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Thursday, May 31, 2012

FINANCE SPECIAL..5 Tips for credit card beginners

5 Tips for credit card beginners

It’s thrilling to get your first plastic card and savour the financial freedom that comes with it. However, its unfettered usage can easily lead you into a debt trap, so swiping it judiciously is important.  

Some points that you should keep in mind before you start using the credit card.

Stick to a budget
The convenience of a credit card could result in your financial downfall as you may end up spending more than you can afford. You won’t face this problem in the case of cash as you can spend only what you have. So, if you’ve just begun to use a credit card, keep a monthly limit for your expenses, which should be about half of your official credit limit—and stick to it. A good way to track your spending is to register your phone number with the credit card account. Every time you swipe the card, you will receive an alert on your mobile phone, informing you of the amount you have spent and the balance in your card.
Always pay the full amount on time
Each month, you will receive a bill, also called a statement, telling you how much you’ve spent in a month using your card and the date by which you will have to pay the amount. Ensure that you pay the entire sum on time or you will be charged a late fee. You should preferably do so through Net banking as you will be charged about 100 if you pay through cash at the bank. You can also write a cheque, but do so well before the due date since it will require a few days to be processed.
Don’t be tempted to pay only the minimum amount that is due and roll over the balance to the next month. This may seem an easy way out if you are short on cash, but it will be your first step into a debt trap. The amount that is rolled over is charged a high interest rate, typically 1.5-3.5% a month, which will obviously inflate your bill for the next month. Another problem is that too many rollovers will be a black mark on your credit report, and a low credit score will make it difficult for you to get a loan from a bank at some point in the future.
Secure your card
Don’t provide your credit card information to anybody, especially the CVV number behind the card. Also, you should never let anybody use the card as you are responsible for all the charges. When you give your card to be swiped, make sure the salesperson does so properly and that there is no chance of skimming, that is, your card information being stored somewhere else. While using the card for an online payment, ensure that it is a trusted website. Fortunately, there is a two-step verification for such payments, the secure password of the card provider (Visa or MasterCard) as well as the one-time password that is mailed or messaged to you. Keep track of your usage through charge slips and compare records when you receive the statement.
Don’t increase your credit limit
When the bank offers you a card, it will set a credit limit based on your income. You may be tempted to enhance this limit to fund more expensive purchases. However, avoid doing so for a year, or at least till you’re more confident about how to use your card. The bank may be willing to raise the limit, but you still have to pay the bill from your own pocket, don’t you? So, unless there’s a substantial increase in your salary, stick to a low credit limit. In fact, you should fix your own limit and adhere to it. When your expenses reach this threshold, stop carrying the card and use cash to pay for your purchases.
Avoid cash advances
Don’t use your credit card to withdraw cash from a bank or an ATM. The money that you withdraw is considered a cash advance and you will have to pay a very high interest rate, typically from 1.5-3.5%. The interest will begin to accrue immediately and accumulate till you repay the full amount. There is no grace period for such transactions, unlike the one you enjoy on purchase transactions. Besides, you will be charged a one-time transaction fee, which could be as high as 3% of the advance. So, you should opt for this route only in case of an emergency.

Namrata DadwalETW120521

TECH SPECIAL...Touch’N’Type phones


Some people love the swipes and taps of the touch experience. A few others swear by their Qwerty keyboards. Touch’N’Type phones bring the best of both worlds, marrying a physical keypad with a touchscreen. Here are five T'N'Ts which some feel  are pocket dynamites

Samsung Galaxy Y Pro Duos
    The sub-Rs 10,000 Galaxy Y Pro Duos seems to be a handset that’s meant for the budget-conscious, especially given its dual-SIM support – in effect, two Android smartphones for the price of one.
    The device’s back plate looks like it is built using aluminium, but is actually fabricated out of plastic. Still, the Pro Duos looks good and feels solid. Its keypad is well spaced and the rounded keys feel natural. The highlight, though, is the small trackpad that makes navigating through the phone a smooth experience.
    For a large part, the smartphone performs efficiently, but open an app too many and the gadget slows down considerably. Internet browsing is an average affair: nothing spectacular, neither any complaints. Just don’t expect something butter-smooth like what you would find on high-end Androids.
Pros: Compared to other dual-SIM phones in the market, the Pro Duos is more intuitive to use purely because of how streamlined Android is, coupled with the customized Touchwiz UI that Samsung runs on top of the OS. And just in case you find something missing, the well-stocked app market will come to your rescue. The battery life is also quite impressive and easily lasts a whole day with normal usage.
Cons: The display’s low resolution makes text look somewhat blurry and web browsing is where this is most apparent. Also, the screen doesn’t support multi-touch and we sorely missed the pinch-to-zoom feature given the small size and resolution. Finally, the camera, which lacks flash, is mostly a disappointment unless pictures are taken outdoors.
Specs: 2.6-inch capacitive touchscreen (480x360 pixels resolution) | 832MHz processor | 160MB storage, microSD slot (up to 32GB) | 384MB RAM | 3.2MP camera, 320x240 pixels video recording | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS | 9 hours talk-time, 22 days standby time | Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Touchwiz UI

Nokia  Asha 303
Appearances can be deceiving. The bulky Asha 303 looks desperately in need of a diet, but hold it in your hand and it feels surprisingly light. And while the device lacks the polish of a high-end smartphone, it is inviting enough to make you at least want to try it out.
    Given that it has a touchscreen, the 303 can’t escape bad legibility under direct sunlight. On the touch-sensitivity front, it leaves little to be desired and is quite responsive to touches and swipes.
    The weight distribution of the phone, however, seems a bit awry. The top end (comprising the touchscreen) seems heavier than the lower gripping/keypad portion of the 303. And while typing, it feels like the handset might topple from your grip. We tried this with several people and the universal first reaction was, “Something is not quite right.” Still, that does not take anything away from a device that performs admirably in all other aspects.
Pros: The Series 40 operating system has been around for quite sometime now, and almost anyone who has ever used a Nokia phone will find the device easy to navigate and use. Besides, the 303’s 1GHz processor makes it quite snappy. Let’s not forget, the phone comes with the Nokia Music app to give you access to a plethora of songs for free. Also, while the battery life isn’t worth boasting about, it still got us through a day.
Cons: Albeit familiar, the S40 interface simply does not feel like a smartphone OS. The app store is terribly limited, multi-tasking is a no-show, and we missed small refinements such as smoothened edges on icons. Also, while the processor is fast, the pre-loaded Angry Birds seemed sluggish and was not fun to play. Finally, the Asha 303 misses the mark in camera performance with images looking grainy and saturated.
Specs: 2.6-inch capacitive touchscreen (320x240 pixels resolution) | 1GHz processor | 170MB storage, microSD slot (up to 32GB) | 128MB RAM | 3.2MP camera, VGA video recording | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Over 7 hours talk-time, 35 days standby time | Nokia Series 40 OS, Angry Birds Lite, Whatsapp, Zenga TV

