Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Green Food and Health

Clean air, sunshine, clean water and appropriate food are central to health of all life. Knowledge about food is essential knowledge for any human. It is surprising that in our world there are many persons, especially the young, who know more about sports and films than the basics of what constitutes good and healthy food. The first thing to know about food is that healthy food is not expensive. Much of it is derived from grass and other vegetation that grows in abundance on our planet, in spite of a burgeoning human population that exceeds seven billion. Milk and meat is produced by grass eating animals and we as humans consume the seeds of grass as wheat, corn, rice etc. let us just briefly list the types of food a human requires:

Carbohydrates: These are a primary requirement to mitigate human hunger. Wheat is a primary source for it supported by other food grains such as rice, corn etc. Wheat has excellent storage capacity and it can be consumed in a variety of ways such as numerous kinds of leavened and unleavened bread, noodles, spaghetti, biscuits, semolina etc. If bread is central to food and if it is prepared at home, food costs come down drastically and food becomes inexpensive. At the present time there is sufficient amount of wheat on our planet to feed all humans as well as domestic animals besides. More food goes waste on our planet due to apathy and carelessness than the food required by all humans who go to bed on a hungry stomach. A substitute for food grain carbohydrates are certain root crops such as potatoes but these do not store as well as food grains.

Proteins: Food grains can provide a limited amount of protein to the human body. However, good health requires supplementing this with protein from other foods. The best such are eggs and milk or milk products. Whereas milk appears to be the best protein source for most growing children, cheese or yoghurt is better for grown-ups. Fish is another fine source of good protein. Unfortunately, due to a heavy human population on the planet and the pollution caused by indiscriminate consumption, water bodies have become polluted. This pollution has been picked up by fish. It no longer remains as healthy a food as it used to be historically. Vegetable proteins are a cheaper source of protein and foods such as beans may not cause flatulence if precautions to eliminate that are taken. Moong bean is the least flatulence causing of all beans. The washed split variety of this bean is easily digested by children provided the starch is reduced by pre-soaking and during cooking. It can easily be sprouted at home in order to increase its nutritional content several fold.

Fats: After the human need for carbohydrates and proteins has been met the next item of food has to be fats. The best of fats available on our planet are butter and certain tree oils such as olive oil. Both are relatively expensive and a variety of other vegetable oils may be used to substitute for this requirement. Oils and fats are an essential ingredient of cooked human food adding taste and nutrition. There is a need to increase plantations of oil yielding trees such as olives and oil palms on the planet. At the present time there has been much opposition from environmentalists to expanding palm oil plantations of South-East Asia. This opposition would reduce if a law is imposed in these countries to disperse uniformly around twenty percent other native trees uniformly throughout such plantations to maintain bio-diversity. Tree oils and tree foods tend to be healthier than other agricultural produce because trees are not replanted every year to deplete soil of essential nutrients. Their roots go wider and deeper inside the ground.

Fruits, Vegetables and Greens: A certain amount of raw vegetable foods or fruits are required to keep the human digestive tract populated with live enzymes. Drinks containing live yeast and yoghurt help in the same direction. Salads do the same job. The trouble with salads is that incase they are contaminated with bacteria such as e-coli and Salmonella etc. they would make a human sick rather than healthy. It is also dangerous to have salads when one eats out especially in developing countries where adequate standards of hygiene may not be maintained in farms and restaurants.

Green Leaves

Central to the vegetable requirements of a human body is the leafy green ones. In fact it seems that a human who consumes just a few of the leafy vegetables such as spinach would be healthier than another who consumes a large variety of other vegetables and fruits but does not consume leafy green vegetables. The King of the leafy green vegetables is Spinach. Recent studies have indicated that there is more to the pop-eye myth than has been previously believed and it is not just because of the iron content of spinach. Baby spinach leaves can be consumed raw in salads but in view of what has been said earlier about bacterial contamination of salads, it is best to consume it cooked unless one is absolutely sure of the source. The best is if it is home grown for the purpose. Some persons have also expressed fear about the oxalic acid content of spinach. However oxalates are a naturally occurring compound in a variety of foods and human bodies and only appear to harm already compromised humans in a manner similar to sugar harming a diabetic or cholesterol harming a lipid compromised human. The average human need not worry about oxalates in spinach. Those who do can easily dunk spinach in boiling water for a minute and drain to reduce oxalates. The good thing about spinach is that it grows well even in saline conditions (see an older post on that). Wider use of this food in a dehydrated form mixed with wheat flour will help utilize scantily planted saline areas on earth and go a long way in meeting human nutritional needs.

