8 reasons why I chose to be vegan…

Although I have never re-published what I write outside this blog, here’s an article I find worth re-publishing here. This article was originally published last year by The Alternative on the occasion of the World Vegan Day.

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I have now been vegan for nearly 3 years, during which I delivered a baby through an all-vegan pregnancy, and saw increasingly many around me adopt the lifestyle! Yes, veganism is not just a diet; it’s a lifestyle based on a few indisputable principles. I have been asked numerous times about what prompted me to go vegan, so on the occasion of the world vegan month, here’s an attempt to pen down all my reasons.

I’m vegan because:

Avoiding animal food means avoiding diseases and enhancing fitness.

When I turned vegan for ethical reasons, I had no idea about the massive health benefits it offers. Within a couple of months, I experienced some of those benefits myself for my fibromyalgia pains. By now, I have met loads of people who have reversed their diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, etc. through a healthy vegan diet! Even luminaries like Bill Clinton have gone vegan for health, as shown in the CNN documentary “The last heart attack”.

Plant based food is fiber-rich, low on saturated fat, and contains no cholesterol. Contrastingly, all animal foods are very high on saturated fat and cholesterol, containing zero fiber (essential for good digestion and nutrient absorption). They are also alarmingly high in antibiotics, pus & pesticide concentration. And, there’s absolutely no nutrient that vegan food cannot provide [B12 deficiencies are equally likely in non-vegans]. As substantiated by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, milk protein actually leaches calcium from the bones, resulting in bone weakness!

And, if you consume enough calories, you are bound to get enough protein! In fact, excess protein leads to kidney issues and osteoporosis. There are, also, plenty of protein-rich plant foods: all pulses (dal), soy products, all legumes [peas like chana, beans such as rajma, etc.], almonds & other nuts and seeds to name a few.

Being vegan is natural!

Is there any species in nature drinking another species’ milk, or any milk at all post infancy? Every animal’s milk is tailor-made for her species. The hormonal structure and biology of a cow are drastically different from those of a human. Meat too is unnatural. Our so-called canine teeth do not make us omnivorous, as canines are also found in several herbivores (e.g., gorillas, horses, hippos). From laterally moving jaws to long intestines, humans possess a dozen physiological traits that make us plant-eaters, not omnivores.

It’s vital for conserving the environment and lessening word hunger

Humongous amounts of food, land, water, energy and other resources are wasted in raising animals for meat, eggs and dairy. For instance, it takes up to 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef! Now, factor in that nearly 69 billion land animals are slaughtered each year for food, and imagine the tremendous volume of water that we can salvage. A UN study deems animal-based food culpable for a whopping 70% of the world’s agricultural land, 18% of the greenhouse gas emissions, and considerable deforestation.

Eating animal products means eating higher on the food chain, and therefore, eating much more. Growing loads of crops for animals and then feeding on them is so grossly inefficient, that it takes up to 10 kg of grains to produce 1 kg of animal food! More than 40% of all the grain grown worldwide is fed to animals. Being vegan enables you to save all this grain, for the benefit of the starving humans.

Leading the least-cruelty life is a fundamental responsibility

Images from: Horrors of India’s Dairy industry and Five year investigation into India’s poultry

Most people are disconnected from how their food lands up on their plates. Chickens grown for eggs & meat are stuffed in awfully tiny cages, within a stinking compound containing hundreds of other birds. To reduce the ‘disturbance’ caused by the stressed birds, they are de-beaked with a hot blade at a very tender age! The egg hatcheries (even the ‘free-range’ ones) brutally kill all male baby chicks, since they can’t lay eggs, and don’t grow fast enough to be sold for meat.The tale of misery is no different for pigs, goats, fishes and other animals reared for meat.

I don’t want to contribute to the torture of any female – human or animal!

We are all outraged – and justifiably so – about the high incidence of rape in the country. However, when scores of voiceless cows and buffaloes are subjected to the same horror so that we can consume dairy products, we hardly blink!

Contrary to the assumption of many, the cow is no ATM machine for drawing milk. She, a fellow mammal, produces milk only for a limited time after delivering a baby. But, for any tabela/dairy to be financially viable, every cow in it needs to produce milk continuously. Hence, she has to be forced into a constant, body-breaking cycle of pregnancy, birthing and lactation! The repeated impregnation is done either through a rape by a common bull, or an equally torturous process called artificial insemination, exposing her to diseases. Cows are injected with growth hormones that give them painful stomach cramps. Once spent, cows are either thrown out on the streets to die (mostly from eating plastic waste) or mercilessly stuffed in the trucks and transported to slaughterhouses. The conditions of hens or female pigs too are similarly torturous.

Even the males are not spared misery. Like male chicks, male calves are also a liability (as they can’t produce milk), and they too pay the ultimate price for it. They are either starved or killed for leather/veal.

I am also a mother!

As I have been vegan for over 2.5 years, my entire pregnancy was vegan too. My calcium level was above average all throughout (that too without taking any supplements except for 15 days). Despite consuming no dairy, egg or meat, my son was born with 3.75 kg of weight (considered extremely healthy), and I needed no stiches at all in my natural delivery, indicating very strong protein levels in my body!

When someone asks me if my son will ever drink cow’s milk, I often begin with “I hope not, since he’s not a calf!” We are fully committed to raising him vegan – for his sake as much as the animals’.

A vegan does the least damage to plants too!

I am often asked, “what if plants feel pain?” Well, if they do, it’s all the more vital for us to go vegan. That’s because a meat/dairy/egg eater consumes many times more plants than a vegan does. A non-vegan sits higher on the food chain, consuming not just meat, eggs & milk, but also the plants fed daily to the farm animals for their entire lifetimes! Thus, consuming every kg of animal food also involves the consumption up to 10 kg of grains. Therefore, eating plants directly i.e. being vegan does the least damage to plants too (not just animals).

I do not want to be a species-ist.

“Animals exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans,
just like black people were not made for whites, and women not for men.” – Alice Walker

Anyone who refuses inequitable practices such as casteism, racism or sexism should do the same with species-ism – the exploitation of one species by another. Why should justice and kindness be confined to humans when animals too can feel pain equally vividly? What we are doing to animals is much worse than the human slavery that was prevalent not so long ago. It’s high time we take the next leap in our ethical evolution by overcoming the apathy conditioned into us, and eradicating animal slavery & oppression.