HTC ChaCha
True to HTC’s form, the ChaCha looks and feels classy. The body feels solid while a metallic backplate gives it that premium tinge. Its rubber keys only add to its looks, although they can take some time to get used to. Overall, it’s the type of phone you want to show off to friends.
    What differentiates this phone from the other devices in this roundup is the fact that it is targeted at those who can’t live without Facebook. The gizmo comes with a dedicated FB button. And apart from one-click access to the social network, it also promises instant ways to update your profile status, and even upload a photo – complete with your friends tagged appropriately. If you love the world’s biggest social network, then this phone will be a treat to use – but don’t worry, you aren’t going to be pushed into using FB if you don’t want to.
    Since most Android phones are used in portrait (vertical) mode, the screen faces problems with some apps that aren’t oriented to its landscape (horizontal) view. But it’s not a dealbreaker as the ChaCha generally works well with most popular apps.
Pros: Most importantly for a touch-and-type device, the touchscreen is quite responsive and the keypad never feels cramped. Also, its FB integration works like a charm. While Android phones are notorious for low battery life, the ChaCha is an exception that easily lasts a full day of normal usage.
Cons: HTC’s customized Sense UI can be a little difficult for a first-time Android user to get accustomed to. And there are a lot of unnecessary apps preloaded on the phone’s limited memory. Couple this with the 800MHz processor and the ChaCha struggles in multitasking and intensive apps. The phone has a weak antenna and was sometimes unable to pick up signals in areas where other phones on the same network worked fine.
Specs: 2.6-inch capacitive touchscreen (480x360 pixels resolution) | 800MHz processor | 512MB storage, microSD slot (up to 32GB) | 512MB RAM | 5MP camera, LED flash, geo-tagging, 720x480 pixels video recording | VGA frontfacing camera | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS | 7 hours talk-time, 27 days standby time | Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread, HTC Sense UI
Nokia E6
    Nokia’s E series of phones have always been able to stand the test of time. In fact, the four-year-old E63 is still a good smartphone by modern standards. So it’s no surprise that last year’s Nokia E6 can go 15 rounds with the best touch-and-type devices in its class today.
    It’s a phone for professionals and it feels like one. The metal trimmings make it feel polished and sturdy, while the little chin below the keyboard makes typing extremely comfortable. If you are used to a BlackBerry keypad, you will adapt to the Nokia E6 in no time; and if this is your first Qwerty keypad, then it’s going to be the easiest way to break into speed typing.
    However, the slider key to unlock the screen, placed at the side, is a major annoyance. We can’t fathom why such a convoluted and difficult mechanism would be needed instead of a simple click-button.
Pros: The phone supports Microsoft Exchange so your business email can be set up easily. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we really liked the keyboard. Its high-resolution touchscreen is not only responsive, but also makes everything look crisp and sharp. And there are enough apps available for basic social networking. The battery life is good enough and lasts through the day on moderate to heavy use. As a business phone or a general touchand-type device for the chatty Kathy, the E6 is a solid piece.
Cons: While Microsoft Exchange is a plus, emails don’t refresh automatically and consistently. In fact, we had to eventually set it to a 15-minute update cycle because auto-update just wasn’t working. Also, the phone struggles when multi-tasking with some apps and even hanged and rebooted on its own a few times. And the lack of sufficient apps in the Nokia Store will eventually make you cast an envious glance at your Android- or iPhone-toting friends. Finally, the camera – even though it’s an 8-megapixel sensor – is a huge disappointment with images looking saturated, grainy and out of focus.
Specs: 2.46-inch capacitive touchscreen (640x480 pixels resolution) | 680MHz processor | 1GB storage, microSD slot (up to 32GB) | 256MB RAM | 8MP camera, fixed focus, Dual-LED flash, geo-tagging, HD video recording | VGA front-facing camerea | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS | Over 7 hours talk-time, 31 days standby time | Nokia Symbian, QuickOffice Document Editor

 BlackBerry Bold 9790
    The Bold 9790 is wonderfully built. It sports a metallic trim that runs along its contoured side and a back cover that has a lovely rubbery finish; a discreet rubber-coated volume rocker and function button nestles in its side. Completing its sleek look is a screen lock flush with the sloping top, and a robust Qwerty keypad that responds with noticeable tactile feedback to every press.
    Needless to say, this RIM device boasts of all the features that BB is known for: multitab browser, great support for email, BB Messenger, social networks and chat messengers. Simply, the 9790 is a good gizmo for young execs looking for a no-nonsense smartphone that means business. Add to the package some good multi-media support (though its lacks FM radio) and a camera that provides decent photo/video output, and you have a touch-andtype that you’ll be proud to flaunt after office hours.
Pros: The 9790’s screen is receptive to touch and works smoothly without any lag. The new OS 7’s updated graphics and 24-bit colour high-res display make it visually appealing. Then, of course, there’s its office productivity offerings—secure email, BB messenger, browser, et al—that RIM is well-known for. As far as battery life is concerned, this gizmo boldly lasts over a day on normal to heavy usage so you’re not stranded for lack of juice.
Cons: Walk into areas where network might be spotty and the 9790 gives up without a fight. Call drops are a recurring problem and can be rather annoying. Also, the 2.45-inch size of the 9790’s touchscreen seems like an afterthought. While it functions smoothly, it is too small to be of any consequence, apart from a few taps and slashes. And yes, aggressive pricing south of a few thousands would have made this a more compelling buy, but is now its primary undoing.
Specs: 2.45-inch capacitive touchscreen (480x360 pixels resolution) | 1GHz processor | 8GB storage, microSD slot (up to 32GB) | 768 MB RAM | 5MP camera, VGA video recording, flash, geo-tagging | 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC | Over 5 hours talk-time, 18 days standby time | BlackBerry 7 OS, BB Messenger, Documents-To-Go, BlackBerry Protect

Mihir Patkar, Javed Anwer and Savio D’Souza STOI120520


Desperate for baby Einsteins, some parents are training their children even before they are born. Has competition gone too far?

