Category Archives: Dr Vandana Shiva

An Isha moment at the Dr Vandana Shiva Lecture Part 3

I see a world where the wisdom of a child over-rides our learned notions of ‘common-sense’

I was talking to a good friend two days ago.  His name is Herbert.  I call him zio which means ‘uncle’ in Italian.  He’s not Italian. He is an informed, enlightened, man who I’ve known my whole life.  I was telling zio Herbert about my new blog and how we must gather support for organic farming.  He said, “Well, you know Gurdeep,” (he doesn’t call me Deepa but ‘ga-deep’ due to his German accent)… “the truth is that our population is increasing and it’s a sad but necessary evil to use all these pesticides.  How else can you feed everyone?”

Believe it or not, I was delighted he said that.  It is the refrain big chemical companies have been putting into our heads, making us accept their bitterly wrong agenda. It is simply not true.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to explain to Herbert that the vast bulk of GMO production is actually not for human food but for biofuel and animal feed.  Feed for those poor animals whose stomachs are evolved to digest herbs. ( ie: herbivores as in grasses people, grasses….)  And biofuel is only sustainable when it doesn’t take 10 times the amount of energy to produce it.  Herbert went ‘oh!’.  And I saw the wheels turning deep behind his glasses in his wise, kind eyes.

There’s a little wheel a-turning in my heart.  There’s a little song a-singing in my heart.  In my heart.  There’s a little wheel a-turning in my heart.


Isha at VS lecture

Isha asking Dr Shiva he question. Photo courtesy of Erin Sebastian

Now I’ll conclude the Isha moment that some of your have been waiting eagerly for.

My six-year old decided she wanted to ask Dr Vandana Shiva a question at one of the 5 microphones in front of thousands of quiet, ear-pricking spectators, including the President of the University, his spouse, dignitaries, professors, politicians, eloquent activists and hundreds of intellectuals.   My husband is a professor at the University of Victoria and he had his peers in the room, even though he left the talk to teach a class.  This was not some jovial family gathering or a concert – although the applause Dr Shiva received might have  mistaken some folks.

I tried to dissuade Isha gently and spoke slowly, ‘There are lots of people here.  If you want to ask a question, you need to go up to the microphone.  All by yourself .  I will *not* go with you. [NB: even though my girls are great performers, I am not a ‘stage-mom’].  So.  Are you still sure.  Really really sure you want to ask a question?”

The gums where her front teeth are slowly growing-in gaped pink at me as she expressed her iron will, rolling her eyes at first, “Yes, I am really sure.  I want to ask a question.” She growled “RRR!” and then she looked back at me with a huge smile on her face.

“Ok… You can’t ask for a hug.  You know that.  No hug.  And you need to have a question…”  I looked into her excited eyes.  My dissuading wasn’t working.  I thought I would try another tactic, “So what is your question?”

Isha replied without skipping a beat, “I don’t know, Mom. What is my question?”

Now here is where I started laughing madly (but quietly) to myself.  This kid had me at my wit’s end.  But I had reinforcements!  We rolling stones had moved back to Canada a few years ago to grow roots and moss.  I also wanted ‘a village’ for my daughters.  The village being my extended family.  Thankfully Aunty Megan was a few seats down the row.  Having come to my rational limit with Isha, I was going to hand her off. To the village.

“Megs,” I hissed over my Uncle Godfrey.  “Help me!  Isha wants to ask a question.”

Megs opened her eyes really wide and raised her eyebrows in alarm.  She also knows Isha quite well.

“Go over and talk to Aunty Megan,” I told Isha, sure that Megan would talk her out of it.

They had a huddle and next thing I knew, Isha was striding up to the closest microphone.  I was beside myself.  I remember being put in a similar spot by my dad when I was a similar age when he announced to a crowd of thousands that I had a beautiful voice and I could sing.  I collapsed with shyness.  Those of you who know me will know that I got over stage- fright.  But Isha is not me.

As a mom, I think I was most worried about Isha going up, embarrassing herself and then having a negative experience of public speaking.   I was also worried she would get up there and then call upon Me, her Mom for help.  So I squirmed as she waited.  Other folks also wanting to ask questions stepped in front of her, not noticing that a little girl was in line before them.

As question after question was asked,  worry-wort that I am,  I worried about her *not* getting to ask her question.  Aunty Megs got up and hovered in the back behind the microphone, while I worried in my seat.

