Sustainable living is rooted in Indian culture

Now, it’s a matter of going back to those roots and taking inspiration from those who came before us

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to hit a whopping 10 billion. And with more people comes a higher demand for everything — food, clothing, housing and related aspirations. But for a world that is stretched thin in every way when it comes to natural resources, while also under the  threat of climate change, can we really let our lifestyle decisions push it over the edge?

According to the UN, sustainable living means understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us and finding ways for everyone to live better and lighter. Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” And greedy is what we have become, now more than ever.

This Gandhi Jayanti, it only makes sense to go back to the principles of sustainability that the great man and our forefathers lived by, and to try and make some sustainable choices when it comes to our lives.

What are you wearing?

If there’s any fabric that has played a crucial role in India’s history, it is the humble khadi. Gandhi called for a boycott of British textiles and encouraged Indians to embrace indigenous craft traditions, especially khadi. The spinning charkha even became a national symbol during the freedom struggle.

Khadi is thus closely tied to the India story, but more importantly, it is highly sustainable. While a metre of mill-produced fabric requires a whopping 55 litres of water, one metre of khadi uses up only three litres. Moreover, the spinning of khadi doesn’t call for the use of machines or energy, and it also generates income for rural Indian communities.

While it may have been hard to come by clothing made with khadi a few years ago, today, several large-scale apparel manufacturers are collaborating with the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC) to use khadi in new collections and product lines. And it seems to be working. The commission reported a turnover of ₹1.15 lakh crore in 2021-22, growing at a rate of 20.54 per cent compared to the previous financial year.

What’s in your food?

In his book, Food Rules, Michael Pollan writes, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.” This is a great way to think about what we’re putting into our bodies every single day, and how we only stand to benefit by going back to our ancestors’ diets. A perfect example of this is white polished rice.

White rice, which is stripped of nutrients, became a staple of the modern Indian diet only after the 1951 Green Revolution, which was an attempt by the Indian government to avoid reliance on foreign food aid. Prior to the 1950s, whole grains such as amaranth, barley, millet, sorghum and other ancient grains were more commonly used in Indian cooking. These grains have a higher fibre and protein content, and have been clinically proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

What’s in your home?

Thanks to globalisation, urban Indian kitchens — which could once be considered a study in sustainability — have now become one of the hardest spaces in a home to declutter. From cling film to plastic storage containers, and packets of packaged foods, an unending sea of unsustainable items greets you as soon as you walk in.

But there are some simple swaps you can make to make the load on the planet lighter. For one, you can ditch your disposable dish sponges (which likely came packaged in single-use plastic) for coir scrubbers that will clean just as well and last longer. For storage, instead of buying more plastic containers, you can repurpose glass jars that you already have in your home. And sure, non-stick pans are convenient when it comes to clean-up, but they’re coated with chemicals. Instead, opt for the choice many generations of cooks swear by — cast iron.

When it comes to tackling the dishes and laundry, too, there are now a plethora of plant-based products available, like detergents made from soapnut.

What’s on your bathroom shelves?

Long before the introduction of chemicals-laden body and hair care products, our grandmothers relied on simple, homemade solutions using natural ingredients that gave the same results.

Some of these indigenous ingredients include reetha (soapnut), amla (Indian gooseberry) and shikakai (Senegalia rugata), which, unlike regular store-bought shampoos and conditioners, strip your hair of nutrients and can irritate your scalp, among other things. Not to mention the amount of plastic waste that is generated from the disposable bottles the products are most often sold in.

You don’t need to make the change overnight. Start out by introducing natural products into your hair care routine only on weekends. Then, increase the frequency while phasing out your old  products. Your scalp will thank you for it.

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