Not many in India are aware that ‘guilt free diet’ (Plant based diet) is a dietary option. Some assume it is the same as the Indian version of ‘pure vegetarian’ which translates as lacto-vegetarian. The Hindi equivalent of ‘vegetarian’ – ‘shaakahari – is itself contradictory. Shaakahari implies one who thrives on plants and yet it includes dairy and honey!
I am often asked why I am vegan or what is the meaning of being vegan.
There are no short and sweet replies. I have tried to address most queries raised by friends, relatives and strangers. Most of what follows is my answer to a fellow blogger who wanted to know the answer to the above question. If you are looking for a scientific opinion, this is not the place. I approached the subject scientifically as well, once I decided to become vegan, but the reasons I turned towards a vegan diet as an option were ethical. I have however provided links for the skeptics and the curious. I am not a nutritionist or doctor. That said, I have read enough to know that plant based diet is the best diet for the human species.
What is ‘vegan’?
Vegan (pronounced as ‘vee-gun’, not ‘vay-gun’) diet is a plant-based diet that excludes all animal and animal derived products such as dairy products (including milk and milk derived products), honey and meat (eggs, poultry, fish). Hence a vegan eats only plants and plant derivatives with or without the exception of yeast and mushrooms.
Being vegan is an extension of being human
The ‘vegan diet’ is only a small facet of a cruelty-free lifestyle. The diet is a step towards conscious or compassionate living which is a lifestyle choice. Being vegan by choice includes being harmonious with Nature. One following the vegan lifestyle does not use any product that makes use of animal products such as buttons or ornaments made of shells and bones, natural silk made from silk worms (there is no such thing as ‘ahimsa’ silk), leather goods or accessories.
Compassionate living includes minimising/eliminating the use of ecologically damaging products and using products that are eco-friendly as these measures help in assuring quality life for other creatures and assure longevity of the planet.
For instance, I do not accept plastic covers as a rule while shopping. I always have at least 2-3 cloth bags with me whenever I step out. If I forget my bags I simply do not shop. This is my choice for a greener world and has nothing to do with what the civic bodies dictate. I try and procure organic ingredients for my cooking as much as possible.
Why am I vegan?
I believe that every human act has far reaching results. I started moving towards conscious living sometime in the late nineties. I believe that progress should bring peace and harmony in Nature. I believe that as human beings each one of us can bring about a positive change in the world, if only we make a few lifestyle changes. In 1999, I stopped using plastic bags and leather bags, belts and shoes. I stopped using natural silk around 2002-03 and moved towards a vegan diet sometime in mid 2007.
I chose not to be part of the chain of cruelty that takes away the natural right of animals to freedom or space in this world.
We have been taught that cows give milk but it was conveniently excluded that ‘cows give milk for calves’ just as women lactate for the baby after its birth. Science in general also excluded the fact that milk given by species other than human beings is not suitable for human consumption.
Think of what happens when babies are fed milk other than breast milk for the first few times? They puke because their stomachs cannot ingest milk other than mother’s milk. A sure indication that the human body cannot accept any milk other than human milk. Why persevere and adapt when there is no necessity to do so? In nature you will never find one species drinking the milk of another species unless as an exception to the rule, perhaps due to some strange circumstances. Why deviate from the natural way of life?
Cow’s milk is meant for baby calves. Goat’s milk for kid goats. Period.
Honey is the extra food made by bees from nectar of flowers. When we use honey we are actually using the stored food made by bees for themselves. Besides, honey is nothing but regurgitated spit produced by bees. Do we consume the spit of another human being? Does it feel natural? Then, why honey?
Meat, is not meant for human consumption. Our bodies have evolved since the prehistoric hunting man’s times and it is no longer designed to hunt or tear meat anymore. Please read this article titled “the comparative anatomy of eating” by Milton R. Mills, MD, for a scientific analysis. You might also like to watch the video on youtube here.
