Sunday, September 9, 2012

How I Practice Veganism

How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for 7 years as of 2012. You can read the story of how I went vegan here.

What do you eat?
This is the most common question I get asked (besides where do you get your protein?). I eat a diet predominantly in raw/fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouts. My ethos is the simpler the meal, the better. Considering what a bad cook I am, this is probably a good thing. That said, I include other things besides just raw foods.

Breakfast is almost always sliced papaya and a cup of coffee with soy milk and cocoa powder.

Lunch is often a giant leafy green salad (yes, I found them here in Chennai!) with a nut-based dressing filled with raw veggies. Or, it’s a cold vegetable soup, sometimes hot, like the ones you find in the recipe section here. I often add garlic, salt, pepper and some Indian spices like turmeric, coriander or cumin to them.

Snacks are fruit like pineapple, watermelon, sapotas, oranges, mangos, and nuts. I’m really digging roasted pistas these days. I have a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Dinner is kept simple with veggies that are raw, steamed, or baked—as of right now it’s pumpkin but beets were my fave before that. Sometimes for dinner I’ll have more soup, or fruit. I usually make hot chocolate for dessert.

When we go to restaurants, I love fruit juices without sugar. My family is also very good to me by taking me to places where lightly grilled veggies with minimal seasoning are available, or hummus. As a treat, I have an appam every Sunday at Sangeetha.

What don’t you eat?
Anything from animals, obviously… but I also don’t eat grains (bread, chapatis, naan, roti, etc), sweets, rice except for my weekly appam, upma, pasta, cooked oils, heavy sauces, or overtly spicy food.  I also avoid microwaves as a cooking method. I’m so used to not eating potatoes and corn in the US because they’re GMO crops that I’ve carried on that practice here. All of this means, unfortunately, that I don’t eat much traditional Indian food too often despite thinking it is delicious cuisine. On a blue moon you might see me enjoying some chenna curry, or iddyappams.

Are you 100 percent vegan?
My philosophy is that nobody is 100 percent vegan. We live in a society where everything consumed is 6 degrees away from an animal product. Abstaining from animal products to conduct 100 percent of your daily activities is simply impossible. Tires for your car? Made from cows. The plant that makes your soya paneer? They probably make dairy products, too. Rubber from your non-leather sandals? Might not be from the skin, but rubber often contains animal fat.

Thus, I think the better goal than being 100 percent vegan is attempting to do the least harm to your body and the planet 100 percent of the time. I think this a good philosophy for life in general, and I think veganism is one of the best conduits through which to do it. Not the only conduit, mind you, but in my opinion it’s one of the best.

What do you eat when you visit guests and family?
I feel terribly guilty because I seldom partake in the food being served, even if it’s technically vegan. This is because it usually has heavy sauces or is too spicy (I’m trying to build my spice tolerance, but I can’t keep up with Indians! I stand there sweating with a runny nose and a red face =).

Usually I ask for fruit. To abate their concerns and embarrassment that I don’t like their food, I then smile and rave about how amazing produce is in India to turn the conversation from concern into something positive. Since the produce is amazing here, I don’t feel like I’m being disingenuous. With this approach, I also alleviate any perception that I don’t like India or its food—I love India and the food, just the country’s different offerings, is all! People seem to be more at ease when expressed this way. I explain how no country has cherimoyas like this one, and how lousy the bananas are in the US compared to here (again, all true!).

What about the lifestyle component?
I keep my cosmetics and skin care products as natural as possible. I use fluoride-free toothpaste and my makeup is specifically not tested from animals. I do my best to boycott animal vivisection in this area because I think it’s superfluous and inhumane. Medical testing for life-saving human advancements is a much bigger gray area for me. I’m glad science is advancing so rapidly that perhaps animals won’t be necessary (especially because of the vast dissimilarities in their DNA compared to humans).

I do, however, own things containing animal products. For instance, I was given a gift of a leather handbag; yes, I occasionally carry it. I also inherited an antique box with ivory carvings. I use my husband’s old leather case for my cell phone when he got a new one. I’m sure there are other things as well. I don’t intentionally buy leather products, but I am not as vigilant as I could be about eradicating them from my closet. And in the case of sentimental gifts, I honor them for their loving intention. Just as there’s no such thing as a vegan person, I don’t think there’s such thing as a perfect vegan home. But I could do better in getting there, no doubt.

How are your medical tests?
Ooh, I love this question! I get to brag a bit. My medical test results were excellent when checked on January, 2012—I got a full physical, x-ray, blood pressure, cholesterol, everything. All fine. All great, in fact. The doctor said he would have had my cholesterol levels rechecked had he not known of my vegan diet, because they were, in his words, “that of a 9-year-old vegetarian girl.” I can only attribute that to my plant-based diet. Iron was fine, thyroid fine (hypothyroidism runs in my family), calcium fine… all good.

I did, however, have low vitamin D. So did my meat-eating husband, who was also prescribed folic acid (whereas I was not).

Besides reminding myself to get some sun on occasion, I don’t take any supplements or medication. I wouldn’t be averse to taking B12 as a “just in case”-type thing, but I don’t currently. 7 years later and the medical establishment has only positive things to say about my vegan diet and lifestyle.

How often do you get sick?
This September will mark 1 year of not being sick! Before that I was traveling in Nepal where I was bed-ridden VERY often from food-born illnesses from unwashed produce at restaurants/stores (despite my best efforts). My immune system didn’t like Nepal, but I don’t think veganism had much to do with that. Or, I should say, eating meat and dairy would have done absolutely nothing to prevent me from getting such illnesses. Since leaving I’ve not had health issues. In the States, I got sick with a sinus infection once a year inevitably around the change from winter to spring. I get sick significantly less often as a result of my diet.

Have you experienced any health issues as a result of being vegan?
Being vegan? No. My results have been positive.

Are you familiar with raw veganism?
I have experimented with raw foods before, off and on. Raw foodism is eating only uncooked/raw fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and sprouts. Lentils, soy, and anything heated above 118 degrees is excluded from the diet. It’s a little too restrictive for my taste, but many vegans report great results. For six months (January-June of 2012) I tried a particular type of raw veganism called 80/10/10 which didn’t suit me personally. With this eating pattern, the goal is to eat raw foods and consume 3,000 calories a day, 80 percent of which comes from fruit. When I ate such high quantities of fruit, I gained a bit of weight and needed many hours of sleep (appx 13 per day). But other than those effects--which went away after switching back to my typical eating patterns (as expressed above)--I feel great and have good energy levels.

How often do you exercise?
I rely on my diet far more than I should as a way of keeping healthy. I work out maniacally every day for a month, then stop for three months (I’m an all-or-nothing kind of personality). I love hiking while home in Arizona and make a point to do it often when I go back there every November and December.

Is your family supportive of your diet?
Very! With my family in the US, they ‘re used to it and I like to think we’ve made healthier lifestyle changes over the years. The Thanksgiving dinner spread is filled with fruits, salads, and veggies (but yes, there’s meat on the table for them) and not nearly so much fried, creamy, butter-laden food like it was growing up.

My Indian family is also very supportive. I don’t think they quite understand my diet and perhaps find it extreme, but since I’m in good health they don’t worry any more than the typical loving Indian parents. They worry over my husband’s health just as much as mine!

Well, that’s a bit about me. Any other questions? That’s what the comment section is for. =)


  1. I would suggest you have one or two gooseberries regularly. It is good for your skin as well as eyes. Also improves your immunity power too :)

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