Today is our last day at Sadhana. I have cried off an on for the past 24 hours. I am very sad to leave this community. The people that are living here and working towards this goal of low-carbon sustainability are truly inspring. It has been so great to live in a community with such passionate individuals with such a unique depth of knowledge about all subjects. Sadhana is truly a special place, and I will miss it dearly.
When remembering the highlights of the past two weeks, I am thinking about the strong group dynamic we built within the Living Routes group. We have all fell ill together, read together, worked together, ate together, and talked together for the past three weeks. We bonded over the vegan experience here at Sadhana. With only one of us coming in as a vegan, and almost all of us coming out as committing to make a more conscious effort to reducing animal consumption, I’d say we all made pretty strong strides together towards making big changes towards a low-carbon lifestyle. We watched the movie Earthlings together and attended a day-long workshop to hear an esteemed doctor talk about the health benefits of veganism. Additionally, we ate vegan meals everyday. All these experiences together created a strong learning environment, through food alone.
We are all heading out of India, whether it be to home or on to further adventures abroad. I have been thinking about how I will integrate the things I have learned at Sadhana when back at home in the Twin Cities. I will expand my veganism to exclude other forms of animal dominance such as skin care and clothing. Toilet paper is a no-no for sure! I’m still intrigued by the bucket showering system here, but don’t think that will stick during the cold Minnesota winters. Above all, I’m excited to incorporate more community-based aspects of life into my community-less life back home. I am taking away a huge appreciation for relationships that I did not before, and I am extremely grateful for that.
This experience has been above and beyond my expectations, and I am looking forward to coming back in the near future.
On Sunday we had the vegan workshop, which was all related to health benefits of a vegan, whole food diet. This was a really interesting and eye opening presentation. The examples of peoples’ heart problems and even diabetes being reversed from this kind of diet really showed me that this was the healthy way to go about living. I have been vegetarian for 11 years and thought that this was basically the same as being vegan. I have started eliminating some dairy products over the years, like milk and for the most part butter, but I was still eating a lot of cheese. When I was explained that the cheese composition is basically the same as the meat one though, I realized that I was not getting these health benefits that I thought I had. Then during the final snack they made a cheese spread on toast. This truly shocked be because I have tried vegan cheese and it has all been disgusting. I just thought that if I was going to be vegan I was going to have to give this up, but I was wrong. The spread tasted just like the real thing, and I realized that I could do this. I would just have to make my own cheese and not buy it from the stores.
On a side note the presentation was also on the beach. It was really nice to see the ocean and feel waves crash through my feet and legs. The waves were a lot more powerful that I was expecting, sometimes going all the way up to the edge of the beach. The water was also very warm. I wanted to jump right in but had no bathing suit. I didn’t want to be soaked for the rest of the presentation.
To complete the super vegan day we watched Earthlings after dinner. This movie was disgusting. The way animals were shown to be treated in these factory farms was horrible, especially the portion witch they showed “kosher” cows being killed. When they also showed the milking side of it, I was also shocked. The difference in life expectancy for cows that were being milked was shocking. The machines were taking quite a toll on them and the process seemed almost the same as the ones killed for beef. What also surprised me though were the other sections, especially the entertainment one. I had never before thought of the training being negative reinforcement with lots of beating and yelling at the animal, rather positive reinforcement with treats being awarded for doing the right thing, similar to how I trained my dog.
After all of this I decided that I would continue to be vegan after leaving India. Between the health benefits and the animal abuse factor I felt that it was the right decision. The transition would also not be too hard because I do not eat meat. I also had a good replacement for cheese. Since this was about a week ago I have been thinking more about my decision, and if it was made too hastily. I was mainly thinking about places that I often go to with my friends and how all of the food has cheese on it. It will be tough, but I decided to commit myself for 21 days, the amount of time that the program leader said to do before changing a habit. I will start the 21 days once I get to school though, because the real test will be there. At home I will have more support from my family. We had our cooking workshop and the mac n cheese we made was pretty good. It was harder than making it out of the box, but there are more choices of things to cook with in the US rather than here in India. It will be an interesting transition at school, but I will get used to it.