I hope many of the above reasons have resonated with you. If they have and you want to explore veganism further, please visit here, and stay tuned for the next few posts, wherein I will elaborate on how easy it is to vegan in this day and age, with all the vegan products and recipes out there.

Resources for further reading/viewing

-       ‘Why Vegan’ FAQ

-       Comprehensive practical tips for living vegan

-       CNN documentary – The last heart attack (featuring Bill Clinton who is vegan for health)

-       A Delicate Balance – a movie delving into the issues with the current food system

-       Earthlings – a documentary that touches your soul

-       Gary Yoursofsky’s inspirational, viral speech on veganism in Georgia Tech University

-       Books from my personal library for further reference

Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

I am a fan of fiction novels and have read a lot many so far by many famous authors. However after Shaurya’s arrival my reading has been dominated by health and parenting books :). Hence reading Private India was much-needed change for me. I had read Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi earlier and wasn’t impressed much by it. To me, it looked like a failed attempt to mimic Dan Brown with a novel full of many loopholes. But partnership with James Patterson drew me towards reading Private India with high expectations as I liked reading a few Patterson novels. Albeit this added attraction, the story of loophole still stays with Sanghi’s writing.

The story starts with a mysterious murder of a Thai plastic surgeon in Mumbai and Santosh Wagh who heads Indian branch of Private India, an agency founded by an ex-CIA Jack Morgen get involved with the investigation. Then the story continues with series of murders each day in the similar ways. Though the overall suspense is maintained well in the novel and it succeeds to surprise the readers, it also has plenty of unnecessary ‘khichadi’ of bollywood masaala, serial killer, terrorism and gangsters. Ideally they could’ve done away with the terrorism and the gangster bit, because it seemed as if it was forced into the story only to entertain the character of Jack Morgen, which din’t have much role otherwise.

Due to the unnecessary mixture of various angles in the book, it does get boring halfway through. Many of the characters too are not handled well. The serial killer wants to murder 9 women for the hatred of women but I felt that the singer was killed only to reach the killer’s favorite number 9 :). One of the character Hari Padhi, a member of Private India team and also a possible suspect later, talks to a mysterious woman with husky voice on the phone and the writers have totally forgotten to reveal as to who she was! The chronology of the events in the novel doesn’t reveal anything more to the reader than what’s known to its characters, so I also felt that the lead characters are not shown intelligent enough to catch even some of the obvious clues!

On the brighter side, novel is pretty fast paced despite it’s irrelevant sub-plots so I could simply finish it in 3 days time! But in my honest opinion, go for it only if you have some extra time to kill without any better choice.

[Note: This review is a part of the Book Review Program of Blogadda.]

Perils of Processing!

Soon after I became vegan, I was astonished to discover how simple and innovative it is to veganize the recipes that are conventionally made with animal products. And the most interesting part for me was to find that they taste equally yummy, sometimes even better. :)

Although you can always find ready-made vegan packaged foods like biscuits, chocolates etc. in stores, in my constant efforts towards having an eco-friendly home, I have consciously removed most processed foods from my house and have started insisting on having as much home made stuff as possible. The only processed foods that I have in my house are occasional tomato sauce, cooking oil, pickled olives/jalapenos and raw sugar/jaggery. Efforts are on in reducing these too. I try to cook with no oil or less oil, replace sugar with dates and even make my own tomato sauce sometimes.

Apart from the resources consumed in the production of these foods, the packaging material used for many of these products is completely non-recyclable (due to aluminum coating inside the plastic). It means that only thing one can do to get rid of them is to burn, which is obviously not eco-friendly or healthy. Moreover, producing these packaging materials too has its own eco-footprint. On the top of that, all these foods are not healthy at all. Most processed foods contain refined wheat flour (even those who are labeled as whole wheat!), hydrogenated oil, emulsifiers, high sodium, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring aka MSG, preservatives and a whole lot of artificial ingredients that fall under various E-numbers. Many of these foods are also deep fried. Some of them are so extensively processed that they can no more be considered as food! The sad thing is that a lot of the manufacturers advertise some of their such products as healthy!

Making everything at home may seem like a daunting task at first. Some might even think that I must be spending all my time in the kitchen or I should be a great cook! In truth, I am still going through the learning curve of culinary art. :) I run away from recipes with complex procedures and endless list of ingredients. So any recipe that I lay my hands on, I try to simplify as much as possible with the least number of ingredients. For example, I recently did a cooking demo, where in I showed vegan alternatives to conventional dairy based stuff. I called it Vegan cooking – for the busy, the lazy and the uninitiated :). As the name suggests, the recipes were so ridiculously simple that even someone who has no knowledge of cooking can make them and most of those recipes take only 5-7 minutes of time!

Although I have penned down many of my simple recipes and tips in the form of various articles I wrote for The Alternative, I haven’t particularly written anything on this blog. Henceforth, I am triggering a new category of blog post here related to simple recipes which are of course vegan, but are also healthy and very easy to make. I have no intention of converting this blog to a food blog, as I also want to keep writing on many other topics.

To kickstart this series, here is an amazingly simple mango ice-cream recipe. There are several things that are great about this ice-cream. Other than being unbelievably simple with as less as 5 minutes of preparation time, It is completely free of any additional sweeteners and guess what, it can be made with just two ingredients – Mangoes and tender coconut pulp!

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I always freeze a few mangoes before the season gets over so that I can always enjoy mango ice-cream :). This time I had made it for some guests, who did not believe me when I said the ice-cream is not only vegan, it’s also sugar-free. Without wasting any more words on praises :), lemme just jump to the recipe:

Ingredients: 1 cup fully ripened and sweet mango pieces, 1/4 cup very soft tender coconut pulp

Procedure: Blend all in the mixie, add some water (no more than 2 tbsp) to the mix if it’s too hard. And freeze for 2 hours! Scoop!

Voila! Your delicious mangoe ice-cream is ready to eat! Healthy, curelty-free (vegan), cholesterol-free and sugar-free too!

Btw, I also wrote another article with The Alternative on healthy vegan ice-creams. Check out all the ideas and recipes here.