It got down to the last question which was a good one.  Someone asked about the role of poetry.  Yes, said Dr Shiva, we need our words when politicians fail to protect the rights and will of the people.  In Canada many of our scientists are now muzzled as are our artists (Robert Bateman recently in Alberta, for example).  What kind of whistle-blower do we need?  What on Earth can we do? Dr Shiva was asked.   ‘Plant seeds,’ she said.  In your gardens, on your balconies.  If you don’t have a balcony, plant in a pot.  Plant seeds, save seeds.  The message is positive.  We can.  It’s simple.

Gandhi, when told that the Indians had to pay a salt tax, went down to the sea and took his own salt.  That was a story I had grown up with since my father Arran had put it on a package of Lifestream sea salt when I was a kid.

Eventually, someone had given the mike to Isha which she was clutching like a prize chicken.

At the tail end of that last answer, Dr Shiva said, “I think I will end on that note.  Thank you.”

People clapped.  Isha’s face fell.  After all that, Isha wouldn’t ask her question.  It was over.  I was both relieved and disappointed.  Megs and I shrugged our shoulders.  Well, at least she tried.

Then Dean Peter Keller said something like, “I think there is a little girl in the back of the room.  Perhaps we have time for one last question?”

Dr Shiva graciously accepted.

I chewed on the insides of my cheeks.

But without batting an eyelid, without looking at me, without calling me and going ‘shy’ without hesitation, Isha put her mouth up to the mike like a seasoned professional and said in a clear ringing tones:

“Why don’t everyone go and plant seeds this weekend?”

Thunderous applause.

Dr Shiva didn’t hear it for some reason.  Isha repeated it (maybe with better grammar) and was praised by her and everyone.  If the evening had been scripted, it couldn’t have ended better.

Fearlessness.  I must learn from Isha.  We all can learn from her.

Let’s embrace our inner courage.  Deep down, we know what’s right and what’s wrong.  We are noble creatures.  Let us open our ears and hearts and listen to the wisdom of the child.

Plant seeds, water them, protect them, allow them to grow.  Harvest the fruits and save the seeds.  Exchange them with others.  Support the farmers and the food companies who are doing the right thing.  There is so much good to support.

Sow other seeds: tolerance, understanding.  Have the courage to shine on what is right, what is just and noble.  Shine like the sun.

An Isha Moment at the Dr. Vandana Shiva Lecture Part 2

I dream of fearlessness in the path of injustice.  I feel joy for conquering my fear.

“[How do I do it?] Well, it’s always a mystery, because you don’t know why you get depleted or recharged. But this much I know. I do not allow myself to be overcome by hopelessness, no matter how tough the situation. I believe that if you just do your little bit without thinking of the bigness of what you stand against, if you turn to the enlargement of your own capacities, just that itself creates new potential. And I’ve learned from the Bhagavad-Gita and other teachings of our culture to detach myself from the results of what I do, because those are not in my hands. The context is not in your control, but your commitment is yours to make, and you can make the deepest commitment with a total detachment about where it will take you. You want it to lead to a better world, and you shape your actions and take full responsibility for them, but then you have detachment. And that combination of deep passion and deep detachment allows me to take on the next challenge, because I don’t cripple myself, I don’t tie myself in knots. I function like a free being. I think getting that freedom is a social duty because I think we owe it to each not to burden each other with prescription and demands. I think what we owe each other is a celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.”
― Vandana Shiva

So I’m sitting there at the President’s Distinguished lecture Dr Vandana Shiva’s Lecture at UVIC March 27, 2013 with Isha who’s doing her usual squirming about. Fortunately, there are so many people in this hall that one squirming kid will not disrupt things too much. I hope.  But she does move constantly.  She wants to sit with her father, then next to her great Uncle Godfrey, then moi, then change seats with her sister and each of us in turn, the whole lot of us, including Aunty Megan.  I always marvel at kids who sit down and stay down for 5 minutes.  Isha is not like that.

