New Year serves as the perfect opportunity to try out things that have been on our wish list for long. No wonder, this is the month when thousands of health, fitness and nature enthusiasts across the globe sign up for Veganuary — a month-long vegan pledge — in their endeavour to shift towards a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering and improving the health of millions of people. Adding more cheer to vegan lovers this January was the news that the 77th Golden Globe Awards went for an entirely plant-based menu this time, garnering compliments from many, including Leonardo DiCaprio.
Closer home, restaurateurs and café owners in Kolkata — a city known for its eternal love for maachh and mangsho — are modifying their menus to cater to the growing demand for vegan food. So, after warming up to microbreweries, health cafes etc, the City of Joy is now embracing veganism, slowly but surely. With the vegan movement finally here, the food, fitness and lifestyle industry can’t keep calm. Cashing in on the latest buzz is a host of eateries that are now serving vegan dishes. While the latest docu on the subject has spread the word of its wonders like wildfire, celeb role models and increasing access to vegan options in supermarkets, online stores and food joints alike have contributed to a sudden spurt in vegans in this part of the world.
‘Veganism is here to stay’
Chef Urvika Kanoi from The Daily feels vegan is not just a trend but an actual diet that people follow in all seriousness. “I think it is here to stay and will only grow because a lot of people are giving up animal products completely. The number of people turning vegan in this city is definitely on the rise,” she says. However, she feels that Kolkata still lacks an adequate supply of resources required to sustain this lifestyle. “You have the option of getting certain products online or from the supermarkets, but not a lot of restaurants are serving vegan food. Hence, we wanted to bring in vegan and support different diets, including keto-friendly food, gluten-free options et al,” adds Urvika.
Lorenzo Gomes and Samantha Roxanne Pereira, head chefs at Sienna Café, also believe that the vegan concept is going to become an integral part of the city’s foodscape. The common man’s concern for the environment is now bigger than ever before and the duo feel changing our diet and lifestyle can directly contribute to the welfare of our planet as well our body. “The vegan lifestyle promotes good health and helps preserve the environment — all of which are part of our café’s ethos. So, we’ve incorporated vegan options in our menu to provide healthy, cruelty-free dishes. Seeing how the world is changing, we will all be compelled to become more mindful of what we eat and where it’s coming from. It’s a pleasant change to see more and more Kolkatans becoming conscious about their health and the environment. This trend is only going to get more popular,” they affirm.
Options galore: From vegan ice cream to cheesecake
If you thought being a vegan limits your food choices, you’ll be in for a delightful surprise for there’s a whole world of plant-based food options that are ready to be served and devoured. From ice creams, cheesecakes to smoothies, fabcafe’s menu boasts of many dairy- and meat-free dishes. “Every day, we make fresh almond milk, which can be used in coffee, tea, smoothie or anything. So, any recipe that is made with regular milk can be customised here using almond milk. We have quite a lot of vegan options on the menu and if a specific dish is not there, we can get it made using a vegan preparation,” says Rebekah Blank, the café’s brand head.
They have specific icons on the menu to indicate vegan dishes or ones that can be customised for vegan diners. The main course features several items using cashew cream or coconut milk. “Besides, we have two vegan desserts — one is a coconut milk-based ice cream and the other is a cashew almond-based ice cream. Both are really lovely, even for non-vegans. Usually, pure vegans don’t have access to ice cream. And for our cheesecake, we make cheese out of fresh cashew. We also have a fresh fruit payasam, which is coconut-based,” she explains.
Besides cafes and restaurants, a number of home bakers and cloud kitchens too have begun to take vegan orders. From nut milks packed in glass bottles to cakes without the usual doses of butter and milk, the city abounds with takers for such healthier alternatives.
Who is making the switch?
After a bit of research, Drishleen Sethi and Anshul Kumar, co-owners of SAZ – American Brasserie, found out that most of their clientele in the 25-40 age bracket are either following or inclined to follow veganism, and will eventually make it a part of their lifestyle. “Vegetarians too are gradually adopting the same food habits. So, we decided to introduce a few vegan dishes to cater to this niche within the niche, without compromising on the taste and flavours,” says Drishleen.
