What do vegans eat? Is it impossible to adopt veganism? How different is veganism from vegetarianism? How tough is it to be a vegan in India? Yes, we hear you. Going vegan is not an easy decision to make. It is wise to be supplemented with every side of the subject before you take the plunge. To help you understand what exactly is part of a vegan lifestyle, we’ve got you the answers right from the very people who live as vegans on a daily basis.
What are vegans and what is the percentage of vegans in India?
The definition of vegans is simple to understand even if maybe slightly more complex to adopt. The term was coined in 1944 by a group of vegetarians who broke away from the Leicester Vegetarian Society in England to form the Vegan Society and is in fact derived by taking the first three letters and the last two letters of the word ‘VEGetariAN’.
Veganism is defined as a way of living that attempts to exclude any and all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty and avoid every product that is derived through this process, be it clothes, food, accessories, etc.
When it comes to Indians who choose the vegan way of life, the subject starts to get interesting. The Indian diet, compared to every other subcontinent, comprises a major portion of fibres, veggies, greens, and plant material. Thus, adopting a vegan lifestyle in this country does not require changing your present way of life to 360 degrees, but of course, it does come with its fair share of challenges.
The percentage of vegans in India is not clear, but there has been a rise in the adoption of a vegan lifestyle. What is the reason behind this? Social media and the awareness it has propagated. These include instances of animal cruelty, torture, and the use of animals as guinea pigs in lab experiments. These have been the basis for people to switch to a plant-based lifestyle and avoid animal-made products entirely. You are about to see just how possible it is to make a vegan lifestyle work. Hear it from those who have adopted it and made it seem very doable!
How do I become vegan in India step-by-step?
Deepa Karanje recalls how like most of us, she would make comments from a place of privilege, - ‘I love animals - both on my plate and around me.’
“Apologetically I must say I did indulge in meat and dairy consumption to a considerable extent in my lifestyle until an incident in Srilanka.”
Deepa was on an annual tour with her friend, visiting a National Park that visibly tamed the elephants with a pointed and sharp iron rod. The incident disturbed her, but it wasn’t until she attended an annual festival held in Mumbai - Ahimsa, that she changed completely. “I have never looked back because what I saw and witnessed that day broke me.”
Deepa now says that she cannot bear eating meat anymore, especially when taste buds can be satiated by other options available.
When speaking of how tough it was to make the switch from an animal-based diet to a plant-based one, she says “My journey of non-vegetarian to vegetarian was an overnight one, however that from a vegetarian to a vegan took a while. Majorly because of the unavailability of substitutes efficiently and economically as compared to its non-vegan counterparts. Believe me or not, we in India are more dependent on dairy than meat in our day-to-day lives.”
The vegan alternatives that Deepa has adopted are:
- Vegan toothpaste of brands that do not source the ingredients from animals
- Shampoo and conditioner that is produced likewise
- Body butter
- Eyeliner, lipstick, highlighter and nail paints from Disguise Cosmetics
While Indians are slowly moving towards a vegan lifestyle, the percentage is still low. Deepa encourages more and more of us to be a part of this revolution. “I would love for each one of us to live a healthy and fruitful life without causing any harm to other non-human earthlings, especially when we have plant-based alternatives.”
Deepa will be attending the National Animal Rights Day (NARD) 2021 event in June that speaks of Animal Rights.
Is it difficult to become a vegan in India?
Videos that showcase the cruelty animals face during the various production and manufacturing processes in industries, cause many of us to stop scrolling through our feeds and pause. Likewise with Hirvita Desai.
“I saw cruelty videos on a vegan friends page and lost my sleep over it. It was hard to digest the amount of cruelty our food habits caused to these innocent animals. I knew I had to go vegan. That was the least I could have done.”
“When I turned vegan I started reading up about a balanced vegan diet and I understood that the diet is not restrictive but instead we have a plethora of options available in a plant-based diet. I started off by cooking dishes that were naturally vegan. My culinary passion then took a leap when I started veganizing dishes that traditionally contained dairy products.”
That's when she realized that it was imperative to share her journey and recipes with everyone who wanted to transition to a plant-based diet and she started her page - Earthling. Hirvita on Instagram.
Going vegan isn’t tough, says Hirvita. “Once the ‘why’ is known; the ‘how’ is never a challenge. Apart from figuring out the options, alternatives, and implementing the dietary changes at home, it was quite easy for me.”
What does a vegan diet include?
“The very first time I came across the concept of veganism was when I watched Arvind Animal Activist's video ‘Milk is Murder’ where he ended the video with the statement ‘If you continue to consume dairy please consume beef as well because it wouldn't matter to the cow whether you exploit her body throughout her life or after her death. This one stuck with me,” says Mann Chhatbar.
However, the real trigger that compelled her to go vegan was the incident that surfaced during the lockdown of a hungry pregnant elephant being killed by a bomb planted in fruit. “I was distraught at hearing this, and it made me feel helpless because there was no way I could've stopped this from happening. Then it struck me how I was just being a hypocrite. Although I couldn't make a difference in this elephant's life, sure I could make a difference in a few tens and hundreds of cows. And that day on everything changed.”
When it comes to a vegan diet, one often wonders exactly what it is composed of. The answer is nothing sourced from animals. Mann says over time, she realized one can go vegan by making dairy alternatives right at home without having to buy expensive vegan alternatives available in the market.
Some vegan alternatives that Mann follows are:
- Homemade cheese using pumpkins and cashews which is super creamy and if the flavored and textured right could very well pass off as dairy cheese
- Replacing dairy milk with soy milk and coconut milk
- Homemade peanut curd. While it still has a nutty taste and smell, if used in raitas, buttermilk, etc with the masalas you don't feel the nutty taste as much, says Mann
It is important, she says to treat each animal as an equivalent to humans. “We humans have domesticated all these animals and have just exploited them. From a health perspective too, all the dairy and meat animals are injected with harmful chemicals to make them produce more milk and make them fatter. Needless to say, all pandemics have always been caused due to nonvegan practices.”
What are the side effects of going vegan?
Up until 2015, Malika Budhiraj wasn’t even vegetarian. She ate meat several times a week and didn't think she could survive a week without cheese or Bournvita. “I too had driven past poultry farms and seen these beautiful creatures being stuffed inside cages and calfs being separated from their mother. Yet somehow I was able to completely disconnect from that reality when I was devouring a meal.”
What then prompted the decision to go vegan? “It wasn’t a concern for my health, but in fact the simple realization that all beings want to live. I came to realise that everything we do, buy, eat and everything we say affects a lot more life than just ours.”
Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle can seem really daunting but often just the idea of a lifestyle change is a lot scarier than actually going ahead and making the change, says Malika, the Co-Founder of Baarique a sustainable initiative. “If you focus on one change at a time the progression to veganism will feel quite natural. It is about doing the least harm and the best. It was tough to find alternatives in India when I turned vegan, but today one can find vegan alternatives to most ingredients.”
As for the side-effects of going vegan, well, there aren’t any. There are only gains, says Malika. “I gain health, a greater sense of living in bounds with my values, a sense of conscience for the other animals with whom I share this planet and environmental benefits. This is why I strongly recommend people to adopt this lifestyle choice.”
Are you planning to make the shift to veganism? Tell us of alternatives that you are switching to.