On World Vegan Day 2018, we got our #veganrepresent and CEO, Founder of I Say Organic to share a few words
Have a read. Share your comments with us!
I turned vegetarian when I was around 4. I have no recollection of the incident that triggered this in me, but it’s a commonly heard story of a kid who gets shocked upon first finding out that meat is a sacrificed animal. Often when I share this story, someone would say, oh yes the same thing happened to me, and I didn’t eat meat for a few weeks but then I got over it. In my case, there was no going back, because when I first said I don’t want to eat it, my father also decided to join team-veg. My mother was already vegetarian – same story, gave it up also around when she was 4. So thereon, there was no meat in the house, and hence no lure to go back.
My favourite food growing up was paneer, and I ate paneer in almost all meals. Anytime I would be asked what I wanted in dinner, shahi paneer is all I would say I wanted. I could eat it everyday. My friends used to call me Peppy Paneer because I loved that pizza from Dominos so much.
From as far back as I can recall, my primary reason for being vegetarian was compassion. I went for higher education to Canada and then the US, where being vegetarian wasn’t hard, but at least then it could get boring, eating the same options at the same places for almost 6 years. In no way was being vegetarian at that time healthy, because I was hardly cooking at home. My entry into organic was my entry into healthy eating. I was always trying to eat healthy earlier, but I didn’t really know how to go about it. I tried to take informed decisions, but I wasn’t aware how food labels can trick you, and I more often than not didn’t make the wisest choices though I thought I did.
My interest in environmental sustainability was growing while I was in university, but it wasn’t to the point where I was thinking about the footprint of my food. But this interest combined with an interest in development got me to move back to India, where I thought I’d do something in renewable energy. But I ended up getting interested in organic farming, initially because I thought it was a great intervention towards making farming profitable, but I got rooted in it upon realizing that it is perhaps as big, if not more, a solution for climate change as well.
Soon after starting I Say Organic, I found out about how the dairy industry operates. And sadly what I found out was that dairy animals are treated no better than animals for meat. At that point, there was really no way for me to continue consuming dairy. Milk and paneer were so culturally ingrained in me that I had never even thought about looking into the ethics of the industry. But after seeing the reality, I couldn’t justify consuming any animal products to myself, mostly emotionally.
People often ask me about the negative health implications of being vegan, if I’m able to eat a balanced diet, not get deficient, and generally be healthy. After so many years and a lot of research, the answer is a screaming YES. BUT. I also like to add, that at least in my case, it is secondary. Even if being vegan wasn’t healthier or even health enough, in the current scenario of how the food industry operates, I would still choose to be vegan, and supplement my diet. Or I would have looked for (or worked on creating) cruelty free options. But I don’t have to worry about any of that, because, guess what? Being vegan, I know experientially, is healthier. It doesn’t mean every vegan will be healthy, not if they are eating fried vegan burgers in refined flour vegan buns everyday. But I’m convinced a balanced whole plant based vegan diet, is healthier than a diet that relies on animal products. There is a lot of science based evidence available easily through online articles and various documentaries. There are also contrary opinions. I’m no expert, but based on whatever I have gathered, the evidence and research that is pro-vegan resonates with me. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve also felt healthier and fitter since going vegan. Of course, being vegan is not the only thing that has made me healthier. But it’s been one of the major factors.
The one other thing which made me go vegan, was finding out about the quality of milk in our country. From hygiene issues to adulteration (with detergent, urea, soda, and other fun stuff) to diseases in animals to the presence of pus (as a result of overmilking) to the overuse of antibiotics and the use of hormones (animals are often injected daily!). All this is inhumane, but all of this also ends up in the end product. So hypothetically, even if eating dairy was healthier, eating this quality of dairy can’t be! My intent is not to scare someone or gross someone out, but since I’m writing about my reasons to go Vegan, I can’t not talk about this.
It took me a while to convince myself that being Vegan was healthier, and more natural for humans. And the reason was Vitamin B12. There are no vegan sources of this, and it is vital for us. So in the middle, I thought, it must not be natural for humans to be vegan, and I started consuming some dairy, from sources that were providing good quality stuff complying with organic standards. But I continued reading about it and asking other vegans. It turns out, a lot of Indians (who are mostly non vegan!) are deficient in B12. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to get into them. So now I happily supplement B12 (you can find vegan supplements!) and continue being vegan. The other thing I supplement is Vitamin D, which everyone should (90% Indians are deficient apparently).
Lastly, for anyone who is considering going vegan, I’d like to say that it’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed by it. To leave food we’ve always eaten and love is very hard. Some people are able to just give it up one day, but for some it takes a while. When I first “converted”, I went cold turkey. A few months later, I started missing pizza. So I would allow myself one pizza a week. Then I realized how hard and irritating it could be to try to be vegan when eating out. So I made a rule that at home I’ll be 100% vegan and will make exceptions when eating out if the place had no options, or if I was tempted. Slowly I reached a point (after 4-5 years of the initial switch) that I felt I couldn’t go on eating any animal product. And for the last 1.5 years I have been fully vegan, except that I medicinally consume wild forest honey. That is temporary and once it’s served its purpose I’ll give that up too.
Someone recently asked me – what’s one concept that has dramatically changed your life. And I said Veganism, because it lets me live a life that is in sync with my values.