The program picked up speed again after the illnesses were over. And we have managed to cover most of the items scheduled in the calendar and in some instances we have managed to achieve more than what was planned. The group seems to be very aware of the key issues relating to sustainability. This enabled us to dive right into the discussions after a brief introduction during our class sessions.
The topics chosen for discussion are generally based on the interest within the group and their relationship with sustainable living. The last topic we discussed a couple of days ago was around the future of work and how it relates with sustainable life styles.
The group had read a section from Lynda Gratton’s book, ‘The Shift’ for the session. The discussion revolved around how work is changing in the US. Some of the key observations include
- there is more focus on ideas and creative input then regular skills
- increasingly employees are assessed on outputs and not the number of hours they work
- with the breakthroughs in communication technology, a section of the workforce can work from anywhere and is not tied to their office desks anymore
- as more and more people get higher education there seems to be a mismatch between the manual work available and people’s expectations of getting office based jobs
- less and less people are able to get into full-time permanent office based work
In addition to this, there are other subtle fundamental shifts that are happening which will make a great difference in how work will be for most of us in time to come.
- more people are freelancing or are self employed
- people are working on multiple projects at the same time in different teams
- some of these projects are short term hence requiring people to spend more time in looking for new work
- people are less inclined to compartmentalise their lives into work and living and expect that their work is driven by their passion
- people increasingly look for meaning in their work rather than just money
- finally people are more interested in creating and producing things for the sake of it as opposed to producing simply for just human consumption.
The group was also very active with their Solar PV project the last few days. The project began with a class session on energy, electricity, power generation and consumption, peak oil and limits with conventional sources of power and finally an overview of the workings of the solar system. The class session was followed by several hours in the field working with the solar PV system here at Sadhana Forest to provide maintenance and identify problems with the system. The group went through solar panels, breaker switches, battery banks and inverters one by one to clean them and ensure they are working effectively. They discovered that one of the switches of the solar PV array was burnt out due to lose contact and had to be replaced. They also found that one of the inverters is giving high voltage output and needs to be repaired. The next step is to prepare circuit diagrams and perhaps label the circuits so that it is easier to maintain them going forward.
Finally the students feel completely settled at Sadhana Forest. They have really adapted well to this lifestyle. We hope to talk about the transition back to the US in a few days.
I have been developing a strong interest in the U.S. food system since I started back at school in August. I am interested in urban farming and other sustainable options for agriculture. I was interested in learning more about food on this trip and I certainly have.
I have been a vegetarian for most of my life (21 years now) and I have been giving veganism some thought, prior to joining this trip for environmental reasons. We have had many discussions about veganism at Sadhana and have been eating vegan since we got here. The most influential talk we had about veganism was a workshop called “Peas vs. Pills” at the Sharan Sanctuary for Health and Reconnection to Animals and Nature given by an amazing woman Dr. Nandita Shah. She presented veganism in a very positive way. I know that eating a diet consisting of more plant based foods is the most healthy option but I did not know that it could prevent, and even cure many diseases. The most convincing part of the talk for me was when she said that when we consume animal products, we consume all of the emotions of that animal, and since most livestock is usually treated very poorly, we are consuming dispair, hopelessness, and depression. I do not want to support a food system that treats animals as commodities but I really do not want to injest negative emotions anymore. I, and many of the other members of the group plan to continue a vegan lifestyle after this trip. I think it will be challenging but worth it.
This weekend one of the long term volunteers has agreed to teach us how to cook some vegan foods at our instructors house. This is a special treat and I am looking forward to trying some of these new foods. I am so excited about going home and continuing a vegan lifestyle as well. I am lucky because I live in New York which probably has the largest concentration of vegan restaurants and food stores in the country. I have lost interest in cooking since I moved to New York in August but I am excited to get back into it and explore more restaurants and markets. I know this is the right choice for my body and the environment which is why I think the transition will be easy, not to mention I have already purged my body’s addiction to dairy since we have been eating vegan for almost three weeks now!
