Will we be able to go fully ‘bio’?

Goodness me, what didn’t we have in our garden! The list of goodies is long, but worth noting if only for the sake of old times

Animals who live in the wild, unpolluted jungles of the world are the original ‘bio’ populations. They came before humans, who have been around for about 200,000 years now. For all these long years they have of course been bio, meaning that they have breathed fresh air, drunk clean water and eaten produce that came directly from natural sources. Even when settled agriculture came into being to feed growing populations the products there from were not filled with insecticides and pesticides. Of course there’s no going back to those times as the population of the world is inevitably increasing, being projected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050, at which point it is supposed to stabilize according to population experts – except that they may not have factored into their calculations the call for ‘conquest by demographics’ launched by certain leaders such as Turkish president Erdogan.

Either way, we look set to mess up further although there is semblance of everything being fine. It is clear that we are on a collision course amongst ourselves towards destruction, as if natural catastrophes were not enough – witness Mexico which has suffered its second earthquake within a couple of weeks. President Donald Trump has vowed to finish off North Korea as a country if its leader Kim Jong-un continues to sabre-rattle with his nuclear bombs, and one can clearly see the dangers that are lurking for the world at large, what with other rogue states being in possession of nuclear arms as well, and having equally belligerent and trigger happy people at the helm.

Unintended consequences of Science and Technology

But I digress, although these concerns are relevant too – because pollution from nuclear radiation is a genuine possibility, whether by design or accident. I remember a phrase by late French geneticist Albert Jacquard, ‘les effets pervers de la science’. In fact both science and technology harbour potential fallouts that can be harmful to man and to society. The first example that springs to my mind is – courtesy my professional bias – from the world of medicine: the side-effects of drugs, which can range from mild to severe and even fatal at times. A very contemporary phenomenon of such unintended consequences – and unpredictable at the time of the innovation – is the social alienation caused by smartphones, and the misuse and abuse of social media.

Unfortunately, this flip side of science and technology (S&T) is an unavoidable accompaniment of their applications, such that the very benefits that they have brought about have in turn led to consequences that have both individual and society-wide impacts. Thus, advances in public health and medicine, such as the provision of potable water and sanitation facilities, the discovery and use of vaccines and drugs have led to vast improvements in health and have increased life spans.

At the same time though, they have contributed to population growth, which has really exploded in the past few decades. Naturally, all these people have to be fed, hence agricultural practices that necessarily depend on weed and pest control to produce the required quantities, which means pesticides and insecticides. Add to that transport and energy needs, constructions to house the billions, and we can see the complexity of the scenario unfolding and that seems to have escaped all control. Not to mention that living longer comes with its own lot of diseases and disabilities, among which the non-communicable diseases which any school-going child can rattle off now, as the consumption of fast foods begins with that age-group. And, well, so on and so forth…

However, the irony if one may put it this way is that we have no choice but to turn to S&T to find solutions to the problems that we are facing. And thus the push towards ‘sustainable everything’, from renewable energy to the use of organic fertilizers, and turning to natural products in the care of the body as well as resorting to techniques of natural healing with a strong focus on promotion of good health and prevention of disease in the first place.

Those were the days of living ‘bio’

This is where individual responsibility comes in very strongly, and this brings me back to my years of growing up when we practised bio-living without even giving it a name. Why, most of what we ate came from our garden – and most people did have one – where we children helped (albeit many a time grudgingly!) our parents and grandparents to dig and sow, weed out, clean and water the plants and roots that would eventually come to our table, but free of any harmful additives.

I was reminded of this when last week I bought ‘bokla’ in the market, the vendor happily announcing to me that the first crop of the season had arrived. I promptly asked him to include it in my basket, and have since had a number of meals of ‘carri sec bokla-pomme de terre’ accompanied by steaming hot ‘farata blanc’ and lentils, a well-known and favourite combination. And of course I passed on the message to my fellow walkers at Trou-0-Cerfs, who would follow suit in their kitchens. One already has, as matter of fact!

Goodness me, what didn’t we have in our garden! The list of goodies is long, but worth noting if only for the sake of old times. At the far end where water used to collect and the soil was therefore somewhat swampy grew brede songe. When we came back from school and wanted to have a snack, all we had to do was go pluck from there a big arouille violette that was boiled and eaten with freshly ground chutney of coriander or semi-ripe tomatoes that were also home-grown. Manioc, bananas, all kinds of bredes (greens) not to forget the ubiquitous chouchou that hung from the plant of the same name, poids carré and embrevades, peas, tomatoes, cucumber and giraumon, and the variety of herbs and spices ranging from garlic to mint and carri poulle, etc., etc. I must also mention the medicinal plants such as camomille, patte poule, feuille chandelle, ayapanah, la verveine… and the fruit plants: cherry, three or four types of guava, bibasse, jamalacs, etc.

On Sunday last I re-lived these souvenirs when I accompanied friends to Bel Air for lunch. As we were walking down the pebbled path leading from the gate, our host pointed to the qumquat that was ripening on the tree at the edge of the small lawn. Soon we were on a tour past brede songe to the garden at the back to ogle at huge papayas, fruits cythere hanging from the low-lying tree bearing them, lemons, bananas. My eyes fell on the baton mouroume tree, and instantly my host plucked a bunch for me – has already been cooked and consumed! Sipping dilo coco laced with white rum, we feasted on gajacks of pickled lemon and olives before we dug into fish curry with brinjal, rice and coconut chutney, followed by pineapple slices as desert, and afterwards a well-deserved hour-long siesta before we bid good-bye not without carrying take-aways of bredes, bananas, pickle amongst other things.

For the first time I saw two types of mint growing by the side of the more usual variety that has small leaves. There was the one with leaves almost three to four times the size, and then one that had finger-like leaves that grew upwards on a stem. I brought a couple of these back and planted them in the same patch where I have the small-leaf variety. It has a stronger aroma. The leaves reminded me of the ones I had seen in the jungle in Bali a few weeks ago, which also had a mint-like but fainter smell and which my guide plucked for cooking when we sat down to our meal after the trek.

Given that we are part of the ‘industrial chain’ of modern living, we cannot entirely escape from some of its fallouts that find their way into our bodies. But nothing prevents us from doing our bit to mitigate any harmful effects by growing some stuff at least at home, whether in a plot which does not need to be very big, in pots – or in ways that we may learn from those who have better knowledge of these things. The effort will be well worth it, and keep us usefully busy – especially important for our later years!

  • Published in print edition on 22 September 2017

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