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  • Writer's pictureShatakshi Gawade

Food, art and the environment

Madhavi Kolte, Batch 2017-18

Humans of Ecological Society Pune

By now you must have heard that animal agriculture is one of the big drivers of climate change. 45% of the entire landmass on Earth is used by and for livestock, and approximately 29% of water used for agriculture is used for livestock (Food Choice and Sustainability , Dr. Richard Oppenlander). And most directly, 18% of GHGs are emitted by livestock (Livestock's Long Shadow Report by FAO, 2006).

Madhavi at her exhibition Avirat in August 2018
Madhavi at her exhibition Avirat in August 2018

I learnt all these figures from Madhavi Kolte, and almost stopped adding milk to my coffee. But Madhavi, an alumnus of the 2017-18 batch of Ecological Society, has cut out all animal and animal related products from her life since the past two years, ie she has been vegan. She is also leading Climate Healers of Pune, a non-profit which “implements system level solutions to enable a directed, focused, grassroots social movement that will mitigate and reverse climate change, while regenerating life”. The 43-year-old has also convinced her children and husband to become vegan.

Madhavi is a ceramic artist. She has been an environmentalist right since she was in college, and the ES course taught her the concepts of ecology and gave her a new ecological. She used to believe that technology is the solution to environmental problems, but the course showed her that we have to eventually change our lifestyle and reduce consumption to have a positive impact on the environment.

She has been actively involved with NGO Jeevitnadi a both a volunteer and supporter -- she donated all the money raised from her sculpture exhibition Avirat in 2018 to the river NGO! The time she spent as a Jeevitnadi volunteer was an enriching learning experience for her. In June this year she organised a screening of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a 2014 documentary film which explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. The screening and discussion after was so impactful that one family turned vegan (I know them myself too)!

The artist and mother of two is currently on a journey to discover the impact of animal agriculture in India on climate change. She has been trying to get researchers to calculate this in the Indian context, because there seem to be no figures! She still has a hard time discussing it with even aware peers. She found that vegans have no clue of environmental impact of lifestyles, and environmentalists have no idea of the impact of food on the environment.

“We have three times more cattle than USA, and we have the largest leather industry. Mental health is a huge concern too; imagine what slaughtering daily does,” she says.

She is busy organising talks and courses around these concepts. She insists, “We have very less time to make the most significant changes. Once the dialogue begins, one gets the opportunity to think in a different way. By being vegan, we aren’t sacrificing anything. We are healing ourselves, and healing our planet.”

Madhavi with her huband Dr Sanjay Kolte and their son, participating in a Climate Strike march in March 2019
Madhavi with her huband Dr Sanjay Kolte and their son, participating in a Climate Strike march in March 2019

Photos of exhibition by Tushar Sarode.

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