A real worry about spinach and other vegetables is the indiscriminate use of pesticides. It is a good idea to soak spinach leaves for at least half an hour in a bucket or large pail of fresh water and drain to reduce these. Washed and similarly treated spinach leaves can be dried and stored in jars for use throughout the year. It may be added to dals, soups and bread to improve their nutritional content.

There are a number of other leafy greens that are perhaps not consumed as much as they should in human food. Some of these are goose foot weed (Bathua), Malabar Spinach (Poi) and Drumstick leaves. The leafy green foods mentioned here grow far more easily than celery, lettuce or cabbage that is currently more popular amongst humans. These latter can be dried too and consumed as and when needed. It may be repeated that a human who consumes leafy green vegetables daily need not consume any other vegetable in order to remain healthy.

Food Imbalance and Obesity:  The tragedy of our world is that whereas many persons are suffering from shortage of food there are others who are over eating and suffering from obesity. Whereas an underweight or normal person needs a healthy balance of all the four groups of foods mentioned above the obese must drastically cut down on two of them – carbohydrates and fats. However, they need to continue consuming foods from the other two groups – proteins with fruits, vegetables and greens in order to maintain good health.

Disaster Relief: From time to time various kinds of disasters take place on our planet and it becomes necessary to provide relief immediately to the affected population. This relief includes clean drinking water and food. A promising food in such circumstances are relief biscuits that can help mitigate hunger of humans including children for a few days until better arrangements can be made. Here is a simple recipe for a relief biscuit that a large scale biscuit manufacturer may wish to try as a part of their corporate social responsibility agenda. Just replace five percent of the wheat flour with dried spinach leaf powder and 2.5 percent of the flour with milk powder. Use both sugar and salt in the seasonings for such biscuits meant for relief purposes. More detailed descriptions of such biscuits can be found here

An excellent use of such fortified biscuits aside from disaster relief is to provide them as school supplements at midday along with a glass of milk in developing countries where adequate facilities are usually not available for providing safe cooked food.

Monday, June 25, 2012

An Ominous Sign for Developed Economies in Bread

Although a scientist and engineer by profession, I have had deep interests in spiritualism and spiritual practices albeit tempered by scientific wisdom and logic. One of the side effects of this indulgence is that one develops certain symptoms and side effects that are similar to spiritualists of a more rigorous kind. I too have not been able to escape such symptoms and one of these is the reading of signs and occasional prophecy.  

Thus, years ago when I served for a few years as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering in Saddam’s Iraq, I noticed that the population throws away bagfulls of bread on a regular basis. This was before the gulf wars. One of the things that Saddam Hussein used to do to keep his subjects happy, besides the supply of fine European booze at subsidized rates, was the supply of near free bread through kiosks that were littered throughout Iraqi cities. The idea was that no citizen, howsoever poor, should go to bed on a hungry stomach. Booze was never thrown away. It improves on keeping and was consumed to the last drop even on the streets since Iraq was perhaps the only country in the world where public drinking was not illegal. On the other hand, citizens were quick to collect their bags of near free bread even when they did not need it. Soon enough unused bread goes dry and it was quickly discarded to the garbage bin.  Noting this, I had a premonition that this was an evil sign and that it would soon be followed by a period of hunger and poverty in Iraq. It is nature’s way of restoring balance through mechanisms that cannot be scientifically delineated or explained. Any resource that is misused and disrespected is eventually taken away through mysterious mechanisms of our wonderful universe albeit there may be a delay in this enforcing mechanism. It could be that the delay is mercy on the part of nature giving humans ample opportunity to mend their ways.

