Delicious Desire: Making Sense of the ‘Nutella Riots’ in France

Hazelnut Nutella Riots

Delicious Desire (Source: Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash)

On the morning of January 26th 2018, BBC News reported rioting after a chain of supermarkets in France announced a deep discount on Nutella:

A discount on Nutella has led to violent scenes in a chain of French supermarkets, as shoppers jostled to grab a bargain on the sweet spread.Intermarché supermarkets offered a 70% discount on Nutella, bringing the price down from €4.50 (£3.90) to €1.40.But police were called when people began fighting and pushing one another.”They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand,” one customer told French media.

It was surprising to read of this behavior in a country that is extolled worldwide for its superior cuisine, wines and desserts, not to mention a culture that is based on acting out the principles of civilized, secular science. The video, embedded in the news, shows healthy, well dressed and not starving individuals of Northern European extraction, (not newly arrived unwashed immigrants), who came to blows over the price of a processed food like Nutella.

In this instance, we can rule out desire arising out of biological hunger as a driver. Also, an attachment to tradition and heritage as a dynamic, was not in play here. Addiction to sugar and chocolate? Perhaps, especially when it is deeply discounted by 70%.   This may well be the trope for the 21st century consumer, programmed as we are by advertising and marketing memes to look for discounts and consume brand name processed foods, that make us acquire desires in the current socio-cultural milieu.

Desires and Fears

At any moment, our actions are driven by a combination of our personal desires and fears that are constantly interacting with the fears and desires of others around us.  In the microcosm, as we saw in the Nutella ‘riots’, desires play out as acquiring a commercially processed food at a low cost, on one hand, with the fear of losing out on the deep discount, on the other,

Then, there is the ladder of fall, when apparently civilized adult humans lose their capacity for judgement.   Modern biology tells us that humans use their forebrain to make judgements, and the capacity to make sound judgements kicks in fully by the age of 26. If this is true and the Nutella ‘rioters’ were, from the video, apparently much older, what went askew with their judgement capacity?

The Downward Spiral

My ancient tradition tells me that when desires are not met, we lose the capacity of judgement. The ladder of fall is described in these following steps:

  • When our energies attach themselves to an object that identifies our well-being, the desire arises to acquire, control and consume that object [Nutella].
  • When these desires are not met as expected (more on expectations in a later blog post), it leads to frustration [not getting our hands on the deeply discounted Nutella].
  • Frustration [of desire being unfulfilled] leads to anger.
  • Anger leads to loss of judgement [apparent loss of access to forebrain capability].
  • Loss of judgement leads to violence. This was in ample evidence in the video in the linked article.

What we see, in the relatively less hurtful and harmful microcosm of the ‘Nutella riots’, can happen to any of us individually, and amplified into group dynamics: desires not met to our expectations, rising frustration not resolved, mounting anger looking for action, culminating in indiscriminate violence and hurt.

Does this feel familiar to you, in your immediate surroundings and in the country you are living in, as well?

(Some of you may have recognized that I am referencing the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2, verses 62-63, when I reference the downward spiral from my ancient traditions above).



Parenting Your Child in the Age of STEM

Coping Strategy in Age of STEM

Parents who connect with me under the 21BanyanTree often come for advice on how to manage the challenges of raising children these days. One common theme revolves around the intense competition in schools and growing anxiety about academics and helping their child navigate digital social interactions.  Mothers and fathers express feeling helpless and this sense of helplessness creates an anxiety spiral in the family.

The starting point of the anxiety spiral begins with worry about test scores, especially in STEM-related coursework, and the need for the child to excel in this area for future success.  The other concern, given the increase in online bullying, is how children might be interacting with each other on social media. Even the most educated, professional and well-meaning parent finds control slipping away as the child enters high school.

Why has this feeling of parental helplessness become pervasive and what can we do to get out of the anxiety spiral?

Self-help books suggest breathing and problem-solving techniques, and to focus on the positives, to influence and reduce your child’s anxiety.  These techniques work for some and not everyone.  The 21BanyanTree Coaching practice takes a different tack.  Our technique focusses on helping identify specific patterns of desires and fears, common to most parents, and the triggers that kick-start the individual anxiety spiral. Only when these are patterns of desires and fears are identified, through the self-discovery process, can you learn to control and influence the triggers of anxiety.  There are no cookie-cutter solutions.

