Monday, December 25, 2006

Vegetarianism and the Environment

During the last few decades, food production has had a faster growth than the population. Nevertheless, nearly 840 million people (status in 2004) [6] face starvation today, and more than half of the 10.4 million deaths among children can be attributed to malnutrition. Feeding these people and the growing population has been a burden on earth’s resources. What’s more? The people from the more affluent background are in no way helping their cause. Their present eating habits only help to increase this burden on the resources. Some of the effects of eating a diet rich in meat and diary products are that it is a strain on the fossil fuel resources, it causes rain forest depletion, it aids soil erosion, water pollution, and reduces the availability of food grains for human consumption.

The animals that are grown for food production require to be fed with grains, soy and other corps. The production of these crops, their harvesting and transportation require energy. The transportation of these animals from the feedlots to the slaughterhouse, and of the carcasses, often in refrigerated trucks, to the processing plants and then to the groceries use fossil fuels. More than one third of all fossil fuels produced in the US go towards animal husbandry. The efficiency of fossil fuel use may be a factor of 2.5 – 50 times better for vegetable proteins when compared with animal proteins [11]. This factor has a direct consequence to the carbon dioxide level increase in the world. A report estimated that driving a hybrid car rather that an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegetarian diet however consumes one and half tons less than an average American diet. Thus going vegetarian is in some ways better than driving a hybrid car!

The very requirement for animal feed on a commercial scale, has changed the land use pattern in many countries. For the 200 million beef export to the US, the Latin and Central American rainforests have been cleared with complete disregard (a land having the size of seven football fields is destroyed every minute, every day) [4]. In the US alone, 260 million acres of forests have been cleared for raising animals. The same effect is seen in China too. In the mid 1960s, 34% of the total maize (of the 25 million tons) produced was used to feed animals, while in the mid 1990s, 80% of the 113 million tons of maize was used to feed animals [12]. The next time you are having a hamburger remember that you have just been responsible for destroying 55 square feet of forests!

Besides grains, animals need water to survive and grow until they are slaughtered. One pound of beef requires an input of approximately 2500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons [1]. Agriculture is a source of water pollution through the use of fertilizers. Thus, raising animals (and their food) also adds to problem on water resources. The manure created from the billions of animals killed for food often ends up in rivers and streams, killing millions of fish [1]. Livestock are directly or indirectly responsible for much of the soil erosion in the United States too. On lands where feed grain is produced, soil loss averages 13 tons per hectare per year. Pasture lands are eroding at a slower pace, at an average of 6 tons per hectare per year. But erosion may exceed 100 tons on severely overgrazed pastures, and 54 percent of U.S. pasture land is being overgrazed [5].

The earth has sustained so far, because meat products as a daily portion of ones meals, is still a western phenomenon (considering the number of non-vegetarians there). Meat products still remain a luxury to people in the poor countries. The advent of globalization has seen processed meat products, being sold in other parts of the world, including in some of these poor countries. When the people of these countries change their food habits, trying to emulate the west, it becomes a burden which the earth can not shoulder. Again here, the affluent in these countries will not have problems – they can buy their way out of trouble importing the necessities. It would be the poor who face the brunt of it all.

Anup J Nambiar

* I have generously used ideas and facts available at the web sites of the BBC, IIASA, FAO, Cornell University, EPA, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the World Rainforest Movement.



Sunday, December 24, 2006


It is very difficult to feign a smile
when it is hurting inside.
This is what I have been doing,
since that star filled night.

I stayed locked up in my room
reminiscing about the moment
we had spent together.
Maybe loving each other,
without knowing or accepting it.

Her words kept ringing in my mind –
‘he had tried and waited for so long’ - yes true.
He did and he spoke overtly about it.
I kept mum, hiding the feeling within
for even longer; in the cauldron - my heart.
I just spoke the odd word about love.

Men don’t cry, I have heard people say.
I did not.
It is on paper I vent my innermost feelings.
This is where I find solace.

Someone knocks the door.
I fold the paper, and place it in
one of the books on the shelf.

I open the door.
I give the same warm smile.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Constellation II

Something I had feared for long,
but had myself prepared for,
happened on a star filled night.
The way things had been for
some time, helped me
through it, without any change
in expressions.
I did not flinch at this news I had heard.

I looked at the sky asking the Creator
why I had to go though this rough patch.
Hadn’t I cleared all the tests
I had been put through?
He seemed justified in doing so.