Extracts from other sites:
If you have been in India you must have seen how hens are carried off for slaughter from ‘farms’. All chickens raised for eggs have had large portions of their sensitive beaks cut off when they grow. They spend their entire lives in a filthy, cramped wire cage. Each hen has an area smaller than a sheet of notebook paper in which to stand and doesn’t have enough space to spread even one wing. The cages are stacked on top of one another, so excrement from hens in higher cages often falls on those below. Ammonia and the stench of feces hang heavy in the air, and disease is rampant in these filthy, cramped conditions. (from here). Is an egg in our diet such an important thing when the same nutrition can be procured from other green sources?
“Fish on aquafarms spend their entire lives in cramped, filthy enclosures, and many suffer from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. Conditions on some farms are so horrendous that 40 percent of the fish may die before farmers can kill and package them for food. In short, fish farms bring suffering and ecological devastation everywhere they go.” Do you think the fish you eat is any different? Is it necessary to succumb to taste of caviar and roe eggs at such a cost? Read more here.
It is the treatment of the ‘holy’ cow that startles me the most. We, in India, are taught to revere even the ‘gomutra’ (the urine of the cow). We consider the cow so sacred that we use ‘ghee’ made of cow’s milk for poojas (rituals). And yet we do not bother to find out what happens in our farms and slaughter houses. It does not seem to matter that the cows live in pens that leave no room for them to manoeuvre themselves around. Cows are gentle, social, intelligent animals that do not even expect much, yet human beings make use of them from birth till their death. “Like all animals, cows form strong maternal bonds with their children, and on dairy farms and cattle ranches, mother cows can be heard crying out for their calves for days after they are separated.” Read more here. Despite the awareness how do we manage to crush our conscience and go on feeding on their milk?
What made me vegan?
Some years back I attended a training session at work. It was related to smuggling of banned goods. We were shown samples that had been recovered and what I saw was devastating and revolting. Deer skin and snake skin purses, and a purse made of a single layer of a baby crocodile that had been slit horizontally and relieved off its ‘stuffings’! It made me recoil at the thought of the barbarism involved. We were told that most animals are skinned alive because a dead animal’s hide can not retain the softness or flexibility that live skin can. How gruesome can that be? Try pinching your skin – it answers both the tests – softness and flexibility. Would you like to be ‘leather’? How does the thought of becoming ‘leather’ make you feel?
Later that year Mumbai faced a massive flood during the rainy season on 26th July, 2005. Many people died and many houses were washed away. Mumbaiites were heralded for their heroism on helping fellow citizens without caring for their own safety. It was also reported in one leading daily in a small piece of news that many animals died in a leading dairy factory as they were left tethered in their sheds so that they would not cause chaos to escaping humans. It dawned on me that day, how cruel we human beings can be. We use animals for our benefits, robbing them of their natural life, terminating their life at our choice for our convenience. It still took me three years to change myself, one moment to change my attitude. You too can. Better late than never.
Jeevo jeevasya jeevanam
Often people argue, “jeevo jeevasya jeevanam.” These words in Sanskrit, mean “life is sustained by life only.” People have conveniently contorted the implication of these words to mean that it does not matter if we inflict pain on other creatures, as we do this only to survive, which is the natural law. Unfortunately, that is not what the words meant. The natural law never speaks of storage, of farms, of greed or of making money by killing other lives.
Coming from a country that produced a leader (Gandhi) who showed the world that ‘ahimsa’ is the only way to establish peace and freedom, this form of cruelty angers me to the core. But then again, Lincoln famously said, “Nothing is right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.”
The environmental impact of a non-vegan world:
“A 400-page United Nations report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cattle farming is “responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases”. The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world, and is assessed to be one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a local to global scale. The report was made in 2006. Four years later, not much has been done to reduce livestock. If anything the number of cattle breeders, violent and unhygienic means of rearing has only multiplied. As long as we treat animals as ‘livestock’ instead of ‘live’ the problem will only increase. What if there were no consumers for these ‘farm products’? We would not only have cleaner and greener earth but also enough space for agricultural produce. Read about the worsening impact here.