Today, I learned a lot about veganism. I’ve been reading the book Gristle, which is pretty good and very eye-opening, but today we attended the workshop Peas vs. Pills, about treating and preventing disease with food rather than medicines. We also just watched the movie Earthlings, about speciesism. I’ve learned a lot throughout this very vegan day, and although I have been struggling with adapting to liking the food here–I like the food in Sadhana forest much more than the food we eat around Auroville, but even in Sadhana I don’t really enjoy the taste of the food, though there are a few dishes (especially Brook’s vegan banana pancakes with jaggery syrup) that I really like–I’m going to try converting to veganism for 21 days like Dr. Shah from the workshop today told us was needed to institute behavior change, and hopefully stick with it. I think I’ll begin my 21 days when I return to America, because there’s really no challenge to being vegan here, since all of the food is already vegan. My reasons for wanting to be vegan are many–vegan food is considered to be the healthiest food in the world, it’s much more environment friendly to eat only fruits and vegetables, and the amount of suffering animals undergo before we consume them is unimaginable and intolerable.
My first reason for wanting to be vegan–because it is the healthiest diet available–stems from Dr. Shah’s talk today. By attending this workshop, which I am so grateful I had the opportunity to do, I learned a lot about how unnatural and unhealthy it is for us to be meat-eaters (and dairy consumers). For example, the reason us humans are so obsessed with consuming sweet things and have a natural sweet tooth is because primates, our ancestors, would pluck sweet fruit from treetops and eat it. When we visit an orchard, our first instinct is to pluck the delicious fruit from the trees and eat it. But when we see a field of wheat, what happens? Do we salivate and wish to go and start eating it? No. When we see a chicken walk by, do we start getting hungry? No. Why? Because we have been trained and conditioned to like consuming these foods so industries can sell them to us; it is not a natural instinct for us to consume animal and wheat products like it is for us to eat fruits and vegetables. Unlike other animals who are carnivores or even omnivores, we lack canine teeth meant for ripping apart meat. Instead, our teeth more closely resemble that of an herbivore. Also, carnivores can attack and kill their prey for food, showing that they–unlike us–were meant to do as such. We were obviously not built for this task, since we had to invent weapons to kill these animals, methods of softening them (through cooking), and even still we need ways of cutting up the meat (with sharp knives) to be able to finally consume it. We clearly were not built for swallowing animals whole like other meat-eaters. Because we weren’t naturally built for consuming all of this protein, our stomachs have to work hard to produce extra acid (hence today’s acidity problems) to digest it. We also weren’t meant to consume cow’s milk–unless we’re all baby calves–which explains why it is damaging to our bodies and why mothers have to add sugar to it to get their babies to drink it. They don’t have to add sugar to get them to drink breast milk, which was made for them. And since most of us are no longer babies, we no longer need to drink milk. We get more than enough protein from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. In addition, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and beans all contain more calcium than cow’s milk. Studies have been done showing the direct correlation between excess protein (which we largely encounter in our diets today) and tumor growth (cancer), which makes a lot of sense, actually–protein promotes growth (hence why babies need a mother’s milk, because they double their weight in just 6 months), and what is cancer? A growth. Milk is actually a disgusting concoction of hormones, pus, urea, pesticides–milk from India in particular has 570 times the allowed amount of pesticides–and antibiotics. By switching to a vegan diet, you get sick much less often, can effectively prevent developing tons of diseases such as autoimmune diseases, and have much more energy. To decide what to eat and what fruits and vegetables we should peel, we can just take the “monkey test,” which involves only eating things a monkey would eat, and only peeling things a monkey would peel (bananas, oranges, watermelons, garlic, onions, etc.), since they seem to know what they’re doing much more than we do–as evidenced by the fact that they are healthier, happier and leaner.
By reading the book Gristle, I learned a lot about why eliminating meat and dairy products from our diets is much better for the environment, my second reason for becoming vegan. For example, I learned that manure is especially toxic, hazardous and a pollutant of the water, air and land. Animals confined to factory farms produce three times the amount of waste of all humans inhabiting the U.S. combined. The pollution of water by animal waste has killed massive amounts of wildlife and has made groundwater previously used for drinking toxic for human consumption. Toxic gases have also threatened the health of workers, nearby communities, and the environment. Also, the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, coming in ahead of the entire transportation sector, is the farmed animal sector (if you even consider this to be “farming”). It has also been a huge contributor to deforestation and the production and release of CO2 into out environment. Although these are only a few ways meat and dairy consumption is devastating to our environment, it’s enough to get an idea of why this issue is so important.