It is then I noticed something.
The constellation that was
a personified being in my life
was not there.

I remembered seeing it the night before.
Today it seemed all elusive.
The skies seemed to have
heard the news too.

After a couple of hours, during the
regular loss of electric power,
I looked up at the skies again.
Had the constellation really let me down?

I could see it as bright as ever.
The personification no longer remained now.

Dream II

I was woken up from the siesta,
into the realm of reality.
The dream I had seen,
found place in real life.
It was the last piece of the jigsaw.

Words II

All I had were spent opportunities
and words.

I did not place the correct words
in sentences I spoke – my regret.
And what I used did not suffice.
The words I spoke did not mean much.
Time had taken its toll
on what was mutually shared.

Now I do not expect much.
Circumstances have killed the passion.
The last thread I had held on to
gave in at last.
It’s just me and the free fall now.

The hurdles are the hills in the distance,
which I may have traversed
if I had used the right words
when it mattered.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Irqi Quagmire

The Iraq Study Group (Baker - Hamliton) report on what course of action the US administration should follow in order to prevent Iraq from succumbing to sectarian forces consists of 79 steps to be followed to achieve the target. Though many of them are vague and very general statements, one thing is clearly mentioned in it. The vociferous demand of the anti-war groups in the US and elsewhere is the same – a pull out of the US forces from Iraq.

Iraq was ruled by the despotic Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, for more than three decades, until the invasion by the US led troop. His tenure had seen atrocities committed against the Iraqi people, often adding to the debilitating effect of the sanctions imposed by the west on the country and the oil embargo after the First Gulf war (this invasion being the second). The Shiites often found themselves in his wrong books. Though the Shiites constitutes around 60 percent of the Iraqi population, they were largely outnumbered by the Ba’athist Party members among the policy makers. The Shiites were supported by foreign powers like Iran and Syria (Iran having a majority Shia population and Syria having a Hezbollah stronghold) while the Sunni Muslims received financial and other help from countries like Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni countries (though this support was often covert in nature and not to the Saddam regime directly, because of the differences that had arisen after Saddam’s excursion in Kuwait). Under his rule these differences between the two sects did not find footing, since the Iraqis had an even bigger worry – how to feed themselves. These days the differences between these two sects (especially, and sometimes involving the Kurds) are more visible, and this situation has been worsened by the presence of foreign terrorist groups (many of them owing allegiance to the Al Qaeda).

This scenario has been altered drastically since the Iraqi invasion. As the Baker – Hamilton report suggests, solving the Israel – Palestinian conflict would provide the impetus to solve this crisis in Iraq. Most of hatred in Iraq (and the violence) has been aimed at the US led forces there. One of the main reasons the US forces are seen with so much animosity is that the US has been silent at the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. There are thousands of Palestinians living in the neighbouring Arab countries, and these people as well as the host nations feel cheated by the Israelis. The unflinching support provided by the US to the Israelis adds fuel to the fire (this can be attributed to the very strong Israeli lobby in the US). We can not thus expect any stern action to be taken by the US against the Israeli aggression (for example what happened in Lebanon earlier this year). Putting it directly, finding a solution to the Isreali – Palestinian issue and using it as a pre-requisite for solving the Iraq crisis, is not a very good idea. One can only think of reducing the hostility of the Arabs in general (and the Iraqis in particular) towards the US (and the US led forces in Iraq).

It is this very antagonism against the US led forces, that has erupted into a full scale sectarian battle. The Shiites and Sunni Muslims wanted a means by which to try and impede the US progress. They found the answer – through the use of sectarian violence. Though this was initially to quell the US advancements, it has really turned out to be a very serious affair now. If the US led troops leave Iraq today, it will lead to a full scale civil war there. The leadership provided by the Iraqi Prime minister has not been able to consolidate every part of Iraq. Differences would rise (between the Sunni, Shiites and the Kurds), and these differences would possibly lead to the partition of the country (just like foreign invasions have done in many countries). In terms of the success rate (as spoken by the Bush-Blair duo), the Iraqi mission would be a failure, if such a division happens. There have been talks of partitioning Iraq on sectarian lines into three parts (one each for the Sunnis and the Shiites). Such a solution would not suffice because there would be a discrepancy regarding the equitable distribution of oil revenue.