Choosing less, and moving towards simplicity
It is surprising but most of us do not make choices in life unless it has monetary motivation or promises more luxuries. The very idea of making a choice pushes us out of our comfort zones. We resist awareness rather than confront truth because the truth is generally harsh and scary. It can destroy conventional beliefs.
We are vegetarian or non-vegetarian by birth. Sometimes we may change to a different diet due to dietary restrictions caused by diseases or age or religion. But unless there is a strong cause we prefer to continue the way we have been brought up. I was brought up a vegetarian but my parents allowed me to have bakery products with eggs in them simply because they felt they were giving me more choice. Many of my relatives are non-vegetarians because they feel it is an advantage when they go to foreign countries where vegetarian dishes are few. They feel strengthened by having included ‘more‘ to choose from.
Somehow, ‘choice’ has always meant including more. Truth is, we have a choice, at every step of our lives and we choose what we want to be. Once you start to reason and eliminate the excuses, the truth becomes clearly visible. In a world that aims at having excess of everything, minimising your options may strike as an odd choice, but then, is it not the idea of progress to breakdown complexities and move towards simplicity?
Being vegan is a step towards simplified living. A step closer to Nature. A step to green living. A step to longevity. A step towards increasing stamina, increasing the quality of your life, building a strong immune system. A step towards your increased well-being. All this without the aid of chemicals in the form of medication. Are you not looking forward to add quality to your life?
Is not a vegan diet imbalanced? Without milk how can one get calcium?
One of the many wrong ideas that have been drilled into our minds since childhood is the the importance of milk for strengthening bones. On the contrary, many of our physical problems are linked with consumption of milk.
Childhood tooth decay is often due to frequent residue of milk in the mouth than sweets! Milk consumption often worsens asthma and lung disorders. Please click here for a more comprehensive article. In India we do not check children for lactose intolerance. We prefer to force the child to adapt. Unfortunately even doctors submit to the myths propounded by lobbyists of the dairy industry.
If you are a milk user check whether you are calcium deficient because drinking milk can do that.
How to include calcium in your diet if not through milk?
The easiest and the best way is to have a bowlful of ‘red millet porridge’ daily. The content of calcium in millet is considerably high with about 350mg for every 100g of millet (Source:Outlook). This grain can be used to make several tasty as well as nutritious and easy dishes. I shall try and post a few recipes that I have incorporated in my diet soon. Two ragi rotis (millet flatbreads) a day provides enough calcium required by the body. White sesame seeds are the best source of calcium, then why do we settle for less than the best? Two til laddoos a day, some powdered til in our daily diet can make a world of difference. How about adding til to flatbreads, to tadkas, to breads? Why not add tahini spread rather than mayonnaise on bread/toast?
Advantages of a healthy vegan diet:
While I am not a health buff, I do not belong to the other end of the spectrum and eat junk food. A normal, healthy vegan diet will help in maintaining weight. Workout along with diet will bring in healthy results faster than any other diet. This shows up on your skin too.
A vegan diet comes closest to our physical make up and also reduces threats of diseases caused by non-vegetarian or vegetarian diet. The inner environment of the human body is alkaline. Only plant based diet can preserve that balance. An alkaline diet can reverse and restore health disorders caused due to bad eating habits and lifestyle. A vegan diet is one that can lead you to optimal health conditions.
Life without milk? That is difficult!
It is actually pretty easy! There are plenty of alternatives to milk available these days; soy milk, coconut milk, almond or any nut milk and rice milk to name a few. You can get them off shelves or prepare your own. Nut and seed milks are actually more flavourful and delicious, apart from healthy. You can flavour it with your favourites – saffron, rose, vanilla etc. Look at the almond milk flavoured with vanilla and chocolate below;
Do I have to fore-go cakes and ice creams?
