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 person who eats “nothing that comes from a mother, nothing that has a face”. In other words. a Vegan (pronounced vee-gun) diet and lifestyle refers to the choices that are made with compassion towards all the living beings. It excludes all the products derived from animals, that is, milk and its by-products; meat, fish, eggs; honey;wool and leather.
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.
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!
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.
I have prepared a short note containing my personal tips for transitioning to vegan diet. It can be downloaded from here.
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.
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!
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 ad campaigns. [Check the end of the post for the complete table]
Calcium (mg) content in 100g of Food Items : Til (Sesame seeds) - 1470; Curry Leaves – 830; Methi (Fenugreek) Leaves- 395; Ragi- 344; Corriander - 184; Cow’s Milk – only 120!!
Read all about calcium and its absorption here.
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.
Cooking – a new hobby!
Cooking vegan dishes is my new-found hobby! Here are some of my favorite vegan culinary websites:
Sharan (excellent source for alternatives to milk products), Tongue Ticklers (Run by Harini, who lives in Mumbai), Holy Cow Vegan (exhaustive!), Veganosaurus, The Rawterian (Raw vegan food blog. Quite innovative!), IVU (more than 3000 international recipes!), Hobby and more, Vegan Chutney, Vegan on the Prowl
Good communities on the web that help with transitioning:
Table: Calcium (mg) content in 100g of Food Items
[Source - Nutritive Value of Indian Foods. Book released by National Institute of Nutrition, Indian Council of Medical Research, 1989.]
Food Item Calcium Content
- Til (Sesame seeds) 1470
- Agathi Greens 1130
- Curry Leaves 830
- Moringa Leaves 440
- Methi (Fenugreek) Leaves 395
- Ragi 344
- Horsegram 287
- Rajma (Kidney beans) 260
- Betel Leaves 230
- Badam (Almonds) 230
- Chana (Chickpeas) 202
- Corriander (Cilantro) 184
- Urad 154
- Jack fruit seeds 133
- Moong (Green gram) 124
- Cow’s Milk only 120!!!
More resources on vegan nutrition:
- Sharan - General FAQs, Cattle and milk
- Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine – PCRM
- T Colin Campbell Foundation (Author of The China Study)
- CNN documentary on Bill Clinton’s vegan diet for his heart disease
- An exhaustive compilation of all types of vegan resources
- Not Milk (A complete resource)
- Gary Yoursofsky’s wonderful speech
- Vegan Body building and athletes
- All about protein