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Towards a world where meat, milk and leather don’t come from animals

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I am hopeful that, in my lifetime, I am going to see a disruptive change in the eating and wearing of animal flesh. It is coming fast: the largest slaughter companies, and the largest investors in the world, have invested in laboratory created real meat (called clean meat) and milk. These meats are already in the market in countries like Singapore. Perfect Day, which makes milk cells, is on the market with yoghurt (under the label Smitten) that is made of animal free dairy. The Netherlands and Israel are far ahead in meat grown from in-vitro animals’ cell culture, instead of from slaughtered animals. Indeed, if clean meat would replace intensive farming as an industry standard, the benefits for the environment would be immense. As consumers, we would also have “cleaner” meat, meaning a product that doesn’t have the antibiotic residues and bacterial contamination that come with slaughtered meat. We would also save the lives of over 56 billion animals yearly. Yes, that’s the number of animals that are eaten every year by humans.

The meat industry keeps bringing out statistics, that vegans and vegetarians are still less than 5% of the market. That is simply not true. If it were, entire supermarket sections and fast food vendors would not be catering to them. Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based meat, is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Its current valuation is $4 Billion.

And the largest slaughterhouse companies in the world would not be investing in an alternative meat future.

Vegetarians and vegans finally have meat eaters on the run.

But the wearing of meat in the form of leather – has it gone down? Not yet. But it will.

Apart from the millions of animals that it kills every year, especially young calves, the leather industry is extremely dangerous for the Earth’s survival. The rivers are polluted with the toxic chemicals used in leather, leather polish alone kills millions of fish. A 2018 global impact study, by Quantis, stated that 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by the leather footwear industry annually – a major reason for global warming.

The New Zealand shoe company, Allbirds, which is in partnership with the giant Adidas, has just announced that it is investing millions in plant-based leather. Allbirds has been going this way for a long time: shoes made of eucalyptus and cotton fibre for instance, insoles made of castor bean oil, recycled plastic laces. This new material, plant leather, is made from vegetable oil, natural rubber and other bio inputs. The company announced their investment in a material innovation firm called Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. and says it will be adding “the world’s first 100% natural plant-based leather” to its product lineup by December 2021. This material, which is called Mirum, is said to have 40 times less carbon impact than real leather, and produces 17% less carbon than synthetic leather made from petroleum-based sources. Mirum will be constructed without any polyurethane, meaning that the material can biodegrade at the end of its life, without leaving traces of plastic in the soil, or it can be reground into new Mirum .

Joey Zwillinger, co-founder of Allbirds, said in a press release, “For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment. Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98% reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW, and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology, is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate animals and petroleum from the fashion industry.”

Vegan leather, an oxymoron, is the ethical and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather. It is meant to look and feel like traditional leather, without the baggage of pollution and suffering. As more and more people grow aware of the leather industry’s effects on the environment and on animals, the market for cruelty-free alternatives keeps growing.

British materials company, Ananas Anam, set up in 2013, was among the first to come out with a plant-based leather alternative called Piñatex. The material uses fibres derived from pineapple leaves, sourced from the Philippines. These fibres are mixed with polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic derived from corn, to create a flexible and durable material. Piñatex is being used by Hugo Boss and Canadian brand Native Shoes.

Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven has sourced his vegan leather from the leaves from the Areca Betel Nut (Supari). The Palmleather project was born as a low-cost plant-based replacement for animal leather, plastic and rubber, and uses far fewer pollutants and water consumption than animal leather.

The company, Desserto, has introduced a vegan leather made from nopal cactus leaves, which can be used to make furniture and car interiors, wallets, purses, and shoes. The nopal cactus grows in abundance across Mexico without requiring any water, making it a low-impact crop.

Major luxury fashion houses including Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Gucci parent company Kering, have invested in a leather substitute product called Mylo, a soft leather like material, created from mycelium, the branching filament structure that mushrooms and other fungi use to grow. The material consumes substantially less water than is needed to produce animal leather, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. It takes just days to produce and is completely biodegradable and non-toxic. MusKin is a leather-like material made from the caps of a mushroom called Phellinus ellipsoideus. The fungus is native to subtropical forests and feeds on tree trunks.

