The vegan way

The vegan way
It has been 13 years since Sowmya Reddy, owner of ‘Paradigm Shift’, turned vegan and she still has to fend off questions like ‘How do you survive without milk?’ and ‘You can’t even eat eggs!’. But she never tires of it and relentlessly pushes her arguments forward. An activist by heart, she says that the change has been a holistic one.

“I come from a family that is hardcore non-vegetarian, but I decided to turn vegetarian at the age of 12 after seeing a goat being slaughtered. Then I decided to become a vegan because of the cruelty meted out to animals, especially in industries like leather manufacturing. This change has been fabulous; my health is much better now — I rarely fall ill and when I do, the recovery time is faster,” she elaborates.

While most women struggle to get rid of acne and have ritualistic practices to keep it at bay, Sowmya just goes about her daily routine (which doesn’t include regular visits to the dermatologist). “When I switched over to a vegan diet, the acne just disappeared after two months. Before that, I had tried everything to get rid of it, but nothing worked.”

Calling veganism an upcoming “trend”, Ryan Fernando, a nutrition coach at Qua Nutritions, adds that it is catching on quick but still has a long way to go in India. “We get about 200 visitors every month, and among them, the ones on a vegan diet have better health statistics. Their high-density lipoprotein is higher, while the low-density lipoprotein is low. Even their liver and other body functions are in better condition when compared to non-vegetarians or even vegetarians. Unfortunately, it’s not very easy to be a vegan in India. Instead of soya, brown rice or tofu, which are replacements in the West, we have to depend on grains and pulses. It’s difficult but not impossible,” he says.

But Sowmya doesn’t agree with this and notes how a South Indian diet itself is mainly vegan. “Whether it’s your dosa or ‘sambar’, they are all vegan, so it’s not very hard.” In her restaurant, ‘Paradigm Shift’, she provides a tasty and wholesome meal to customers.

Although they don’t have a pastry chef at the moment, their vegan cakes and pastries are to die for. “Most people don’t know this but the ‘Rich’ cream we use in our cakes is the same as that used by everyone else. We just exclude ingredients like butter and eggs,” she explains. Even when she goes out, she doesn’t have a problem. “I just ask the chef to customise a dish for me!” Even an Oriental cuisine is perfect as it uses soya and tofu in abundance.

Other than the blooming health prospects, people are switching over to a vegan diet for philosophical and political reasons. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, a writer and musician, says, “I went vegan (in 2012) because I am an animal welfare volunteer and I realised I had to follow my convictions to their logical conclusions. So, it is an ethical choice, and not a health or lifestyle one.”

While some put forth arguments like ‘Aren’t plants living beings too?’ or ‘It’s a natural cycle’, proponents for veganism are quick to reply. “It is not about the food chain. It’s about sentience. Animals clearly feel pain and want to live. You can cite recent research that says the same about plants, but this is still inconclusive and intuitively, it is obvious that a pig or cow deserves to live as much as a dog or a cat,” says Jayaprakash.

And it’s also a myth that you won’t get all the needed nutrients. “I have had no trouble finding protein sources. In fact, my weight, cholesterol and other health indicators have all been very good since I went vegan,” adds the musician. Sowmya seconds this with, “These days, most people’s diet is not balanced, whether they are non-vegetarians or vegans. So it’s about watching what you eat.” There can be a deficiency of Vitamin B-12 but that can be balanced with supplements. Ryan, who is considering veganism, adds, “People ask me if a non-vegetarian diet is necessary if one is doing rigorous exercises, but I tell them it isn’t. If a runner or gymmer switches diets, they would need some extra supplements and they are easily available.” But they should consult with a doctor in case they have an illness.

There are many such myths about veganism but what most people don’t realise is that most dishes and products are available to them. Sowmya ends on a high note, “I still love my fast food and desserts!”

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