Three simple changes that will help your new ‘vegan’ lifestyles.
For Indians, the term ‘vegan’ is new. While vegetarianism has been there in India forever, veganism seems to be a Western concept. Vegans are like Indian vegetarians but they do not consume any animal products, not just living creatures. This means they avoid dairy products, honey, eggs, fur clothing, and even leather products. (No, I am not implying that Westerners eat fur or leather.) In his book My Experiments With Truth, MK Gandhi also expressed his frustration with being unable to avoid diary products.
Recently, I saw a video of an American woman making ‘chili’ using her mother’s ‘secret recipe’. (I wanted to know what Johnny Bravo meant by chili, which is different from chilli.) Throughout the entire video, she used took one ingredient after another from a store-bought sealed package or bottle. Everything seems to be packaged in the West. Not one item seemed to have come whole from a vegetable store.
When vegans embark on a journey of animal-free diet, they repeat the same mistake as before – they continue to leave behind a trail of plastic packaging. This is wasteful and not making a difference to the environment. All their vegan meals lack one important item. Another mistake they make is to find alternatives for everything they used to eat. The worst among these is soy milk, taken in place of cow milk.
India has been vegetarian for millennia. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, Western vegans should learn Indian recipes.
- Stop eating like a cow: Raw foods are great but only if taken in proportion. The human alimentary canal has adapted/evolved over millennia to cooked food that is soft and easily digestible. Cows have many stomachs because cellulose is difficult to digest and is only partially digested. Humans have only one stomach. So, vegans, please cook your food. You are putting too much strain on your system by trying to eat everything raw. Yes, you can survive that way but do you have to? Raw foods are not making you feel better. It is the absence of processed foods that caused the change. You have crossed over to the other side. Well done, so far. Why not make it comfortable too?
- Make rice or roti (wheat) as the staple diet: If you try to eat just fruits and vegetables, it will cost a lot. It is also not a well-balanced diet. Unlike starchy foods, fruits and vegetables will not give you slow-release energy that you will need throughout the day. Cereals like rice and wheat are ideal carbohydrate-rich foods. Carbs should form the bulk of your diet. Even non-vegetarian Indians follow this principle. Meat, fish and eggs are always side-dishes for them. Wheat flour needs to kneaded before being ready for making roti. But, rice is simple. Boil it, drain the excess water, and it is ready. So, I would suggest to vegans that they go with rice. (You can however eat roti or chappathi without any side dishes.) This part of your meal remains the same. The side dishes change with each meal. Rice is taste-less and requires side dishes or further preparation. An Indian family of four will typically buy a sack of rice and it will last them for more than a month. I have a rice-based food recipe on my website with which you cook the rice, vegetables and spices at the same time. The meal is ready-to-eat when the pressure cooker cools off. South India has rich and varied cooking recipes with rice as the base. So, just switch over to South-Indian cooking and you will have a much more healthier and satisfying vegan diet. And, you will have enough energy to last an entire day. If you have an Indian friend, go for shopping with him/her and get the basic ingredients required for making Indian recipes. Indian cooking uses a lot of spices but only a few of them are hot. I have an online playlist of useful videos for vegans to embark on this journey.
- Stop looking for vegan alternatives: Indian foods are extremely rich and varied to suit every taste. Do not go for vegan substitutes for things you used to eat. It will only increase your craving for the real stuff. Branch out. Enter the world of Indian sweets, savories, pickles, and drinks. (However, I would draw the line at chewing paan or drinking desi brew. Never go fully native, as Diedrich Bader did in Outsourced. Never go full retard. We also have bad habits, get rich-people diseases, suffer a lot and die prematurely.) You will be spoilt for choice. And, it is all stuff you can make at home. It will be cheaper and less of a hassle.
How to eat Indian meals
Indian meals are usually based around rice or roti (chappathi or naan). Learn to break off a piece of roti with just one hand – your right hand. Don’t use both hands and freak everyone out. You take one piece of the roti, fold it into two, near-drop it over some side dish, grab a bit of the dish into that fold and then stick the stuffed roll in your mouth. You will burn your esophagus. With rice, you mix sambar, kozhambu, rasam or curds (in that order but not together) into the rice. Then, you take dollops of vegetable side dishes (poriyal, kootu, chutney, pickle, appalam/puppadum) on the mixed rice, pick a handful and drop it in your mouth. Some items like cloves and curry leaves are used in cooking. You are not supposed to eat them. You leave them in a corner of your plate for these ingredients. (You can also drop off pieces of chilly there if you find them. Hot stuff is usually balanced off with curd. If you eat too many chilly pieces, you may go down with the stomach bug. This will not give you any immunity because it is caused by an intestinal irritant.) They have been added only for the aroma and/or their digestive/medicinal/preservative properties, not for their taste. Onion rings are usually offered with non-vegetarian meals to aid in digestion. Don’t drink curry or some side dish as if it were soup or porridge. If it is a non-vegetarian curry, some amount of oil will be floating over contents. Mix it up with a spoon or your finger. Payasam, buttermilk, and other semi-solid stuff can be taken like coffee or tea. Sweets are consumed last. Breakfast dishes like idly and dosa have to be consumed in a slightly different style but you will easily figure that out.