    Narmada Jagannath places her hands on her swollen belly, closes her eyes and dreams of her unborn child winning an award for being “No. 1 in the world.” The 25-year-old, eight months into her pregnancy, visualises and enunciates every minute detail: “Papa, Mummy and you are sitting on a stage in the middle of a packed stadium. The Presidents and Prime Ministers of many countries come up one by one and congratulate you for achieving what no one has achieved before and hand a big trophy to you. There is a thunderous applause…”
    A Chennai-based software engineer, Jagannath says she communicates with her foetus in this manner because she wants an “intelligent, knowledgeable and confident” baby. She has enrolled in a special prenatal education programme, Dhyan Baby, which helps parents have “gifted children” by channelising the thoughts and actions of the expectant mother.
    Dhyan Baby is among several new-age interventions that promise baby geniuses by “stimulating” the child’s brain while it is still in the womb. Sample this: Little Gems promises to give you a “super child by birth”, Aspire Superkidz offers to “multiply your baby’s intelligence” and the Yoga Sanskar Niketan in Mumbai claims you can have a “whole child” with its training.
    Driven by their desire for “bright” children, a growing number of parents are enrolling for these classes. More than 3,800 pregnant women from across metros took up the “Welcome Home Baby” programme of Aspire Superkidz last year. At least 60 couples enroll for Dhyan Baby and Little Gems’ training every month.
    Parents who sign up for Little Gems are given 20 kilos of material, including CDs and manuals, to help them train their child (both in utero and after birth). The institute’s website says toddlers who have received the training can recite capitals of all countries, do “computer-like calculations” and talk in multiple languages.
    Scientists and educationists are skeptical about both the scientific basis and the rationale for such training. “Why do parents want to produce the next Einstein? Why does a 1.5 year-old need to know the capitals of countries?” asks Dr Vidita Vaidya, neurobiologist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Educationist Nilesh Nimkar feels such training would put “unnecessary pressure” on little ones.
    But parents insist they are not burdening their children. “We are not teaching the baby A,B, C. It is a unique system of learning through flash cards and audio. The children enjoy it,” says Mumbai resident Bhooma Hariharan. Her daughter Soundarya, 7, could recognise flags of all countries and recite the hanuman chalisa at the tender age of three.
    “She always tops in class and stood tenth in the national abacus competition recently,” says Hariharan proudly. “A baby’s brain is like a bucket that absorbs information. The exercises help us increase the bucket’s size and improve the child’s learning capacity tremendously.”
The programmes are based on the premise that the way we turn out in life depends a lot on our experience in utero and that the nine months of gestation permanently influence the wiring of the brain and the functioning of other organs.
    Moreover, five-sixth of our brain’s development is believed to take place before the age of five years. “In this period, our right brain which is associated with creativity, intuition and spirituality is dominant. The left brain takes over after five,” says Vijay Bhaskaran from Little Gems, adding that their training promotes right brain function which enables the children to learn more efficiently. He and other advocates of prenatal training point out to the tale of Abhimanyu in Mahabharata — he learnt how to enter the impenetrable Chakravyuha when he was still in his mother’s womb.
Like gurus and grannies, the modern-day prenatal training schools too ask pregnant women to listen to classical music and mantras, but they lay more emphasis on “chat” sessions. To-be parents are trained to communicate with the foetus several times a day to not only create a lasting bond but also to enhance the child’s capabilities. Little Gems asks parents to give “positive affirmations” to the baby such as “You are a very smart baby”. Started by infant education specialist Revathy Sankaran, the Little Gems system is inspired by the teachings of Dr Glenn Doman, founder of the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential, Philadelphia. Sankaran’s team guides parents to “teach” babies from as early as 40 days after conception till the age of five years.
    The Dhyan Baby training consists of a special therapy for the foetus every month starting from the fourth month of pregnancy depending on its stage of development. The seventh month, for instance, has the “EQ and Dream Child therapy” as the baby begins to dream around this time. The sixth-month therapy focuses on the child’s IQ. “If we stimulate the mind at this stage, the neurons get connected faster after birth. The more the links, the higher the IQ,” claims N Kalyani, a psychotherapist who started Dhyan Baby.
    Each baby genius-making institute has its own set of techniques to boost the foetus’ intellectual development. Aspire Superkidz trains fathers to teach the child ‘1,2,3’ during the third trimester. “He has to tap the wife’s belly once, twice and then thrice while calling out the number. The baby will respond by giving the same number of kicks,” claims Swaminathan K, an alumnus of IIM Bangalore who founded Aspire Superkidz with two batchmates. The institute also asks mothers to read out “love letters” to the foetus.
    The prenatal education systems also teach a mother ways to remain stress-free and cheerful as her emotions are communicated to the child via the hormones her body releases. Proponents say the babies who are trained in the womb cry less, sleep better and are happier.
Independent experts say there is enough data to back the fact that nutrition and stress during pregnancy have an impact on the child, but they are not convinced about the worth of prenatal education. “Unless proper long-term studies are conducted on a substantial sample of children to prove the efficacy of such programmes, I would not believe the claims,” says Nimkar. Vaidya points out that while the foetus can hear sounds and recognise voices, there is no evidence to suggest that it can understand what the parents talk. “If talking to the baby lowers the mother’s stress level, it would undoubtedly help, but there is no evidence to show it would have any further use.”
    Experts also fear that following such programmes would further increase the expectations of parents as they would have invested time, energy and money in the child’s education even before birth.
    Many parents too find the very idea of such training outrageous. “What right do we have to condition the foetus’s brain?” says would-befather Abhishek Sharan. “I think parents should at least let the babies be at peace in the womb. There is already too much competition in the world.” A young mother agrees. “If there were coaching classes to teach babies to start walking at two months, people would enroll for them too,” she says.


FOOD SPECIAL...Will The Real King Of Fruits Please Stand Up?

Everybody has their favourite mango (and will shoot anyone who disagrees)

A FACEBOOK discussion (no, read: Debate; on second thought, read: War) about which is India’s best mango sparked off this little survey. We took our own opinion poll in the office and just about prevented homicidal violence. Shouts of “Alphonso!” “No, Langda!” “Rubbish, Daseri!” “Are you mad? Of course it’s the Alphonso!” “You’re crazy! How can it not be the Chausa?” etc filled the air. We finally struck an uneasy peace (“Oh all right, each to his own”) but the delicate matter of which is India’s best mango remains. So we asked a smattering of foodies and mango lovers to pick a favourite from over 400 varieties available in India. Here’s what they said:
Cogshall, Dot, Duncan, Glenn, Haden, Kent, Torbert, Valencia Pride, Van Dyke, Zill, Bai ley’s Marvel, Beverly from USA
My favourite mango is the Hapus from Mumbai. But only if you call it Hapus. I am not prepared to gush over some Portuguese Alphonso. The best way to enjoy any mango (other than in its natural form) is to make a mango Bellini: 30 per cent mango pulp and 70 per cent Prosecco (Italian white wine) or any other sparkling wine. It is a summer drink that allows you to enjoy the best of India in an international manner. I also like the raw mangoes that they use in Kerala as a souring agent in their food. But I fear that the rest of us do not do mangoes enough justice as cooking ingredients.

