How To Go Vegan In India - 6 People’s Journeys Towards A Cruelty-Free Life

Jas Charanjiva (L) and Rithika Ramesh (R)
Jas Charanjiva (L) and Rithika Ramesh (R)

Despite having roots in ideas of gentle living and cruelty-free behaviour, the very mention of veganism tends to elicit polarised points of view. You’re either an evangelist equating the rape of women to the dairy industry or a raw-meat eating barbarian with no humanity left in you. The conversations can become so extreme online, it’s difficult to focus on what it means to go vegan at all and that people’s motivations for doing it might differ. In India, the movement towards vegan eating and living is picking up steam, trickling its way into lifestyles via 30-second recipe videos, hard-hitting news pieces on rampant animal cruelty and the increasing emergence of vegan options on restaurant menus. Beyond food habits, the philosophy of abstaining from the use of animal or animal-based products, and switching them in for cruelty-free alternatives is finding footing in our country’s landscape too. But how feasible (and affordable) is it to make the switch?

Approximately 70 percent of the Indian population is non-vegetarian and industries are catered towards these demands. In our quest to find out what it takes to go vegan, and what goes into it anyway, we uncovered a series of stories that lie on different parts of the spectrum. An artist who’s finding her voice in the movement and setting out to challenge notions about the movement through new creative means, a woman hell-bent on finding vegan make-up alternatives right here in our homeland and even a Punjabi’s journey to going Ghee-free! All together, it becomes clear that the cultural context of India and its many traditions cannot be ignored in this conversation but that’s best saved for another time.

There’s no right or wrong way to start or stop, no hard and fast rules for your journey to developing a more vegan or totally vegan lifestyle. But if you are interested, these people are filled with fantastic, practical advice and answers to all your veganism related queries.

I. Jas Charanjiva
...Spreading awareness one artwork at a time

Charanjiva’s decision to turn vegan has been one that was gradual. She stopped eating red meat when she was 14 after she read about “how cattle grazing was killing off rich forest land in the Amazon and using a crazy amount of water just so we could eat burgers”. She turned pescatarian six years ago and finally vegan in January, 2018. “Cheese was the hardest but when I Iearnt about the dairy industry and the treatment of animals, I quit dairy overnight,” said Charanjiva.

Charanjiva, who is the co-founder of Kulture Shop, aims to live an all-encompassing vegan lifestyle. Having given up leather eight years ago, she makes a conscious decision to shop for clothes and shoes which have been manufactured in an environmentally-friendly manner. “I don’t allow leather products to be soId at Kulture Shop. We eat eggless birthday cake at Kulture Shop now. The team says they can’t tell the difference,” says Charanjiva while talking about how she has successfully adopted veganism not only in her personal life but at her workplace as well.

Jas Charanjiva

Charanjiva actively works towards changing people’s perception about veganism. She says, “My attitude about my needs has completely changed. I don’t care if there’s only one option on the menu for me if I go somewhere. I care about the bigger picture now. I know there are millions of people out there just like me who would quit if they sat down to watch a video or read just the right information to snap them out of la-la land. It is my life’s mission now to find ways to snap them out. I had to reach a stage where I could not let anger rule my communication style. It took me three years. Now I will use my art and my understanding of human behaviour to get out there to help push the plant-based movement further out.”

When asked about how new vegans should approach veganism, Charanjiva had a few pointers:

1). “Be on the right side of history and stay there. Slavery and Segregation in the US were the norm once. There will come a time when it will be shocking to think that we once imprisoned and tortured animals just for our gastro pleasure and how people who love animals refused to look into the Meat and Dairy Industry via videos or documentaries because it made them feel uncomfortable. Looking at foodie pics of steak and meat burgers will feel shameful one day. There will be a generation that will be asking “why the hell did you pay for that to keep going?” I say, be on the right side of history because plant-based meat substitutes and ‘clean meat’ are going to take over. Factory farming will be eradicated one day. I push only for plant-based meat substitutes vs ‘clean meat’ by the way as I don’t trust humans with animals for commercial gain. “

2). “Join vegan groups on social media. Follow Earthling Ed. Watch this speech by Philip Wollen. Join a vegan club in your city or start one. It serves as a good support group and a space for exchanging vegan life hacks.”