 I returned to Canada then India well before the gulf war but followed the news on Iraq closely because I had so many dear friends in that country from the years I spent there. I noted with sadness that due to the war, sanctions and the disappearance of Saddam the population was facing hardships and hunger. Even bread had become scarce.

This morning the papers had a report from the United Nations Environment Program that mentioned consumers throw away about 222 million tones of food in edible condition every year in the currently rich countries of North America and Europe. Approximately one third of the world’s food goes waste and most of this wastage takes place in the presently rich countries. It is an ominous sign for the future. Is this wastage a sign of the impending shortages to occur in future? It is true that wastage in Europe began as far back as the ancient Greek civilization that introduced prosperity in Europe for the first time. The wastage was followed by the feasting binges of Rome. In recent years it seems that hunger has entered Athens and has begun to knock on the doors of Rome. Would this spread from here to shores far away or would others heed the warning signs in time.

Another ominous sign that is not difficult to understand scientifically is the adverse future impact of debt on personal as well as national economies. Presently the fixes that Europe is exploring involves taking more debt from elsewhere, China or perhaps by a Euro bond that would initially cost less than a Spanish or Italian bond. The developed economies need to learn from Estonia as to how to run a country without debt and grow. The fix that America is exploring is increasing more unsustainable consumption and perhaps more wastage. Traditional economists, locked into the existing unsustainable model of growth would love to see the wastage and retail sales go up.

 Photo Courtesy of

Friday, June 22, 2012

Facts about Wine that books don’t tell


I have had the good fortune to live and work in different parts of the world. Everywhere, it was my cardinal principle to enjoy local culture including local foods and drinks rather than stick to the habits from back home. I was introduced to good wine as a doctoral student in Canada during the department Christmas party at UBC and still enjoy it on occasions. If you are a wine lover too then you may enjoy some simple facts about wine and wine making that have been gathered through my travels and experiments that most books don’t tell.

First of all as regards alcohol uphold the principle enshrined by King Solomon the wise some thousands of years ago as recorded in the Old Testament of the holy Bible

“Give wine to a person heavy of heart but give strong drink to a person who wishes to destroy himself”

There is really much wisdom in this statement that personally experienced. Many persons consume an alcoholic drink once in a while. At times that drink happens to be a strong one like whiskey rather than a lighter one like wine or beer. Some beers and wines have an alcohol content of over ten per cent and these too should be regarded in the category of strong drink. Life for most humans goes through ups and down where we may experience stress or even distress. This stress or distress reduces the moment an alcoholic drink is consumed. If the drink is a strong one and if it is consumed regularly over a prolonged period of time then there is a good chance that one will become dependent on the drink. One will require it then just to function normally even in times when there is no distress. It might or might not become a drain on one's finances but it will surely become a drain on one’s health. The uninhibited behavior that alcohol produced will land the person in trouble from time to time and in the worst of cases alcohol will produce a degeneration of the liver or psychological complications like psychosis. Alcoholic psychosis is relieved quickly when one gives up drinking but then a person who has become dependent on it finds it difficult to give up the drink. He is soon led to destruction as King Solomon said thousand of years ago. I too faced that situation several years ago when after a period of distress and began to consume strong alcoholic drinks regularly and nearly became dependent on it. Fortunately good wisdom prevailed in time to give up the drink before too much damage was done. Now several years later, I can enjoy an alcoholic drink on rare occasions without any problems.

Does this mean that one should shun alcohol completely? That depends on the individual. Besides its adverse effects, there are benefits of alcohol consumption too can not be disputed. Much that is fine in human culture has been produced by those who have consumed moderate amounts of light alcohol sensibly.