Professor of Indian Cultures and Cinema, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The first ‘mango’ I had was in Sharwood’s mango chutney. My mother used to make me cheese and chutney sandwiches when I was a kid. My first real mango was at university and it was love at first bite. I love Hapus mangoes. The aroma is the first assault on the senses. The plump and distinctive shape is that of the paisley while the bright orange colour is joyful. I love the smooth and slightly oily texture. I do have a second favourite though. This is the Kachi Kaeri or green mango, which I like in fresh pickle, dal, panna, any which way actually. However, I’ve never met an Indian who didn’t prefer mangoes from the region where they grew up. I would like to go to the equivalent of a wine tasting to be able to compare mangoes one day.

Author of India: Thecookbook and Gourmet journeys in India

My favourite mango is the Daseri because I acquired the taste as a child. The Malihabadi Daseri is superior to any Hapus. The daseri is aromatic, fleshy and has a thin skin. No Alphonso matches the Daseri. Also the hapus is very expensive and overrated. The Langda from Benaras is another favourite. Mangoes rule our hearts and we can eat them in many forms, right from aam panna to aam ka achaar. The joy of eating a mango cannot be fathomed. Whether it’s chutney or aam papad, mangoes can be enjoyed in every form.

Chef consultant, gourmand and food connoisseur

My favourite is  Hapus(also known as the Alphonso) since it is the king of mangoes. It has a rich, luscious flavour. Apart from eating it just as a fruit, it tastes great in a salad or as a puree with seafood and/or chicken
Totapuri is another favourite. It has great flavour, it’s cheaper and as a result, more economical to use. The best part is you don’t have to wait for the Totapuri to ripen. I love to use it in a mango crumble pie or sorbet.

Executive chef, Indian Accent, The Manor, New Delhi

My favourite is the Malda, from Bihar. It's very fleshy and pulpy and gives you that satisfaction of eating a mango. Its seed is not very big and the skin is perfectly green. The best way to have the Malda is to eat it just like that. There's no need to cut it either. Peel it, eat it and enjoy!


Popular varieties of mangoes across the world include:
Brahm Kai Meu, Choc Anon, Fralan, Nam Doc Mai, Okrung, Pim Seng Mun from Thailand
Fairchild, Julie from Jamaica
Graham, Ice Cream from Trinidad
Jakarta from Java and Singapore
Maha Chinook from Singapore
Irwin from Mexico, Ecuador and
Peru Keitt, Manilita from Mexico
Kensington from Australia
Lancetilla from Honduras
Madame Francis from Haiti

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MUSIC AND HEALTH SPECIAL..Mozart as medicine

Music doesn’t just lift spirits, it’s also a therapeutic tool. Among the active proponents of its healing power in India are Australian cricketer Brett Lee and a DG at Delhi’s Tihar Jail

    On the cricket field, the sound of stumps flying is music to Brett Lee’s ears. Off the field, Mozart is the only music he wants to hear. Lee, who’s known more for making batsmen sway with his bouncer bombs, is handy with the bass guitar and is also one-half of the band White Shoe Theory, along with lead vocalist Mick Vawdon. Whether it was for his guitar-playing skills or the blonde surfer boy looks one doesn’t know, but fans, especially female, were something the band never had to work too hard to find whenever they toured India.
    But music isn’t just how Lee cools off. It’s an integral part of his life. If it weren’t for music, he says, he wouldn’t be the celebrity he is today. Born to a metallurgist and a piano teacher, music was something the Lee household was never without, and watching his mother play the piano is what drew him to music.
    In a career that has included many
highs and as many lows — thirteen surgeries and a broken marriage — music was what Lee leaned on to keep himself sane and motivated. He recalls an incident when he was 17 and an elbow injury had nearly ended his cricket dream. “The doctor told me I would never bowl, let alone play the guitar,” he says. But I persevered, and music helped me get through that dark patch. Music has cheered me up after a bad day of cricket or even during a personal crisis. It’s been great to me.”
    Intended to help others through similarly gloomy days is Lee’s gift to India —a non-profit foundation called Mewsic. Established in 2011, Mewsic has set up music centres in slums and NGOs in five states, and has given child labourers, street kids and other disadvantaged children the opportunity to learn to sing, dance and play instruments. “Music has so many therapeutic uses,” the cricketermusician remarks. “Because of my love for music and the role it played in my life, where it helped me to stand on my feet literally, I know it can help so many others, especially kids.”
    Emily Harrison, an Australian who heads the Brett Lee foundation and oversees the running of the music centres, says the latter currently reach out to almost 550 children, some of whom once worked as labourers and rag pickers. “The kids have really embraced the idea and they take it seriously. It’s important to give them the opportunity to be able to do something, and I’m proud of that. The belief they take from this training or therapy could kick-start their life,” says Lee proudly. Mewsic is also in the process of launching a curriculum to teach subjects such as maths and English through music — a curriculum that stimulates the creative side of the brain, which makes content easier to remember.
    Lee’s latest project is the Music Therapy Academy in New Delhi in collaboration with the UK-based Music Therapy Trust. The academy will train Indian music professionals to use music as a therapeutic tool in working with children with autism, disabilities and trauma and offer a post-graduate diploma course in clinical music therapy. The prerequisite for getting enrolled at the academy is that prospective students should be able to play one or two Indian or Western instruments like the sitar or guitar. At present, six students are enrolled at the academy. “This will generate a network of qualified trained professionals who could help many more people,” Lee says.
    Apart from Lee, there are many other proponents of music therapy, among them the officials at Delhi’s Tihar Jail. Stress levels and grief are, naturally, constant companions of inmates, but the introduction of music rooms — part of the prison’s innovative rehabilitation schemes — has seen gloomy faces transform into smiling, creative ones. In the past one year, workshops on Hindi and Western classical music, Bengali music and Bollywood music have seen a phenomenal response from the inmates. Delhi-based bands such as Menwhopause and Ska Vengers have been actively involved in creating better music facilities and developing talent in what is the largest prison complex in South Asia. They have organised workshops and even donated instruments like drum sets, tablas, keyboards and amplifiers.
    So popular has the initiative been that the inmates have formed their own band, Flying Souls — consisting of three convicts and seven remand prisoners — who do a mixture of covers and even originals. Tihar Jail DG Neeraj Kumar, who is a keen advocate of music for inmates, says he was so “pleasantly surprised” by the depth of talent among prisoners that he started a ‘Tihar Idol’ competition to select inmates who will cut a commercially produced album. “Prisoners vent and give release to creative energies, and we are trying to reform them through music,” Kumar said in an interview last week, adding that access to musical instruments even cured a female inmate of her suicidal tendencies.
    Vishala Khurana, along with younger sister Kamakshi, is a trained vocalist who never quite believed in music’s healing powers despite the fact that her father, Harendra Khurana, has been practising music therapy for 35 years. Today, the sisters run Sound Space, a series of workshops that “provide alternative, non-medicinal healing, using music and sound therapy”.
    “In layman’s terms, music affects everybody,” says the soft-spoken Vishala. “And there’s a reason for it. Music works on the left and right side of the brain. A regular rhythm like in Mozart’s music — one beat per second — can help you think logically. Instrumental music affects the right side of the brain.” Sound Scape offers different programs
for both adults and children, which use sound and music in tandem with meditation, dance and yoga. Harendra Khurana has treated everyone from dancers with chronic backaches to cops with spondylitis. He chants beeja mantras or sacred vowels that resonate with the body’s energy chakras to opening up particular chakras. Each chakra has its own beeja mantra. It is believed that when the chakras are well balanced and energised, the body glows with health and wellness.
    Lucanne Magill, a trainer at the Music Therapy Academy, supports the theory. “India is one of the very few countries where people have a deep understanding of the connection between music and healing. But it is not developed as a prescriptive therapy,” she has said in an interview.
    Dealing with non-believers is something the Khuranas do on a daily basis. “We don’t claim to cure you of your physical ailments but we will help you deal with them better,” says Vishala. “And all it takes is one session for people to change their mind.”

