Yoga and Food Security

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

The proposition to name an International Yoga Day is highly symbolical of India’s relation to the world. This international day was suggested by the newly-elected Prime Minister of India in 2014 and got the adherence of more than 150 countries worldwide. Since the mid-20th century, yoga has spread beyond the frontiers of India and gained recognition for its numerous benefits.

Yoga is an inward-looking discipline that combines breathing exercises with physical movements, and makes one conscious of each movement of body and limbs and the flow of energy that is released inside. Etymologically, yoga embodies the principle of unity, a sense of unity at individual and physical levels that mirrors the underlying unity in the world family of beings, of things material and immaterial.

After centuries of living under the yoke of foreign rule in parts of its territories, India’s awakening to her immense potential instilled by her civilizational ethos and philosophy could not unfold itself as it wished, and first, for the benefit of her own citizens. Yoga is just one among other aspects of Indian philosophy and culture. By the same token, it can be said that yoga is one of India’s gifts to humanity.

Health improvement and self-control are the first results of practising hatha yoga. Professional yoga opens other doors for in-depth exploration. In Mauritius, halls for the practice of yoga in upcoming sports complexes and also other disciplines together with an open space for outdoor practice will help extend the benefits of yoga to a greater number of people and contribute to healthier lifestyle.

Are there a sufficient number of yoga teachers to carry out sessions across the country? Given that yoga is open to one and all from different backgrounds, an association of teachers may provide proper training and counselling to newcomers who wish to teach yoga, and thus avoid unprofessional teaching to spread around.

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Food Security

With an aim to reduce imports of meat the recent budget announced measures to encourage local animal farming of lamb and cattle. It will save funds from being drained out to New Zealand and other countries, create jobs and reduce the carbon imprint caused by mass industrial farming in big countries and transport by planes. Self-sufficiency in food is not going to happen any time soon but the bid to reduce imports can consider cutting down on other food items also while offering alternatives for health benefits and economic reasons.

More information to the public and transparency in the type of animal rearing as regards location and size of farms, and the means of production are necessary for consultation with the population. It should be clear whether small family farms raising small number of livestock are envisaged or factory farming. Rising concern for food security and the future of a rapidly deteriorating environment worldwide have exposed the multiple damages caused by factory farming. Methods used in big countries with decades of experience in industrial agriculture to provide animal feed for animals raised in factories result in disastrous environmental consequences. These are warning signs not to repeat the same mistakes and steer a different course for the prospective development in the meat sector.

Invisible costs of industrial meat production

By now, there is clear awareness on how industrial agriculture to produce animal feed in factories has become the most unsustainable practice of modern civilization, on how factory farming is responsible for the abuse of lands, animals and natural resources, all for the sole purpose of providing cheap food to large numbers of people. It has wrought economic problems, public health concerns, inhumane conditions for billions of animals, and a huge carbon debt on the world agricultural system.

Small-scale farms are a better option in a small country. Otherwise, it translates into single-crop practices to exclusively grow livestock feed, and the use of petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides. The amount of methane emission, which largely contributes to global warming, should be taken into account.

What should be avoided is the use of vitamin supplements which allow livestock to be confined without sunlight and the production of animals year-round; and equally harmful is sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics which allows livestock to be confined in greater numbers and close quarters.

Regulations on animal waste deposition and disposal should be made clear. Huge animal wastes deposed in far greater amounts than the land can absorb result in air, water and soil pollution.

Population growth worldwide has brought about changing economic and food preferences, and put increasing pressure on the agricultural sector, intensive use of arable lands, on livestock production and related feed crops.

By now, the real impact of modern industrial farming is well-documented enough to prompt adequate measures in favouring small-scale production in countries with relatively scarce arable lands and little water so as to avoid soil erosion, lower soil fertility and reduced biodiversity. If imported feed is envisaged, there should be thorough information on the quality of food that is served to animals, whether it is based on soya and maize crops with lots of pesticides or not.

The prospective small-scale farming can also be shared with Rodrigues.

Alternative food habits

Besides environmental impact of rearing animals, there is increasing awareness of cruelty to animals in slaughter houses. Cheap imported chickens means they never see sunlight in their short existence, have hardly two centimeters to move, become crazy and kill their neighbours. Pigs are described as intelligent animals from the point of view of Hindu observers, and are kept behind bars and stare out their whole life till their last breath when they struggle in acute suffering to avoid being killed. Cattle, cows and lambs are viewed through the same ethical principles.

For sure, all the varieties of animal flesh are very tasty to loads of people! Yet, there is an urgent need to reduce meat consumption for economic reasons, environmental sustainability, health benefits and ethical concerns. Much more emphasis is being laid on natural food, fruits, vegetables, grains, dry fruits etc. even in advanced countries.

It is not an issue to many Hindus in Mauritius to cut down on chicken and lamb which they already do not consume excessively, while many, including the younger generation, are vegetarians. Less meat consumption is also gaining ground in the wider public. Some people have opted for fish and dropped meat altogether.

In the West, where compassion has been limited to pet animals, there is increasing awareness of the cruelty meted out to animals in farm factories with a consequential reduction in red meat consumption, and a growing preference for vegetarianism and veganism. Vegetarianism is a main feature of Indian culture, and is widely associated to the Hindu ethos across the world. Only in recent years have advanced western countries started to take a new look at animals and meat consumption, and at the life of plants and trees for that matter. From the Hindu point of view, when you consume meat, the suffering and terror of the slaughtered animals get into your subconscious and has an impact on one’s karma. It also applies to fish; the bulging eyes of dead fish reflect the terror in the loss of life.

Rice is another imported food item which can be reduced after sensitizing citizens on replacing it with local potatoes, a variety of flour-based food items, bread, pasta, etc. Overconsumption of rice is not a desirable healthy diet. Cassava, the local manioc, with some chutney or other flavour can make its way back to our table a bit more often. The craze for food novelty has made some folks ignore brède and baton mouroung. It still remains a popular food and can be prepared in different ways. Making the best of local produce is undeniably a reasonable option. Apart from sesame seeds which have been exempted from tax, reduced taxes for almonds, cashew nuts, nuts, dried grapes will encourage the purchase and consumption of natural produce.

So, in planning to develop animal farming to reduce imports, it is worth keeping in mind that with a growing world population that is likely to reach 10 billion by 2050, plant-based meat is also being experimented to keep the flavour of meat. Half-cooked vegetables reduce gas bills and preserve the nutrients. Consumption of natural raw produce for instant health benefits is highly recommended.

* Published in print edition on 21 June 2019

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