Most of the health conscious customers at Sienna are also aged between 30 and late 40s. However, interestingly, Urvika had initially not anticipated people above a certain age going vegan. “But we’ve been getting a great response from even those above 45-50, who are now planning to turn vegan,” she shares.
Vegan and vegetarian are not same’
The appeal of these special eateries is not confined to strict vegans alone. It extends to those who are out to sample vegan dishes as a culinary experiment or even those who are considering making the leap of faith. “Yes, we do get a lot of diners who are not really vegans per se, but are excited to try the dishes out just because veganism has been making such waves across the globe and is said to have amazing health benefits too. What is still lacking though is the correct understanding of what’s what. People still can’t tell a vegetarian from a vegan. That’s something we are trying to address. But no harm in taking baby steps, right?” asks Saloni Jhunjhunwalla, owner/partner at The Salt House Kolkata, where one has the option to customise certain dishes as per vegan guidelines.
Agrees Urvika, who feels a lot of people do not understand the difference between vegetarian and vegan. “So, many customers end up asking for vegan when they are just looking for vegetarian. Vegan is an absolute shun of animal products — no dairy, no honey, nothing,” she says.
A sustainable F&B model?
According to Saloni, a big reason this movement is gaining momentum in the West is that it’s driven by animal rights issues. “That’s not the scenario in India. Also, dairy products like milk and ghee are too integral a part of our day-to-day life as well as cultural symbols. So many of our religious practices are incomplete without milk and ghee. Going a 100% vegan is too much of a departure from that,” says Saloni, who believes vegan is so far more of a buzz word here than an actual practice that people have taken on holistically. “They’ll go vegan while dieting, or because they’re suffering from a certain ailment. Unlike a Delhi or Mumbai, I don’t think it’s a trend that can drive or sustain F&B business in this city yet,” she points out.
However, she says when diners try out vegan preparations, more often than not, they like it. “I’ve observed more keenness among women. The awareness that it helps lead a more active lifestyle, makes their fondness go a notch up,” she adds with a wink.
End of fast food?
The ongoing vegan movement will soon see the death of fast food chains in the country is what Chef Varun Mohan of Royal Vega, ITC Royal Bengal, hopes. He feels Indian food was never marketed so well before the vegan trend set off. “Hum toh shuru se hi vegetarian khaate the. The Indian vegetarian cuisine is a hidden treasure trove that is only being discovered by the world now. It was always there in our kitchens, but unlike the Italians or the Chinese, we didn’t do much to make the world go gaga over it. In fact, we started following western food trends and gave in to pizzas and burgers. But seeing the popularity of this movement, I hope fast food chains will become a thing of the past in the next 5-8 years,” says the chef, who is happy to customise most of his menu items for those with vegan restrictions. “The raita can be replaced with soy milk curd. Instead of paneer, we’ll serve you edamame or okra. So on and so forth,” adds Varun.
Why the sudden spurt?
Intolerance towards lactose, climate change concerns, increasing awareness about the harsh realities of the dairy and meat industries, protection of animal rights, keenness to try out new health trends and following celebrities are some of the most common reasons for taking to veganism. “Dairy-free items are a hit with those intolerant to lactose. Besides, most dairy items these days have foreign substances like hormones added to them. So by opting to go vegan, you’re also avoiding things like pesticides that you may be consuming through dairy products,” says Rebekah.
According to Urvika, people are now becoming aware of the unethical treatment meted out to animals through gruesome online videos. “They also know about the realities of the dairy and meat industries. The awareness about the benefits of turning vegan is going up. And of course, a lot of us do try to follow celebrities as well,” she says.
Varun, who has observed an increased interest in vegetarianism in the last eight years, says, “Prioritising health is the primary reason behind people making the switch. Animal rights issue is also there but that comes much later in this part of the world.”
A costly affair?
A common deterrent for people who wish to go the vegan way is the notion that it’s a lavish lifestyle. However, Urvika believes there is no reason why vegan food should be costlier. “Everybody loves eating out, so having access to food suiting all kinds of diets is very important. If following a certain diet costs a bomb then it will dissuade people from choosing it. That’s not right. At our café, the prices for vegan are on a par with other dishes,” she says.