No more whispering!

Many of the followers of this blog, my friends and relatives who are uncomfortable with discussions related to the ‘bloody matters’ openly, may wonder about the need for me to talk about it on this blog!

I must confess that I haven’t always been this bold about it. In fact, when I was 10, I simply asked my mom to shut up when she tried to explain me about menstruation. Things changed when I moved out of the cozy cocoons of my home to work with Reliance in Mumbai. I was buying sanitary pads myself (without wrapping them in a newspaper or a black plastic bag). Some things still remained unchanged like whispering to female colleagues while asking for a spare sanitary napkin, hiding the sanitary napkin in the jeans pocket while going for a change or even faking mild fever to get a day off due to severe stomach cramps! But in 3-4 years’ time, after moving around in several places, I had ditched the last ounce of ‘shame’ I had in me for this topic and even started talking about menstruation openly with male friends. In hindsight I think I wouldn’t have taken this much time to change, had the topic not got a social taboo attached to it.

cursed-impure

Photo credit : Menstrupedia.com

Everyone (at least adults) in our society knows about menstruation and understands that it’s a physical process that a woman’s body goes through every month. Menstruation can be a troublesome time for some women, especially the working ones or students. Not being able to talk about it only adds to the overall problem. The traditional and cultural restrictions that are pushed on to the girls in many families are even more problematic. We need to normalize the talk about menstruation in public. It’s time we come to terms with the fact that women are going to menstruate, whether we like to hear/talk about it or not. It’s the collective responsibility of our society to make their life easier, let them educate themselves and ask questions about it, and not add to their difficulties by stigmatizing the natural body processes or by unjustly forcing them into senseless traditions and customs.

Menstrual blood contains nothing but a woman’s unfertilized egg and some tissues that come out with it. Yet, many women consider it impure and hesitate in touching it. The same bloody sanitary napkins then have to be handled by the sanitation workers at the landfills or clogged drains.

Many also don’t realize the entire process of menstruation and the toll it takes on the environment. A menstruating woman in India consumes about 5000 napkins in her reproductive years. The amount of wood pulp used results into decimation of nearly one tree. In addition, the synthetic layers used in just one sanitary napkin equals to the plastics used in 4 carry bags. Then there are also a number of harmful chemicals such as dioxin and bleaching agents involved. Above all these, the very fact that these napkins are not biodegradable itself makes them a huge ecological threat. Read more about ecological impact of menstrual waste here.

Why go for such hazardous practices when there are several eco-friendly, pocket-friendly, more convenient and hygienic options like cloth pads and menstrual cups available to us. Here’s a detailed article on how to ditch disposable napkins and embrace the eco-friendly options. Personally I have been using menstrual cup for 4 years now. I could go back to the same old cup even after delivery. They are super-convenient. I have even played all day long in waterfalls wearing them! I know plenty of women who also use cloth pads and are super satisfied with it. I am ending this post with a couple of resources that would help people explore further on sustainable menstruation:

 Note: The post was featured at Blogadda for their Spicy satureday picks :)

What’s in a ‘last’ name?

“So if you are so much against all kinds of discrimination and claim to be a feminist, how come you have adopted your husband’s last name?” – It’s a question I have been asked numerous times! Those who asked me this didn’t know me before marriage. Hence, they didn’t know that I have always been Sejal ‘Parikh’! It was a co-incidence that my and Pulkit’s last names were the same. Around the time I got married, I was even told by some that I got lucky, as I wouldn’t have to change my last name! The fact is that well before I decided to tie the knot with Pulkit. I had made up my mind not to let marriage alter my name. In fact, I have spent many days wishing that Pulkit’s and my last names were different, because, then, people around me wouldn’t have been led to the misconception about me being a hypocritical feminist who doesn’t walk the talk!

During the time I was in Gurgaon, my eyes opened to the many ways through which men in our society oppress, exploit or discriminate against women. One of those ways is the name changing post marriage. One’s name is an important part of her identity. That’s what everyone around has all along recognized her through. Yet, when she’s married, she is supposed to change her middle name (or last name in some cultures) to her husband’s name, and his surname as her last name, as if she is an object, whose identity is immaterial to the society and her property rights are transferred from the father to the husband.  (I had a friend from Rajasthan, who was asked to change even her first name!).

I think 21st century women have woken up to this issue to some extent, hence we see the flourishing a new trend – hyphenating two surnames (usually only for informal settings like social networks – nothing changes legally though). It is an attempt to save her original identity, but sadly, she is still unwilling/unable to get rid of the hubby-stamp completely. Why can’t she just be what she was before marriage?

It’s unfortunate that due to decades of patriarchal conditioning, many women also have internalized the notion that they are second-class members of their families and the society. So, many think that it’s their duty to assume their husband’s last names, and they would be doing something wrong if they didn’t adhere to the “societal norm”. This attitude needs to change. Women have to start demanding to retain their identity and rights to do anything we wish, not only with our names but also with our lives, just like men do! Of course, the struggle becomes easier if husbands too stand by their wives against the pressure of society. In my case, since changing last name wasn’t needed, I was asked to change my middle name. Needless to say, that never happened. And, strong support from Pulkit made things go smooth.

Hypothetically, if the situation was to reverse, as in if our society was to turn matriarchal, would men be okay with changing their last names (or even first in some cases)?

My vegan pregnancy and natural birth experience

[Note: I recently did another article on The Alternative that contains the success stories of many Indian vegan pregnancies and veganly raised babies and also debunks many misconceptions, and substantiates that vegan babies and pregnancies are not just perfectly safe, but quite beneficial health-wise. Please read it here.]

I have often been asked to share the experience of my natural and vegan pregnancy. I had been vegan over 2 years before pregnancy, so, without a doubt, my pregnancy was going to be vegan too. And, I am very glad to be yet another person to have shattered many nutritional myths created by vested interests about veganism during this period.

