by Nivi Jaswal, MVLCE
posted Feb 9, 2021
Born in a small Himalayan town full of fruit orchards that Ruskin Bond fondly wrote about, my father spent a childhood filled with health, happiness, and hope.
As an only son—prized in a patriarchal culture—being fed desserts on demand was a way of giving and receiving love. Being big, often a sign of wealth, brought insulin resistance along for the ride. Long years that earned him academic and professional recognition also awarded him Type II Diabetes. By age 35, various diagnoses fetched him lots of attention from friends whose day jobs included practicing medicine in large multi-specialty hospitals, working at sugar-free sweetener companies, supplying insulin, or just stopping by to dispense advice on ketogenic paraphernalia. The standard template of treatment caught up with him fast and he finally received an invite to the dialysis table—a painful 18-hour journey to hell and back. COVID-19 traveled to India in March 2020, shook hands with Dad mid-August, and within three days of being admitted to the hospital, he left us in shock, dismay, and anger — emotions that grief package up all at the same time.
Salman Rushdie, one of Dad’s favorite authors, set the story of Midnight’s Children in 1947 India, when she found her freedom from the shackles of colonialism. What Rushdie didn’t realize, the scars of all the -isms he wrote about ran deep like daggers into India’s conscience and morphed, ironically, into badges of honor, spawning dairy and animal agriculture and the Green Revolution.
I was COVID-Care Call Center Ninja by night and trying to manage work by day, pretending my heart wasn’t wrecked and my brain hadn’t turned to mush. It was the fourth straight night I had been awake coordinating critical medical decisions on behalf of my dad (and mom, also stricken with COVID-19) when a not-so-cryptic message popped up from one of the cardiologists on his medical team.
I looked around me.
I was in one of our guest bedrooms. It was my Control Room with Zoom, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger facilitating international calls, digital checklists, and mental to-do’s hanging in the air. My laptop had multiple URLs open on topics like Cytokine storms, Bradykinin theory, Cytosorb Technology, and a Reddit thread on “how to break news of death of a loved one to a loved one who is already sick.”
A short phone call later, I started making a new list: morgue coordination, medical file completion, final dues, arranging a crematorium, and getting hospital authorization for my mom to bid goodbye to her husband of several decades, wearing full PPE gear. There was no time for tears.
Sikh cremations comprise prayer, priests, friends, and family but the coronavirus had a very different kind of funeral in mind.
As the death toll mounted, state police teams deployed to perform relief work, including funeral rites, worked 18-hour shifts. Four cops in PPE cremated my dad on the 74th Independence Day of India, August 15, 2020. My mom was present for mere minutes. I said goodbye to him on WhatsApp Video.
I started this blog on a day when San Francisco was surrounded in an eerie orange haze. Wildfires raged all over California. The smoke was so thick it was visible a million miles away from Earth.
Two weeks before that, a derecho ripped through a 700-mile stretch across the Midwest. The destructive storms laid siege to 10 million acres of Iowa’s corn and soybean crop, devastating farmers.
Then Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana, the strongest on record since 1856, producing sixteen tornadoes throughout Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. Rendering 80 water systems inoperable, Laura left 200,000 people without water after the storm. Over 30% of Louisiana’s industrial facilities showed damage, triggering environmental concerns from leaking chemical waste.
In 2021, the pandemic continues to rage unabated, triggering cytokine storms inside the bodies of hapless victims. CDC lists obesity, a weakened immune system, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer as high risk factors for severe COVID-19 symptoms. Individuals of color have been impacted the worst.
169 days since her husband’s death, my mom, sheltering in place as more contagious mutants lurk outside, awaits an actual hug from another human being.
And co-existing with the pandemic, Climate Change is here. Our species caused it. Our species is paying for it. It’s PERSONAL. The most powerful next step you can take is to choose only plants for your next meal.
Nivi Jaswal has over 15 years of international corporate experience in brand management and marketing for consumer goods (Unilever), life sciences (Boston Scientific) and the media and research industry (WPP). She has lived and worked in seven different countries and visited 47—and can’t wait to start traveling again once our world is safer! She is also a Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach trained at the Mayo Clinic, a Certified Lifestyle Medicine Coach (American College of Lifestyle Medicine), and a Main Street Vegan Academy Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator.
After personally witnessing the power of a whole food, plant-based lifestyle in reversal of chronic illness, she started a brand strategy and business consulting practice which is solely focused on vegan nonprofits and for-profits, touching across plant-based nutrition, climate change, lifestyle choices, and sustainability.
Nivi also runs The Virsa Foundation Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit in the Boston area, focused on whole food, plant-based lifestyle research programs and intervention for underserved communities, especially women of color, in India (where Nivi is originally from) and USA (her adopted home). She is currently leading an ethnographic research program focused entirely on low income, nutritionally underserved women of color in the US. The JIVINITI Research Program will offer key insight into behavior change under conditions of socioeconomic oppression and imminent climate refugeeism. While processed foods tend to focus on those who can pay, Nivi fervently believes that businesses with compassion embedded in their mission cannot afford to ignore those who are often “zip-coded” out of emergent health and wellness options.
Nivi has recently founded the JIVINITI Women’s Coalition, which is partnering with diverse women’s led organizations in the U.S. and globally and appealing the incoming Biden-Harris administration to pivot towards a plant-powered economy.
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