3). “Once you’ve gone vegan, don’t put down non-vegans (even if you’re angry like me about animal cruelty), you were once a meat/dairy consumer. Strive for conversations and avoid being preachy. Follow EarthIing Ed’s lead when it comes to this.”

II. Mehr Lungani

...“Most people eat meat because most people eat meat.”

Lungani was born into a non-vegetarian family, but when she was 11 she decided to turn vegetarian. “The realization hit that I was eating another living being. The disgust along with the empathy was enough motivation to turn vegetarian,” she says. She turned vegan two years ago, after being introduced to the concept by a friend.

Mehr Lungani

While pursuing a Masters in psychology Lungani conducted a research on why people in India eat meat. “I was shocked to hear what people had to say about veganism, but what was even more shocking were the reasons they gave to justify their meat eating behaviour. One person said and I quote, “Every life has a purpose. The purpose of a hen’s or pig’s life is to be provide food for us by sacrificing their bodies. If we don’t eat them, we would be creating an obstacle for them to fulfil their life’s purpose. Not only will they go to hell for not fulfilling their purpose, we will too because we created that obstacle.” I would just summarize my research findings in the words of Tobias Leenaert “Most people eat meat because most people eat meat”,” Lungani admits while talking about the interesting findings of her research.

Lungani’s journey with veganism started with her making dietary changes, but has now become a way of life. “It definitely started with food. That was the major change I made. Eventually,I incorporated it (veganism) in other areas of my life: clothes, shampoos, soaps, makeup, even toothpaste. Whatever little makeup I use is, now, vegan as well. I do not use a lot of makeup in general. Just a kajal and maybe a lipstick every once in a while. Plum is a brand which offers vegan kajal. Lush Cosmetics and Forest Essentials also offer a wide range of vegan beauty products. They are my go to for all of my beauty needs,” she offers.

Veganism is not just about food and that is exactly what this counselling psychologist’s lifestyle is an example of.

III. Rithika Ramesh

...Catering to the vegan sweet tooth

Everything for the newly turned vegan Rithika Ramesh was smooth sailing till she got her first sweet craving and realized that a vegan’s dessert menu was considerably limited. Loyal to her love for desserts, she decided to take matters into her own hands and started The Green Stove Vegan Bakery. The Green Stove Vegan Bakery apart from desserts, has a range of delicious savory options and some recipes for the vegan with culinary inclinations.

Rithika Ramesh

Ramesh has never found it difficult to be a vegan in India, where the local cuisine fits most of the dietary requirements of a vegan. Elaborating on the same she says “Eating out is becoming easier in cities like Mumbai (even though we don’t have an all-vegan restaurant yet). Even if we want to avoid eating food that is marked as vegan in restaurants, so much of our traditional vegetarian food is already vegan.” Much like most vegans, Ramesh’s lifestyle in general is representative of her decision to adopt veganism. “Apart from the food aspect of veganism, non-leather shoes, bags and belts are available. Silk is easily avoidable. (I had a proper Tamilian wedding sans the silk). Faux pearl, leather and wool is available too,” said Ramesh. Going by Ramesh’s experiences, adopting a vegan lifestyle might require you to make a little bit of an effort, but it isn’t something that is unachievable.

When asked about what she would say to someone who is new to veganism, she says “I would tell any aspiring vegan to not seek out the alternatives initially, because the vegan cheese and butter will never live up to the taste expectations. So drop the milk chai or coffee and have it black! Learning to cook is very helpful in the long run. It may seem daunting to be a needle in a meat-eating haystack, but it gets easier!”

IV. Rheea Mukherjee

...“A world that does not rely on terrible the future.”

After going back and forth for almost a decade, Mukherjee decided to take the leap and turn vegan at the age of 32. ““Giving up cheese, particularly pizza cheese was hard. I really loved me some veggie cheesy pizza. Apart from that, I had to make a mental shift when it came to desserts. Because when you are outside there is virtually no baked sweet good that is vegan (even by default). So I had to be happy with sweets/baked goods only when I made them or when I went to vegan places,” said Mukherjee while talking about why it was hard for her to adopt veganism.

