects four-five tonnes of wet garbage every day from south Mumbai markets and through the process of vermiculture, converts it into organic compost.

When one sees how this miracle happens — by simple segregation of wet and dry garbage — one wonders why it isn’t a national or at least an urban habit. The wet garbage is converted into compost and the dry stuff is recycled by the country’s much unappreciated rag pickers — mostly children. Imagine a scenario where there won’t be garbage littering the streets of our cities. Public health would improve, landfills would be history and filth would become a memory.

This might sound like utopian wishful thinking, but it’s exactly what the Germans are here for. They want to spread awareness about a rather unusual website which is accessible to anyone who wants to pose civic health questions. Already hundreds of questions have been posted on the website by people from all over the world. My German acquaintances had captured many of these people and their questions on film, and these video clips are available on the website which is copyleft, i.e there is no copyright.

In the latter part of the year, a panel of over a hundred intellectuals will be invited to answer these questions, and subsequent discussions will be open to the public. The answers will be posted on the website. Through this unusual exercise, they hope to generate some solutions to the world’s all too numerous civic health and related problems. Visit the website if you want to pose queries.

As I watched some video clips, of the hundreds of questions buzzing in my head, I was allowed two. The first question I asked was, "Why do we need police?" This was followed by "Why do we always need more?" Though embarrassingly simplistic, to me they seem the root cause of several global as well as personal problems. The revelation came to me that the day we begin to accept that less is actually more, we can expect some change in our mindset.

As a young teenager, I loved accumulating new clothes, perhaps because my mother restricted my wardrobe to three checked dresses in pink, blue and yellow during my formative years. So the moment I stopped growing taller, I was allowed to build a wardrobe. But since I am aware of my acquisitive greed, I decided to restrict myself to just one cupboard.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I realise now that I spent too much time tidying cupboards. Now I am aware that it’s much better to give away clothes I don’t need to a friend, a relative, an employee or a rag picker. Doing so saves a lot of time and energy. If only I had been content with less, I could have invested all that precious time in doing better things like reading a book and improving my knowledge!

Since then, I’ve wanted to switch to a set of clothes like a uniform which would spare me the time, energy and money spent on deciding what to wear everyday. However, it took a meeting with Alessandra, an Italian lady working with the weaver community in Tamil Nadu, to help me make the switch to khadi (a long-time desire) and vegetable dyed (with no chemicals or mordants) apparel.

The chakra that hand spins the yarn that is khadi, is the centre-piece of the Indian flag, but few of the country’s young people are aware of this. Gandhiji lost his life trying to make us see sense, but I needed Alessandra to tell me that if every Indian wore khadi even once a week, the country’s weavers would survive. I was startled to learn that it isn’t just farmers who are committing suicide en masse, our indigenous craftsmen and weavers too, are being driven to joblessness and suicide.

Since spreading health and food awareness is an integral part of my area of expertise, I cannot help but comment that less is more even on this front. Our bodies can function perfectly on the simplest natural diets, if given physical activity. Most of us are not even aware that we have an over-nutrition problem. It’s when the body is fed with refined foods that it feels hunger, and seeks nutrition. To satisfy this, people tend to indulge in excessive consumption of refined foods which cause obesity.

Even people who have weight gain — rather than weight loss — problems, can’t put on weight just by eating more. That’s because ingesting within one’s digestive capacity, rather than excessive consumption, is the vital factor. Regular exercise to increase appetite and build muscle is the sanest way to weight gain.

It’s sad to see so many women aspiring to become model-thin, at the cost of their health. Although I’m all for eating less to conserve the earth’s resources, a well-balanced diet comprising simple natural foods can subserve the cause of good health, and is earth-friendly. But that certainly doesn’t mean starving or living on aspartame, Equal, Diet Coke, protein shakes, meat diets and the like. Such food is foolishness and helps neither the cause of good health nor earth friendliness.

(Kavita Mukhi is a Mumbai-based eco-nutritionist and director of Conscious Food)