Will’s Vegan Store is an online store that makes luxurious vegan leather shoes from cereal crops. The company’s vegan leather is made from a mix of polyurethane and bio-oil made from cereal crops . The company is trying to move away from using polyurethane, and recently rolled out a new product using viscose made from eucalyptus bark.

In 2017, the high-end vegan shoe company Veerah rolled out leather made from 50 percent apple peels leftover from the apple juice industry, and 50 percent polyurethane. The peels are dried and ground into a fine powder, which is then mixed with non-toxic pigment, and polyurethane, to become a leather-like fabric.

Here are the Indian entrepreneurs that you should buy from, or invest in:

Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt Ltd, a Kerala based initiative, is the brainchild of Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Suseelan. It produces a vegan alternative to leather, using sustainable bacterial cellulose sourced from waste coconut, banana stem, sisal fibre and hemp fibre. It is completely biodegradable, flexible, water resistant stretchy and has the same thickness as leather.

The company collects coconuts from farmers in Kerala. The water is left undisturbed for bacterial culture to feed on. The end process results in jelly-like cellulose, which is mixed with banana fibre, or gum, to create raw material in the form of sheets or three-dimensional shapes. To make the sheets colourful and glossy, the company uses natural dyes such as indigo, madder or cutch.

The company’s major clients are prestigious companies like Crafting Plastics, TON, Ma-tt-er, Kazeto, and the products are bags, wallets, backpacks. I do not know whether they have started making shoes as yet.

Aulive is an online Indian brand that has genuinely beautiful vegan, cruelty-free leather products. It labels itself as “Genuinely Not Leather” and uses Pinatex. They have come out strongly against the cruelty, and toxicity, of the animal leather trade. Look up the site when you want to buy suitcases, briefcases and bags.

Kanpur Flower Cycling, owned by engineer Ankit Agarwal, has created Fleather, a leather made of temple flowers. Even though it’s not on the market yet, Fleather has already won a UN Sustainability Award and a PETA award for best innovation. The company has already been making Florafoam – a compostable alternative to styrofoam (non-biodegradable plastic) from moulding dried flowers with natural fungi. Brands, like Bajaj and Havells, are already using Florafoam packaging. Fashion houses, like Anita Dongre, have also shown interest in this breathable and tensile material called ‘Fleather’.

These companies can only be successful if you change your buying pattern.

 

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)



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Sat Mag

When a wonderful human being crosses the great divide

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Sarasaviya took this picture of Punya and Milroy at their home after the “Abhimani” Legendary Award was conferred on Punya, during their last visit to Sri Lanka to attend the Sarasaviya Festival in 2016.

“There are friends,
There is family,
And then there are friends
That become family”

Such a friend was Milroy, whose passing away a few days ago, we learnt with heavy hearts and deep sorrow.

To those who didn’t know him, he was the husband of Punya Heendeniya, the actress who captivated the hearts and minds of a nation by her portrayal of Nanda in the film classic “Gamperaliya”; Nanda was the quintessential Sinhala upper class village maiden who valued tradition over love.

To MBS (Siri) he was a lifelong friend “who stayed forever, beyond word, beyond distance, beyond time”.

To me (Kumar Gunawardane) who came to know him through Siri and also through his brothers, he was a pleasant companion, and good friend.

PUNYA:

“He loved music, sing songs and kalawaa (art) in all its forms. That is why he married me. He went out of his way to help the needy in whatever way he could. He did everything for me and the children.

“In the last year or two he took to understanding what real Buddha Dharma was.

“May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

SIRI:

“We met on the very first day in the “Block”; alphabetically we were next to each other, Milroy de Silva and MBS de Silva. That day, wearing our white jackets and ties back to front, we had to march to the Anatomy laboratory, jeered by serried ranks of haughty seniors. The naked bodies lying on marble slabs was nauseating. I was directed to the appropriate cadaver by a tutor and paired with a brilliant student JBC De Silva, to dissect the upper limb. Confused and bewildered I could only gaze at the colleague carving the other arm. He looked equally nonplussed wielding a scalpel nonchalantly, while another student recited the instructions from Cunningham’s manual of Anatomy. Our eyes met and that was the start of a beautiful friendship; a coming together of the high-spirited and full of joie de vivre. We immediately downed tools and scampered to the canteen to revive ourselves with a cup of tea, laced with condensed milk, and the cheapest available cigarette ‘Peacock’. Our interests were similar; studies took a back seat, larking around taking precedence. The friendship was sealed further when we joined Bloemfontein the formidable male medical student hostel alternatively feared and lauded.