The time, a peace process takes to come into effect in Palestine and the problems associated with partitioning Iraq, rules the previously mentioned schemes out of contention. So now what? One feasible initiative would be to gradually reduce American led troops in Iraq, with these troops being replaced by troops from the neighbouring countries like Syria, Iran, and the rest of the Gulf Corporation Council countries. This serves two purposes. One, the Arabs constituting this force would be in a position to relate better with the Iraqis. Moreover the Iraqi citizens would not see the Arab forces in the same light as the American led forces. ‘The Arabs can be trusted’, the Iraqis would say. The second, such a multi-national force, having an Iranian or Syrian majority, would also help ease the tension between Iran – Syria and the US. These countries could negotiate with the US for a reduction in the penalty that could be imposed on them by the US (sanctions in Iran regarding the nuclear weapons issue and the removal of the ruling family in Syria for the support it has provided to the Hezbollah). This way, we have a win-win situation for both the parties involved.

This scheme sounds good on paper. There are predicaments that could crop up in this schme of things too. Two things have to be understood, to prevent such problems from occurring - under no circumstances must these forces act as a puppet (controlled by the US), and neighouring countries (whose people form the multi-national force) should not play dirty games for their own political or religious leverage. Having a neutral force, with involvement from the UN and countries like India , which have had good relations in the past with the Iraqi people, would also be a good option (language and Indian politics may cause problems in this case). It is by doing such deeds; the Indian polity can speak of India truly being a world power to be reckoned. Just showing a GDP growth rate of more than eight percent is not good enough without such supplements.

For such a solution to be discussed, the US must first shed the gains it had planned to attain through this invasion. More importantly, the Bush – Blair duo must accept the mistakes committed and make amends too. If they fail to do so, any of their future rhetoric, would further loose credibility.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


This is a time when many world leaders (with the exception of President Bush and his ‘axis-of-righteous’ entourage) have prophesied three civil wars in the Middle East – in Lebanon, Palestine and in Iraq, if events occurring in these nations maintain status quo. With the global extent of such strife and global problems present in almost every corner of the world, the use of the term ‘globalization’ on this pretext can be justified.

When thinking about globalization, what comes in our minds first is the opposition it faces in the world today, which is exemplified by the protests (sometimes turning violent) during the WTO meets. The opposition globalization faces itself is a global phenomenon. These adversaries of globalization have come from many countries, and most of their ideas have been generated and spread through means like TVs, telephones and the internet (showing the freedom of information), which forms the back bone of globalization too.

The first phase of globalization occurred a long time back, much before the First World War. There was spread of ideas in mathematics, medicine, philosophy, religion, astronomy and science from India and China, to the European countries, through the Arab world. Since the industrial revolution in Europe, most of the innovations in technology have come from these European countries, and have affected life in countries like India, China and the Arab world. The first phase of globalization thus proves that this term ‘globalization’, though coined recently, is a very old system that had influenced lives in many ways.

You ask an Indian why he is proud of being one; he would surely mention that, the unity in India despite the cultural diversity of the Indians, is one of the reasons. One has to understand that many of the distinct features of various Indian communities have been brought about by the influence of other ‘civilizations’. Many of the spices, for which the Indians are famous, were introduced in the country by the Portuguese. Some of the cuisines, like the tandoori, which has become a ‘multicultural’ trait of Britain, came from India (which was from south central Russia in the first place). Sufi music has influenced music played in parts of India. Buddhism’s spread, started in India, and spread outwards to China and many south east Asian countries. These examples clearly show that the term globalization does not only include economics and politics alone, it is literally a ‘global’ phenomenon, encapsulating many subtle art forms, religious ideas, food habits etc. that can be enlisted as the cultural heritage of a nation.

The crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union came as the harbinger of globalization’s second phase. The alternative to free market capitalism, which was socialism or communism, had faltered. It is said by economists that socialism had prescribed means to distribute wealth efficiently in a state but had not described means by which to win this wealth. These days we find leftist parties, like the Communist Party in China, and in the Indian states of West Bengal and Kerala, opening the doors to foreign investment and moving towards privatization. The fact that these communist parties have appreciated the importance of having a free market speaks for itself.