Music therapy is no new-fangled mantra. As old as the Hippocratic oath, it is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualised goals. Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and this stimulation has been shown to help in development of language and speech functions, to promote socialisation and development of communication, selfexpression and motor skills.
    Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder have been found to respond very positively to music and many, in fact, display high levels of musical skill. Music encourages verbal as well as non-verbal communication and promotes social interaction and relatedness. It is a valuable outlet for self-expression and creativity. It has also been successfully used in pain management by providing a distraction from the painful stimulus as well as a means of relaxation and stress alleviation.


WOMEN SPECIAL...Online forum to help working women network

While men in the corporate world have several outlets like a bigger social network or drinking buddies to deal with pressures in personal and professional lives, women often do not find a support group to seek solutions to their problems or enough networking opportunities to excel professionally.
A new online forum seeks to change all that by helping working women to sort out their issues while offering a platform to network.
The venture,, is the brainchild of Apurva Purohit, chief executive officer of a large media company who has over two decades experience in the corporate world.
This is a platform where women from all walks of life can come together and optimise their online social networking time to further their professional and personal growth, Purohit said.
“For instance, an employee from one of the big five consulting firms recently got in touch with the forum saying she’d just had a baby and there was a lot of pressure from her in-laws to give up her job. She wasn’t very keen on quitting and sought assistance from the forum members on the possible solutions. The members responded sharing their personal experiences with similar situation and how they tackled it,” said Purohit.
“A lot of women today are grappling with this problem and they go through that guilt trip, feeling it is only happening with them. But when they get to know about how others have dealt with similar issues, they realise the problem is not so grave and that there are ways to solve it.”
The forum members use the platform to connect and explore possible opportunities related to their profession/business, she said.
“One of the things I realised is that women were not networking enough. While multi-tasking with their responsibilities at work and at home, there is no room left for after-office networking. This I believe is actually coming in their way of their further growth,” said Purohit. That was the driving factor behind developing a women-only online forum which would also do on-the ground activities. Its first on-the-ground networking session in Mumbai saw participation from nearly 100 women.
“Operational since last two months, the website boasts of around 500 users from across the globe. In fact, we have started receiving proposals from like-minded women from the US to start an international chapter,” said Purohit.

FOOD SPECIAL...Why oats are finally getting recognised as human food

 It is almost impossible to read anything on oats which doesn't reference Samuel Johnson's snarky definition of them as "a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people". Johnson later admitted he put it that way to annoy the Scots, but in fact, as HE Jacob, in his idiosyncratic history, 6000 Years of Bread, the same prejudice was held by the Greeks against the Scythians, and the Romans against the Germans, the fact that they shared their oats with their horses. Jacob points out that oats have "peculiarities which did not endear it to men". They have a tendency to revert to wilder forms, with smaller grains and larger beards (indigestible threads on the oat heads). This makes them hard for humans to use, but poses no problems to livestock so they were fed to them. And that doomed oats because " wh o would wish to eat from the same board as an animal?" Even in India, where oats are non-native, the earliest references to them are from the Mughals for their horses.
    Which is why it is good to read the Supreme Court of India's judgment in the case of Collector of Customs, Madras vs K Ganga Setty, 1962. This concerned a Mr Setty of
    Balakrishna Flour Mills who had imported oats from Australia to feed racehorses. Mr Setty assumed that this counted as fodder, which required no special import license, but customs officials at Madras saw the oats as grains, regardless of who was going to eat them, and grains required a special license.
    The High Court had ruled in Mr Setty's favour, but the Supreme Court overruled the verdict, writing firmly: "Without resorting to Johnson's famous definition of 'oats' in his Dictionary, it is sufficient to point out that oats, though they may serve as food for horses, is also used as human food". So what I would like to know is why, 50 years after such a categoric verdict, is it still so hard to get oats in India? If I want them, it still looks like I'll have to haunt the racecourse and filch some from the horses' feed! You might point out that oats are widely available now, much recommended by nutritionists and sold under wellknown brand names, along with recipes for oat dosas and oat laddoos. But these are rolled oats, which are oats grains that are steamed, so they are pre-cooked, and then rolled flat. Real oats are available as whole groats, or roughly chopped (pinhead oats) or milled into varying degrees of oatmeal. These take longer to cook, and can go rancid quite soon, because oats have more fats than most grains. But they also have a sweeter, earthier taste and most likely much more nutritive benefits.
    Porridge made with oatmeal of this kind is what sustained Gandhi as a student in London and he was appreciative: "A splendid dish especially in winter", he wrote in a guide for other Indian students that he started compiling in South Africa, but never finished. He gives the simple instructions for making it: "You can stir one ounce of oatmeal into a sufficient quantity of water and put it on the oil stove. If it is fine oatmeal, the porridge would be ready in 20 minutes. If it is coarse, it would take 30 minutes". In Scotland where this is the great staple food, frugal Scots would only make this with water, but Gandhi sensibly suggests making it with milk and eating it with sugar and stewed fruit.
Made properly (lots of stirring) this tastes like familiar Indian porridge-like dishes made with rice or ragi or broken wheat. Made with milk and sugar it can even taste like a thick kheer. If you get the balance of grains and liquid right, the starch from the oats will bind them in a way that is luscious rather than gluey, and even skim milk can be made to seem creamy. Perhaps Indians have a knack for this, because Jan Morris, in one of her travel books reported from Darjeeling how "the porridge at 'The Windamere' hotel is, I am told by unimpeachable authorities, unsurpassed in Scotland…"
Even if real oats aren't available, let me admit that rolled oats can also deliver this creamy satisfaction, and faster too. You can also use soya milk, which oats even manage to make interesting, bringing
    out pleasant fruity notes. If you're adventurous, try them made with coconut milk for a strong and rich tasting dish. You can put them in a blender and make a quasi-oatmeal that can be used for pancakes or oatcakes that have a lovely nutty taste.
    But the best use of rolled oats is in cookies where they can be used directly since they are pre-cooked. Rolled oat cookies just need some sweetening, hot water or milk to bind them into a gluey mass, and egg to keep them together as they bake. Add nuts or chocolate chips and you'll have oats in a form so good that even an Englishman wouldn't feed them to the horses.