“I remember our first Block dance at the King George’s hall. He was smartly dressed in black tuxedo pants and a cream jacket; only missing element was a lady companion. I, who wore a black shirt and a white tie, had a beautiful girl on my arm. I asked Milroy where he came by his tuxedo and he disdainfully replied I have two brothers who are doctors and one tuxedo for the whole family and now it is my turn to have it!!

“Our bonds strengthened during our intern year. Milroy returned to his roots in Galle and I joined him a few months later at Mahamodara, the hospital by the sea. It was a year of back breaking work, but also a year of fun and frolic.

“Milroy was then posted as chief (District Medical Officer) of the Moneragala hospital. But “I was left high and dry, Milroy, thoughtful as ever arranged for me to work with his brother Dr A.S.H De Silva, who had a thriving general practice just down the road from the hospital. Three months later, I got a posting to Buttala, which was then a mostly elephant and serpent infested jungle. It was classed as a ‘punishment’ station by the Health Department. The attractions however were the proximity to Milroy, and also the predecessors who included medical giants such as Professor Rajasooriya and the distinguished surgeons Dr Bartholomeuz, and R. L. Spittel the Surgeon of the Wilderness. In this pastoral outpost Milroy was bowled over by the image of Punya. He was at a loss to reach her. I advised him to write and he did so with panache. She invited him to visit them at Mirigama, her hometown to meet her folk. They teamed up in Punya’s own words for 52 years seven months and 22 days; a match made in heaven.

“As a dutiful father, he wanted to give his son and daughter the best education available and so it was that he and Punya migrated to Zambia. It was here that they demonstrated hidden strengths of character which helped them overcome adversities and even threats to their lives and move over to England. Milroy re-invented himself and rose to top of the ladder to become a consultant psychiatrist. His two children also became consultants in the NHS, the son a gastroenterologist and daughter an endocrinologist. He acknowledged freely Punya’s role not only in all his triumphs, but also in the hazards and misfortunes in their paths.

“Yet, more than all this was his humanity and humility, generosity to those less well endowed especially relatives and also to those medical graduates at the threshold of their careers. They were gracious hosts; Punya was an accomplished cook and less well known, a euphonious singer. I and my good friend Karu had the good fortune to enjoy their hospitality on many occasions in London.

“Milroy my friend, “To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die”

“May your journey in Samsara be short and my you attain the Supreme bliss of Nibbana!”

 

KUMAR:

I first got to know Milroy at Bloemfontein, the medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. He was a dapper figure, stylishly dressed with an unceasing gentle smile on his face. His chums, Siri, Gerry, Wicky and others were always friendly with us juniors and never intimidating. Their banter and capers in the dining room and the spacious portico were invariably hilarious.

My friendship with Siri was cemented in the hurly-burly of the Galle hospital, where I too did my internship. When I was unemployed after its completion it was Siri who arranged for me to work with Dr ASH, Milroy’s brother. ASH and Kingsley, another brother became my friends and mentors.

“Punya was a heartthrob of many young bucks of our era. But only one, Milroy, could win her hand and her heart. What a splendid partnership it was.

The Buddha Dhamma teaches that death is natural and inevitable. Yet it is sorrowful and we pray for you and your family’s peace and comfort. Their sadness is soothed by the beauty of your life, a life well lived. As the Buddha said death has no fear to those who fashioned life as a garland of beautiful deeds.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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Sat Mag

A New Arrival at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre

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A newly hatched blue and gold macaw bred at the Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre being attended to by a staff member Sisira Kumara.

