Hindsight 2021: 3 things I wish I’d known about turning vegan
Vegetarian all her life, 29-year-old Shweta Dudi, a software engineer from Harda in Madhya Pradesh, decided to go vegan two years ago, as an ethical move. She didn’t want to be part of any cruelty to animals. It was also healthier, she’d heard.
So she ejected dairy and all animal-sourced products from her life (leather, paneer, even shell necklaces). She expected it to be hard, and it was. What made it harder than she’d bargained for?
* The turbulence it causes in relationships: “But plants are living things too, so why eat them!” “How do you eat this?!” “Why do you eat this?!” It alters social equations when your dietary choices shift from the norm around you. It’s hard to stand out all of a sudden, become a topic of discussion and consternation (“What shall we put on the menu, if she’s coming?”), or a source of mirth. “Remember that your friends usually don’t mean any disrespect,” Dudi says. Laugh along, or use it as a teaching moment. But go in prepared for turbulence in your relationships.
* The all-pervasiveness of butter: It’s in everything, including the veg food, healthy food and “vegan” options offered by people who just don’t get it. There’ll be times, especially when travelling to unfamiliar regions, when the only option left will be a house salad (no dressing). It helps to study local cuisines beforehand, Dudi learnt. Not just so you know what to rule out, but also because there might be some accidentally vegan items on traditional menus. “Make sure you always travel with a bag full of suggestions,” Dudi says. And some ingredients of your own, so at a pinch you can cook for yourself.
* Despite the steep price, it’s no guarantee of good health: Most vegan products come with hefty price tags, since there is still little competition in this market. Meanwhile vegan options don’t guarantee a lower carbon footprint or a healthy you. As with any purchase, where your product comes from plays a big role in determining how good it is for the environment. As with any diet, there is junk food available, including “100% vegan” versions of highly processed chips and cookies. “Be sure to keep reading nutrition labels and avoiding empty calories,” Dudi says. “You have to put in the work, whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian.”