Why? Vegan cakes and ice creams are as satisfying to the palate as eggless or egg based cakes and ice-creams, while also being guilt free. Vegan cooking and baking is definitely not rocket science. That’s a strawberry ice cream made at home;
As a vegan do I hate non-vegans?
The whole idea of compassionate living is to love and respect other creatures so why should vegans hate non-vegans? I wasn’t a vegan a few years back. I regret many of the things I have done and I would like to undo many former actions. Hate is never a solution. However, every vegan is an activist for animal rights as well as human rights. If you expect a vegan to sit quiet while you go on and on about how good meat tastes, you are wrong. When a vegan stands up for his beliefs, it is not an insult to yours.
Have you ever wondered?
- Some meat eaters also call themselves animal lovers or pet lovers. The two loves seem very contradictory to me. How can you love your pet while you eat many others who are just like them?
- How can one be objective about cutting up/exploiting animals when the very same thing done to humans is termed as ‘barbaric’?
- Are we still in the barbaric mode of thinking and consider all other creatures inferior to the human race? And if so, do we have the right to exercise our superiority by torturing them?
- If we as humans are superior in any way (development of brain) then should it not translate itself as progress?
- If that is so, then should progress not soften our attitude rather than build up hatred and cruelty?
- If one thinks of Hitler as an annihilator then are we not the same since we mete out the same treatment to animals, just because they do not have a voice of their own? What is the difference?
Where does one go from here?
I chose to be a vegan because I love my planet and its creatures. I am vegan because I am compassionate. I hope you will make your choice too. It takes only a thought to make the change happen. Once the first step has been taken you can also think of better health, of organic living in the true sense, and of savouring food in its most natural form.
Give it a thought today and make the best choice.
If you would like to know more about compassionate living please go through the following links:
If you are aware of any shop in India that sells/stocks only vegan items please leave a comment with the address or phone no. of the shop, along with the name of the city so that it may help other vegans.
This post is subject to changes due to constant updation.
Some questions I have been asked after this article was originally written:
Why do you even eat plants? They are living beings too. They have sap which is their life line just like blood. How do you justify cutting them off?
I am a herbivore. I am supposed to eat plants. I am doing what is natural for my well-being, causing the least damage I can, to nature. Ideally, I would like to eat raw, but at this point of time in my life, I am not able to do that. Someday, I hope to get there.
I get this often: “Since you kill plants you are in no way better than us.”
Vegans are susceptible to prejudices, temptations and other vices as much as any one else. I am proposing a way to live as cruelty-free as possible. I know it feels better to bash those who do something rather than doing anything at all. Take a deep breathe, calm down. Think objectively. Read again. It is natural to get agitated when ideas are contrary to established/conventional norms.
The links you have given have not been proven.
Please visit a good library, read books, look up some of the sites suggested above, and study the subject since you are one who needs conviction. And think of the other scientific theories that are took time to prove. Look at the vegans around you and compare their health to non-vegans. You will see the difference. Whether you accept the truth is up to you.
What about the ecological imbalance that will be created when all human beings turn vegetarian? What about the animals that will overpower us? Will agriculture sustain us?
Yes, agriculture can sustain the entire human race.
If you were faced in a situation where a wild beast was going to kill you or prey on you, you obviously have the right to protect yourself. You come before the beast, but how many times has it happened in organised society that wild beasts come running out of the jungle to prey on human beings unless instigated, or forced to leave their natural habitat? Has it been higher than poaching levels?
As for imbalance, the amount of imbalance we have created is so lop-sided, that it will take ages for the scenario to change! And if there really was an imbalance, it would be a case of ‘survival of the fittest’, which does not exist now.
So far the only real ecological imbalance is that we use more land for animal farming than actual farming. Animal farms are what have caused serious ecological damage.