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To be or not to be a vegan

Ananya Revanna, June 24, 2014, DHNS: 19:02 IST
The country was in for a rude awakening a few years ago when the World Health Organisation (WHO) dubbed India as the ‘world diabetes and heart disease capital’. This was the push that made people re-examine their lifestyle choices.

New diets and supposedly healthier options have become more popular now. More restaurants are catering to the increasing demand of the health-conscious citizens.

Paradigm Shift, which is located in Koramangala, is a vegan and an organic restaurant. The owner, Sowmya Reddy, says that she has been vegan for the past 13 years.

“I turned vegetarian when I was 12 after watching a goat being slaughtered. Later, in first year of college I turned vegan. It was hard at first but there are loads of alternatives. It’s good for the animals, environment and yourself.”

Sowmya Swaminathan recently broke her vow of veganism. “I went vegan because I was lactose-intolerant but later understood the spiritual and humanitarian aspects of it. We are probably the only species on the planet that consume the milk of other animals. Now I have milk every now and then.”

It’s a concept that is slowly catching on. Krishna Shastry, the founder of Carrots, another vegan restaurant in Bangalore says that the vegan philosophy is new to people and can be a cultural shock for many but it is heartening to see the respect towards it rising steadily.

“As an aspiring chef, I love trying new kinds of food. The fact that it is for a good cause makes it more interesting,” adds Priyank Sukhanand.

But no one seems to have a dilemma about killing plants. “As far as I know, they don’t have a central nervous system and don’t feel the same. And by being vegan, we are consuming fewer plants as well,” says Sowmya Reddy.

There are many who would like to eat healthy but can’t afford to. The vegan and organic label also means the price is doubled. “I’m all for it when I start earning enough!” says Maitri. But Krishna says it’s actually cheaper than other kinds of diets if properly planned.

“When other kinds of ingredients and foods are subsidised directly or indirectly, it can become harder for the public to make healthier and ethical food choices. Plus the pricing depends on a lot of factor and not just the kind of food we serve. The public should support such ventures.”

Doctors however, are sceptical of this new trend. “If the food we are eating is leading to problems, we would see patterns in the general public. If people eat too much or over-do anything, that leads to complications,” says Anand Philip, a personal physician at Nationwide.
He says that eating a burger or drinking milk is not the problem but eating and drinking it in large amounts is. “Most doctors don’t swear by it because there have been meta-studies in the US and UK about how even organic food contains pesticides. Who defines what is organic?” he adds. He says that a lot of people on a vegan diet are unaware that they can develop a B-12 deficiency.

The vitamin can only be found in animals and animal products. “Children born to vegan parents tend to have brain disorders because of this deficiency. Now people are taking supplements,” says Anand. Krishna says, “Vitamin B-12 is a challenge and it is not only lacking because the vegan diet is incomplete, it is just that we are not leading a lifestyle close to nature. Even lacto-vegetarians and non-vegetarians are found to be lacking this essential vitamin.”

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