Curry leaf flavor in the LA Times

Flickr photo by Tatiana Gerus

A recent Los Angeles Times article, “Curry leaf tree, a touch of India in the backyard,” reminds me that my dad’s old office had a curry leaf tree growing just outside his window. From time to time, while he was working, he would see desis drive or walk up to his office building and step up to the elevated garden area to grab a bunch of the fragrant leaves to go. My grandma lived next to his office and she planted the tree many years ago. Of course she wasn’t the only one to do so in sunny southern California.

Rishi Kumar’s grandmother brought curry leaf seeds from India, and his mother planted them 18 years ago at her home in Diamond Bar. Now the curry leaf has filled out into a mini-grove of slender stalks, bushy with the pointed leaves essential to Indian cuisine.
After graduating from UC San Diego in computer science, Kumar came home to his parents’ house and started gardening seriously. He started a community-supported agriculture project, or CSA, called the Growing Home and Learning Center, based out of the 2,500-square-foot garden around the house. He put in a series of cinder-block terraces, heavily mulched with forest humus and horse stable bedding, and started planting. An Ayurvedic garden is out front, where the lawn used to be; in the back, plants reflect his family’s Punjab roots: holy basil, neem (a tree believed to have medicinal properties), Indian jasmine. (LAT)

For more information on the curry leaf tree read the rest of the article. It’s part of a Tuesday series called the Global Garden.

Back to the Roots: Growing Gourmet Eats from “Garbage”


Behind that stream of steaming hot coffee pouring into your cup is a waste stream of coffee grounds. Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez of Back to the Roots (BTTR) view the huge amounts of coffee grounds waste coming out of coffee shops as a huge potential for urban mushroom farming. The UC Berkeley students were in their final semester with corporate job offers in hand when they heard about growing gourmet mushrooms from coffee grounds and independently reached out to their professor for more information. (Read a Q&A with Arora after the jump.)

The professor put them in touch and they got to growing their business idea. They asked Peet’s Coffee for used coffee grounds and set up ten test buckets in Velez’s fraternity kitchen to try out mushroom farming. Only one bucket grew a crop of mushrooms.

They took the single success to a famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, to get those mushrooms checked out–they were sautéed and deemed good. (If you’re wondering, mushrooms grown in coffee grounds do not pick up a coffee kick to their flavor.) The two budding entrepreneurs took the same bucket to Whole Foods and caught the interest of store employees. Their idea also caught the interest of their university, which awarded them a $5K social innovation grant.

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Green Public Space in Chennai

When we lived in Chennai in 2008-09, my partner-in-crime and I bemoaned the lack of public space in the city to just hang out. It seemed that there were the beaches and a few small parks scattered throughout the city, but no public space with grass, lots of trees, and shade.

Enter the Semmozhi Poonga, opened to the public in late November, 2010. I visited on December 29 for a cost of Rs. 5, and was pleasantly surprised to find a park with well-maintained and sittable grass, lots of trees and shade, playground equipment for kids, and benches occupied by young lovers.


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Air Pollution: Is Not Flying a Solution?

Thumbnail image for globe_west_172.jpgTech geek Anirvan Chatterjee and landscape architect Barnali Ghosh were surprised to learn that their carbon footprint was bigger than 90 percent of Americans, despite their green efforts which included living without a car. They found that air travel was to blame and challenged themselves to spend a year without flying. In words that might resonate with many desis, Chatterjee wrote about why it would be hard to give up flying, just before embarking upon the Year of No Flying project.

Growing up in a family of post-1965 transnational immigrants, our history is deeply connected with the democratization of air travel — countless flights to and from India, Canada, Nigeria, and the United States. Our stories begin and end in airports. (Last flight) Continue reading

Bhopal at 25: Thoughts?

Sandhya wrote a post last year related to Bhopal last year, so perhaps it isn’t necessary to go through the particulars of a case that most people know about. Still, it seems important to acknowledge that today is 25 years to the day since the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal broke down, resulting in the release of massive amounts of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, which killed about 30,000 people and injured thousands more (more than 500,000 people claimed damages). For those unfamiliar with the story, here is a detailed chronology of events.

As many people are aware, the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was an American company. The plant was technically operated by its subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), which was 51% owned by UCC at the time of the disaster.