Here’s how awesome being vegan has been for my pregnancy and my baby’s health:

  • ImageI gained 18 kg of weight during 9 months of pregnancy.
  • My son, Shaurya, was born with 3.75 kg of weight (considered extremely healthy).
  • My calcium and protein levels were excellent throughout the pregnancy, without any supplements (except for 15-20 days), as detailed below.
  • I had a completely natural delivery with no external induction, no cut or stitches, no pain management through epidural!
  • To top it all, my postdelivery recovery was super-smooth! Since my pregnancy diet was devoid of any animal (i.e. unhealthy) fat, I could shed as much as 16kg within first 3 months itself without any kind of exercises whatsoever! Hence, I never needed to buy a new pair of jeans or any other clothes :).
  • Within a week, I was able to work my way around the house. After the first 3 months, my health had improved so much that without much help from anyone except Pulkit, I was able to do all multi-tasking in the house, start my work from home, write articles, feed Shaurya and rock him to sleep – all this without any body pain at all!
  • I have been able to breastfeed Shaurya exclusively for 6.5 months (and along with solids thereafter).
  • Other than minor cold, my 9 month old little monster hasn’t had a single health problem, and has needed absolutely no medicine.

Calcium and protein myths!

Women are in general advised to have more unsaturated fat and very less saturated fat during pregnancy, and quite rightly so. Yet, when it comes to calcium and protein, everything is forgotten. These two components somehow manage to freak out almost everyone so much that they are ready to stuff themselves with animal foods containing saturated fats, cholesterol, artificial/natural hormones and what not! Even then, they are unable to get rid of their fear of calcium, so they also load themselves with calcium supplements for 7 months of pregnancy! One would think that now the calcium crisis should be over, but nah, I have come across many women who suffered low calcium issues even after following all the above! Almost all women get episiotomy stitches (low protein levels are primarily responsible for perineal tearing.)

There are multiple reasons why taking animal milk (for calcium and in general) is a bad idea. Besides the huge amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, animal foods are entirely fiber-less. Protein in the animal food, when absorbed as amino acids, results in an acidic reaction in the body. In order to keep body pH alkaline, minerals such as calcium and magnesium are leached out of our body! Moreover, there are plenty of plant based calcium rich foods. The picture below lists 20 of them.

calcium

If one consumes enough calories, one is bound to get enough protein, for protein is one of the basic building blocks of any food. And women are supposed to consume higher calories during pregnancy. In fact, the only protein rich food that I included in my daily routine was a bowl of sprouts or chana (cheakpea). It is said that low protein results in weak pelvic muscles, which in turn lead to vaginal tearing (during delivery) that requires stitches. Guess what – I had virtually no vaginal tearing and did not require any stitches at all, which is according to doctors is rare! So, I must have done something right! :)

My pregnancy diet plan

Let me now come to the question I have been asked the most: My diet chart during 9 months of pregnancy!

I followed a healthy vegan diet overall (with some lapses on sugar), avoiding all the refined foods (such as white sugar, white rice, white flour etc), consuming mostly home-cooked food with minimal or no oil. I avoided supplements (with small exceptions). Due to loss of appetite in the 3rd and 4th month, I could hardly eat much food, and supplement myself nutritionally. Hence, I took vegan multi-vitamin supplements for 15-20 days. I also took iron supplements during last 2 months and vegan calcium supplements during the last 15 days. Although in general I am not against supplements if they come from plant based sources, I have always believed that healthy food should be the primary source for any nutritional needs. Of course, if one is not able to eat healthy food due to some reasons, supplements are the only alternatives sometimes. Here’s the detailed diet chart that I followed. In order to have anything and everything vegan, here are some excellent practical tips to follow.

My natural birth experience

DSC_0291I was also fortunate enough to find the best care provider in Healthy Mother Natural Birthing Center. Dr. Vijaya Krishan, an excellent mid-wife, provided all the support needed for the kind of natural birth that I was looking for. She was also extremely supportive of my being vegan. Her skills and commitment to natural birthing played an important role in my delivery. In the last month Shaurya decided to shift into posterior position with his skull pressing on my spine, which was the reason I ended up with 2 days of pre-labour, 2 days of active labour, one day of hard back labour and 4 hours of pushing! Had it not been for loving hubby Pulkit and Vijaya, I might have had to go with the dreaded C-section! Instead, I had a completely natural delivery without any pain induction, epidural or episiotomy! It was just the way I wanted it to be! Read more here about my natural birthing experience.

Some useful resources to explore further on veganism:

Here’s what’s up with my life!

Life’s changed a lot since I last updated this blog! So this post will be all about the new happenings :).

I’m now mommy to a 7 months old son. We named him Shaurya (means Courage)! He has sort of assumed a center-stage in our lives now :). Being vegan for nearly 3 years now, my pregnancy was obviously vegan. I have often been asked to share my experience with vegan and natural birth. So a post about that is next in the queue! :)

I took up two certifications during pregnancy. One on Plant based nutrition from Cornell (of course distant learning) and the another in Technical writing (full time). Hence instead of working full time with IT sector, now I earn my bread by taking technical documentation contracts from home. If anyone’s interested, do checkout my Odesk profile! I also started writing as a freelancer regarding issues relating to veganism, health, environment, etc. Some of my articles are listed here. I also contribute my time to promoting veganism whenever possible.

Being a work-from-home-mom is difficult, but thanks to understanding and loving hubby and forever cheerful Shaurya, everything’s moving smoothly :).

Organic food in Hyderabad

Six months ago, suggesting my friends and acquiescence to buy organic food (grown without any toxic chemical based pesticides or fertilizers) was an uphill struggle, but I see a huge turn around today, thanks to Satyamev Jayate. Now, I get approached by the very same people for help with finding organic food in Hyderabad!

This post intends to guide people of Hyderabad in finding organic foods near their areas of residence.

It’s pretty easy to find organically grown dry groceries in Hyderabad, but getting regular supply of vegetables and fruits is still tricky. Hopefully next few years will show more options, with the efforts put in by some of my friends, for making organic food readily accessible in the city.

Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), started by Dr. Ramanjaneyulu GV (fondly known as Dr. Ramoo, a participant and beneficiary of SMJ’s episode on toxic foods), has done some pioneering work training many farmers in AP in sustainable agricultural techniques. I truly admire the dedication of the CSA team in making organic possible in Hyderabad.

