Enough has been said about the greedy and selfish human race that has put the entire planet on the express lane to failure. To add my two pennies’ worth in the source of this matter, I’d say that each one of the 7 billion is to blame. We disapprove of man’s greed over a chilled 6-pack that strangles the creatures of the sea and make protesting banners out of laminated plastic that clog up our drains. We’re too quick to diss the garbage pile collecting at the street corner but don’t worry too much about where our organized garbage collection disintegrates. We walk around with a holier-than-thou attitude, while Earth slides further down the destruction conveyor belt.
Fuelled by this new-found realization of my own hypocrisy, and this nerve-chilling video‘s take on the meat industry with a harsh twist, the idea of going vegan was taunting me for a few months. Quit meat for a while and gave-up sugar for a month and I knew exactly what I had to do to set myself down the path to seeing it through.
2016, the year of changes
2016 has been a year of major life changes; quit the job of 10 years, shifted careers, started school to get a masters degree, got that must-have pixie. So, what better time to go vegan than now?
The number of people around you that will let you slide back to old practices are unimaginably large. The casual smirk the minute you mention the decision and the shove of the chocolate cake when you pick a fruit salad are abundant. There’s the well-wisher that thinks it’s okay to cheat for that one day when you’re dining with them. Then there are the numerous souls that believe that the world is either black or white. They point out that cattle is still used extensively in fields where your veggies are grown and wouldn’t THAT count as animal cruelty! Sure, it does. But how about we start somewhere?
When you’re done dealing with the negative company and have convinced the third pet of the fourth cousin removed and his divorcee grandmother about your plan to go vegan, you have to deal with dairy that sneaks up on you from that blind side. Giving up milk and coffee is pretty straight forward. But what about the veggies tossed in ghee, or the salads floating in homemade mayo dressing, and the healthy dal afloat with enough butter to cook a dessert? A dollop of ghee HAS to complete that steamy hot rasam or roti, more for the great hearts serving you than you that’s eating it.
A completely different monster is the total lack of information on packaged food products, because the Indian Food Safety and Standards agency does not demand a comprehensive food label. Everything from the bread from your local baker to the packaged crisp bites will have milk and you wouldn’t even know about it. When there are labels, watch out for the milk powder, milk substitutes and dried milk proteins that can all throw you off your path. What that effectively means is that you spend hours at the shopping aisles, reading labels, hunting for all convoluted versions of dairy, when you could be out chasing butterflies, or better still, sleeping.
The biggest problem in going vegan is the complete lack of empathy in the country. Despite ordering for a “vegan, no-meat, no-eggs, no-cheese” burger, when you flip open the bun to find a dollop of mayo on your patty, you know that neither the chef, nor the server, nor the manager of the establishment knows a thing about veganism (or the contents of mayo, for that matter). Forget squashing another person’s principles through your complete lack of knowledge. But what would you do if the person had a real allergy and all those requests were critical to save their life? Would you still put a dollop of mayo on their patty? Will you take it on you to drive the person to the nearest hospital? Would you dare serve a non-halal meat to a Muslim? Probably not.
An interesting observation that came out of my vegan exploits is how quickly people relate your personal choices to the religion that is thrust upon you. For two long decades, when I enjoyed eating chicken and other meat forms, the question that immediately followed my food choices was “Aren’t you an Iyer Brahmin?”. Now, when I turn away a plate of chicken wings or the generous drizzle of Ranch dressing on my salad, I’m immediately met with “Oh! You’re an Iyer Brahmin, no?”. Well, NO! I’ve striven towards breaking stereotypes for a fair part of my adult life and I shall not let veganism pull me back on that front. I’ve not let religion decide what I should eat or not and that hasn’t changed one tune bit from when I went vegan.
Newer challenges pop up every other day on this path I’ve taken. The most confounding question that oft gets thrown my way is “Vegan for how long?”. In a country that’s used to turning vegetarian on Tuesdays, Fridays and days when the moon turns red, such a change seems more a temporary atonement for sins and not a lifestyle change. I do not know the right answer to that question yet. Only time will tell.
For now, I wake up every day and say veGOn!