For simplicity, let’s consider one area of desire and fear that is common among many parents right now: specifically, the desire to maintain a particular level of social status, and the fear that their child may not have the earning power to match the desired social status.

The Desire for Social Status: Modern consumer societies encourage the individual to attain and maintain a level of physical and social ‘well-being’ signaled by what we own and consume, our educational qualification and profession, and so on. For some, a bank balance and stock value (aka net worth) is integral to the social status portfolio, for others origin-country and skin color or even accents signal social status. In many ways, we are habituated to monitor status signals, and any loss in our personal social status portfolio becomes a cause for anxiety.

Parents who desire a social status portfolio for their children may pressure them to take coursework [for e.g., several APs] to get into top-tier or near top-tier schools. Regardless of their interest or passion, children are encouraged to become doctors, engineers, investment bankers or tech entrepreneurs – professions and businesses that are viewed as providing the earning power to maintain the desired social status. Any indication of a decrease in the future social status portfolio, like lower grades that jeopardizes getting into the Honors or AP track, sends parental anxiety into a tail-spin.  To get the child ‘on track’, parents react with intense tutoring and restricted hours of play and down-time to control the environment.

The fear, corresponding to this desire, is that the child who cannot make it onto the STEM ramp will become a misfit, unable to succeed and make a living in a society that is rapidly becoming powered by AI.

To be fair, not all parents strongly desire or are compelled to motivate their child to acquire social status portfolios. Yet, even here, we’ve observed children become anxious and influenced by signals in schools [ranking by STEM education; eliminating or reducing coursework like art, or educing recess and play time, in favor of STEM classes], and peers on digital social media.

The problem underlying this current dynamic is driven by political, social and cultural considerations and cannot be solved individually in the short-term. What can parents do at the personal level, in addition to providing all the resources required to get onto the STEM ramp, to help themselves and their child in this environment?

Self-discovery:  Everyone has deeply embedded patterns of desires and fears, many we are not aware of and that we continually act upon.  Each pattern of desires and fears arises from our social, economic and cultural background.  The process of self-discovery begins with recognizing and acknowledging our social, economic and cultural selves.

One way is to visualize that we are all living in a dense socio-economic-cultural city of karmas that we’ve built on our collective sentient desires and fears accumulated over time.  In this city are hubs of karmas: the positive hubs shower us with peace, joy and calm, the negative hubs are painful, while others neutral.

To navigate this city of karmas, we first need to become aware of who we are and how we got here – that is how the city got built – before we can understand how our karmas affect us.

Self-discovery begins with the discovery of stories embedded in the three layers- biological, socio-economic and cultural, and personal –  that make up our individual configuration of desires and fears from birth.  When we become aware of our nature, of who we are in the karmic city, can we begin to manage our fears and desires.

There are many options available to managing anxieties arising around raising your child at this particular time. Medications are one and talk therapy is another.

The third option is guided self-discovery with a focus on uncovering the patterns of desires and fears that have most of us in the grip of the anxiety spiral.

At 21BanyanTree we focus on your unique story to help you discover your strengths and competencies as parents, and as individuals to disentangle yourself from the anxiety spiral.  We help you become the parent who can help your child navigate this apparently increasingly uncertain and ambiguous world.

Severe Astro Weather Alert January 27th to February 10th 2018

Eclipses occur when Earth, Sun and Moon Line Up On the Line of Nodes

In my 2018 annual Astro forecast I had indicated likelihood of two turbulent periods in 2018. Well, the first one (mid-January to mid-March) is here. And within that turbulence we may likely see a peak disturbance, which is the subject of this post. Each of us may experience this disturbance differently.

For approximately two weeks from January 27th to February 10th, 2018, the gravitational force fields connecting the Earth to Venus, Sun and Mercury will pass through a zone of turbulence. The turbulence zone is being created by the Moon’s orbit passing through the Earth-Sun gravitational force field.