Today, with the help of CSA and some other organizations, there are many outlets for organic foods in the city.  The conception that organic food costs a hefty amount is no longer true. Most of the organic produce I buy cost as much as their non-organic counterparts. Two major reasons behind a little higher cost of several organic products are : 1.) Land that’s used to chemicals take a few years to rejuvenate after beginning with sustainable farming methods. 2.) Organic food supply chain is not that evolved as of now. Most groups have to set up their separate supply chain, collecting produce separately from farms that are geographically scattered.

However, the branded products that are usually found on the supermarket shelves may be pretty costly. Hence I stay away from them.

Below is the list of many reliable and cost-effective places for buying organic groceries, vegetables and a lot more:

  • Sahaja Aaharam: In its office premises, CSA runs this small store, one of the very first organic stores in the city. The store is located in Tarnaka. One should call them first and check out the availability of certain products before visiting. Sahaja Aaharam is also a good place to buy good quality organic seeds.
  • Good Seeds : The venture was started by four organic food enthusiasts as a for-profit venture with the intention of helping organizations like Sahaja Aaharam and others in marketing their products and to make consumers aware about benefits of organic food. Good Seeds runs a monthly organic bazaar at Saptaparini, Banjara Hills. One can find everything from dry groceries to vegetables, natural washing powders and even natural cosmetics there. YouSee, a group working towards better waste management has a dry waste collection booth in these bazaars, which they later give for proper recycling. Good Seeds has also started five pick up points in Secundarabad, Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills and Gachibowli. They can be contacted at orders@goodseeds.in for more information.
  • Jiva Organics: Launched a few months back, by Shyam Penubolu, Jiva Organic carries a wide variety of products which can be browsed at their website with respective prices. They have recently started home delivery for vegetables/fruits(around selected areas) and an organic catering service too.
  • Hyderabad goes green: Their store in Banjara Hills stocks a number of eco-friendly products, including some organic food products and daily dump’s home-composting pots. They have just recently begun Saturday bazaars for organic vegetables and fruits.
  • Sristi Naturals: I have had good quality organic grapes from Sristi Naturals during the season. More information about their products can be found on the website. Mr. Satya also does home-delivery for organic fruits and vegetables in certain areas near kukatpally.
  • Prakruthi Natural & Organic Store: They do not have online presence as per my knowledge, but they can be contacted at: Sri Mukh Complex, Shop No. 2, Upper Ground Floor, Himayathnagar Main Road, Himayatnagar. Phone number: 8341120702 (Raj)
  • Daaram: Their store is located at:
    1-10-3/1, Boorugu Vihar, Lane next to Andhra Bank, Near Prakash Nagar, Opp. Old Airport Lane, Behind Bottles & Chimneys.  http://daaram.blogspot.com
  • Other than this, there are outlets such as Nature’s basket and fab-india. Many super market also stock organic products now. You can spot them under brand names such as ProNature, Down to Earth, 24 Letter Mantra, Organic India etc. Most of these tend to be a little pricey.

Go Organic! Go Healthy!

Wedding woes

She calls herself a 21st century girl, perhaps rightly. Having been given a good quality education, she has been able to bag a high paying job in a multinational company and attain financial independence. She considers her equal to men in all areas, be it at education or work. She wants her right to go out late at night and wear any cloths of her choosing. However, all this independence and equality goes right out of the window when it comes to the super-hyped mega event – the wedding. No, a big fat Indian wedding. She wants flashy dresses and heavy jewelry, a grand bash, even if it costs her parents a fortune. Many of the rituals/practices during and after the wedding are deeply patriarchal, yet this advocate of gender equality has no trouble embracing them. Yes, she is a 21st century girl, but far from an ideal one.

Pardon me if I came out a bit too harsh in the above paragraph, but this has exactly been observation so far (with few exceptions). Being a girl, I wrote this with a female focal point. But, that doesn’t at all mean that girls are not the only guilty party. Many girls don’t have the support of the would-be-husband, even if they want to keep things simple. I was shocked to find many of my male colleague openly sharing expectations of a hefty dowry plus a working wife! The blame, though, doesn’t fall on the bride and groom completely. The parental pressure too is immense. The parents, in turn, succumb to societal pressure. And come to think of it, who forms this society? You, me, our parents and people around us!

Ever since I gained this perspective, I had decided not to fall into this trap and was determined to a simple wedding for myself. Fortunately my soul-mate too had similar ideas and we clicked immediately. And today, after almost 5 years, I still think of it as one of the most significant decisions made by us. I thank a dear friend for coaxing me to write this post and capture how we got married.

Our initial plan was to have a registered marriage but later we agreed for a simple wedding in Arya Samaj Mandir in presence of immediate family members numbering around 30-35 and a small lunch in a nearby restaurant. We did not want any relatives to make their own assumptions for not inviting them to the wedding. Hence we came up with a concept of a ‘wedding intimation card‘ which explained in detail our reasons for the simple wedding. As for the parents, they took some time to make peace with our beliefs, but they did come around later.

I was recently asked if I have ever regretted this decision. Forget any regret; I am proud of it! I am proud that I was not a financial burden to my parents, that I broke many male chauvinistic stereotypes of conventional marriages. If I hadn’t done it, I would always have felt the guilt of not walking the talk of independence and equality.

Marriages should be thought of as a coming together of two souls. Today, we emphasize more on the coming together of caterers, bands/DJs, decorators, jewelers and dress designers. Is it the right way forward for the society?

Why vegan? – a personal account

[Note: I also wrote an article for The Alternative magazines about my reasons of being vegan: 8 reasons why I choose to be a vegan. ]

Why did I turn Vegan? A question I face every time I refuse a cup of milk-tea. It has been a year now since I turned vegan completely, so I find it is a good time to publish this long pending post.

What is Veganism?

Essentially, a vegan is a set of choices stemming from a simple logic: Any being that feels pain should not be put to pain. Thus, a vegan avoids all animal products: Milk & its products, meat, eggs, honey (substituting them with their plant-based versions for taste, if desired), wool, leather, fur, pearl, silk, etc. In my view veganism is an extension of progressive movements like those against slavery, racism and gender inequity. The enslavement and exploitation of a class of sentient beings – on the morally irrelevant basis that they do not belong to our species – must end.

