Let’s admit it, we’ve all heard of the too-good-to-be-real burger at least once – the kind that’s vegan, but looks and tastes so much like mince meat that it actually ‘bleeds’. We have also refused to believe its existence, scoffing at friends who told us such inane things. The time, to turn a believer, may however, be close at hand.
A community driven by the love for animals, veganism is a philosophy and a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. The vegan movement eschews not just consumption of animals, but all animal products including eggs, honey, and dairy, that are derived directly from animals or products like fortified orange juice, worcestershire sauce, or jelly, that contain animal by-products. And it is garnering quite a few followers in the city.
With a small, yet growing brigade of people adopting veganism as a lifestyle, the capital’s restaurants too are stepping up their game, coming up with uber-inventive recipes that take bland right out of vegan food to keep those taste buds tickled.
Founded in 1944 as a protest against animal killing, the word ‘veganism’ and ‘vegan society’ was created by Donald Watson, an English animal rights activist. The anti-animal abuse cause was stirred in him when Donald was left traumatized as a child after witnessing a screaming pig getting slaughtered at his uncle’s farm. Horrifying reports, youtube videos and documentaries highlighting animal cruelty behind those neatly wrapped packs of steak, mince, bacon, and breast has once again put the spotlight on animal consumption. This, in turn, has encouraged veganism to grow as a lifestyle trend worldwide.
In Delhi, the trend is gaining ground, from being an alien concept practiced by a few, to something associated only with animal-rights activists, to now being a common alternate lifestyle – largely encouraged by young millennials’ dedication to lead a cruelty-free and healthy lifestyle.
Vegans in the Capital
For 23 year old Inderpal Singh, who recently completed his Master’s in Fashion Designing, turning vegan was a ‘“long drawn but logical choice”. “I started reading where my food comes from, and realized consuming animals is destructive to the planet on a very large scale. It was heartbreaking to see the cruelty animals are exposed to in the name of food. Knowing so much, I had to do something about it. So, I adopted the vegan way of life,” says Singh, who has been practicing a vegan lifestyle since 2015.
Doing so, however, was not easy. For Singh, the most difficult aspect was giving up on his daily cup of joe. “There is a lot of cruelty in the dairy industry, and for me giving up on milk in my coffee was a big decision. I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, like using milk powder,” says Singh. He started using soya and almond milk soon after, and now even makes these at home.
Pooja Rathor, a vegetarian since childhood, also faced her share of issues in the transition to veganism. Giving up on two things, in particular, proved to be extremely difficult – yoghurt and ice-cream. “Yoghurt was really hard to leave, as I was in the habit of starting my day with a bowlful every day. I had to change my breakfast entirely,” says Rathor. Her breakfast now includes vegan omelettes, vegan coffee, and oats. On days she craves yoghurt, she gorges on Roy’s curd- a dairy free curd made from organic soybeans, peanuts, and cashews. For her daily fix of ice cream, Pooja discovered some flavours in Creambell’s ice cream range that cater to vegans.
Her vegan journey, however, had its share of surprises too. “I have a sweet tooth, so I remember when I discovered oreo biscuits are vegan, I was super happy. A few days ago, a friend told me that Hershey’s syrup is vegan too, so now I have started using it when I make desserts at home. That’s the thing about vegan food. People think that it limits your choices, but the truth is you end up discovering a whole new world of food”.
Advertising professional Shaiwal Sharma, believes turning vegan opened him up to experimenting with new ingredients and cuisines. “I love Indian food and mostly stuck to Indian cuisine when dining out, but that has changed now. As I quit meat and dairy, I ended up discovering new stuff to consume instead. My meals are now a healthy mix of things like soups, smoothies, kimbabs, and stir fries. I feel much healthier too,” he says.
Quitting alcohol, particularly stout beer, has been Sharma’s biggest challenge. “Only once I turned vegan did I discover that stout beers like Guinness and Murphy use isinglass (a kind of gelatin obtained from fish, especially sturgeon) to filter their beer. I have always been a stout person, and giving up on the beer I love has been particularly hard,” Sharma says. He has switched to dark lagers, but is yet to find a brew that hits the spot like stout.
Restaurants Get Creative
Taking a cue from international trends and customer demands, restaurants in the city are also working hard to provide innovative, and sumptuous meals to vegans.
Kriti Paul Gera, who managed Devang House, a restaurant focused on ‘clean eating and organic living’ shares, “There is definitely a growing market for vegan food in Delhi. Thirty per cent of our patrons are pure vegans, which is quite a high number. Taking feedback from guests, we have also added new things like vegan flatbread and vegan coffee in our menu”. At the restaurant, everything from ketchup to cashew-nut cheese (vegan cheese made from cashews and tahini) is prepared in-house.
Frequent requests from guests for vegan dishes drove Sarita Ahuja to create a separate vegan menu at Rose Cafe. “We receive a couple of people every day, who come for our vegan dishes and desserts,” Ahuja says. From vegan version of shepherd’s pie to delish salads & soups, and decadent cakes to super-dark chocolate gelatos, the cafe has all courses sorted out for vegans in the city. The restaurant especially makes delish, super skinny rustic pizzas that score perfectly on taste without compromising on quality. “ We keep vegan food, but our approach is simple. We do everything at home, and keep it totally dairy-free,” Ahuja adds.
At Lavaash by Saby, the vegan dishes in the menu were in fact planned as part of the menu. “Having a few vegan dishes on your menu is always a good idea. When I started out as a chef, we would get one guest a month asking for vegan food. Now, we receive at least two people everyday that order vegan,” says Megha Kohli, Executive Chef at Lavaash by Saby.
Veganism: Fad or Trend?
So, is veganism here to stay, or is it just another food fad? If Gera is to be believed, there is still time for Veganism to become big in Delhi. “There is no denying the growing demand for vegan food options,” she says, “but the movement, unfortunately, is still very marginal, and limited to a segment of people with a certain spending capacity. For veganism to become mainstream in the city, the public needs to adopt it as a way of life. That unfortunately has not happened, yet”.
Kohli also subscribes to a similar view. “That veganism is on the rise in the city is undoubtedly true. But there still aren’t enough vegans out there for the city to get its own vegan cafe or restaurant. But my advice to every restaurant would be to keep at least two vegan dishes on its menu. As restaurateurs, we can’t afford to ignore this community,” Kohli says.
While the question – inflated hype or here to stay, is upto you to answer, one thing is certain – there isn’t a better time to hop on the vegan wagon in the city.
Featured Image Courtesy: nourishorganics.in