PERSONAL GADGET SPECIAL..Breaking the Smartphone Addiction

Excerpt from Sleeping With Your Smartphone

It all began with an experiment that my research associate and collaborator, Jessica Porter, and I initiated in order to explore whether one six-person "case team" at one of the world's most elite and demanding professional service firms—The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)—could work together to ensure that they each could truly disconnect from work for a scheduled unit of time each week. This modest experiment generated such powerful results-not just for individuals' work lives but for the team's work process and ultimately the client—that the experiment was expanded to more and more of BCG's teams. Four years later, over nine hundred BCG teams from thirty countries on five continents had participated.
Sleeping with Your Smartphone shares BCG's story. It also serves as a guide for anyone who is on a team or leads a team—whether a junior or senior manager, from big organizations or small, in the United States or abroad—and wants to make the impossible possible: turning off more, while improving the work process itself. Sleeping with Your Smartphone proposes a way to make exactly that happen: a process tested successfully by BCG teams in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. A process I have seen implemented with good and not-so-good managers; on big and small teams, with tight deadlines and less pressing deliverables. A process that I have come to call "PTO"—because at the core, when people work together to create "predictable time off," people, teams, and ultimately the organization all stand to benefit.
To be clear, PTO won't solve all your problems. Nor is it about being always off in a world that is always on. Rather, it is about incremental changes that promise to improve your work-life and your work in ways that make them notably better.

Creating Change Where No One Could Even Imagine It

I chose to conduct the original experiment at The Boston Consulting Group because there was widespread skepticism about the possibility of such hard-charging professionals turning off. "It has to be this way," explained one consultant, echoing many of his colleagues. "It is the nature of the work. Clients pay huge sums of money and expect—and deserve—the highest-quality service."
"When people work together to create 'predictable time off,' people, teams, and ultimately the organization all stand to benefit."
Most consultants simply accepted the resulting demands on their time as the price they had to pay for annual salaries of well over $100,000 for recent business school graduates to millions of dollars for the most senior partners, as well as for unequaled exposure to colleagues and clients of the highest caliber working together to tackle pressing problems faced by the world's leading organizations, not to mention résumé building work experience. Moreover, many actually thrived on the intensity of the work and did not want it to be different. Even those who wanted more time for their personal lives presumed they had no alternative but to leave the firm to achieve it, and many did, including some of BCG's most talented consultants. I figured that if change could be fostered here, it could be made to happen most anywhere.
Imagine my delight then, when four years after we conducted our first experiment at BCG's Boston office, 86 percent of the consulting staff in the firm's Northeast offices—including Boston, New York, and Washington, DC—were on teams engaged in similar PTO experiments. These team members were much more likely than their colleagues on teams not participating in PTO to rate their overall satisfaction with work and work-life positively. For example:
·                            51 percent (versus 27 percent) were excited to start work in the morning
·                            72 percent (versus 49 percent) were satisfied with their job
·                            54 percent (versus 38 percent) were satisfied with their work-life balance
We also discovered that significantly more of those on PTO teams found the work process to be collaborative, efficient, and effective.
·                            91 percent (versus 76 percent) rated their team as collaborative
·                            65 percent (versus 42 percent) rated their team as doing everything it could to be efficient
·                            74 percent (versus 51 percent) rated their team as doing everything it could to be effective
The happy result for BCG was that individuals engaged in PTO experiments were more likely to see themselves at the firm for the long term (58 percent versus 40 percent) and were more likely to perceive that they were providing significant value to their clients (95 percent versus 84 percent). BCG clients reported a range of experiences with PTO teams from neutral (nothing dropped through the cracks) to extremely positive (they reaped significant benefits). According to BCG's CEO, Hans-Paul Bürkner, the process unleashed by these experiments "has proven not only to enhance work-life balance, making careers much more sustainable, but also to improve client value delivery, consultant development, business services team effectiveness, and overall case experience. It is becoming part of the culture—the future of BCG."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

COOK SPECIAL...Turn off the gas. Roast, toast and brew in the sun

From sun tea and sun-dried tomatoes to aam papad and sun-cooked jam, use the blistering heat to your advantage this summer