Milk and Cruelty

It was only during breast-feeding related discussions of community health fellowship I came to know that breast milk is not an endless resource and stops after a few years of pregnancy! (Believe me, I know a lot many techie friends who still don’t know this!). Somehow it din’t occur to me to apply same logic to the cows too. Adithya, a friend (also a medical doctor) introduced me to the concept of veganism and later I started reading and understanding more about it. And that was the starting of a year long step-by-step journey towards compassionate changes.

I never imagined that a cow would be forced into pregnancy repeatedly throughout her lifespan (either through artificial insemination or by a common bull) and injected with strong bovine growth hormones that give her painful stomach cramps. When she yearns to feed her baby, the milk, that’s actually made for the calf, is stolen by us, humans. As if that’s not enough, male calves are directly sent to slaughter house and females are kept alive for milk. How can we justify all this torture just because we humans have acquired an addiction to ‘milk’? We are not satisfied with our share of our mother’s milk and still want more, so we steal from someone else’s mother, which happens to be a cow here, even when we grow up, and can supplement our bodies with all kinds of other foods. (A must watch video). No mammalian specie, in nature, drinks milk of another specie, nor does any animal specie drink milk after the age of weaning!

Environment and Hunger

Non-vegetarians often have this misconception that they are saving food for vegetarians by eating animals! Now, did you know that for getting 1kg of beef it takes almost 10-12 kgs of grains? (3-4 kg for chicken). Almost 50% of maize in india and 80% of soy, maize in US goes to cattle feed. The whole process of feeding grain to cattle and than eating meat, seems too inefficient taking huge amount of land, water, fertilizer and other resources. Even international agencies like UN produced a report in 2010 urging people to move towards meat and dairy free diet.  [Video] In 2006, UN-FAO had also brought out a 400 pages of report detailing the impact of livestock on environment and stated that it’s responsible for a substantial part of total GHG emissions. [Full report here]. Raising cows and buffaloes for milk also takes enormous amounts of grains and water. Milk today is consumed more in the form of cheese, paneer, ghee, butter etc.

Personal transitioning

I have always been enslaved to my sweet tooth, and have enjoyed all kinds of milk based sweets, ice creams, pastries etc.  Hence when I found out the brutality behind milk and recognized the fact that milk itself is so needless for my body, I tried to come up with many possible arguments to refute  these claims. I reckon this initial reaction only came out of my own insecurities about losing those delicacies that had become an integral part of my diet. It took me a while to digest the facts and internalize them. While traveling further in many rural place, I found out that all the cruelty related aspects recorded by others are not some isolated incidents. Meanwhile Pulkit too was exploring the idea of turning vegan. Both of us still believed that cow’s milk is good for us health wise. With regular pain-killer intake, Pulkit felt (factually incorrectly in hind sight) that he should continue 1 glass of milk, but he stopped all things he consumed merely for taste (sweets, paneer, ice creams etc). I never had a habit of drinking raw milk, so I started cutting down other things one by one, beginning with cheese and paneer dishes.  It took us 2-3 months to become complete vegans (Pulkit also stopped raw milk later). The first 2 months seemed difficult, but later on we never realized when it became just a way of life!

It only took me a month to learn a few tricks of vegan living and thereafter it was pretty easy to find vegan alternatives of all my favourite stuff everywhere. There’s no reason to miss sweets, ice-creams, cakes, cookies, curd, cheese etc., as everything today can be made or bought in vegan version. all tips for transitioning to vegan diet. can be found here. I have also written many article containing numerous simple and healthy recipes. Here is a complete list of my such articles.

Please read this neatly compiled common questions in case you are planning to go Vegan. Sharan has a very helpful health booklet for the beginners (free download). For hostel students, Arun, an IISc student has devised some excellent guidelines.

Vitamin B12 and D Vegans or non-vegans, deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D is very common today, due to our clean diet and increasing pollution (that’s blocking UV-B rays of the sun). Read all about Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D (the links also have supplement information). People deficient in Vitamin D should start the supplement and vitamin B12 is something that everyone would need to have as supplement. 

Speciesism  (discrimination based on the type of species)

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.
-Alice Walker

I recently read about human slavery in Rome and other countries in the past. It was disgusting how they treated fellow humans , but I see very little progress in the attitude today. We have simply replaced humans with animals, the rest remains the same! Some argue that it’s natural for humans to feel more for their own species. That’s perfectly fine as long as we don’t derive our happiness at the expense of another innocent species. We may be more powerful than the other species, but then Brahmins are also more powerful than Dalits in most of rural India, yet we don’t believe that Brahmins have a right to dominate Dalits, do we? If a powerful specie is entitled to exploit a weaker species, by that logic a powerful gender should also be justified to dominate a weaker one. But then, why do we, educated and civilized people, stand up proudly for gender equality?

Human civilization has been going through a long process of evolution. We started off with many things right but some wrong. Sexism, racism, human slavery, hunting animals for fun, patriarchy are some of them. In time, we have recognized some of these mistakes and corrected them, yet there are many more to correct. Veganism, in my view, is just one of those pending corrections.

Vegan for good health!

It was during the time of exploration, when we were searching for nutritional replacements for Pulkit, we met Parag, a Plant based Nutritionist in Bangalore who gave me two books ‘The China Study‘ and ‘The Food Revolution‘. These books along with Sharan‘s Peas Vs Pills workshop broke so many nutrition related myths.  I was fully convinced that milk is not only needless for human consumption but can also be harmful for human health!

Ingredients of the cocktail called ‘Milk’!

Milk – by dictionary definition means “A white liquid produced by mammary glands of female mammals for feeding their young”. Right, all mammals produce milk for their babies (not for humans! We humans seem to think everything is made for us!) Hence milk is tailor-made for that particular specie.  For e.g., growth rate of a calf is 4 times higher than that of human baby, hence nutrients such as protein, calcium etc are also 4 times higher. These high-levels of protein and calcium are not suitable for humans. Besides, all the sources of animal protein are coupled with high amount of saturated fat that’s linked to rise in cholesterol level and results in various lifestyle diseases. And in fact doctors like Nandita Shah, Neal Bernard, Caldwell Esselstyn and John Mcdougall have been reversing diebetes, heart diseases etc just by healthy vegan diet! (More resources are in the end of the post). Besides, isn’t the animal protein based food (milk, meat, egg) the only source, that can raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in its raw form?

What about Calcium?