Lorenzo and Samantha say while vegan appetizers and entrees at their café are not priced higher, the desserts are slightly more expensive as vegan substitutes for chocolate, flour etc cost considerably more than the regular processed ingredients. “We’ve started working with organic, vegan chocolates and baking ingredients. When your food comes super cheap and quickly, it’s probably made using low-quality ingredients and in an unsustainable way. So, it’s worth paying more when the choice is healthier and planet-friendly,” they opine.
Drishleen tells us that prices depend on the rarity of vegetables and products they buy. “Our vegan options are not really expensive in comparison, but it all depends on the ingredients. For instance, sweet potato or squash or kale is extremely healthy but not easily available in the city. Hence, a dish with such ingredients can get a bit costlier. Pricing also depends on where you shop from. A vegetable vendor on the streets will obviously be much cheaper than a top-notch grocery store that ensures quality,” she elaborates.
Veganism is vegetarians’ gain
Vegetarians across the globe are rejoicing the popularity of veganism. Besides its positive impact on climate and wildlife, it has also thrown open a host of choices for vegetarians who earlier had difficulties in finding suitable meals for their palate while travelling abroad. Agrees Tanvi Jain, whose recent European honeymoon left her spoilt for choice. “Generally, food is the last area to explore for vegetarians on foreign trips. But thanks to the vegan movement sweeping the world, we Indian vegetarians are getting an opportunity to taste global flavours without comprising on our diet pattern. During our honeymoon, not even for a moment did we miss Indian food. In fact, we had our first brush with herbed food, which we now try and replicate in our own kitchen. We’ve also begun to accept soy milk as a tastier and healthier alternative to buffalo milk,” says the 28-year-old. “My husband and I indulged in many vegan delicacies. An app that categorises restaurants as vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian that serves vegetarian came in handy,” adds Tanvi, who has always practiced vegetarianism and Jain-vegetarianism. “But our experience, coupled with the recent documentary, has inspired us to consider veganism,” she adds.
So, while we are still enjoying our stay on planet Earth, would you consider making alterations to your diet to ensure a safer environment for future generations or would you rather dismiss it as one of those fads? Here’s leaving you with some food for thought.
Nutritionists’ take on veganism:
‘Many Kolkatans are getting rid of dairy products’
While the vegan lifestyle in its true sense is not very popular in Kolkata, many are willing to initiate a vegan diet. More and more people are getting rid of dairy products. So, that’s a start. Though it does become difficult to find alternatives in a city which is known for its non-vegetarian food, products like nut milk, nutritional yeast, chia seeds and spirulina can be easily incorporated in a vegan’s diet. Kolkata now has a lot of restaurants coming up with vegan options. It is a step towards a better lifestyle. Many cafes are letting customers opt for soy or almond milk. Recently, a fully vegan catering service started in the city. Even vegan dog food is now available at select pet stores. I would like to call it the onset of the vegan trend in Kolkata. However, this practice is much more prevalent abroad.
The trend surely has a lot of potential here. However, its sustenance depends on better accessibility of vegan products. A common perception of dairy being our body’s best friend is finally breaking down. Now, people are willing to adopt changes in their lifestyle and are more open to trying out new alternatives. They are reaching out to nutritionists to understand what best suits their bodies. Unlike the West, where most people are inclined towards veganism for ethical reasons, here it is the health perspective that is leading to a change in mindsets. An increasing number of the population wants to be a part of the trend and experiment with their diets.
An elimination of animal products from one’s diet will lead to relying more on other whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, peas, beans, nuts and seeds. Animal food products carry large amounts of toxins, antibiotics and artificial hormones, which are directly linked to life-threatening diseases including cancer. Similarly, due to the injection of antibiotics in cows, our bodies are becoming antibiotic resistant. This also indicates that medically prescribed antibiotics will now stop having an impact on our bodies, making us prone to diseases. On switching to only plant-based foods, the body is being protected from the extra hormones and wastes that come from animal products such as non-organic milk, farm-processed eggs and meat. While it may seem like a struggle in the early stages, being a vegan can help fight a number of diseases, leading to a healthier life in future.