Rheea Mukherjee

You would think that owing to India’s considerably large vegetarian population that it wouldn’t be all that difficult for a vegan, Mukherjee disagrees. “I’ve always said it’s easier to be vegetarian in India (compared to the U.S/West) but it’s much easier to be vegan in the U.S/West (compared to India). This is primarily because vegetarianism is overwhelmingly cultural here but milk/milk products are looked at with almost devotional love. That said, it’s not that hard and urban india is catching up to vegan milks. I’ve also seen a lot of vegan products hit the market in the short time that I have been a vegan,” Mukherjee says.

Carrots in Koramangala, Jumping Beans for “some stellar mock meat”, Crave Cakes for delicious vegan desserts and Namdhari’s for yummy vegan groceries are Mukherjee’s recommendations for those living in Bengaluru. Mukherjee also recommends Farmizen that is an app which allows you to grow your own pesticide-free vegetables at a farm and get them delivered to your doorstep.

“I’d say find a fellow vegan to be your helper buddy online. It’s important that you think about it and understand why you are doing it. It took me years to do it, even though I was convinced in theory for years before it. I do believe that a world that does not rely on terrible cruelty for our consumption is the future. I invite you to be a part of it,” signs off Mukherjee.

You can visit Mukherjee’s blog for some delicious vegan recipes.

V. Poonam Dhup Juneja

...A Ghee-Free Punjabi

“As a Punjabi foodie who loved ghee, curd and her glass of lassi, it took about a week to quit dairy and another 6 months to rid my home completely of dairy. We are now a family of vegans! I would not for a second trade the pain of awareness for the comfort of denial — this is my mantra,” says Juneja about her transition from a quintessential ghee-loving Punjabi to a vegan. According to Juneja her biggest feat while transitioning to veganism has been successfully convincing her two children and husband to adopt veganism too as she considers herself to be a “a mild person and somewhat of a passive activist.”

Poonam Dhup Juneja

Choosing vegetarian restaurants and shopping at the local sabzi mandi is all that Juneja does to incorporate veganism into her lifestyle. “It is not a hassle at all,” said Juneja, however, she does have a few problems with veganism with respect to the Indian society. “I’ve faced three issues. First, cows who are sacred in our country, are only considered so by name because of her utilitarian value. Second, nearly all ayurvedic medicines are to be taken with ghee or honey. Third, the Indian mindset about dairy being healthy, not realizing that we are the diabetic capital of the world,” said Juneja.

Juneja’s advice to all those interested in the prospect of being vegans? “Always do your own research. The net is full of resources — one has to know where to look.”

VI. Anupriya Dalmia

...“Keep the victims in mind and the transition will be easier.”

Dalmia, who is a PhD Candidate in Neuroscience and Medical Genetics, started her journey towards veganism in 2016. Her first steps towards transitioning to being a vegan were changes in diet and self-education. “The most challenging aspect is always the advocacy and how to convince people that animal use is wrong and always will be. Being a vegan isn’t difficult but the trivialisation of animal use becomes more and more real every day and difficult to deal with. Making the switch was not difficult for me once I had educated myself on how wrong this institution is,” says Dalmia, while talking about the challenges of being vegan.

Anupriya Dalmia

Dalmia feels that being a vegan can be challenging in social situations not because she feels singled out, but because sometimes people’s ignorance tends to be frustrating when you’re aware of the actual repercussions of their actions. “In a way, this is difficult for me. Not because of their reactions but because of what I think of their actions that directly impact a victim. For example, hearing a friend talk about her horse-riding expeditions is not fun for me and I need to keep thinking of innovative ways to educate. My peers are supportive and once I have made my stance on the ethics of animal use clear, no one ridicules the decision. They realise they are in the wrong, for the most part. Some are too lazy to change, some try to educate themselves more,” said Dalmia.

Dalmia’s thesis at Imperial College, London involved understanding the genetics of absorption and functionality of Vitamin B12. “Any diet can lead to deficiencies including a vegan one. I would call myself a little paranoid as I do tend to get myself tested more often than a regular 22-year-old, but all my parameters are better as a Vegan than as a Non-Vegan. On average, a Vegan diet has a much larger potential to be extremely nutritious,” said Dalmia, dispelling the myths about the nutritional imbalance of a vegan diet.

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