Often a person after suffering trauma or distress can be saved from becoming dependent on a more serious addiction of a medical anti-depressant or debilitating psychiatric drug by merely consuming a few drinks at the right time. Perhaps King Solomon the wise had that in mind when he said give wine to a man (that includes women) with a heavy heart. An extract of cannabis in milk would serve the purpose better but unfortunately cannabis has been made illegal in much of the world under pressure of a few leading lights of our world perhaps not for the most honorable of reasons.

This takes me to a tragic case of a highly talented young girl in our family (name and relationship withheld). At a young age, a temporary stint with uncaring relatives traumatized this young girl so severely that she began to weep and sob uncontrollably for days together upon return to her home. At the time I was unaware of the situation or I would have recommended a good cup of tea laced with a dose of brandy, followed by sleep, sunshine, green surroundings, fresh air and gentle care. I have no doubt that she would have bounced back in weeks if not days and the temporary trauma would have been a learning experience that would have strengthened this sweet young lady. However that did not happen. Her mother became nervous and rushed her to a psychiatric hospital where she stayed for some weeks and came out with a daily prescription of medicines that are not only addictive but can also cause seizures if just given up. One can only give these up under supervision in a controlled matter. She did do it once briefly but then because of a suspected relapse her mother took her to a facility once again and back to similar drugs. Now several years later she needs those medicines just to function normally if one can call it that. The side effects of the medicine have compromised her physically and psychologically so that she cannot function normally or work. When I talked to the doctor he said that she needs the medicine because she does not work -catch 22. Modern medicine is a blessing but in some cases it can also be a curse. A nature loving person who believes and trusts in the healing powers of Nature must give nature a chance whenever possible and much medicine lies in fresh air, sunshine, appropriate food and drink all tempered with love.

My advice to friends and family now is that if you do take a drink sometimes, stick to beer or wine from a reputed manufacturer and seller that is of moderate strength (under ten percent alcohol). Wine is far better than beer especially if one is even slightly overweight and you may wish to stick to white wine rather than a red that can at times cause serious allergies in spite of the reported health benefits of red wine. My suspicion is that the good health of red wine drinking regions has less to do with red wine and more to do with the consumption of olive oil in the same areas.

I presently live in India and although beer, whiskey, rum etc. is available widely here good wine at reasonable rates is not. However, once one learns how to make one’s own wine one may make small amounts very easily at a cost that is less than the cost of tea provided the prevalent regulations in your country permit you to do it. However, one would not be able to learn this from books on the topic. There are big commercial interests to prevent that. Over the years, I have learn't to reject most of the expert suggestions of expert authors on wine making. I have discovered that in order to make fairly good wine one does not need brewers yeast, pressure sensors, special containers, filtering through several layers of muslin, clarifying agents like egg whites and ising glass, or yeast killing ones like potassium permanganate, controlled temperatures, caves and cellars etc. Let me explain.

If used properly bakers yeast will produce great wine provided it is alive and kicking. One can check by adding some, about a heaping tea spoon, to a half full glass of sweetened warm water. If after a few hours it is bubbling and frothing the yeast is fine, if there is no activity it may be dead and you need a new packet.

Filtering through several layers of cloth and adding clarifying agents will not help to clarify a wine as long as the yeast is active. But once the process is complete the yeast waste will settle down in a bottle or jar on its own, leaving a clear liquid behind. It can be decanted out carefully to a fresh bottle because shaking will cause the yeast waste at the bottom to mix and muddy the wine again.

One need not use pressure equipment. Just cap the jar or bottle lightly so that some carbon dioxide can escape as the process is on and one need not have controlled chambers of temperature. In fact summer heat will hasten the process so that one can have a jar of wine ready to drink in less than a week. Yes, aging at a moderate temperature and chilling before drinking does help a white wine improve considerably but it is not bad even when young.

And finally all you need to make a good white wine besides the yeast is a bunch of  grapes, some pure drinking water, some cups of sugar and if available a few almonds. The required equipment is just a large pot, a large serving spoon and a glass jar or bottles to prepare and store the wine. A few almonds add a nice touch to white wine and some commercial manufacturers add almond essence to white wine for that. There is an older post on the almond tree in this blog. It was described as a heavenly tree. Grape vines are heavenly wines that shade building in summer with edible leaves and shed them in winter to warm up the building. The genes for both may have arrived on Earth from heavenly planets if one subscribes to the current theory of Panspermia.