One of the outcomes of such orbital intersections are eclipses which can be seen by the naked eye. In this case, a lunar eclipse on January 31st and solar eclipse on February 15th. However, it is not the physical outcome of the eclipses that impacts us: it is the gravitational field disturbance which arises due to the orbital intersections that gives rise to the impacts discussed and indicated here.

Such disturbed gravitational force field zones begin to be created approximately 6 weeks prior to the first of two eclipses (the solar and lunar eclipses usually happen in rapid succession, not necessarily in the same sequence, within two weeks. These sets of eclipses generally happen twice a year). The turbulence in the Sun-Earth gravitational field usually lasts 6 weeks after the second eclipse.

Turbulence in this field, which channels differently through each of us, and the Earth in general, may become apparent in different areas of our lives. The disturbance is further stirred and nuanced when the gravitational fields of other planets pass through the turbulence generated by the Moon’s orbit through the Sun-Earth force field.

The ascendant signs, that I am using to provide impact indications in this post, are based on the Systems Approach to Vedic Astrology framework. This framework uses sidereal computations to map the skies (which is the same as how NASA maps the skies), not the tropical zodiac (used by Western Astrologers, which does not take Earth’s precession into account).

If you do not have your Vedic astrology birth chart, please use the information on our contact information page. Connect with us via email with birth details (birth time, date, place). We will get back to you with your ascendant sign and ascendant degree in your birth chart.

Level of Impact of disturbance by Ascendant Sign

The January 27th to February 10th 2018 disturbance is likely to impact ascendant signs as follows:

Gemini, Leo, Aquarius: Relatively higher impact.

Virgo, Capricorn, Pisces, Libra, Aries, Taurus, Scorpio: Relatively moderate impact.

Sagittarius and Cancer: Relatively Low Impact.

Impact may be amplified on those with their birth chart ascendant degrees between 19 and 21, within each of the impact ranges identified above.

Having an accurate Vedic astrology ascendant degree is likely to help you understand your alert / readiness requirement level in this context.

Impact Assessment on Each Ascendant Sign (January 27th – February 10th 2018)

Aries: Some moderate impact may be seen in children, health and romance and partner / spouse relationship areas.

Taurus: Some moderate impact may be seen in home, assets, children, romance, and health areas.

Gemini: A relatively higher impact may be seen in areas of new initiatives, younger siblings / team members, home and asset issues and children and romance.

Cancer: Relatively low impact likely on general sense of well-being, younger siblings / team members, home and asset issues.

Leo: Relatively higher impact likely on health, career, younger siblings / team member issues.

Virgo: Some moderate impact likely on social status, health and general sense of well-being.

Libra: Some moderate impact may be experienced in income from investments / pensions, social status and health.

Scorpio: Some moderate impact may be experienced in career, passive income and relationship with spouse.

Sagittarius: Some low level impact likely on being less travel, good fortune, career and passive income.

Capricorn: Moderate impact may be experienced in health, travel, good fortune and career areas.

Aquarius: Relatively higher impact may be experienced in health, travel, good fortune and relationship with spouse / partner.

Pisces: A moderate level of impact may be seen in health and relationship with spouse / partner.

How to make use of and manage these potential impact indications

  1. The impact indications are to be seen as possibilities (with a high, moderate or low chances of being realized), not certainties.
  2. The alert is to help you pay attention to specific indicated areas and be a little more prepared.
  3. Slowing down, keeping low profile, being focused and attentive helps.

Navigating Ambiguity and Uncertainty in 2018 and Beyond


Devi in Meditation (c) Anuva Kalawar December 2018

Coming as I do from a deep and strong tradition of connecting with the Devi through contemplation, chanting and meditation, I use the lens of the ‘pre-modern’ to view the rational modern social and economic world I inhabit. This enables me to come up with different ways to navigate ambiguity and uncertainty than what can be found in the box of modernity.

The conceit of modernity dates to the publishing of The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes in the mid- 1600s. Modern man or woman began to see him/herself as rational and, thus, more mature. Structured, deductive thinking was given higher value and became the core of what is known as the European Enlightenment. One of the central tenets of this philosophical framework is that nature is dead, inert, and lacking of any spirit and, therefore, the Modern man and woman can dominate and exploit it without regard to consequences.  The consequence of this philosophy is the modernity paradigm that has produced the capital intensive carbon-based economy we now live in.