This is the most frequent question I get. It’s actually a myth that milk is the best source of calcium, something that came out of advertisements by dairy industries and white revolution in the country. Almost anyone with basic nutrition training knows that protein inhibits calcium absorption, and milk is nothing but full of protein (casein which is also mucus forming). In fact below snapshot of calcium comparison between plant based foods and milk would tell you how much misled are we by the industry funded research and advt. campaigns. I sustained entire 9 months of my vegan pregnancy on vegan food without any calcium supplements and I never had calcium deficiency related problems!

calcium

Our anatomy and meat-eating

When I talk to some friends about eco-friendly lifestyle they rhetorically ask “so do you want us to live like caveman?” (as if avoiding plastic and cycling etc. resembles to life of a caveman!). Ironically, when I talked to same people about veganism they asked “But humans have always been eating meat since caveman’s time!” – But we are not Caveman anymore! We are far more evolved  and civilized and have discarded loads of things that cavemen were naive enough to adopt.

I have not found a single person who’s able to hunt and kill even a rabbit without tools and then tear it apart, and eat with all the blood without cooking! What would a 2 years old hungry child pick up when offered raw carrot, and live chicken? Our basic human instincts match mostly of that of herbivores.  But we forcefully train ourselves to change those instincts when we grow out of the innocence of a child. (read Comparative Anatomy of Eating by by Milton R. Mills, M.D.)

If slaughter-houses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian – Sir Paul McCartney (detailed video)

It also makes me wonder why we love one some animals as pets and kill others to eat! After all, both have same feelings and desire to live!

Plant and pain

“So you eat plants, don’t they too feel pain?” – A question primarily non-vegetarians ask (more often than not, merely to win the argument). As per dominant scientific opinions while certain plants certainly respond to stimuli, none can feel pain due to a virtually non-existent nervous system. Contrast that to animals who even feel psychological pain (e.g., dairy cows let out cries of anguish for days every time her calf is forcibly taken away and deprived of its righteous milk). Secondly, even if we hypothetically assume plants to be capable of perceiving pain, non-vegans still would kill/hurt more as farm animals don’t drop from heavens, they are bred/farmed using a massive amount of plant based food and natural resources. Besides life of a plant is drastically different than that of humans or animals. For e.g, when you pluck a leave, it grows back (doesn’t happen with any animal body part). Most plant parts are needed to be eaten or used so that they can propagate by means of pollination.

No deprivation what-so-ever!

Becoming vegan has never been easier. From sweets, chocolates, cakes & ice-creams to curd, paneer, cheese, pizza and tea/coffee, almost every taste you are used to can now be enjoyed without animal ingredients. Find all the where-to-find, how-to-make pointers and other practical tips on Dairy alternatives, Vegan products, Eat-out options, Recipes & more.

Vegan-cake, made by me!

Cooking vegan dishes is my new-found hobby! Find many of my recipes in articles here. Here are some of my favorite vegan culinary websites:

Good communities on the web that help with transitioning:

More resources on vegan nutrition:

Back, with a Hyderabadi bang!

Updating this space seems to have become a yearly affair now :-). A lot of changes happened in life personally and otherwise in the last year, so here’s  a  quick look at some of the recent happenings.

Beginning with the last thing first, we (I and Pulkit) just shifted our location (again!) to Hyderabad. Hopefully we will sustain our stay here for next few years :-). Since the time I left my house in Ahmedabad, this is going to be the 6th city I am going to live in and I’m pretty excited about it! We just rented a house in Kondapur and are still in process of settling. Pulkit has joined Microsoft and is undergoing a promising Ayurvedic treatment for Ankylosing Spondylites (a chronic dicease that he has been suffering since teenage). This treatment was one of the key reasons for the shift to Hyderabad, apart from the better lifestyle (compared to Noida) and fun of having Ruchi (Pulkit’s sister) living with us! As for me, I am still considering several options in front of me. But nevertheless, I will always continue volunteering for various causes related to urban environmental conservation, like I have done so far.  For the regular followers of this blog, I am back to the Dailydump home-composter. With the help of  Sahaja Aharam, we are also planning to buy more organic than ever before.

I and Pulkit just entered into the 5th year of our wedlock! In the last 4 wonderful years, we have witnessed each other growing together and have stood by one another through all the ups and downs. I truly relish all the unforgettable moments that we have shared so far, and look forward to many more of them!

Last year has turned many things around, including the way I look at some of the matters concerning social change-making. Embracing Veganism may have played a major role in this. I have always disliked cooking, but after turning vegan, cooking has been added to my list of hobbies. It has become a challenging task, which makes it fascinating for me. I am gonna leave the detailed reasoning behind my Veganism for the next post. Until then, ciao!

After a long hibernation

It’s time to end the year long blogging hibernation! Life has been entirely different and underwent a lot of shifts since I bid farewell to the IT jobs.  Since February last year I spent the bulk of my time traveling and rest in Noida/Delhi. In retrospect, this blog should’ve been buzzing with frequent posts, but the circumstances made me spend more time  in reflecting than  writing.

Traveling through rural and tribal parts of MP, Bihar and Gujarat was quite an eventful time, giving me several firsts in life. The experiences of staying in the huts of people in rural and tribal regions gave me some insights of  rural and tribal lifestyles. It was, of course, strenuous for me, having been a city dweller all my life. Walking long distances and climbing hills to reach one village to another, cycling more than 30 kms on bumpy and flooded road (with an ordinary bicycle), walking barefoot through flooded fields, sleeping in a hut and getting soaked in the middle of the night due to leaking roof, learning to de-weed the fields– each of these episodes took me through an uncharted territory. I traveled to many places in this phase, from Gujarat to Rajasthan to MP to Orissa to Bihar to Karnataka, all of them by  non-AC trains/buses. I’m glad to have been able to avoid buying bottled water (disposables) in all the journeys till date! Looking back, I also find it striking that I ended up using almost all modes of sustainable transportation – trains(non-AC), buses, trucks, tractor, bicycle etc. (avoiding the fuel guzzling flights).

My attempts to understand problems from various viewpoints,  have helped me connect many previously scattered dots.  Quite a lot reasoning with myself and others, made me decide Environmental conservation as my area of focus.  As for concrete plans, there are none for now. Hopefully I shall be able to throw more light on this in sometime.