In one of the strangest, and most fateful, twists in the legal history of the Bhopal disaster, a U.S. District Court decided in May, 1986 that UCIL was an Indian company (“a separate entity, owned, managed and operated exclusively by Indian citizens in India”), and therefore any litigation regarding the Bhopal disaster should be done in India. The decision by the District Court was upheld on Appeal.

The transfer of legal authority — in effect, the U.S. justice system saying, “hey, this is not an American company, so it’s not our problem” — significantly weakened the damages that were likely to be rewarded. Indeed, the final damages, reached in an out of court settlement, was only $470 million. When all was said and done, that came out to $2,200 for each person killed, and about $500 for each person injured. Neither UCIL nor UCC ever had to acknowledge culpability, or take responsibility for cleaning up the still polluted site of the Union Carbide Plant. A Dow Chemicals executive later stated that the amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” Even with the conversion to Rupees, I can’t see how $500 is a significant help for a person who may be living with a debilitating injury, with children who are born, even years later, with serious congenital birth defects associated with (still) poisoned groundwater. It’s not “plenty good”; it’s laughable.

A commenter on Sandhya’s earlier thread mentioned the Sambhavna Clinic, which was built specifically to care for victims of the disaster. There is a “donate here” button; if you have a couple of bucks to spare, you might use it.

Finally, Suketu Mehta has a column up in the New York Times today. He does lament that Dow Chemicals hasn’t done anything to help clean up the site. But what he doesn’t mention is that the reason for that is that the U.S. justice system washed its hands of the mess in 1986, and the Indian Government, which is the only entity that today has any legal responsibility to do anything for anyone in Bhopal, meekly accepted it.

What are your thoughts today? Have you read anything insightful or enlightening with regards to the Bhopal disaster in recent days? Continue reading

Perrier, Evian, or B’eau Pal?

bhopal water 3.jpg

A few days ago, I received a press announcement for a new line of luxury bottled water: B’eau Pal. (Oo la la!) But the fine print was a little less enticing:

The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world’s largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical — who bought Union Carbide — has refused to clean up and whole new generations are being poisoned.

An explanation? Suffice it to say that The Yes Men have been at it again. Continue reading

India’s Environmental Challenges

Friday was World Environment Day, and here in India many different newspapers covered different facets of the environmental challenges facing India. An excellent new paper, Mint (published in part by the Wall Street Journal) had an informative report on the current environmental challenges facing the country. The report outlined five major environmental issues facing the country; certainly not the only ones, but a good place to start learning about the work that needs to be done to create a sustainable foundation for growth here:

  1. Water availability in India is “rapidly” running dry and is an issue that needs to be confronted soon before it faces a severe water crisis. Only 67% of rural Indians have access to water in their homes (as opposed to 95% in 2005). Solutions can start with rainwater harvesting for large buildings and fixing distribution losses.

  2. Invasive species “are the second biggest threat to biodiversity after deforestation.” India loses a great deal of valuable plants and animals because of invasive species, but at the same time, many of the introduced crops, such as soya and wheat, are financially viable and important. Solutions could include microreserves for native plants

  3. The loss of natural habitats creates situations in which lions, leopards, and monkeys, amongst other animals, create major problems for humans in their daily interactions. As animals ruin property and take lives, humans are tempted to start killing important parts of the environment. The main solution here is not ruining the animals’ native environments, or creating reserves.

  4. India’s energy grid is direly overtaxed, resulting in major power shortages for much of the country. Building efficiency measures, such as those suggested by the Obama Administration in America (reconfiguring buildings to make them more sustainable and making sure future construction is more environmentally friendly, including natural cooling techniques and solar panels.

  5. Mining causes significant soil erosion and deforestation, in addition to forced relocation of tribal peoples. Mining needs to be regulated more strictly by states to prevent widespread illegal mining and environmental ruin.

The crux of all of these reports on World Environment Day is that India’s rapid growth is driving equally rapid environmental destruction. An argument often put forth in developing countries is that it is unfair to ask people to make environmental sacrifices during a period of growth and industrialization when Western countries did not have to make the same choices. Yet, as we get a glimpse of above, India, as a dense country of 1 billion people, faces unique challenges that need unique responses. Action to solve these problems now, even at the expense of slightly slower growth in the future, will allow development to be sustainable and last longer. The new elections have ushered in a lot of optimism for India’s economic future; hopefully the government will recognize the need for smart and sustainable development policies. Wherever you are in the world, there are many things you can do to help make the world a cleaner and greener place.