The academic and scientific establishment arising out of the European Enlightenment framework have further broadened and deepened the social construct of Hobbes to reach every nook and cranny of our lives. One organic outcome of this framework is the assembly line processes of education with its increasingly singular focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). It has also influenced the approach to health care based on the view that our bodies are part of nature, hence inert. Emotions and intellect are to be seen as arising out of the organic cellular interactions. Increasingly nature of human agency came to be suspect: it was seen as an extension of the material.

The modern individual in the 21st century is programmed to see themselves and the world around them in a particular rational manner: to look for cause-effect processes, and wait for confirmation from academics and scientists to tell them what those are.   Individuals acting on any memes without the blessings of science and academia are considered pre-modern and superstitious – even child-like and dangerous

Reliance on academia or science has made us less and less equipped to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty.  Our individual agency has gradually been eroded and outsourced to a scientific establishment that has often been found to be hand-in-glove with big business.

Modern rationality structures time and space through contracts. It teaches us that everything has to be a time and cost bound contract, whether it is written or verbal. These ubiquitous social contracts began with the one that Hobbes proposed in mid-17th century, as the basis for the modern national legal framework. The expected outcomes of these social contracts have become our portfolio of desires and fears.

Social contracts drive our actions, and when they fail our expectations of these outcomes fail.  Desires related to the expectations from the social contract collapse and fears take over as we increasingly find ourselves face to face with uncertainty and ambiguity. We are less and less equipped to deal with areas of life that have less obvious rational structure.  And as the fragile framework of modern rationality buckles under us, both adults and youth are left traumatized.

For adults, such break down of social contracts may arise from loss of spouse, children, jobs, homes, cars are outcomes of events where major social contracts have collapsed at our personal level. These are the big traumas many adults face, as they wander into uncertainty and ambiguity, as the fragile framework of modern rationality buckles under them.

Besides major social contracts, we engage in the myriad daily mini-social contracts. One of these unending contracts is STEM education which allows for tracing of performance on a daily basis and provides outcomes in grades. Failures are inbuilt into the processes which implement such contractual system. The individual student who is at the receiving end of outcomes of STEM contracts is (irrationally) blamed for the failed outcomes by the rationally constructed structures. Because the rational STEM educational process itself is too narrowly programmed, just like old-fashioned computer code. It does not have a way to deal with the inbuilt failure points in its delivery system. The result is many students in the modern educational students may end up seeing themselves as failures.

How did this state of affairs arise in a framework that promises individual liberty and pursuit of happiness?

Techno-Optimism to the Rescue

The ‘software will eat the world’ meme expressed by Marc Andreessen (designer – maker of the first user friendly web interface – Netscape – in the early 1990s and now a prominent Silicon Valley VC), and published in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, was peak of techno-optimism.

Post 2008 financial crisis and the great recession, techno-optimism became the savior paradigm. Software would eat the world: it would deliver goods and services to people much effectively and efficiently than people could. The consequence would be:

  • Labor would play increasingly smaller roles in creating and maintaining the social world.
  • There would be a move to universal basic income to ensure people do not starve and have basic minimum needs met.

STEM became the gospel to spread the good news of techno-optimism to the schools. Oracles were handed down from Silicon Valley.

In one fell swoop post 2008, funding for STEM streamed into public schools from the Federal and State governments. Testing schemes were put in place and educators ‘adapted’ to the new paradigm. Stories of student and teacher burn out began trickling out [in some schools teachers tried to bend the rules to help students pass tests.]

Eight years on, in 2016, social and economic ambiguity and uncertainty were still high: only a few young people were getting the high paying jobs in Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Most were floundering. Parents had adult children back at home after an expensive college experience. And software had not yet eaten the most dysfunctional sector of the economy: healthcare. The apparently massive systems solution put in place to support affordable health care ended up with confusion and higher costs for many, if not most, families.

The ‘software will eat the world’ meme has had its time on the national stage.

