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Child-free by choice: A growing trend

There have been several articles and social media posts, including a recent Washington Post piece, on the praiseworthy choice of increasingly many people to be child-free. I already have a kid whom I love and care for immensely, but I find this very heartening. I am glad to personally know many such people, whose motivation for not having any child is ethical, with some also citing the additional factor of not wanting their personal time, freedom and aspirations curbed by the huge responsibility of child raising. Here’s an overdue post on why I endorse this (while child-free is now inapplicable to Seju and me, we are surely not going to have a second child), how we had tried to adopt – and should have adopted – our only child, etc.

While most people are aware of overpopulation being a cause of misery as an academic fact, the magnitude of that misery has not been internalized enough. The world obviously needs a multi-faceted fix, but not bringing more humans into existence is vital for ensuring environmental sustainability as well as reducing suffering. Imagine vividly a life in which you breathe dangerously polluted air, drink insufficient, contaminated water, struggle for enough food and living space. Millions are already living through that hell, which our breeding contributes to. And, having a child today will cause such misery to your that very child too, since the already menacing pollution and resource crunch is going to become intolerable in the coming decades. While you and I have so far been insulated from it by our monetary privilege, it’s unlikely to prevent a child born today from experiencing a lot of those atrocious conditions.

In addition to the ethical obligation to not co-cause the world’s population woes, there’s a personal reason why many opt to be child-free. Raising a child substantially curtails your freedom for other pursuits – aspirational, altruistic as well as recreational – in terms of time and money. As much as I love and look after my kiddo, no one can deny that caring for a child precludes you from doing many things you want to or ought to do. While this is not our primary reason for ruling out a second child, it would have prompted us to take the same decision on its own.

Staying with the personal, as most people close to us are aware, soon after marriage Sejal and I had decided to bring home an abandoned child instead of contributing to overpopulation by having a biological child. We had joined an adoption group (called PGCAI) and even attended physical meetings. Things, however, didn’t happen as per that plan.

I find it bizarre when someone is criticized as “self-centered” for not wanting a child, because having a (biological) child is a totally selfish act. People do it because they think – rightly or wrongly – that it will make them happier. They certainly don’t do it for the world, which badly needs fewer inhabitants. And, it’s also bad for the child herself to be bred into today’s polluted, resource-starved world, which will get dreadfully worse in the decades ahead. Peer/societal influence is a massive factor here. A lot of folks don’t challenge the societal norm and ask themselves if they really want to – or are cut out to – be parents, resulting in not-so-good lives for themselves and their kids.

A specific culprit is the ill-conceived glorification of motherhood, including the false notion that a woman’s life is “incomplete” without a baby. Apart from hindering critical thinking for this critical choice, it impedes us from giving due importance to the fact that women bear the brunt of the child-related agony. The long, painful and sleep-depriving process comprising the pregnancy, delivery, infant care and so on takes a huge toll on female bodies. A lot of women also suffer the disproportionate burden of child raising imposed on them by regressive partners. Just to be clear, let me state the obvious that I am all for respecting our mothers. The point is to also respect women who don’t want to become mothers.

Here’s hoping that the child-free choice receives way more adoption, be it for the ethical reason or undiminished personal time.


Musings on religion

I have had my fair share of exchanges around religion and certain religious practices, but I’ve never written here about where I lie on the religious spectrum and why. Here’s a post to remedy that (and do the long overdue resurrection of this blog). The attempt is to pen down personal observations and thoughts, rather than to dissect the matter in an academic/scholarly manner.

I am an atheist. I’ve been one for the whole of my adulthood, I reckon. I was raised in a fairly typical Indian Hindu family w.r.t. religion. My parents, especially my dad, are religious. Like most kids brought up in such an environment, I was exposed to a good deal of religious stories and references. But, as soon as I began to think independently, the dangers of letting religion cloud my thought process or affect my life’s decisions became clear as day. Though I do not believe in God, what struck me as more pertinent than the question of God’s existence were 1) the futility of idol worshiping and rituals and 2) the fatalism and gender inequity that a lot of the prevalent religious behavior fosters.