I like the sun in small doses, but I don’t handle very well the sort of heat we’ve been having lately, and I do tend to complain about being cooked by the sun. Then, last weekend, I helped my mother and our maharaj prepare a year’s worth of chunda, a spicy-sweet mango preserve typically made in summer, and I realised that instead of cribbing about the heat, I could put the sun’s energy to some good use.
For hundreds of years, housewives, particularly in India, have used the sun to dry produce for use around the year. I have now joined their ranks, having spent the past month trying out different sun recipes on my balcony.
I have so far enjoyed considerable success with aam papad and sundried tomatoes. I was thrilled to successfully make aam papad or mango leather — something my grandmother made for us as kids. She would lay layers of mango purée out on a thali in the sun until they were reduced to thin, elastic film. We would wait impatiently for the fruit to dry out into luscious, golden-yellow, tangy goodness.
Aam papad is very easy to make: Just puree a cup of mango and spread thinly on a baking sheet or steel thali lined with 3 gm ghee. Cover with a net or muslin cloth and place in the sun. Take in at night, to prevent damage from dew. Continue until the mango is no longer sticky and has developed a smooth surface. You will know it is done when it easily peels off the thali. Roll into a cylinder and store in an airtight box.
You can dry apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums and strawberries in the same manner.
For the sun-dried tomatoes, slice cherry tomatoes or spoon tomatoes in half, sprinkle lightly with salt, olive oil, pepper and mixed herbs and spread out on a screen or flour sieve. Place in the sun until dry. Depending on the weather and the size of your tomatoes, this could take anywhere from four to seven days. Cover with a muslin cloth to keep insects and dust out and allow ventilation. Like the aam papad, you will need to bring it in at night, to prevent damage from dew.
This past month, I have also made sun tea, something my cousin, tea sommelier Snigdha Manchanda Binjola, first told me about. “Sun tea is the perfect antidote to summer laziness,” she always says. Snigdha warns, however, that brewing sun tea can encourage the growth of bacteria if left out for too long, so be careful.
That said, any tea can be brewed in the sun. So, for me, some days it’s English Breakfast with a slice of lemon and a few sprigs of mint; other days, it’s an Assam tea with sliced apple, cinnamon and cloves. Just combine and leave where the sun is hottest, for two to four hours. Then savour still warm from the sun, or have chilled, as iced tea.
Sun tea is much more mellow than regular tea, but the slow steeping really brings out the flavours — so herbal and floral teas work particularly well.
During my experiments with the sun, I remembered my friend Selin Rozanes, who conducts Turkish cooking tours in Istanbul, pointing to colorful bowls of jam lined up on balconies and in backyards. Turkish housewives often use the hot summer sun to finish cooking their jams and marmalades, Selin had said, adding that jams matured in the sun last longer and never crystallise.
This brought me full circle to the Gujarati chunda my grandmother made every year, which was cooked slowly for up to 20 days in the summer sun.

Inspired, I decided to try a sun-cooked preserve.
Alongside is the menu, so that you can try it too
1/3 cup garlic, finely chopped 1/3 cup red chillies, finely chopped 10 peppercorns
2 cloves 8 large, semi-ripe mangoes, diced, stones reserved 12 red globe grapes, halved
1 tsp rock salt 3 cups sugar 2 cups wine vinegar 125 gm pitted red raisins
Soak chillies, garlic and spices in the vinegar for one hour. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Combine mangoes, stones and grapes in a bowl. Add salt and leave for 15 minutes. Add vinegar mixture to fruit mixture. Stir in raisins and mix well.
Transfer to a large flat tray. Cover with a muslin cloth and sun cook for three to four days (taking in at night to protect from dew), until mixture is reduced to jammy consistency.
Transfer to a bottle, discarding stones, and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Serve as a chutney or on a cheese board with stinkier cheeses.


The Transformer

To change a habit, first understand what aspect of the behaviour needs to change, says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

When covering the war in Iraq a decade ago, New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg came across an unusual experiment in Kufa. Located an hour away from Baghdad, the army major posted there was trying to stop riots in the city which were breaking out with alarming regularity. "The first thing he did was to request the Mayor of the city to clear all the food vendors from the streets," says Duhigg. The next day, the crowds started gathering in the streets, and by early evening, had reached a sizeable number. The army was on stand-by. By 5 pm, people started wandering off looking for the kebab vendors who usually plied their wares there. After searching in vain, the crowds gradually started trickling off looking for food and by 8 pm, the streets had cleared out and the riot was averted. In fact, after the major arrived, there were no further riots in the city, says Duhigg. The major let on that studying habit formation and alteration was something that the US Army paid close attention to. To change habits, it was critical to understand the key triggers behind them, which may not necessarily seem obvious at first glance.
    Once back, this experiment stayed with Duhigg and eventually formed the genesis of his newly-released book, The Power of Habit. "I started seeing everyday things in terms of habits, and carried out a few experiments of my own as well," he says.
    Duhigg realised that he would take a cookie break at work every afternoon. To try and get out of this habit, he tried a series of alternatives, from drinking tea to going for a walk to just going up to the cafeteria and chatting with people at the time he normally took his cookie break. At the end of these experiments, he realised that it wasn't the chocolate chip cookie which was driving him to take the break, but the opportunity it presented to socialise with his colleagues in the middle of the work day. Having figured that out, Duhigg started getting up from his desk at about the same time he'd take his break and instead go up to a coworker's desk and gossip for ten minutes instead. The result: He got out of the daily cookie-eating pattern, he was still satisfied with the end result of the break, and was 30 pounds lighter to boot!
    "A habit has three components," he says, "the cue which is the trigger for the behaviour, the routine, which is the actual behaviour and the reward which is how the brain remembers it." In his case, the cue was 3.30 in the afternoon, and the reward, the thought was eating the cookie. It was only later that he realised that the reward was socialising and the cookie was the routine. Once he realised that he would still feel as satisfied even if he skipped eating the cookie, it was easier for the new habit to be formed.
    "Changing habits is mostly focussed on the second stage, but the first and third are more important," says Duhigg. That is also why most attempts to change existing habits tend to fail miserably. He further classifies some habits into 'keystone' habits, or quite simply, habits which cause a chain reaction and change other behaviour patterns and habits as well.
Citing the instance of former Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neill when he took charge of the company, Duhigg narrates how O'Neill shocked analysts by telling them that his priority as CEO was going to be improving worker safety. There was no mention of improving performance or profitability, just the goal of aiming for zero accidents and making Alcoa the safest company in the United States. Interestingly though, a year later, the company's profits hit a record high and by the time O'Neill retired over a decade later, the stock was worth five times more than when he had taken over.
    "A trigger like this creates a common set of values which changes how the company thinks about itself," says Duhigg. That ultimately changes the company's culture and triggers a series of small wins. "This way, people feel that they can be a part of the change and this brings about a sense of momentum to everything they do," he says. At Alcoa, encouraging open communication on improving worker safety also led to more communication on how other aspects of the business could be improved and started a chain reaction which resulted in better numbers for the company.
    Marketers have wisened up to the influence habits have on shopper behaviour and are using this to anticipate and influence customer behaviour. By reaching out to consumers during periods of change can result in them giving the retailer more business than usual. For instance, US department store Target analyses the consumer data, to be able to predict what stage of pregnancy a customer is in and accordingly, send appropriate coupons (along with other unrelated ones to ensure that the customer doesn't get alarmed). All of this goes far beyond simple analytics to understand what habits drive specific behaviours.
 Changing habits is more about understanding how to change your behaviour rather than actually changing it.
 Once you know how has to be done, you'd be surprised (says Duhigg) at how easy it can be.