I can’t say that I was *enjoying* the lecture by Dr Vandana Shiva.  This wasn’t entertainment but a trumpet call to rise.  This amazing woman is an Eco-Prophet, a Gandhi for our time, fighting for the inherent right of the seed. For life.  I’m sitting there overcome with the over two hundred and seventy thousand farmer suicides (they drink Monsanto’s pesticides in a field to die), the enslavement of the farmers, the destruction of our soils through agent orange and DDT, the loss of biodiversity, the misinformation put out by the chemical companies profiting from selling pesticides.  For example the majority of GMOs grown are not grown for human food but for biofuel.  But they wrongly convince the public they are ending world hunger because of our rising population.  So on one hand I’m being completely shaken to the core with an over-riding sense of justice and purpose.  On the other hand, my six year old is physically shaking me for attention.  She will not.  Sit. Still.

After standing ovations and tears and fierce applause  I sigh with relief – I got to hear the talk without having to escort a 6 year-old to the washroom.  We sit back for a Question and Answer session. The hall is packed, sold out and must fit at least a thousand or two thousand or so people. Five different mikes have been set up all over the hall on three different levels.

Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the S...


The second question was “Dr Shiva, you are as beautiful as the seeds you preserve – and – Can I have a hug?”  Very graciously, Dr Shiva called the woman down for a public hug to much delight and ‘awws’ and applause.
The photo is a shot of Esther Mujawayo and Vandana Shiva during the Save the World Awards 2009 (Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, Lower Austria). Photo credit: Wikipedia.  This photo is not from this lecture, nor was it taken by me.  Unfortunately, my photos were not clear enough.



At that hug-‘question’,  Isha sat up straight and stopped moving – the kid was moved into

stillness.  Then the Social Science Dean Peter Keller limited questions to ‘questions with a

real question’.  Isha, at that point, turned to me.

“Mamma I want to ask a question!” she stage whispered in my ear.

This demand was not a question, and there was no question about it.

I swallowed really hard.

“You do?”

She bobbed her head up and down.

“Uh-huh.  Come-on mom I want to ask a question,” she tugged on my sleeve.

“In front of all these people?” I whispered back “Are you sure?”

I didn’t want to dissuade harshly but I know what she’s capable of.  This was something to gently discourage.  This is the kid who even last year, would stick her finger in the guts  of men with a large abdomens and ask where the baby is.    (Yes, we have explained for years to her that men can’t bear children.)

She grinned a two-front-teeth-missing-kind-of-grin.

“I want to ask my question now.  Over there at the microphone.”  She pointed to it with her little hand.  In case I hadn’t heard her clearly.

I bit my fist.

(To come: Part 3, in which Isha asks her question)

An Isha moment at the Dr Vandana Shiva lecture at UVIC Part 1

The Growing of Food should be an act of love 

-Dr Vandana Shiva March 27, 2013

I dream of a world where we breathe healthy air and dig in healthy soil.  Where streams run clear and pure.  Where organic farmers cultivate with pride and dignity and freedom to plant the seeds they themselves sow and save for the future.

My daughter Diya holding a wild wee baby bunny.  The bunny didn’t hop out of her hands.

I will set up the first of this two-part post with an impressionistic portrait of Isha. She is my six year-old with a flair for the dramatic, like her older sister Diya.  You will remember Isha if you have ever had the – ahem – pleasure to have met her.  She is intense, loving, naughty, rambunctious (why is that so hard to spell?) and takes up a lot of energy.   She also has a iron sense of justice.  Did I mention that she is outspoken?  Even for a 6 year old.  On the ferry the other day, I met a fellow school parent who had hosted Isha at his daughter’s 7th birthday party.  “Oh, so you’re Isha’s mom?!”  he said with surprise – not quite masking his slightly apprehensive tone.  We hadn’t met.  He looked a little scared.

“HmmmUmm,” I smiled,  and murmured, brightly bracing myself and showing all teeth.

“Yeah, wow.  Hmmpf.  I know Isha, We know Isha” he said wyrly, “your daughter is a real character.”

Yyy-yep. ah.

I’m just putting that out there for you to digest while I set this up.  It’s called blunt foreshadowing.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how Dr. Vandana Shiva shifted something inside me.  I come from a pioneering organic family.  My grandad Rupert turned to organic methods loving the lowly-earthworm when his peers on Vancouver Island were turning to synthetic pesticides and herbicides.  Rupert also was a song-writer. He loved to write songs about the beauty of the Earth and farming.

Rupert Stephens, my song-writing, organic-berry farming, pacifist grandfather.