The Pathfinder Wildlife Preservation Centre has a comprehensive collection of rare macaws, cockatoos, lorikeets, and parrots from Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The collection also includes a range of Arowana fish. This unique collection was originally presented to the Centre by Nimal Jayawardena, a leading business person, lawyer, and wildlife expert.

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Sat Mag

Imagining Malinda Seneviratne

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By Uditha Devapriya

I’d like to begin this tribute with a memory. I wasn’t always an avid reader of newspapers. My father, on the other hand, was. Somewhere in middle school, in Grade Eight I believe, I began picking them up once he had done with them, poring over the columns.

My eyes rested on certain topics more than others. They’d invariably centre on the war. How were we fighting the enemy? How was that enemy fighting back? What new conspiracies had been unearthed? Who had unearthed them? Who was next on the enemy’s kill list? The peace process, dead as a dodo long before it died, had floundered. Officially, we were back at war. As intriguing as that would have been, it was also disconcerting.

Even more disconcerting was the ambivalent stand of the English language press on the war. Not that the editorials called for a cessation of hostilities, much less a return to the peace process. But beneath the fine print, one could discern an almost confused pacifism, an almost abstruse neutralism.

This conformed to the same pattern: an acknowledgement of the heroism of the armed forces followed by a critique of government policy. Ultimately it all boiled down to, not whether the government was conducting the war properly, but whether the war had to be conducted at all. Even there the editors remained indecisive: they concluded that the LTTE had to be defeated, yet refused to endorse the war being waged to achieve that end.

None of that felt frustrating, of course. Cut off from the fears of a war next door, one could only revel in the delicatessen of wartime journalism. Yet it was clear the scales tilted to a side: very few writing in English advocated a military solution to the world’s longest running ongoing ethnic conflict. What explained their hesitation?

I didn’t bother finding out, but given the preponderance of those who wrote against the war, I was transfixed by those who wrote in support of it. Of them, one in particular caught my attention. Seven years later I met him: a coincidence I ponder over even now.

I have known Malinda Seneviratne in his many forms: writer, poet, translator, activist, editor, citizen, father, husband, and teacher. Yet I can’t recall why I wanted to meet him. Was it the eloquent prose, sharp as nails even at its most polemical? The equally eloquent poetry, haiku-like and evocative of both Neruda and Galeano? Or the activism, unabashedly nationalist in a country whose Westernised intelligentsia abhors such “tribalist” sentiments?

Malinda’s political education began with the Left, first with his father Gamini, then with a batch-mate of his father, Nanda Wickramasinghe (attached to the Revolutionary Communist League at the University of Peradeniya), and finally with Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ossie Abeygunasekera (until the latter’s defection to the UNP). The Ratawesi Peramuna, precursor to the Sihala Urumaya, came later.

His activism in (and for) the Ratawesi Peramuna followed his return from Harvard (where he completed his Bachelor’s in Sociology) in 1991. It was while in this group that he deepened his friendship with two of his biggest influences, Patali Champika Ranawaka and Athuraliye Rathana Thera. It was also his activities there that landed him in trouble; the police swooped on a meeting organised in 1992 at Wadduwa, following an exhibition of LTTE, IPKF, and JVP human rights abuses held in Matara, was intercepted by the police, who proceeded to arrest 15 members, including Ranawaka, Rathana Thera, and Malinda.

Held for three weeks, and tortured on the orders of a drunken OIC, they filed a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court. Upholding their case, the Court, which acknowledged that the RP did not constitute a threat to national security and did not warrant the treatment meted out to its members, ordered the State to pay Rs 5,000 for each applicant. The Human Rights Library of the University of Minnesota later archived the case, “Channa Pieris and Others v. Attorney General and Others.” In the meantime, the Ratawesi Peramuna turned into Janatha Mithuro, a green socialist/nationalist outfit preaching the gospel of alternative development paradigms (what Ranakawa called the “third chapter of development”).

Malinda ended his political associations once he started out on his journalistic (and writing) career in the 2000s. By then he had gone through Janatha Mithuro, Sihala Urumaya, and the National Movement Against Terrorism (2006-7). These are, no doubt, colourful affiliations, befitting a colourful memoir. Yet, despite his activism, it’s hard to put a finger on his convictions: he just can’t be categorised in the same way his opponents, or for that matter his allies, can.