— Nupur Arya, consultant nutritionist
‘You can’t turn into a vegan overnight’
A large number of people are now joining the Vegan India Movement with their motto being ‘eat clean and go green’. Internationally, veganism is an established lifestyle with great food alternatives. Veganism being fairly new to India, especially Kolkata, there is a lack of substitutes required to maintain a proper vegan diet. The substitutes are either expensive or not easily available. The situation is better in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
However, if you have balanced and planned meals, veganism can make you happier and healthier without any discomfort. But you can’t turn into a vegan overnight. A lot of trial and error as well as research go into it. If you have certain deficiencies or ailments that make it essential for you to consume certain foods, then switching to veganism can be tough. You should have complete knowledge of your body and get regular guidance to prepare it for the transformation.
For those who think turning vegan can help them with their weight-loss programme, let me burst the bubble. Though veganism has tremendous health benefits, it may or may not help you lose those extra kilos. However, it certainly helps in reducing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart problems.
Since vegan diets are plant-based, the amount of water, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in your body will be much higher compared to non-vegetarians, whose diets are extremely high on fats and low on vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Vegetarianism and veganism have similar health benefits and can help in all stages of life if meals are balanced properly. Both would definitely require extra supplementation of vitamin B12 and vitamin D3. However, vegans are at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and certain types of cancers.
— Nikita Bardia, nutritionist
What are real-life vegans saying?
I am still in the transition phase. Turning vegan is not an overnight process, especially if you’ve been a hard-core non-vegetarian all your life. The idea struck me after my body started reacting funnily to meat and milk products. Despite giving up dairy items, I continued to face major bloating issues. After some research, I learnt that meat and diary contain substances that cause inflammation, especially in the gut. Though I’ve given up meat, I do sometimes end up having eggs. The challenge was to unlearn habits that I have developed over the years. Eggs and sausages for breakfast, mutton on weekends and an elaborate non-veg spread when eating out. Giving up milk was easy since I’ve always been lactose intolerant but I’d still eat cheese. So, it’s difficult on days I feel like ordering in, like when I want to eat a pizza. Kolkata still doesn’t do vegan pizza! The options are few. However, five years back, it’d have been almost impossible to turn vegan in this city. But today you have almost everything. Apart from online, there are a couple of brick and mortar stores here that have a variety of vegan options on offer — from plant-based cheese and milk to mock meat. As long as you’re eating at home, it’s not an expensive affair.
— Tanisha De, 25, hotelier-turned-model
My vegan journey started post my first fast in 2008. For me, it wasn’t much of a challenge as I was always a vegetarian and never used milk in my tea or coffee. However, initially, my friends and family would not encourage me. Their perception began to change only when they started to see some really positive changes in my health and fitness levels. Now the same people come forward to ask me about the dos and don’ts.
I think Kolkata still needs to go a long way to accommodate vegans. The options are few are far between. The choices at cafes and restaurants are so limited that I prefer to carry my own meal when stepping out.
It might seem like an expensive and tedious affair at first. But when you actually factor in the medical expenses that come along with unhealthy eating practices, it all begins to seem worth the money and effort.
I think we in India still turn to veganism out of specific health/dietary compulsions and not purely out of choice. Whereas, people across Europe, America and South East Asia are voluntarily going for plant-based foods. Tel Aviv in Israel, for instance, is the vegan capital of the world.
— Samir Saraogi, 43, chartered accountant
About one and a half years ago, I was having a lot of health issues. I’d feel bloated, lethargic and generally unwell. But after visiting the doctors, I realised there wasn’t really anything wrong. It was mostly because of all the dairy products I was consuming. I started researching about it and got in touch with a nutritionist. She made me aware about the harmful effects of milk these days. I got to know about how cows are treated and the chemicals that are injected to the milk. Though I was a vegetarian anyway, I decided to cut out all dairy products. I don’t have my health issues anymore and have started to feel much lighter. I have switched to almond milk. I’m also big on the environmental issues and I realised how non-vegetarianism is affecting us. These were my two reasons.