—— Priyanka Sangani —— ETCD120518


ConAgra Foods' green strategy: Award employees for sustainability efforts

Last year, ConAgra Foods -- the U.S. packaged-foods company behind such well-known brands as Hunt's Ketchup and Reddi-Wip -- saved millions of dollars while dramatically cutting its energy consumption. It accomplished this by not relying on major process changes or heavy investments hailing from top executives. Instead, it turned to its employees.

The accomplishments stemmed from an awards program, launched in 1992, developed to encourage employees to proactively look for ways to eliminate waste and reduce water and energy consumption. By allowing different divisions to set their own sustainability goals and awarding employees that met those goals, the Nebraska food giant saved 300 million gallons of water, eliminated 61,000 tons of landfill waste and reduced its carbon emissions by more than 43,000 metric tons. These efforts also saved the company $28 million.
Gail Tavill, ConAgra's vice president of sustainable development, spoke with GreenBiz about how the program works, lessons learned and challenges the program has faced. 
GreenBiz: How did you reduce water usage by 300 million gallons of water?
Tavill: Almost half of that was from one manufacturing facility. The winner this year was a potato processing facility, which reduced water by 24 percent -- 150 million gallons -- by tracking daily water usage and posting daily metrics in the plant. That gave employees awareness about how much was being used and where. They did not invest a whole lot in this, it was more about green awareness from the metrics posted. Within six months, the water reduction began because of employee efforts, and not the re-engineering of processes. The team did simple things like changing nozzles and finding out where water was wasted, then found ways to avoid it. In terms of expenses, it was a month's payback.
GreenBiz: Where did the balance of the water savings come from?
Tavill: Our pudding factory saved about 5 million gallons of water. A frozen foods plant in Arkansas put together a drip team that located drips wherever they found them, and fixing drips led to water savings. What we found on water conservation is it's really more behaviorally-based, rather than requiring capital-intensive projects.
GreenBiz: So was there thoughtless wastage before?
Tavill: Here's a conundrum we face -- water is undervalued. Any business focuses on things with high value. Until we made water usage a goal, it wasn't a focus because water is cheap. Until we started to give water a business value beyond dollars, it wasn't a priority. That is why we made water conservation a specific target when we set sustainability goals two years ago.
GreenBiz: Did employee attitude make the difference in energy conservation too?
Tavill: Energy continues to be a big area for us to work on -- there are a lot of savings associated with it. It also tends to be more capital intensive than other areas like reducing water use. We're looking at how much we can save through behavior improvements and how much through capital investments, so we're working hard on balancing both sides. We went into this thinking we'd have to save energy with capital investments and we're finding there's a lot of opportunity to save energy through behavior improvements.
GreenBiz: How did you communicate the goals from top down to the divisions and then to the shop floor?
Tavill: Solid waste is my particular passion with solid opportunities for our divisions. We set a goal to divert at least 75 percent of our solid waste from landfills to other uses. We knew some of it went to animal feed and so on but we didn't track it, so the first challenge we had was that we had no data. We knew there was opportunity there, both from cost savings and cost avoidance, so we set that goal.
We then spent the first six months collecting that data. We spoke to suppliers and we worked with the farmers to whom we divert food waste for animal feed. Then we looked at how to handle this -- is composting better? We knew diverting from landfill was important, so I spoke to the [US Environmental Protection Agency], used their hierarchy for handling waste, then told our management we wanted to use this for our facilities.
For food waste, we used EPA hierarchy to move up the value chain, and for packaging we tried to reduce or recycle and also reduce what we sent to landfills.
We set individual goals for manufacturing facilities and threw out a challenge to them: The company would recognize anyone who reduced waste by 95 percent. I have been absolutely thrilled with how quickly our factories have gotten onboard with this. We passed our 75 percent diversion goal already and we are closer to 90 percent diversion.
Now we are focusing on reduction of actual waste generated -- not only landfill, but also that which we divert.
GreenBiz: What about reducing packaging?
Tavill: It's really just putting a new name on something that's been going on for years -- packaging professionals have worked on less expensive packaging for a long time, but now it's termed "sustainable." Design goals have focused on using less material, less resources and therefore less money.
One of the dangers of reducing packaging too much is that it could allow the food to spoil, so we're very sensitive to that.
Traditionally, when you buy something in an aerosol can, it's in a three-piece metal can with epoxy coating. That technology hasn't changed in decades. We found an opportunity to work with a company to change that to a two-piece can and in converting to that process, we found ways to dramatically reduce the steel needed and use much less chemicals to create the can itself. The product ended up having superior quality, and it took less energy and material to manufacture.
So it really hit that sweet spot of performance, cost and environmental benefits. PAM and Reddi-Whip cans use this new technology, which comes from a new supplier.
GreenBiz: What are some lessons learned from this process?
Tavill: One of the biggest lessons we learned is that waste is a cultural phenomenon, in that when you manufacture something, since the industrial revolution, a certain amount of waste is considered acceptable as part of doing business. So challenging that thinking was one of our issues.
The financial accounting of waste materials has no value in our systems, which we found when we dug into those streams going to landfills or compost or animal feed, so we began thinking of their environmental value and how to push them up the hierarchy value.
For example, we make meat snacks. When we make them in long strips and cut it into pieces, you lose the ends. The waste generated was then diverted to landfills. They were edible but ugly looking, so we put together a proposal with a food rescue organization close to our facility to take that waste and repackage it for people who are food insecure. So we've diverted more than a million servings of protein from landfills to help feed those people.
We're constantly looking under rocks for opportunities to avoid waste and divert it to food rescue and other outlets.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Association, between them, represent most of our industry and have policies and best practices on food waste. We work with them on addressing those issues, since we waste a lot of food in this country.
GreenBiz: Were there challenges in getting different divisions on board with these goals, given they have their own bottom-line concerns?
Tavill: We knew we had to have external goals, so we went through an internal process where we worked to build the goals from the bottom up so they could buy into it, and we also worked with our leadership teams, so that when we proposed the goals they'd be happy to communicate it. So we worked top down and bottom up. You make an important point about each division having their own goals and checks and balances.
Not all plants or products were created equal, so we couldn't set the same goals. So when we began, we knew that our potato process facility would have more impact on our water goal than our popcorn plant. On the other hand, the microwave popcorn plants could deliver much bigger results in terms of waste reduction or diversion.
So we didn't unilaterally say every plant would have a set goal, since that wouldn't make sense.
The reason we do these awards is for these plants to strive to reach best practices goals that can be communicated across the company. It's easy to share it passively by posting goals or sending it out, but it's more effective to set goals and reward divisions or plants and have these facilities talk to each other about how they went about it. It's easier than for them to come to us -- when they talk to each other, that's when it's really rewarding for us.
Published May 10, 2012