I must underscore before proceeding further that these observations apply to religion in general, not merely Hinduism. What I want to convey through this post has nothing to do with the typical Hindu vs Muslim mud-slinging that many such discussions transform into.

Let me cite a few instances of the typical religious conduct that I could never reconcile with my reasoning/conscience. To begin with, many – though not all – religious people have this notion that praying to God or performing some rituals will magically bring them prosperity, regardless of how unfairly they have led their lives. A related trait observed in a lot of the religiously inclined is the obsession with and submission to fate. Instead of doing something about or refraining from acts of injustice, the followers of this doctrine of fatalism assume that everything is preordained, and escape into inaction. Secondly, many of the religious narratives and rituals are also detrimental to the status of women, who are portrayed as second class citizens whose existence revolve around men. Rituals often blatantly refer to men as the ‘heads’ of families. Also, many of the rituals are deplorably wasteful from an environmental standpoint. I know that atheism doesn’t automatically make one green and responsible, but at least those irresponsible things that are done in the name of God are avoided.

All that said, I am not making the sweeping claim that religion necessarily makes every single person a worse human being. I am aware that there are people whose key motivation for making ethical choices is to ‘accumulate good karma and go to heaven’, or simply avoid violating the religious code. But, on the other extreme, you have people who carry out and justify horrendous things on religious grounds. The way to go, IMHO, is to decouple religion/faith/spirituality (if one must have it) and the way we lead our lives. A friend of mine once told me that the only reason he believes in God is because it makes him feel a little more secure. Beyond that, he says, he doesn’t let it affect any of his choices. He doesn’t squander resources on rituals. His worldview and decisions are governed only by ethical considerations and critical thinking. Now, that’s a religious/spiritual way of living that I have no misgivings about. Personally, though, I am perfectly fine without faith, and have no plans to cease being an atheist.

Why I choose to be vegan

Vegan living is a set of choices stemming from a simple logic: Every sentient being – human or not – deserves not to be hurt. Thus, a vegan rejects all forms of animal exploitation – for food, clothing, entertainment, etc. So, being vegan means avoiding milk & its products, meat, eggs, honey (substituting them with their plant-based alternatives for taste if desired), wool, leather, fur, pearl, silk and all other animal products/use.

Not many people know that – like meat – milk, eggs and other animal products also lead to animal killing and torture! Even in traditional Indian tabelas/dairies, cows have to be subjected to unbearable repeated forced pregnancies and a lot of other misery. Hence, vegans also avoid all dairy products such as milk, paneer, cheese, ghee, butter, cream & curd.

Every sentient being - human or not, animal or insect - deserves not to be hurt
Vegans do not visit zoos, circuses. They refrain from animal-tested products too (unless unavoidable). At its ethical core, veganism is similar to movements against racism, sexism, etc. The enslavement of a class of sentient beings – on the morally irrelevant basis that they do not belong to our species – must end.

Being vegan is a win-win-win proposition, in terms of human health, environmental sustainability and animal suffering avoidance.

Ethics aside, vegan living is also critical for our own health, and that of the environment. There is compelling evidence that cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high BP, asthma, bone weakness and obesity can all be prevented or reversed through vegan eating. Plus, you can achieve all of this without compromising on your favourite tastes or clothing needs. Be it sweets, chocolates, cakes, ice-creams, curd, paneer, cheese, pizza or tea/coffee, almost every dish you are used to can be found/made without animal ingredients! Read on for details:

The acute misery caused by eggs and meat

De-beaking with a hot blade: A part of the routine torture endured by checken in IndiaChickens raised for eggs and meat are stuffed awfully in tiny cages or a stinking compound containing scores of birds. To reduce the losses by the agonized birds’ pecking, they are de-beaked (i.e., their beaks are chopped off with a hot blade) without anesthesia at a very tender age! At the end of their miserable lives, the birds are butchered barbarically in full view of their terrified fellow victims! The egg hatcheries (even the so called ‘free-range’The tale of suffering is equally sad for fish, goats, pigs and other animals raised for human use ones) brutally kill all male baby chicks, since they can’t lay eggs, and don’t grow fast enough to be raised for meat. This 3-minute clip of Indian poultry farms depicts some of the shocking horrors suffered by egg and meat chickens. The tale of suffering is equally sad for fishes, goats, pigs and other animals raised for humans.
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Milk: A source of immense animal suffering