Yes, it’s an expensive affair. A carton of regular milk will cost me 60-70 bucks whereas almond milk will be `300-400 as it’s mostly imported. You have to keep hunting for ingredients, keep your meals prepared in advance. It is a bit challenging for sure but it’s doable and totally worth the task. If not for the environment, do it for your own self. You will never regret turning to veganism.
— Harshita Saraf, 22, student
It’s been two years since I turned vegan. Earlier, I’d turn veg for the month of Saawan every year. Then this one time I tried following a vegan diet. The positive effect it had on my lifestyle tempted me to research more. The environmental aspect of it sealed the deal for me and I haven’t looked back ever since. Only a person who has tried vegan can experience the wonders it does to the body. Initially, I did wonder how it’d be to survive in a Bengali household with meat and dairy going out. But as Indians, it is easier for us to practise veganism as we have a variety of ingredients in our kitchens.
Yes, I can’t suddenly reach out to a packet of biscuits and coffee if I’m hungry. I need to make sure I have my supply of almond milk. I make my own milk. It might be slightly more expensive, but if you compare it with the amount of money you spend on having steaks outside, it is a much more affordable.
A lot of people who wrote me off initially, saying I am going to lose muscle mass, I won’t be able to lift weights, are now inspired by me. After watching the latest docu on veganism and with my progress as an example, many hardcore non-vegetarians are now trying veg meals on certain days. Kolkata definitely has more options for vegans now, but it is still far from great.
— Sayantani Sen, 36, communications and PR professional
What is veganism?
According to the oldest vegan organisation in the world, The Vegan Society, which was founded in the UK in 1944 by Donald Watson, Elsie “Sally” Shrigley and 23 others, veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. The founding of The Vegan Society is celebrated annually on November 1, which is known as World Vegan Day.
Baby steps to becoming vegan
Take it slow: Remove meat or dairy one day a week. Or you could try changing one meal at a time. You could even try changing one product at a time by swapping cow’s milk for almond or soya milk or butter for coconut oil or margarine. There’s a plant-based alternative for almost every type of food.
Do it right: There are vegan versions of almost every type of junk food. So, eat a wide variety of tasty plant foods to ensure you don’t miss out on essential nutrients.
Try new things: There are thousands of vegan recipes out there from every corner of the globe. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the number of meals you can easily prepare from things already in your kitchen or local supermarket ingredients.
Keep learning: Going vegan is a learning curve. To live as a vegan in a non-vegan world takes both courage and curiosity. So, allow yourself time to learn about the various strands of veganism.
Ask for help: “Where can I buy vegan chocolate?”, “How do I bake cakes without eggs?”, “I don’t know how to speak to my family about veganism!” You’re not alone. There’s nothing like talking to other vegans to make your transition even easier.
Remember why: Keep reminding yourself of the reasons you’ve chosen a vegan lifestyle, and the benefits you’ve felt since going vegan. You’ll probably find going vegan a lot easier than expected. Reading books or watching videos about veganism helps, as does keeping motivating visual reminders of your favourite animals.
Don’t give up: If you believe in yourself, vegan living will soon become second nature. There is always a better reason to stick with your decision than to go against it. Take it one day at a time.