On the ‘national Question’, on the 13th Amendment, on our relations with India, indeed on global politics, he projects a provocative perspective. Thus, for instance, while he supported the Sihala Urumaya’s and Hela Urumaya’s parliamentary aspirations, he critiqued the latter’s decision to field Buddhist monks at elections. Even so, however, he does not oppose the entry of monks on a matter of unyielding principle: for him, they constitute a group having as much a right to parliamentary representation as any other.

In any case, whatever those convictions, the more I read him in my middle school years, the curiouser I got: then as now, what defines Malinda is the contrast, one could say paradox, between his ideological predilections and his poetic instincts. The two do get together, more often than you’d think, in his anthologies (just sample his poems on Geneva). And yet there’s a disjuncture between them. Perhaps this was what made me want to visit him.

Our first meeting went by innocuously enough. Lasting a little more than an hour, it ended on the promise of a second meeting, which transpired a month later – to be followed by another, and then another. The rapport between us grew quickly; by the time of the third meeting, he was asking me to come in and write to the paper he supervised as editor.

I hesitated at first. With characteristic flippancy, though, he shrugged my concerns aside: “When you work for me,” he promised, “you will write on everything.” I thus gave in: as with all 21-year-olds new to the trade, I wanted to write and be read in print. A few months later, in fulfilment of a promise he made before the January 2015 election, I was in.

Malinda taught several lessons as a writer, journalist, and senior. First and foremost among them was the line between writing news and writing features. For no matter what people may say, a good writer does not necessarily make for a good reporter. Pen and paper in hand, you need to record whatever it is that you’re covering is putting out to the public. Cutting through a morass of irrelevant anecdotes, you need to distil what you heard. And of course, you need to separate facts from comment: you can’t editorialise.

This proved to be a difficult exercise for me, far more difficult than the light pieces I ended up submitting to the features section. Suffice it to say, then, that insofar as Malinda taught me anything about journalism, it was that I could never aspire to be a journalist.

The second lesson was simpler: no matter how good (or bad) you may be as a journalist, if your editor doesn’t encourage you, your ink will dry. This applies to other professions also: where would Thomas Wolfe be, for instance, without Max Perkins?

Malinda, of course, was not my first editor. Yet he and I shared interests which immediately bridged the gap between him and me. In the end, I wound up writing on topics I had always wanted to talk about. That could not have been possible without him.

The third lesson, the most important one, was that writing to newspapers is never going to be a stable profession, especially not here. I learnt this lesson the hard way: five months after I got in, his paper closed down. Petrified for days, wondering whether I would ever be able to write again, I eventually came to realise that, as shocking an experience as it may have been to me, for Malinda it did not mean much: he’d been pole-vaulting from one paper to another from the day he left active politics for journalism.

His experience there became my guide: one evening, after the storm clouds of his termination had died down, he told me bluntly, “In this trade, if you’re good enough, you’ll never be out of tenure.” I disputed him. Six years later, having contributed to every paper he wrote to and is writing to, I realise I was wrong to do so.

Having read him and met him, I thus ended up learning under Malinda: a trajectory I am yet to go through a second time with anyone else in his line of work. I can’t really assess him, or do him justice, except maybe to note that, for the little or the lot he taught, he never demanded a payback.

Perhaps that’s just as well. For without taking away anything from what he did, I was hardly the only person he supported this way. Many others, most of them as young as I, all of them endowed with a superior penmanship, also found their way to the pages of the papers he oversaw. I know for a fact that he always insisted on compensating them – in full.

The West Indian international relations scholar Herb Addo once wrote that Andre Gunder Frank, from whom he learnt about the political economy of underdevelopment, “taught me nothing.” For his contemporaries, Addo argued, Frank “taught from a distance”, yet let his students develop as individual, independent intellectuals, in their own right.

By no means do I suggest that Malinda taught me nothing, or that he did so from a distance. But reflecting on how he taught all that one needed to know, and how he dismisses it today as though was just letting me evolve on my own, I wonder: was he, as Frank had been to Addo, a teacher in the Gibran vein, leading me to the threshold of my mind?

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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