A cow undergoing articifial insemination - an atrocious experienceThe cow (or the buffalo), a mammal like us, has to become pregnant and deliver a baby to be able to produce milk. And, her milk flow lasts only for a limited period after delivery. But, for any tabela/dairy to be financially viable, every cow in it needs to produce milk continuously. Hence, she has to be forced into a constant, body-breaking cycle of pregnancy, birthing and milking! The repeated impregnation is done either through a rape by a common bull, or an equally torturous process called artificial insemination, exposing the cow to diseases. The cow’s babies, the rightful owners of her milk, are largely deprived of it. Since male babies are useless for milk production, they are either starved or sold to be slaughtered or skinned (often alive for soft leather)! Like humans, cows are deeply attached to their babies. Yet, calves are separated from their mothers, who are subsequently seen letting out cries of anguish for weeks! Milk is mostly extracted through machines, which often run even after the cow’s udders are empty, resulting in a lot of pain. She is injected with hazardous growth hormones like Oxytocin, causing her severe stomach cramps and bone weakness. Kept constantly pregnant and/or lactating, dairy cows get spent very quickly. At less than half their natural age, they are either thrown out on the streets to die eating plastic, or brutally hurled into trucks, which transport them to slaughter houses to die as atrocious a death as their lives have been. This 5-minute video, shot across various Indian tabelas/dairies, shows all of these and other barbarities taking place routinely.
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“But, don’t plants feel pain too?”

This is a totally flawed argument. If plants feel pain, that’s actually yet another reason to avoid animal products! That’s because eating animal food (indirectly) takes many times more plants than eating plants directly does. A non-vegan consumes not just animal products, but also the plants fed daily to the animals for their entire lifetimes! Up to 5 times more grains are required to produce the same amount of calories through animals as through direct grain consumption. Thus, avoiding animal food causes the least harm to plants too. Besides, the majority view among scientists is that plants can not feel pain, as they don’t have a central nervous system.

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Vegan food: The healthiest choice

Milk, eggs and meat account for most of our cholesterol & saturated fat, and contain no fiber. Contrastingly, plant foods are rich in fiber (essential for good digestion), and contain no cholesterol. These facts are among the several reasons behind the following alarming summary from a number of independent studies, including the biggest study ever to link food and health [Undertaken by Oxford University, Cornell Univ. & others under the name ‘The China Study’]:

Milk, eggs and meat cause or aggravate many dreaded diseases including
heart disease, high BP, cancer, asthma, diabetes and bone weakness.

Milk, eggs and meat cause or aggravate many dreaded diseases including heart disease, high BP, cancer, asthma, diabetes and bone weakness.In other words, vegan food does way more than the removal of excess body fat, and improvement of fitness/energy & digestion. It is actually essential for good health. ‘The Last Heart Attack’, a CNN documentary, features Bill Clinton, who has cured his heart disease through healthy vegan food. It also has the testimonies of many eminent doctors/scientists who advocate plant-based food. The awareness is rising in India too. Dr Nandita Shah has successfully solved a lot of diabetes and heart disease cases merely through healthy vegan food! Moreover, animal foods are alarmingly high in antibiotics, pus & pesticides. The pesticide concentration is much higher in milk, eggs & meat than that in vegetables. Recently, the Food Safety Authority of India found 68% of India’s milk contaminated with pesticides, detergents, etc.!

