- The global food system is deeply inequitable. There are about 842 million people hungry on the planet, while at the same time there are about 1.5 billion who are overweight or obese.
- Approximately one third of the world’s food is wasted before it is consumed.
- The way we’re producing our food is impacting our environment.
- Recent studies suggest that the farmers of this world will have to produce 50% more food by 2050 in order to meet global population growth.[i]
I had decided to go to India in my conversations with Felipe in Corsica. I read the India travel book as I had read Stephen King’s The Shining many years before – holding the book far in front of me and closing it quickly when it got too scary. There were many warnings about women traveling alone in India as well as about an assortment of nasty diseases you could contract while traveling. Our friends in Oxford sent me an advertisement for volunteering on an Eco-centre in the Pathanamthitta district, run by Umesh and Janee Babu. It’s was called Viswadarsanam. Going there first felt less scary than launching myself into the unknown, so I booked my flight.
I was met at the airport in Thiruvananthapuram by Umesh Babu who had established the centre. Umesh had worked in sales and marketing for a pesticides company in Bangalore. It was this work that led him to realise the devastating effects of pesticides on the environment and made him decide to set up Viswadarsanam to educate the public on living a simpler life. Janee and Umesh provided a gentle landing in India for me. It was hot and I had arrived from freezing London. It took me awhile to acclimatise. Umesh took me on a tour of the centre when I got there. He was an early advocate of eco-diversity and had planted a wide variety of trees and plants there (there were four different types of banana on the property). There was another volunteer at the centre, a quiet American, and he and I worked well together. The centre consisted of a big main house, where Umesh and Janee stayed, and the volunteer cottages, which were painted a deep red. We spent our days working quietly together – he worked, if I recall correctly, on a Donate button for the website and creating a Facebook page for the centre. I wrote a profile of Umesh for The Big Issue.
We snuck out one evening to watch Kathakali being performed at one of the Hindu temples nearby. Kathakali is a dance. Its traditional themes are religious legends and spiritual stories from the Hindu religion. We watched the boys and men (there were no women) donning their elaborate costumes and having their make-up done for the performance. They perform whether there is an audience or not. We were the only people in the temple that evening. I didn’t know the stories that they were telling, but it was very exciting to watch.
I stayed at the centre for two weeks. Janee took me shopping for suitable Punjabi clothes- I had two tops and pants made up and I wore them all the time I was in India. One night, I found Umesh sitting on a chair outside his house and stopped to chat to him. Umesh had diabetes and was going blind. He spoke to me a for a while: about where he had come from, what had led him to establish the centre and the problems that we were facing in the world. It could all be summed up in two words, he said: “Consume less.” The conversation then turned to me. “You are thirty-seven. You are nearing the age where you must decide where you are going and where you want to be. Soon, you are going to have to decide.” He and I sat and plotted my trip through India on the map in my travel book.
Umesh died after I got back to Johannesburg. He had started
Viswadarsanam in 1987 to create awareness around the environmental catastrophe
that we are facing now. He saw the climate change crisis coming a long time ago
and did what he could to raise awareness in his part of the world. The words
that resonate now, ten years later are “Consume less”.