Imagine life without buttered toast, chocolate, ghee, or cheese. Is it worth living? It’s delicious, reply a small but growing number of people.

VeganismĀ is one of the latest buzzwords in the culinary industry. Internationally, everyone from Madonna to Maguire has flirted with it.

In a country that prides itself on vegetarianism, can veganism be far behind? What does no-meat, no-dairy leave you with? Everything. Except for anything animal-based. Not even what-could-have-been an animal. That means no milk, eggs, or honey.

India is more ready than ever to go vegan. Today, being vegan for most practitioners is a matter of choice and not a medical requirement.

Lactose intolerance is no more the only reason to go vegan. Some choose it for its health benefits, others to lose weight, and yet others because they love animals.

As Susmitha Subbaraju, a Bangalore-based artist, puts it, “Veganism is a lifestyle, not a diet. Peace starts from our plates. When the food we eat comes from torture, is it surprising that humans go out killing each other?”

Agrees Isabel Putinja, a member of Bangalore Vegans, “Cow’s milk is meant for calves. Humans are not meant to drink cow’s milk.”

Manuj Chandra, the co-founder of Kranti, an animal rights organization, Bangalore, has a stronger take. “According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the biggest threat facing humanity is climate change. The Worldwatch Institute calculated that meat and dairy are some of the highest contributors of greenhouse gases. Oceans are dying due to over-fishing. An ocean with lesser fish absorbs lesser CO2, worsening global warming.”

Going vegan is an extension of our concern for the environment. But, obviously, it’s also personal concerns for health, coupled with great taste, that’s causing the shift.

India is very vegan-friendly


In India, being vegan is relatively a cakewalk, a vegan one, of course.

“If you think it’s difficult to be vegan, imagine how difficult it is for the animals that you are not vegan,” says Delhi-based homeopath Dr. Nandita Shah, founder of SHARAN (Sanctuary for Health & Reconnection to Animals & Nature) and vegan voice for over 20 years.

Subbaraju claims Bangalore is the “most vegan-friendly city in India”. Putinja agrees, “South Indian food is largely vegan if you avoid curd, ghee, butter, and paneer. Soy milk and tofu are easily found in supermarkets.”

Vegans in Delhi may have a slightly more difficult time. “North Indians love butter, cream, milk, cheese, and paneer. Yet, any Thai, Japanese or Chinese restaurant that serves vegetarian, would probably be vegan,” suggests Dr. Shah.

Veganism may not be mainstream but, there are restaurants that are vegan-friendly. In Bangalore, try Our Native Village, Emgees on M.G. Road, Lou Han at Sarjapur Road. Or bakeries such as Carnival, Daily Bread, and Cakewalk. Matteos on Church Street serves any of its beverages with soy milk instead of dairy. Mamma Mia ice-cream parlors have a variety of fruit-based sorbets. In Mumbai, you can get a vegan phirni with your vegetarian thali at Revival. Or indulge in the many sorbets at gelato parlors.

Mumbai can also order in vegan. There are the services of Angel Foods for a Mediterranean diet, Rithika Ramesh’s The Green Stove for savories and desserts,

Shonaalii Sabherwal’s Macrobiotic Food Tiffin Service for multi-cuisine and Vijaya Venkat’s Positive Health’s oil-free Indian Dabba.

In Delhi, Hema Sundaram, another vegan, suggests you try Berco’s, which serves mostly dairy-free veg Thai. “You only need to request to keep the dish MSG-free,” she explains. She also recommends Sweet Obsessions, a bakery in Gurgaon.

Would vegans like a vegan restaurant?


“It’s not really necessary. We already have a wide choice of vegan food at regular restaurants,” says Subbaraju. That answers our question on how easy it is to go vegan, doesn’t it?

Is vegan eating worth it?


Being vegan doesn’t mean you don’t indulge in curd, mayonnaise, smoothies, or ice cream. ” All you need is curiosity,” promises Sundaram, “The net is overflowing with vegan recipes.”

Sundaram makes simple vegan variations her daughter, Trishoola, loves. “An adaptation of vermicelli kheer with coconut milk. Mango milkshake or oatmeal with almond milk or cashew cheese-spread in sandwiches.

As a family, we love our raitas, curd rice, and dahi bhallas, all made with peanut curd.” Try Marissa Paolilo’s creamy chocolate ice cream and you won’t even know that it has no milk but is a blend of cocoa and jaggery.

In fact, Subbaraju adds that being vegan has turned her “into a better cook and baker”. “Instead of one kind of dairy yogurt, vegans can enjoy soymilk, peanut milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk yogurts. We pamper ourselves with nut-butters, nut-cheeses, dips, and sauces. We import nutritional yeast, vegan Parmesan, and such goodies.” But, if you think you’ll have glowing skin and hair as a vegan, you could be mistaken. There is a vegan unhealthy diet. “Fries, alcohol, tobacco, and oily foods are vegan. But, they aren’t healthy,” says Chandra. Concludes Subbaraju, “Our forks are the most powerful tools to make our planet greener. Just as slavery was banned and women’s rights achieved, veganism is the next step in the natural path of humanity.”

Veganism is growing


While there has been no census on the vegan population in India, a vegan blog has interesting statistics. “When we launched a year ago, the visitor count on our blog was less than 1,000 hits per month. Today, we are receiving approximately 200 hits per day. That amounts to approximately 6,000 (or even more) visitors per month.” says Vijay Pandey, Bangalore-based software consultant by profession and blogger at Vegan India!

(Statistics are based on automated tracker figures on the blog, Vegan India)

Is it healthy?

According to the American Dietetic Association, “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate. and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” What about the vitamins. protein and calcium we get from dairy products? “We get plenty of protein from beans and grains. calcium from nuts. seeds and greens and other nutrients from vegetables and fruits,” says Subbaraju, adding. “Plant food has absolutely no cholesterol and can keep several diseases at bay.”

Did you know?

There are several options that vegans have across the cities:-

1.Vegan pizza at Little Italy.

2.Mock meats at hyper marts

3.Cafe Coffee Day’s vegan shake

4.Bournville chocolate (no milk, just cocoa butter)

5.Palle Hide-and-Seek Magix & Monaco biscuits.

6.Oreo cookies