EMany of the world’s biggest/strongest animals (like elephants, horses and rhinos) are totally vegan. Do they lack bone strength, calcium or protein?!xposing the calcium & protein myths: There’s absolutely no nutrient that vegan food cannot provide [B12 deficiencies are equally likely in non-vegans]. As substantiated by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, milk protein actually leaches calcium from the bones, resulting in bone weakness! Plus, humans absorb only 32% of the calcium in cow’s milk. Even in calcium content, milk is surpassed by dozens of plant foods: leafy green vegetables (like coriander, methi, radish, curry patta), til (sesame seeds), ragi, almonds, rajma, peas (e.g., chana), moong sprouts, soya products like tofu, etc.

The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis (bone weakness)
are those boasting the highest consumption of dairy products!

If you consume enRobert Cheeke is one of the many successful bodybuilders who consume no meat/eggs/milk, proving that we need not torture & kill animals to tone up our bodies.ough calories, you are bound to get enough protein! That’s why protein deficiencies are mostly found in malnourished people. In fact, excess protein leads to serious harm. Anyhow, there are plenty of protein-rich plant foods: all pulses (dal), soy products, all legumes [peas like chana, beans such as rajma, etc.], almonds & other nuts, seeds, and more. In fact, there have been quite a few world-class vegan athletes and body builders, ranging from two-time Olympian Seba Johnson (a vegan since birth), to long-distance runner turned renowned bodybuilder Robert Cheeke (another long-time vegan). Many have also sustained babies and pregnancies on totally vegan food, and are healthier for it!
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Vegan for the environment and food security

Animal products use up resources like land and water massively, since the 10s of billions of animals that we breed every year have to be fed & hydrated daily all through their lives. Growing loads of crops for animals and then eating animal-based food is a terribly inefficient way to feed ourselves: It takes up to 10 kg of grains to make 1 kg of animal food! The UN finds that animal agriculture uses up a whopping 50% of the world’s grains, and enormous deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions & energy depletion! As much as 50% of India’s maize becomes animal feed. There’s simply not enough land and water to continue using animal products. A huge contributor to climate change, our non-vegan choices also cause a lot of air pollution [animal farms release harmful gasses like H2S & methane], water pollution [through farm runoff] & soil degradation.
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Conditioned vs natural

No species in nature drinks the milk of another species, or any milk at all post infancy!Ever wondered why milk and eggs are the only unbranded foods being advertised? That’s because natural, instinctive foods like fruits and veggies never need to be marketed. What would a small (unconditioned), hungry child pick up when offered carrots, and a live chicken? Our so-called canine teeth do not make us omnivorous, as canines are also found in several herbivores (e.g., gorillas, horses, hippos). From laterally moving jaws to long intestines, humans possess a dozen physiological traits that put us closer to plant-eaters than omnivores. Arteries of omnivores in nature are never clogged, but heart disease through clogged arteries caused by animal products is the biggest killer of humans! As for milk, no species in nature drinks another species’ milk, or any milk at all post infancy. Each animal’s milk is tailor-made for her species by nature. Hence, hormonally and biologically, the milk of a cow/buffalo is totally unsuitable for humans. Finally, since we breed (i.e. artificially produce) the animals we use, going vegan will bring the animal population way down to the natural state.
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It is ironic that many of us avoid racism/sexism, but unconsciously practice a similar injustice called species-ism, i.e., the exploitation of animals not belonging to the human species. When it is not fair to hurt beings from other races & genders, how is it fair to enslave and torment beings from other species (that too merely for pleasure, not survival)? Why should justice & kindness be confined to humans when animals too can feel pain acutely?

“Animals exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans,
just like blacks were not made for whites, and women not for men.”

What we are doing to animals is analogous to the human slavery that we cringe at the thought of. Imagine being born just to be enslaved & tortured for life! That’s exactly the story of the billions of animals that we breed into existence every year. Had these victims been humans, we’d have called this an unprecedented genocide. And, this one is being powered by ordinary people! Thankfully, most of us successfully overcame centuries of conditioning to shun human slavery. We need to again choose ethics over history, and take the next leap in our ethical evolution by eradicating animal exploitation. Millions already have.

The question is NOT ‘Can they reason or talk?’. It is ‘Can they suffer?’.