Bollywood gives a thumbs up to veganism
Scores of our favourite celebrities in B-Town have made the transition to a healthy, ethical and fulfilling life by going vegan for a variety of reasons. Here are a few who made the switch:
Shraddha Kapoor calls herself a “smart eater”
“Healthy vegan meals” is the secret behind Esha Gupta’s energy and glow since 2015
Ayesha Takia Azmi, along with her mother and
sister, has been a long-time vegan. Describing her “most amazing pregnancy”, she said, “I didn’t have the usual problems like bloating or… body aches”
Richa Chadha has been vegan since 2014 for a variety of reasons. She wrote in a 2015 piece, “I can’t stomach the thought of someone cutting a buffalo’s throat, ramming a knife through a pig’s heart or cramming chickens into cages so small that they can’t even spread a wing, let alone bear to ingest such misery”
Mallika Sherawat has been advocating the vegan lifestyle for more than 15 years
Kangana Ranaut turned vegan in 2015. “Veganism, as a way of life, is deeply rooted in the Indian ethos,” she had said in an interview
Sonam Kapoor went vegan five-six years after learning she was sensitive to lactose
Sonakshi Sinha went vegan to fight animal cruelty
Neha Dhupia, who pledged to protect the environment and animals by adopting veganism, said, “I’ve realised that the benefits of eating plant-based foods include feeling energetic and succeeding to keep weight in control”
“I went vegan, and I’ve never felt better. Now, I want to share that wonderful feeling with everybody I know,” said Jacqueline Fernandez after turning vegan in 2013
After turning vegan in early 2017, Shahid Kapoor also launched his vegan fitness app
Need inspiration? There are endless role models in Hollywood
Hollywood has the maximum number of celebs who are either vegan or had turned vegan for a while
Sir Paul McCartney, Zac Efron, Sia, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ariana Grande, Madonna, Jessica Chastain, Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Bryan Adams, Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, Pamela Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Demi Moore, Natalie Portman, Lea Michele
Vegans exist in almost all fields of sports
If you thought animal-based protein was essential to keep you at the top of your game, these vegans from different fields of sports across the globe will reinstate your belief in the power of plant-based diets. Here are a few…
Sunil Chhetri, the captain of the Indian football team, revealed last month that he had switched to a vegan diet
Virat Kohli, Team India captain, had turned semi-vegan in June last year. He went through a major fitness transformation after deciding to steer away from animal-based products. He even admitted that the change in his food habit has improved his game
Novak Djokovic and Serena and Venus Williams, tennis players
Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 racing driver
Scott Jurek, long-distance runner
Jermain Defoe, footballer
David Haye — boxer
Barny du Plessis — bodybuilder
Hannah Teter — snowboarder
Kendrick Yahcob Farris — weightlifter
Tia Blanco — surfer
Nate Diaz and Abel “Killa” Trujillo — mixed martial artists
Meagan Duhamel — pairs skater
Timothy Shieff — freerunner
Jack Lindquist — track cyclist
Patrik Baboumian — strongman and former bodybuilder
Dustin Watten, volleyball player
Michaela Copenhaver, rower
Neil Robertson, snooker player
Recipes you must try at home!
Grilled veggies, pea hummus and microgreens salad
For the hummus:
500 gm peeled
1 clove garlic
1-2 tbsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp Tahini
2-3 tbsp olive oil
powder to taste
Salt & pepper to tasteFor the salad:
1 tbsp sliced and toasted almonds
2 tbsp feta or goat cheese
(optional and thus, vegan)
1 red pepper
250 gm broccoli
250 gm cauliflower
25 gm assorted micro-greens
2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Start by roughly chopping the cauliflower and broccoli into small florets, and roasting them in the oven or pan, with some olive oil and seasoning on high heat. It’s essential to not crowd the pan/ baking tray, as well as get some char on the veggies. Puree all the ingredients for the hummus in a food processor until it turns into a smooth paste. You want the consistency to be similar to hung curd or cream cheese. Spread the hummus across a flat service vessel or platter. In a mixing bowl, toss the roasted veggies with the pesto and scatter over the hummus. Lightly dress the greens with olive oil and seasoning and place over the grilled veggies. Sprinkle over the almonds and cheese, serving immediately.
(Courtesy: The Salt House)
Mango cashew tart
For the crust:
1 cup toasted almonds
½ cup dates
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 pinch saltFor the fillings:
½ cup soaked cashew
¼ cup coconut sugar
½ slice lemon juice
¼ cup coconut milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup mango
3 tbsp coconut oil
Place all the crust ingredients in a mixer and blend for 30 seconds. The mix should be coarsely ground. Press into cheesecake pan. Soak cashews two hours prior. Place in a mixer with all filling ingredients and blend for 1-2 minutes until you get a nice cream. Pour this over your crust in the cheesecake pan. Refrigerate for two hours. Serve cold, garnish with fresh mangoes.
Source: Times of India