The third, and most important, reason I’ve decided to attempt to make the switch to veganism is because of the horrific treatment animals undergo before they are consumed. I learned the most about this subject by watching the movie Earthlings. In this movie, I saw animals being tortured, beaten and abused. I watched cows, who after having their throats slit (or even mercilessly sawed and hacked open) were occasionally still alive, experience the horrific act of being skinned alive. I saw animals being dragged and thrown around, oftentimes resulting in suffering broken and dislocated body parts as a result (and still being tortured to get them to keep walking). I saw animals deprived of food, water, sunlight, and room to move an inch for days, months, and years at a time. In short, I saw way too many things to be able to continue consuming meat and dairy products and still be able to sleep at night. Although it was horrible to endure viewing this movie, I think it is important not to hide behind ignorance and I am glad it has changed my actions as a result, so that I can now stand up for animals all over the world simply by choosing what I put on my plate more wisely. As it has been said many times before, if all slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. Knowing this information, I have decided that it is not okay to hide behind ignorance and pretend I don’t know what’s going on. Once you learn something, it’s hard to forget it, and for this I am thankful. Not only will deciding to be vegan allow me to stand up for those who cannot, it will ensure that I live a longer, fuller, happier and healthier life, while also doing my part to help the environment and animals we share this world with to become healthier, too. I hope I am successful in this 21-day vegan challenge, and that my decision to remain vegan will stick with me for the rest of my life.
I’ve wanted to post this for a while! I’ll try to sum up the past week or so here, now that we’ve settled in at Sadhana. The following list hopefully will provide a taste of our life here so far including our successes and hardships. All I can say is that it’s going fast, and I’ve already learned so much and been challenged many MANY times to question my own beliefs. The stories and philosophies I have heard here keep giving me reason to stop and think. So, here’s the list in no particular order.
1. The community: what can I say? I’m not sure I’ve ever been so welcomed and well-looked after by a group of people I barely know. Everyone is so willing to help one another and gratitude and service are abundant.
2. Bucket showers: my new favorite way to shower. The combination of hot weather and cool or lukewarm water is perfect. It’s also amazing how little water you really need to clean your body. My hair might disagree somewhat at this point, but at least it’s the same color still.
3. The food: I’ll be honest, it took a little time to get used to the vastly different flavors and textures of Southeast India, but I think I’m beginning to understand the daily meals a little better. Being vegan makes that especially challenging when you are trying it for the first time, but I’m enjoying how hard it is and with all I’ve been learning about it from an ethical perspective, it definitely relieves some guilt. We’re attending a vegan workshop tomorrow from a professional, which should be amazing from what I hear.
4. Our projects: One is to repair the gabion or small water dam in the forest for water conservation; the second is to create a food forest of tree and shrub species in the tropical, dry evergreen forest environment here so people can provide a healthy diet from nature for themselves; and the third is to research ways to improve the solar panel system here.
5. Illness: every member of our group has gone through a pretty bad case of food poisoning or bacterial infection at this point from just general india bacteria, and only one of us has not spent a night at a local clinic. Our health has kept us back a bit in our course, but I think that part is behind us, and we can move forward with our time here, sickness free!
6. Service (called seva): While we’re still new to this, we have two periods of service in the village: before breakfast and after breakfast for about two hours. Sometimes the second session is made into a time for course work, but we all hope to give back to the community as much as we can even as students here.
7. Philosophies: here the community abides by certain rules, including: a vegan lifestyle with little to no processed food; no competitive games, only collaborative ones, supporting one another; performing daily sevas; not consuming any drugs or alcohol; not conducting business (it puts someone at a disadvantage); and following an unschooling principle, or experiential learning.
8. Little, but great things: seeing an elephant in Pondicherry; brushing teeth under the stars; ecofilm club on friday nights, our New Year’s Eve dance party and bonfire; and admiring the incredible architecture of each hut (could I build one at home?); tea of all kinds, made fresh daily.
I’m sure I could say more, but that’s the main report for now. It’s already been pretty incredible.
- Katie W.
Water is essential to all life, we know this. Sadhana Forest has a very unique relationship with water that I have observed and I have developed a new appreciation and relationship with the earths seemingly most abundant resource since we have been here.
