By Prashanth Vishwanath,
It is World Vegan Day today. So what, right? How is this western concept of Veganism relevant to us? Isn’t it just another fad about eating avocado salads and mock meats? Having eaten many types of mock meat, I’d say they are real tasty- from kathal (jackfruit) biryani to plant-based nuggets. I also confess I’m not a great fan of avocados. There, I said it! As exotic as the salads and plant-meats are, veganism in its essence is very desi. And this World Vegan Day is the perfect occasion to examine how Veganism and Ahimsa- the philosophy that India gave to the world- are two sides of the same coin.
This is not a pitch to restore a past glory of our civilization or an argument that we did it first. What I’m saying is that, culturally, we are more vegan than we realise because of our connection to Ahimsa, and there no need to shun veganism as a vilayati idea.
Ahimsa means non-violence and compassion towards all living beings. It implores us to recognise the inherent spark of life in all living beings and says that to harm any life is to harm oneself.
Also Read | World Vegan Day: Health benefits of shifting to a vegan lifestyle
Veganism is a philosophy which seeks to exclude exploitation and abuse of animals. Though seemingly a modern concept which has grabbed public attention, Veganism mirrors Ahimsa in many ways-
Both advocate not harming any sentient being.
Both recommend protecting sentient beings who cannot speak for themselves.
Both reflect a deeper consciousness and awareness of the suffering of others.
So, these are noble concepts. But are they really practical? I’d say yes. And that too, not as a boring and austere lifestyle, but as an exciting one that can enrich your life and that of others.
Let’s talk food, cuisines and recipes. A plant-based diet really opens up the variety of foods we consume. Far from being tied to meat and some veggies on the side, we are now free to indulge in the rich variety of grains, fruits, nuts and veggies that a biodiverse country like India has to offer. Additionally, for almost every animal-derived ingredient and product, there is now a vegan alternative. This means that a vegan’s meal may look and taste exactly like a non-vegan’s meal. Instead of meaty biryanis, curries, and burgers, you can choose plant-based versions. Instead of dairy cheese on a pizza or cows’ milk in coffee, you choose the non-dairy versions. These are better than the animal derivatives, as they don’t come with the animal suffering, or the same environmental impact- consistent with the central tenets of Ahimsa. You will also be surprised to see how many of our traditional dishes are vegan. From pesarattu to chaap, these are some of my favourite foods.
Let’s talk lifestyle and health. A vegan diet is suitable for all types of lifestyles- even the most rigorous ones. The list of Indian professional athletes, movie stars, mountaineers and artists who are vegan is impressive. They are proof that a well-balanced plant-based diet helps keep your energy up, recover faster and helps with better resilience. Some of the most common reports from Veganuary participants is that after 31 days vegan they experience an improvement in their digestion, skin, hair, sinuses and sleep. Studies have regularly shown that vegans appear to have the lowest Body Mass Index of all. A growing number of doctors are finding they can halt and even reverse heart disease in patients who undertake a programme that includes eating a whole food plant-based diet. Isn’t this practicing Ahimsa towards oneself?
Evidence is piling up on the enormous impact our food choices have on the living world. Environmentalists are recommending plant-based diets to minimise the damage to ecosystems caused in animal-based food production. Because animal agriculture impacts our planet in so many ways- from pollution of soil, water shortages and global warming, Joseph Poore, an environmental researcher at Oxford University concluded that ‘A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth’. We do want to leave a habitable planet to our children, right?
So, why not try vegan starting this World Vegan Day, as a way to practice ahimsa towards the planet, animals and yourself? I am celebrating today by treating my friends to vegan gelatos, which by the way cost the same as the dairy-based ones.
(The author is Country Head, India- Veganuary. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)