BY RUKMA SALUJA
Vegans eschew all things animal. Strict vegetarians, they want you to avoid anything to do with creatures of the wild, particularly, in your diet
Was the world vegetarian to begin with? Not if we subscribe to the cave dwelling origins of our ancestry. Adam and Eve ate fruit in the Garden of Eden, and so descendants of that line could claim fruit eating habits from the time they popped into the world. We, in India, are known to be vegetarian, but surveys claim we are in the region of 70 percent meat eaters. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it, when a self image is shattered? We can, however, claim to have the best, the tastiest, the most varied vegetarian preparations and also the largest number of vegetarians in the world. That’s the upside of a mighty population: we can claim large numbers in any discussion.
We are familiar with a plant-based diet versus a meat-based one, and then there comes veganism. I had to scratch my head for this one some years ago when I first encountered the term. Executive Chef, The Imperial New Delhi, Prem K. Pogakula describes it in great detail: “A vegan diet means eliminating all animal products, including those of animal origin. This means no eggs, dairy, or even honey. Outside the diet, most vegans also eliminate animal- based products in their daily lives. For example, they won’t wear leather or fur goods or use products that include any animal-derived ingredients such as gelatine, etc.”
No eggs, no honey, no milk, no yoghurt, no paneer? Horror! My Punju soul shudders. I can feel the weakness in those deprived of these high-fat, high-protein, high- calcium goodies. How can anyone choose, wilfully, to forgo such culinary delights?
These are the times we live in. Food for survival turned to indiscriminate excess. We ate when we wanted and, increasingly, more than our bodies required. We became sedentary, stopped burning the calories we had consumed and invited all sorts of unheard of medical conditions. We force- fed animals and changed their diets to make them grow bigger and faster. We became cruel. And in the process, rampantly, wantonly began to deplete the earth’s resources at an alarming rate.
Could veganism be the pushback to all this?
Veganism is being practised now more than ever before. There are those who do it for love of animals and others for health reasons. “The latter,” says Syesha Kapoor, associate director of Silver Beach Hospitality, Mumbai, “are more prominent considering everyone is now very mindful and conscious about their health. For those who do it to save animals, it certainly isn’t a fad and perhaps the start of a revolution. However, veganism as a diet could possibly be a fad.”
In India we are used to a vegetarian diet and so the vegetarians find the move towards veganism easier than non- vegetarians. Chef Pogakula says, “Orders at the hotel account for maybe 5-6 percent overall but it is slowly seeing a rise in global as well as domestic guests. Many celebrities are also adopting this particular segment of food.” Kapoor finds they have roughly about 5-7 orders a week, mostly from women.
Chef Pogakula suggests a close alternative to a strict vegan diet could be an Ayurvedic one, “as it caters to one’s dosha and includes satvik food which has multiple benefits and is quite close to a vegan diet. It may have some exclusions and twists in the recipes”.
While chef Pogakula accepts veganism is all about personal commitment and choosing a way of life, depending upon preference or will power, he is not entirely convinced plant-based meat is the way forward. “I am not in favour of it as these are mock meats which are not natural, as usually veganism is about one’s commitment and sacrifice of a certain mode living. What I feel is that plant-based meats are more artificially flavoured and treated which takes one away from a direct or natural way of consuming meats.”
Although Kapoor, too, is of the opinion that one can’t do away with a meat-based diet altogether, she is optimistic about the future of plant-based meats. “Certainly, although nothing can replace meat, it can be a good option for vegans or vegetarians to come close to enjoying a good bbq or a burger that resembles meat visually and comes close to the taste.”
That said, I couldn’t imagine a life without a good biryani and the discussions about the superiority of the Hyderabadi versus the Awadhi, or the many other versions that abound. I love laal maas and the heated arguments about whether it is the red chillies from Mathania or Tonk in Rajasthan that make for the authentic version. I can’t imagine a life without cheese (no discussions about lipids, please). My favourite version of paneer is the bhurji paired with parantha. Frappe or good old cold coffee, lassi, cucumber raita, curd rice, tiramisu, rasgulla…I could go on.
What do vegans discuss and get into passionate arguments about?
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