I have studied in previous classes about the water crisis and specifically about India’s relationship with water. There is a current battle with Pakistan over the Indus river and whether India has the right or not to dam the river for energy. At Sadhana, water conservation is all around you. It feels good to know that I only really NEED a small bucket of water to shower everyday. You walk to the pump, fill up a bucket, and use the small metal cup to pour the necessary amount of water over yourself. Laundry is also very similar, soaking clothes in a bucket to wash. There are several had stations located in the village which are large barrels filled daily and sanitized with neem, a plant with antibacterial properties. You dip a small metal cup into the barrel and pour it into another smaller cup with a small hole drilled in the bottom and nailed to a pole. The water drips through the hole at a slow trickle but it is plenty, as opposed to turning on a faucet which emits an excessive amount. The toilets here use no water at all, there is a large barrel full of neem sanitized water available for washing up after you do your business but nothing compared to how much water is wasted in flushing a toilet. The water and urin from the toilets are also used to water the plants in the garden and its healthy!
Today was the first day that most of our group was healthy enough to start our first project (almost all of us have had a serious case of food poisoning from a restaurant we visited and many of us spent a night in an Indian hospital-quite an excruciating experience). Since our strength is mostly back, we were able to start work on the gabion. This is a structure built in the forest by a past Living Routes group to sort of damn water in a low canal area. There are many types of water conservation techniques used in the reforestation project such as bunts, swirling mounds of earth that work with the natural contours of the land to direct water flow to new plants. The gabion consists of wire poles staked into the ground across the little canal which support a fine wire mesh on two sides. The area is filled with sand, clay and pebbles to the top of the canal. This structure works pretty well at retaining water flow but the iron will eventually rust and the gabion will deteriorate over time. Our task today was to build up a slope on one side of the structure to restrict even more water and hopefully hold up over time when the iron weakens. We used crowbars to loosen the clay where we were digging and a monti (sp?) shovel to push the dirt onto large metal plates. We traded off all task, crowbarring, shoveling, and carrying the plates over and hour and a half and completed the slope. We intend to return tomorrow and finish some bunts around the are and and create a slope on the other side of the gabion as well as continuing to reinforce the slopes as the settle. It felt great to work so well in a team and see a product of physical labor especially after being so sick.
Excited to do more to help this wonderful community!
This is my 4th year of instructing at the Sadhana Forest J term program with Living Routes. Reading through the profiles of students, it was interesting to observe the various under-grad and graduate programmes available for students in the US for learning about environmental challenges. This year the students hail from Fish, Wildlife, Conservation Biology; Environmental Science; Natural Resource Conservation; Environmental Conservation Education; Health in Society; and Environmental Studies. During the initial introduction, I was impressed with their level of understanding of various environmental issues.
The next challenge for them, and may be for all of us, is how this understanding is applied to bring about change in their life and the society to avert the looming environmental crisis.
Sadhana Forest provides a great setting for this work. Here people from all over the world are making changes in their lifestyles. The hope is that their attempts in experimenting with living simply and creating a positive footprint on the planet while leading fulfilling lives could lead to models for the rest of the world.
The first few days in the community have been a bit challenging. Coming from a freezing temperature, the students have found themselves in a tropical setting. However, this is one of the less challenging transitions. Settling into a different rhythm in terms of food, work and community life takes a few days to transition.
This time one of the main challenges with transition was a bout of diarrhoea for 5 students on the programme. Although it is a common experience among the visitors to India, it can still take one by surprise and drain physically and emotionally. The students have coped with courage, determination and sense of humour. There were times when some of them felt that this will never end. It as was good to see all of them recover from it and finally get comfortable with their surroundings to absorb the experience.
During their short time of sickness, the students really came together as a group and helped each other in significant ways. I was also touched by the support and love that we all received from the community members. Aviram, the founder of Sadhana Forest, was always available for the students. His medical advice was most valuable. Brook, Batia and Jamey who are the senior members of the community made sure that each student got good care and personal support. The most impressive were the young mentors Grace and Vineeth who have won everyone’s heart with their selfless service and deep kindness.
The first few days
The students have had a tour of the forest with Aviram, where they were introduced to the approach towards forestry, water conservation efforts and potential projects where the students can help the forest and the community.
Nick and Brook conducted a very informative session on vegan food and vegan food options with recipes possible in the US that cater to both nutrition and taste.