P.S.: Sorry for the lack of links, the wireless at my grandmother’s in Bombay is just a little slower than the one in Chicago =) Continue reading

Trees don’t grow without money?

I wanted to share a couple of maps from The Atlas Of The Real World [via BoingBoing]. The first is a map of net forest depletion, measured as

the dollar value of wood that is not sustainably harvested… Almost half of the world total (46%) occurs in India, where the annual timber depletion exceeds that of the next 25 countries combined, although the population of India is also almost as large as the combined population of those 25 other territories. [Link]

Forest Depletion: The size of each territory indicates the annual rate of depletion of forests, measured in terms of US dollar value

The second is a map of poverty around the world, in terms of the number of people living under $2/day

The size of each territory shows the number of people living on US$2 a day or less, adjusted for local purchasing power: barely enough to survive, let alone thrive

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Energy Ignorance is Bliss

Eek. Watching this video of South Asian youth getting interviewed on energy issues made me have bad flashbacks to the days when I would try to register South Asian youth to vote in front of desi parties. Tough crowd, those desi youngsters.

Seriously? Let me break it down. Global warming is bad (and not a myth). Thus, hybrid vehicles are good. Clean energy like wind and solar are good. Saving energy is good. Drilling for more oil (especially domestic) is bad. Suing polar bears to drill for oil is bad. Driving a gas guzzling hummer is tacky (and bad.) Paying high prices at the pump is bad. Bhangra as a source of alternative energy is so not good.

Get educated on the energy crisis, kids. Register to vote. Then vote for the candidate, whether Obama or McCain, whose stance on energy is most like your own.

Desi States of America is a weekly Tuesday night show that is screened on Pan Desi available on your cable channel of Colours TV nightly at 9pm. Desi States of America has a stream of shows uploaded on youtube, and to me it seems like the show is a desi version of a college version of a less funny version of the Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. Not bad, just not great. I get that the clip above was trying to be ironic – like when Jay Leno hits the streets to ask every day Americans questions. But there’s something so pathetically gut wrenching when a guy is asked to name alternative energy sources and he responds, RED BULL. Continue reading

Gas Consumption: California vs. China, India

According to Wired (via Manish), recent stats show that gas and diesel usage as transportattion fuel in the state of California was 20 billions gallons in 2006, an increase of more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. 20 billion gallons a year is more than the usage of the entire nations of China or India:

Given all the news coverage about the rise of the Chinese economy, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world’s most populous country is hogging all the world’s resources, while the developed nations are fighting for scraps.

But, at least with transportation fuel, you’d be wrong. California alone uses more gasoline than any country in the world (except the US as a whole, of course). That means California’s 20 billion gallon gasoline and diesel habit is greater than China’s! (Or Russia’s. Or India’s. Or Brazil’s. Or Germany’s.) (link)

It’s a remarkable statistic. The first question that jumps out is, of course, why do Californians need to drive so much? The number comes from a recent report issued by California itself (PDF here), and the report mentions some of the key reasons for the jump in consumption: more population, more cars, low fuel prices (until recently), lack of public transportation, lack of fuel alternatives, the absence of effective CAFE standards, and consumers’ preference for large, gas-guzzling vehicles. I would also add that California is a warm state, which means people like to gun the A.C., many areas have high speed limits, and most towns are designed so that you can’t really walk anywhere.

The second issue raised by the statistic is a familiar one — developing nations are sometimes blamed for challenging the comfortable life-style of the United States (for instance, see this post), when in fact the U.S. needs to start by looking in the mirror.

Which leads me to a related complaint. Environmentally-minded Americans have traditionally been particularly anxious about “overpopulation” in the third world (some of my students have said things like this to me, and not long ago I had an unpleasant conversation with a colleague along the lines of “India == Overpopulation”). Population growth is indeed a serious concern in big countries like India and China, but the number one culprit from the perspective of environmental degradation has for decades been the industrialized world. Arguably, the greatest immediate danger to the global environment is not overpopulation, but careless overconsumption. Continue reading