Unfortunately though, I feel constrained not to give the detailed steps for making good wine easily and simply at home but there are enough hints in this post for you to follow in case you wish to try. If you do and find that any white or black growth has developed in the liquid throw it away. It has got polluted and before consuming a whole bottle, drink just a bit, wait for a day, if you feel wonderful then call your friends to a party where you can consume the whole thing along with spaghetti in mushroom sauce dressed with sliced boiled eggs and a green salad followed by a chocolate cake and tea, all to the company of fine melodious music.

Read More ---  If you are a wine enthusiast or wine maker then the following additional note on wine is worth reading:

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Green Hybrid City - City of the Future

Without groves of trees cities lack beauty: Image source:

Several earlier posts in this blog have mentioned it is better to live in a rural or country area surrounded by greenery rather than in crowded cities. An earlier post proposed a configuration of farm lands (termed AM farms for identification) that combined some of the advantages of urban living with rural life. However many persons are still compelled to, or prefer to, live an urban life in big towns or cities. That is just as well because the population of our planet is now around seven billion and with such a heavy population it is a necessity. A large proportion of humans must continue to live in cities. However, it is possible to live amidst greenery even in urban settings provided cities are designed for it. This post proposes the configuration of a city that brings some of the advantages of a rural life along with its greenery to towns and cities. The present configuration of a hybrid agricultural –urban city adds some of the advantages and charm of  rural life to a modern city just as the AM farms added urban advantages to a rural area.

A Section of the Proposed Green Hybrid City
A hybrid city may be designed by uniformly distributing agricultural spaces besides green common areas, parks and neighborhood schools surrounded by green throughout the city. The attached figure shows a possible configuration where approximately two and a half acre green blocks alternate two and a half acre housing blocks. Some of the green blocks may be reserved for urban park grounds. The figure shows a representative section but it is sufficient to illustrate the concept. The housing blocks may be divided into smaller lots for individual homes or they may be used for large high rise complexes.

For simplicity the illustration has shown a rectangular grid. In actual practice it would be better to add curves to some of the roads to enhance natural charm, advantage and benefits. With curved roads the size of individual blocks would vary. What sort of curves to use depends on the lay of land. In any area to be urbanized it is necessary to map out the channels of rain water flow and lay the roads along that for easy rain water drainage without blocking such channels with buildings. This minimizes the need of raising height of lots and portions later by mud filling to create flow. When this is done some roads in any new urban area are automatically and naturally curved and some of the soil is left in its original natural state with healthy top soil built over thousands of years. Such a city also then does not face severe water logging problems in rainy season as many do in developing countries with incomplete engineering compromised further by callousness and corruption.

No Extra Land Required

One may ask as to how much extra area the proposed hybrid city requires as compared to a traditional one. Since about half the urban area goes into roads and other open spaces  on the average, dividing the remaining half between green and constructed spaces causes an increase of approximately 50 per cent i.e. approximately a large hundred square mile city would become less than 150 square miles. However if mandatory parks, playgrounds and commons were some of these reserved green spaces then land requirement may be around 125 square miles and if a higher density of population is permitted in constructed space which is easily possible because of open green surroundings then land requirements may not be different from cities without this green design. In any case the additional land used is proposed to be used for beneficial agricultural use and thus is not wastage of earth’s precious resources.

The question that arises is that if adding green to a city is so easy, why such cities rarely exist. The answer is greed. Some cities did indeed begin like that but eventually became crowded. Urban spaces become expensive as a city grows and there is greed on the part of city authorities as well as others to sell that land for profit. In order to develop such cities the master plan has to be strictly maintained with a provision that city authorities cannot convert green spaces for other use unless approved by a two third majority of city dwellers in a city referendum.