The new meme

We are now, in 2018, embedded in the make-America-great-again meme floated to take care of the social and economic ambiguity and uncertainty that we face. During the techno-optimism phase, stocks of companies such as Apple, Google (Alphabet) and Facebook rocketed up. Now, in very early 2018, all American company stocks are up with the make-America-great-again meme, making all who own stocks winners.

For the many who don’t own stocks or enough stocks, the ambiguity and uncertainty in the social and economic world we inhabit is likely to continue and increase. The trend towards automation is not going away. Global warming trends are not going away. And new geo-political realities of having more than one great power may not emerge without conflict.

Many of us carry this angst within us and it impacts our mental and physical well-being.  How can we cope with this angst and heal ourselves, regardless of what new major meme is played out in the rational modern world?

Come, sit with us under the BanayanTree

At 21BanyanTree you begin to explore how to live and thrive amidst the cacophony of confusion and deceit that seem to surround us. There are no guarantees. Nothing may change outside of us. What we will work together is on cognitive shifts inside of us. And to energize ourselves.

We use ‘pre-modern’ approaches and views of ourselves, the memes that modernity has shunned in the last 400 years. We do not throw the baby out with the bathwater but retain a carefully curated set of modern processes, technologies and solutions that integrate into our goals of a more harmonious and joyful life, even as we work hard to change our perspectives.

Our goal is to help manage desires and fears, using techniques that create more agency for ourselves at the individual and group level.

To explore this further, you can reach me at

Celebrating NatarAjA, the Dancing ShivA on ArdrA Full Moon January 1st 2018

As I write this, it is 5 deg F (-15 deg C) on the sunny morning of January 1st 2018, in the New York metro area. This new-year’s day will end with the Moon visible in full grandeur tonight at 9:15 pm (all New York time). The Earth is almost at the closest point to the Sun, in its elliptical orbit today at exactly 12:34 am, January 3rd 2018. The Moon will be at its closest in its orbit to the Earth today at exactly 4:48 pm, January 1st, 2018. Between the two will we get the Super Moon effect making for the Wolf Moon.

In my tradition of Jyotisha, and also more so especially in the Tamil tradition, the Full Moon that arises in ArdrA nakshatra celebrates the arising of the NatarAjA, the Dancing ShivA. (If you are not familiar with my Jyotisha tradition, please check out for a beginner’s orientation)

The significance of celebrating the Full Moon in ArdrA in Jyotisha is independent of calendars imposed and followed in the mundane world (for e.g., the European Gregorian calendar in use since 1582).

According to Jyotisha:

  • When the Sun begins transiting from midnight of December 21st (at 6:40 degrees in Gemini – the Sun transits opposite in Sagittarius at the same degree), it begins its apparent ‘movement’ North from the tropic of Capricorn.


  • When the ArdrA nakshatra is seen in the sky, we know the northward turn of the Sun has begun.


  • Since the ArdrA nakshatra spans Gemini from 6:40 degrees to 20 degrees, the Sun lights up ArdrA from December 22nd to January 4th.


  • The Full Moon that occurs during its transit in these degrees between December 22nd and January 4th is celebrated for the nritya of NatarAjA, the Dance of Shiva.

From a narrow modernist science perspective (not given to metaphorical contemplation) one may imagine the nritya of NatarAjA, the Dance of Shiva as NataRajA, as the movement of the entire range of energies that manifest the cosmos. Within the tradition, we see and experience the Dance of NatarAjA as manifesting creation, protection, destruction, release and embodiment.

The dance posture of NatarAjA is the focus of meditation on this Full Moon, with left leg lifted and suppressing ignorant ever transient tendencies (“this is mine”, “I did this” which in the globalized westernized culture and science these tendencies are bundled into the word ‘ego’) that arise in the embodiment under his right feet. The right hand of NatarAjA is in the posture of Abhaya Hasta, blessing meditators with protection in their meditation. The accomplished meditator visualizes the entire dance of the cosmos in the stillness of this posture.




In Tamil Nadu, this entire period is celebrated with exuberance of song and dance. Here is a link to just one small sliver of the spirit that exudes in the Tamil country during this season.