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Renowned vegan personalities

Tobey Maguire aka ‘Spiderman’ is a staunch vegan who doesn’t allow anyone wearing animal skin (e.g., leather) in his house. He even sent back a Mercedes with leather seats.Here are some interesting anecdotes/quotes from a few of the many eminent vegans. Tobey Maguire (‘Spiderman’), a staunch vegan, doesn’t allow anyone wearing animal skin (e.g., leather) in his house. He even sent back a Mercedes with leather seats. Another inspiration is former Citibank vice president Philip Wollen, for whom, being vegan is ”to be able to look in the mirror without feeling profoundly ashamed”. ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron’s initial motivation for going vegan was environmental conservation. He terms the avoidance of animal products as the “single biggest thing that an individual can do to combat climate change”. Germany’s strongest man, Patrik Baboumian, is vegan!
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Leather, wool and silk are NOT cruelty-free byproducts

Your leather sofa has blood on it!Milk production is the most common source of leather. Since male calves have no use for a tabela/dairy, most of them are used for leather. They are often intentionally starved, so that can be skinned quickly. Indians are the worst offenders, as our indiscriminate dairy consumption has made us the largest exporter of cow leather! Leather makes up half of all profits of many slaughter houses. Thus, leather (and wool) buyers make meat much cheaper. Wool also causes many atrocities such as flesh stripping on sheep. A silk cloth leads to the exploitation and killing of tons of silk worms.
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The cruelty caused by consuming honey

Honey is nothing but bee-vomit. It is the bees’ buffer food. During a bee’s lifetime, she makes only about one teaspoon of honey!  To make just one pound, a bee colony flies over 55,000 miles! Humans ruin all that, destroy their homes (hives), and steal their critical food security. This process also injures and kills many bees. Bee keeping too causes enormous pain and death. The queen bee’s wings are often cut off to ground her. Scores of bees are kept in a small box, and many routinely get crushed to death.
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Does it harm employment? Not at all

A vegan world will not have fewer jobs. The reduced employment in the animal products industry will be compensated for by increased openings in the vegan products industry. Jobs decline when the demand diminishes. But, veganism doesn’t reduce the demand; it only changes the demand. And, history shows that the market is very adaptable. Besides, from tobacco to chemical weapons, there are many unethical things wherein people are employed, but, do we approve of such things? No, because there exist enough cruelty-free means of employment.
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Agreed, but what about insects in the house?

The idea is to try one’s sincere best to cause the least amount of cruelty necessary for survival. So, rather than hurting or killing insects, we prefer to keep them at bay through cleanliness, nets and/or repellents. Besides, it’s one thing to inflict pain in self-defense or accidentally, and totally another to do so when it is avoidable.
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Vegan alternatives exist for almost everything!

As a vegan, you will never feel deprived of tasty food!Being vegan is easier than ever. Avoiding animal products does not mean giving up yummy food, comfortable clothing, enjoyable entertainment, etc. Sweets, cakes, chocolates, ice-creams, curd, paneer, cheese, pizza, tea/coffee – pretty much everything – can be enjoyed without anything animal-derived! Find all the alternatives, recipes, vegan products, eat-out options and tips on A complete practical guide to delightful vegan living.

Plant based milks made from cashews, almonds, coconut, soy, peanuts, rice, etc. can veganize any dish you love! Tofu (a healthier taste substitute for paneer), milk-free chocolates, vegan biscuits, soya milk, etc. are readily available in stores. Many cities also have options for vegan ice-creams and cakes. As for eating out, restaurants of every cuisine serve dishes that are devoid of dairy, eggs, meat & honey.

Like food, other choices can easily be cruelty-free too. There are ample options for non-leather furniture, footwear & accessories. Wool, silk, fur, pearls & honey can be easily substituted or avoided too. Shampoos, soaps, cosmetics and other lifestyle products involving no animal testing/ingredients are also readily available. To sum up, veganism involves no deprivation at all! The following will make your vegan life even smoother:

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“If you think it’s difficult for you to be vegan,
imagine how terribly difficult it is for the animals that you are not vegan!”