Having grown up in and around gardens, health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, I thought I was pretty informed about agriculture.  I’ve heard about GMOs for a long time in many capacities before they crept up everywhere in food.  When I moved to London in the 1990’s, I was invited to a special session in the British Houses of Parliament to hear the various sides debate GMOs.  I got dressed well (because there is a dress code, didn’t you know? I found that out the hard way alas – and will post about that another time).  In my fancy pumps and matching grey suit, I traipsed to the room where they were having the debate.  I sat, watched, listened to the speakers, made notes, saw the data.  I came with a relatively open mind.  And I actually wanted to see the data.  I have an honors BA and an MA in Biology and started a doctorate in Spain.  I have used pipettes, sequenced genes and even co-authored a scientific article once upon a time.  The original idea of GMOs wasn’t entirely devoid of merit, if you kept in mind the following :

1) a for-profit company owning patents to life (hmm)
2) organic is better = no pesticides and herbicides yay!
3) lack of biodiversity due to the flawed mono-crop theology (boo)
4) ethical concerns about the companies themselves promoting GMOs
5) (organics is still better)

The GMO-proponents at this British debate were arguing that they significantly reduced pesticide use through this technology.  Again I was thinking, how can you compete with organic?  In organic farming the soil is enhanced, not depleted.  Pesticides and herbicides not only kill biodiversity but kill farmers.  Big-agri food business sees that side as an unfortunate but necessary by-product of food production.  Again, I reminded myself that I was there with an open mind.  If they could radically reduce pesticides and herbicides use, I might be impressed.  But I wanted to see the data.  Better, if they went organic, of course, but I again I was going with a relatively open mind. Riiight? If they were invited to give their best arguments, dressed to their corporate best (like moi, of course) at the august Houses of Parliament, they had to be bringing some  pretty gosh-darn amazing data.

I held my breath waiting for the evidence to show up on the screen.

It came.

I frowned in consternation…

Did the well-heeled Brits and Americans see what I saw?   I zoomed in on the chart proudly titled something like ‘Reduction in Pesticides and Herbicides in GMO Crop Sample study’ .  I was looking for the significant difference.  Did they make a mistake?  Was this the ‘before’?  Nope.  I checked the title again and looked at the dots and lines.  This had to be their ‘great scientific evidence’?  But was this the very best they could do?  The reduction in pesticides from ‘conventional’ to GMOs production was *minimal*.  With the variance, it seemed hardly a difference to my eyes.  The GMO proponents kept using the words “statistically  significant” and pointing to the chart.  I squinted, turned my head this way and that way. Okaaaay, like significantly lower by a bit.  But not enough to my eyes.

Nor to British eyes.

Like me, they were not persuaded.

Fast forward to recent.

Confronted with all these screaming red warmings about GMOs, I had been getting more perplexed and wrestling with my disquiet.  I still didn’t want to write a blog about this.  I thought we were doing enough.  Others were doing enough.  I thought I was doing enough to support organic and local producers with each and every meal.  My family has been supporting organic farmers in several ways for years.  My father Arran was the first to found and certify an organic breakfast food company. First my grand-parents Rupert and Gwen, then dad Arran, mom Ratana, sister Jyoti, little brother Arjan, my sister Shanti and brother-in-law Markus all produce, market and manufacture organic foods.  It have never simply been a job to provide people with delicious nutritious foods.  My family ethos is steeped to further the agenda of our planet.  Socially responsible, Environmentally Sustainable, Financially Viable.  We have been leaving the soil better than when we found it for decades.

But I still wasn’t ready to write about this on a blog.

Fast-forward to about 2 weeks ago.  Drum roll please!!

Now, if you really and truly want to know what has given me a kick in the pants to write this blog, you need to hear this amazing lecture.  Right now.

Click on it below.

Dr Vandana Shiva distinguished lecture at the Univeristy of Victoria

Click on it above if you didn’t click on it above.

Listen to the lecture.  Share it with your friends, discuss it with your children, enlighten your parents.

You will really understand what GMOs are all about from the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize.  Dr Vandana Shiva gave this lecture at the University of Victoria on March 27, 2013 where she was awarded an honorary doctorate.

This lecture changed me.  Whereas I was quietly doing my part, after this lecture, I wanted to turbo plant seeds of understanding, knowledge and stand up and wave my arms.  Her lecture has changed my life.

Me, Mom Ratana, Diya, Dr Vandana Shiva, Dad Arran, sister Jyoti

Part 2 coming next.  In which Isha surprises even me at Dr Vandana Shiva’s lecture