It would be necessary to regulate usage of the green agricultural lots to make them compatible with urban surroundings. Firstly animals must not be permitted. The farming of food grains (wheat etc.) and oils seeds (soy beans etc.) may also not be permitted in these small urban farms. Rather their use must be reserved for vegetable, fruit and flower farming. The latter are best suited for small farms. In order to ensure that the farm lots are used appropriately their ownership must remain with the city. The city in turn may lease these to interested parties for a few years at a time with the provision that the lease would be cancelled if the lots are misused. Very limited construction along the northern boundary of these farming lots may be permitted e.g. a shop/restaurant of no more than 400 square feet with a 400 square feet studio apartment on the first floor for a possible farm hand or the lease holder along with a temporary shed of no more than 600 square feet for agricultural storage and use. The northern boundary is suggested here since that causes least shading on the rest of the land.

Such a city would enjoy lush green surroundings. Note that every housing lot is surrounded by green. It would also enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables grown within the city. Existing cities can not be changed substantially now but this blogger hopes that the present post will catch the attention of some planners when new cities or extensions of existing cities are being designed.

The present proposal adds rural jobs and the charm of a rural life to an urban one. Another post in this blog shows how urban charm can be added to rural life along with millions of sustainable jobs that do not vanish when the economy collapses. Check out the following link for it:

Image from :

 The Natural City

Whenever a new city is to be built it requires land, some of which may be ancestral land of farmers who can not be compelled to part with it. The approach them must be to notify the area as mixed agricultural cum urban, acquire the minimum necessary for roads and then purchase from farmers willing to sell until permitted green density is breached. Farmers that do not sell would be natural farm areas in the city. When green density is reached remaining sale of farms must be frozen so as to preserve green spaces.

Additional Advantages

An additional advantage is that sewerage and green component of garbage is then composted in several farm locations for use on farms within the city while other waste is led to a nearby sorting and recycling unit. Other waste water from homes too with minor treatment may be returned for farm use while for drinking water there would be a separate well treated fresh water supply. The farm areas are also ideally suited to place wind turbines owned by the city since these do not shade the ground for collecting energy required by the city while solar PV panels may be placed on roofs of homes and both forms of energy pooled for processing and returning to the city grid. Thereby transmission losses are nearly eliminated.

The New Roots mini-farm in the Bronx is tucked alongside a busy thoroughfare. Byron Times / NY Times / ReduxPictures,

UPDATE: April 16, 2013:  Today added a name of this city design for easy reference as AM cities in line with the AM rural design, since both design have an identical philosophy behind them.

UPDATE: JUNE 2013: An interesting new video echos the philosophy of this urban concept at

UPDATE JULY 2015: The urban farming concept is spreading. See this recent report

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Greatest Of Happiness

Jai Bajrang Bali at the entrance of the Naini Mata Temple

If you see that someone else has something nice and good that you do not have,


That everything nice and good of this world comes with some problems attached. Feel blessed that Nature has chosen to shield you from such problems.

If you see the life of another is rising with success whereas your own is going no where,


That every sunrise is followed by sunset, the dark night and that Nature has chosen to spare you the pain of the night that shall follow.

If you see that another has great riches that you do not have,

Just look a bit wider,

And you shall see many that have even less and feel blessed and grateful.

If your life is filled with pain, sorrow and darkness,


That wisdom comes from sorrow and there is no gain bigger than that and look forward to the bright day that follows every dark night

If you fear for the future,


That the future to follow shall be yours when you shall leave this world to enter another,

And remember,

There is no happiness greater than that of being contented,

For contented you deserve to be,

Because Nature with all its infinite talents has chosen not to overwhelm and destroy your finite self by giving you all possible talents but has rather chosen to give you just a few, with one that is unique to you and greater than all others in this creation, for unique you are just as everyone else is (lest you develop an ego that you are better than anyone else) in this wonderful creation full of joy and sorrow; and the changing seasons; a season to cry and a season to laugh.

What shall I do then, you ask
Why, you could just immerse yourself or have a pleasant swim in the soothing waters of
Love, Truth and Simplicity