By Kahini Iyer Nov. 01, 2018
When vegans claim their diet is better for the environment, but rely on imported foods that waste water and fuel, are they being any more hypocritical than those who eat “Jain chicken”? Is their irritating preachiness so out-of-place in a country that has forced the world’s largest burger chain to create a beefless menu?
ere in India, our diets are as diverse as our faiths. There are those who refuse to eat omelettes, but will gulp down a caramel custard. There are the chicketarians who always order Murgh Masala when they’re out, but don’t dare to cook it at home for fear of giving dadiji a heart attack. There is the hardcore non-veg specimen, who takes a serving of sabzi as a personal insult, and the equally hardcore vegetarian, who will not even touch the plate that was used to serve an egg in a past life. And then there is the beefeater who woke up one day to find herself an enemy of the state.
And yet, despite this rich tapestry of oft-senseless food fads, we, like most of the world, still look sideways at the oddest of them all – the hapless vegan.
A few years ago, veganism would have seemed pointless; a diet sensation that was mostly the preserve of rich, bored, white people. But today, even a local Bandra cafe offers a tofu lunch special, and if you ask, the guy at the tapri will make you his classic Bombay veg sandwich without any butter. Chic restaurants with names such as “Green Goodness” and “PowerJuice”, hawking wheat-germ shots that cost ₹300 and taste like the Ganga on a bad day, are as common as hipsters in Hauz Khas.
Unlike most of us, who blindly rely on upbringing to inform our diets, vegans have considered their options and made a thoughtful choice.
Yet in dairy-obsessed India, where milk is our national drink, used for everything from a good luck potion (dahi-cheeni) to feeding idols, veganism is looked upon as a kind of millennial mental condition. And this goes beyond despising their “it’s a lifestyle, not a diet” philosophy or their obsession with trying to convert everyone.
Food is such a deeply ingrained, everyday part of culture that we pass heavily guarded recipes for fish curry down through generations, and consider round rotis a prerequisite to marriage. We even distinguish our caste from others based on whether we boil our rice with salt or not. How can the vegan, stuck with exotic ingredients like quinoa and avocado, unable to partake in the quintessential Diwali mithai or chai gupshup, fit into such an unforgiving culinary milieu?
But there’s nothing outlandish about having a diet that is inexplicable in a country like ours. When you stop and think about it, is a vegan really more bizarre than that friend who loves mutton, unless it has bones? When vegans claim their diet is better for the environment, but rely on imported foods that waste water and fuel, are they being any more hypocritical than those who eat “Jain chicken”? Is their irritating preachiness so out-of-place in a country that has forced the world’s largest burger chain to create a beefless menu?
Unlike most of us, who blindly rely on upbringing to inform our diets, vegans have considered their options and made a thoughtful choice. (One that they inform you of within 30 seconds of meeting.) Whether or not it’s a good choice is up for debate. But it is no different from all our ridiculous food hang ups – eating meat on Sundays but not Tuesdays, eating chips but not aloo because it grows underground – that for some reason are sacred and above question.
Rather than jeering at the grasseaters who at least spare a thought for climate change and animals, or who, at the very least, are no more ridiculous than the rest of us, we non-vegans might do better to leave them alone. As long as World Vegan Day lasts, that is. Tomorrow, we can return to our regularly scheduled vegan persecution, with the same disdain we usually reserve for elaichi in biryani.