Some of the not-so-free nations like Cuba, Russia, and North Korea have faced the brunt of having governments not elected democratically. Some of the other authoritarian governments are surviving because of a lot of clout they have due to abundance in some natural resource like oil. Many political and economic commentators find this very feature of democracy and freedom good enough to place countries like India, which began opening its markets in the early 1990s, above the Asian powerhouse China. They say that India, a few years down the lane, would be a better place for foreign investment, because ‘the Chinese did not know what freedom was’. This clearly proves the importance of a democratically elected government and the working of the economy in the lines of free market capitalism. Not to forget, democratization of information (synonymous with freedom of information) is one of the pillars on which the ‘global’ world exists – and it is found in abundance in democratic countries (though this freedom has not had a very smooth travel).

Most of the opposition globalization faces today, in the poor countries, come from a belief that it has its root in the Western ‘civilization’. The first phase of globalization clearly proves that there is no way to prove that one particular place initiated this phenomenon. It may be true that these western countries have propelled the phenomenon forward, as never seen before. These countries may not have made this rapid progress without the inward movement of the ideas in sciences (as mentioned above). What ought to be done, is to accept globalization as it is, and to make efforts to reduce its effects on one’s culture. In this way, one gains the benefits of living in a global world, without having to loose his identity. The following paragraphs describe the fear lurking in the minds of the people about the effects; globalization could have on their culture – their identity.

This discussion began with a description of the opposition globalization faces from the common man from many countries. This resistance comes when a proper balance between one land’s cultural heritage and the development through the global means is not achieved. When governments hug the ‘global’ way without giving a thought about their peoples’ concern regarding the effects of the same on their culture, this endeavour may backfire, as has happened in many cases. Issues that crop up when one foreign company tries to open a manufacturing unit in some place in India prove the point.

The uprisings we have seen, organized by the BJP and their coalition parties, against people observing the Valentine’s Day in India also exemplifies this. In this case, the affected BJP and its partners have been trying to invoke among the Indians a need to protect the Indian culture from the outside ‘global’ effects. The very fact that not many observed this day, a few years back, clearly shows that globalization has been in the driving seat for only the last decade or so. It would be worthy to mention that even when the BJP was at the helm of affairs in India they supported the opening of the Indian markets, which had been initiated in the early 1990s (‘yielding to globalization’, some of its adversaries say).

Another major effect of this ‘global’ phenomenon is in food habits of the people living in a place. It is during this second phase that the Indian market saw fast food giants like McDonalds, Pizza Hut etc. making their presence felt in India. This has again seen opposition in many fronts. Again, the opposition comes from the fact that these joints have tried to undo the traditional food habits of Indians (which are naturally healthier than these replacements).

One another problem often spoken about is how globalization has not done much to improve the condition of the poorer classes in the society. In fact, the effects of globalization are being seen even among the poorest of the people, but these effects are taking time to percolate through to the lower strata of the society. The reasons why these people have remained poor over the years have other causes (fingers can not be pointed at globalization). Maybe the ‘globalization chauvinists’ could learn a lesson or two from Marx and Lenin, so that an even distribution of the fruits of globalization is made.

The instances put forward indicate that there is no alternative to globalization for a country trying its hand at development. Globalization has in effect become the new world order, after the Cold War. The effects of globalization on the culture of a people should be learnt and necessary steps may be taken to reduce them. In this way, globalization may be nurtured with limited opposition, for the benefit of all.

*I have generously used ideas put forth in the following books – Identity and Violence (Amartya Sen), The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Thomas L Friedman), The Argumentative Indian (Amartya Sen)

*My ideas on this subject have been influenced by a large number of newspaper articles, which are too many to be individually mentioned.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


She had a few more minutes
before the train left;
The train she had to board,
for the travel ahead.

The forecasted rains,
dampening her hopes;
And the traffic on the street,
that had all the roads choked

She was caught on the road
with quite a lot of luggage,
There was no way on foot
she could circumvent the blockade.

She crossed her fingers,
praying for the best.
She could not for long
hide her growing unrest.

This had been one moment
she had waited for so long a time
Diffidence replaced her youthful confidence
which had been so sublime.

She arrived at the station,
wishing for a delayed train,
She remunerated the rickshaw driver,
not waiting for the returned change.

She heard the dreadful sound
of the train blowing its horn.
She tried to push through the crowd
frequently inviting people’s scorn.

Her legs failed to carry her forward;
She heard the deafening noise.
Left stranded, she lost her
normally present poise.


I remember the time when I was wild and free.
Sauntering on the grass, in the shade of trees.

You came as someone to pull on the reins,
and controlled me, like I had never been.

My heart yearns for your gentle pull today,
As I am aimless on this path, without your care.