Earlier this afternoon, we had lively session on Energy related issues and living a low footprint lifestyle.
The students are now getting into the swing of things and are integrating really well.
I can’t believe it has almost been a week since we arrived in India. The flight over was long and uncomfortable, but to be here in the fresh air and open space really makes up for it. Adjusting was a bit of a challenge the first day, since my sleep schedule was completely messed up. After some good rest I was good to go the next day, which started out with the forest tour.
This has probably been my favorite part out of the while stay so far. To think that this entire area was completely barren 9 years ago just amazes me. The work that has gone into this place and the transformation that has happened is truly amazing. There is so much diverse vegetation that it is hard to picture it without any. When we were walking around the forest I was very interested in the above ground planting method. There were mounds that were covered in leaves and a tree or plant in the middle. They had tried in ground planting, which is what I think would have worked best since you could get water to pool the plant, but I guess with the elevated roots the water would reach them faster.
Another cool part of the tour was seeing all of the different uses that these trees have, either for medicinal purposes or for food. To see a plant who’s leaves have calcium and much more iron than spinach was really interesting, along with one that can help digestion and teeth brushing. To think that the tropical dry evergreen forest is diminishing around the world and that it didn’t have much area to begin with, the biodiversity and uses it provides are amazing. What also surprised me were the connections between growth habits of the trees here compared to the ones I know back home. There were a lot of similar patterns of stand structure and growth that were discussed. That being said there were still some trees that were very different, for example the banyan tree. It grows in a really interesting way, with big heavy branches coming out from the main trunk which are then supported by other branches connected to the ground. It looks kind of like a big spider web or fabric coming down from the branches. What really amazed me was how large the tree could get. We went to a dance performance in Chennai, and in the garden it was in there was a banyan tree that covered about 59,000 square feet. It was night and the area was fenced off, so we couldn’t really see the true extent of it, but to think that a tree got that large it makes you wonder how long it has been alive. You can’t really age the tree though because over time parts of it rot away and new branches and trunks come up. It’s regeneration is truly amazing.
Hello everyone, my name is Ryan. I’m originally from South Shore MA but I go to school out at Colorado State University. I like to just say I study Sustainable International Development because it is easier than saying I’m studying conservation biology, international development, global environmental sustainability, and geography! I love learning, traveling, service learning, community development, and finding out how to live more sustainably. Here in Fort Collins I do a lot of work with community development and sustainability. I’m the director of the Student Sustainability Center which is an organization that tries to connect students to sustainability initiatives around campus and the community in general. I also work for the school’s alternative breaks program where I lead groups of students on service learning trips and teach about social justice. Public policy is a pretty big interest of mine so I am involved with the sustainability department of my school’s government, the Center for Public Deliberation as a facilitator, and I do work with the State Department looking at sustainability legislation and a biofuels project in Afghanistan. This summer I worked with water policy in China and I am excited to see how it compares to India. My hobbies include long distance running, languages, cartography, and the violin.
I just can’t believe that it is finally time to go to India! This semester has been one of the hardest yet so I really was only able to focus on my classwork for most of the semester. I finished classes almost two weeks ago but my entire time at home has been spent applying to law schools and seeing my family. Now that finals are over, all my applications have been sent in, and I have visited with all my family and friends, India is finally the first thing on my mind (and I could not be more excited!).
So why did I choose to spend my winter break in India with Living Routes? Well, my passions are creating intentional communities, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and learning about diversity (both cultural and biological). I love hearing people’s stories, creating synergy, and being outside. I think that ecovillages are incredible entities as they focus on both improving the standard of living for people in poverty and reducing the impact of people living in excess. This program appealed to me as it works with all of my interest: the village is a collaborative community working on international development goals and sustainable living. I honestly could not think of a place I would rather be. I’m looking forward to seeing how this whole thing works. I’ve been working with a lot of theory and with plans in the abstract but I can’t say that I have ever seen a community that is truly focused on sustainability. I also love meeting new people and learning about cultures. My only fears would be the typical safety concerns with going to a foreign country and not being “present” to completely absorb from and give to the experience. I’ve reduced this program down to several “elevator speeches” when people ask what I am doing so I hope that I am able to keep an open mind and take in the whole experience.
I can’t wait to meet you all and being this amazing journey together!
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