Btw, we’ve shifted to a new place, and while continuing the other  eco-friendly practices, I’m also experimenting with a new method of composting (suggested by Divya). Friends are most welcome for a good homemade vegan meal.  :-)

Servent of God or victim of lust?

“She is given to the temple by her parents just when she reaches her puberty. Scared she is, about the outcome of that event, as she is dressed by her mother. The poor girl, hardly understands the meaning of  marriage, let alone marriage with God!” bemoans Mokshamma, a dalit women working with Navjeevana Mahila Okkuta (NJMO), an organization working in North Karnataka (based at Raichur).

It’s estimated that every year more than 1000 young girls in Karnataka are sacrificed in the name of tradition. These girls come from Dalit families, primarily  belonging to the lowest strata of the society.  The girls are given away often for money, at times to save the cost of dowry and marriage. Often parents seek boy child and when a girl is born instead, she’s sacrificed. The disabled or deceased girls  too end up being the victims. On a few occasions, the Gowdas (upper caste) of the village, on suspecting an evil force active in the village, urges (forces) a lower caste family to sacrifice their daughter in service of GOD. Such a girl is known as a ‘Devadasi’, a servant of God.

Read the rest of this entry

A defining career switch

After spending past 6 years in the field of Telecom engineering, I have taken a break to get into into full time engagement with community development. This ‘paradigm shift’ has begun with a fellowship that will run for about a year. After the first 1.5 months in Bangalore (where I have been since March 1), I will travel to various places in (mostly rural) India.

There have been plenty of questions from friends and relatives upon breaking this news, but I wonder if I have been and will be able to satisfy anyone’s curiosity to the fullest! There were also typical patriarchal reactions such as “Oh so you are quitting to become a housewife?” “cool, good thing to pass time, keep yourself busy” … Not that I undermine the role of a home-maker, but it saddens me to see that the value of married woman in the society is (largely) thought to be reduced to a house-wife if she is not doing any income-generating work! Many also had concerns about the finances, when they figured that Pulkit too might take similar plunge soon. But, we have done adequate calculations and pondering on that aspect. Also, this brings me to what Gandhi once rightly said: “There’s everything for one’s need and not for one’s greed”. We had decided to do away with many of our greeds long time back; that has helped us save good amount for our sustenance for next few years :-).

For a long time, even before I came to know of the concept of volunteer work, I knew that I had slightly differing views than many in my surroundings. Be it my atheist and feminist ideas or being a bit  compassionate towards someone’s pain. But all said, I had never imagined myself being where I’m today. Like any other stereotypical Indian student, I too after my schooling had dreamt of getting a good job, having a respectful position both in society and work place.

Going through the past, I now figure that my year on year job-hopping(sometimes without much good reason or pay) was partly also because I was finding my work increasingly futile for the society. Sure, money could also bring about (i.e. fund) a great deal of change, but in my case, I believe my full time involvement would make a bigger impact. As my involvement with AID and other  groups drifted my interests to different issues, the job was becoming an obstacle for contributing to what I felt was more worthy of my time. Can’t say I found my true passion, but I am convinced of this being the best way to go.

I am currently clueless about my final destination after a year, but I will try to keep things posted on this space.

Bangalore, memories galore!

RWUBY4BZ9X5J Leaving the (erstwhile) garden city was a mixed feeling: On the one hand, I was enthused about being reunited with Pulkit after a three-month separation,  and on the other, saddened by the sudden realization of what all I am leaving behind. Here goes a quick rewind to perhaps the most influential 2 years of my life:

I relocated from Pune to Bangalore with Pulkit after tying the knot, one of the best events that have ever happened  to my life. Pulkit has brought a unique flavor to my world, one that I adore (despite our fair share of squabbles)! I wish I could say the same about the truck load of weird nick names he has coined for me :-).

The highlight of the stay was undoubtedly my involvement in activities at AID, which introduced me to several other like-minded groups and individuals across India. Quite a few of them inspired me towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle and are responsible for my improved depth of thought. I must admit my ignorance about some issues pertaining to the injustice that prevails in my surroundings. The more aware I became, the more agitated I grew. Fair amount of debates, discussions and reading have altered my views to such a degree, that I’m now not surprised at seeing many of my closed ones being unable to relate to me at times. But deep down, I still feel the same Sejal,  cheerful around the near and dear, proudly feminist, (increasingly) compassionate and (decreasingly) lazy.

I also had a bunch of ‘firsts’ in Bangalore. I took Pulkit’s suggestion of cycling to work, a decision which I will never regret. I am proud to have paddled 20-25 kms at a stretch! I also had a successful stint at growing a  tiny balcony garden and home-composting! Our first door-to-door relief collection (for Bihar floods) still brings a smile to my face, wherein we had unique experiences of catching people drinking in the middle of the afternoon and seeing the door being shut on us because we were mistaken for sales people :). The visits to villages such as Unnainhalli or Potnal were also the first of their kind. It was also my first time at a course such as the one conducted by PHM on ’Health and Equity’, giving me enhanced  clarity for possible future directions. With the participation of roughly 70 people  from across the globe, I was not only exposed to some enlightening discussions, those 10 days’ stay at NTI campus also gave me a much-needed boost amidst the otherwise boring routine of mine. I took back some fun memories as well, like the non-Indian gurls enthusiastically trying Saris, and seeing them, a guy from Kenya wanting to buy himself a “men’s sari” :-). Besides, it had been long since I enjoyed the company of female roomies!

Another significant development was my hunt for passion, something that stimulates me to go on.  Hopping jobs year on year for work satisfaction doesn’t seem to work for me. I find my interests venturing into many non-IT avenues, most directed to social change. The exploration is ongoing, and I hope to post more concrete plans in this space, in a few months from now.

For now, I have begun trying to find some ways to engage myself in various activities of AID NCR.  Hoping to get through the difficult (as in transition) first few pages of this latest chapter of life as quickly as possible!

PS: After carefully thinking over several factors including concentration of friends, work hours/flexibility, cost of living (esp. rent) & presence of one person (Pulkit) at home for the cook, for now, we have rented a 1 BHK in Noida (over South Delhi).

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