By Sristy Choudhury
In the modern day and age, the availability of food has sky-rocketed, we are phased with hundreds of choices lined neatly in the racks of super-markets. So making the right choice is very important. A well balanced diet not translates into longevity but it directly responsible for how a person looks or feels. A lot more people have started to make conscious choices in their eating habits.
Veganism is one such movement that promotes a fully plant-based diet.Not only does it have hundreds of health benefits, it is also environmental friendly.
Vegans do not consume any animal related products including meat, fish, milk, honey, butter and cheese. Veganism is more than just a dietary choice, it is about minimising violence that is caused by using animals as commodities. Vegans also regain from using silk, leather, wool or fur as they directly harm animals.
In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi had taken the oath to not consume milk because cows and buffaloes were subjected to what he thought was the cruel process of phooka, which entails the blowing of air into a cow’s vagina to induce her to produce more milk. He thought this compromised his ideals of ‘ahimsa’.
For the very same reason of compassion and ahimsa, people all over the world have started to embrace veganism. India is not far behind, vegan movement is slowly gaining momentum. Tofu paneer, almond milk, vegan cheese and mock meats are readily available in supermarkets these days.
Let’s find out more about the movement and what it entails to be a vegan. We are in conversation with Aashti Sindhu, who is also known as the vegan pilot.
Hi Aashti, tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Bombay and my parents moved to Pune when I was about 10 years old. Most of my growing up was done in boarding school where I spent 8 years of my childhood years. As far as ambitions go- I was always pretty clear. I knew I wanted to be a pilot since the age of 5. I worked at it and thankfully realised my dream at the age of 22.
Why did you choose to pick up a vegan lifestyle? Were there any real life instances that helped you make this choice?
I was a hardcore meat eater for about 30 years of my life. I even made fun of vegetarians because I thought they were missing out in life. On the other hand I called myself an animal lover. Animals were always special to me. At the time I only loved dogs and cats and didn’t realise the connection until a friend pointed it out. I realised I was a hypocrite for calling myself an animal lover while enjoying their dead flesh. It didn’t sit right with my conscience and I decided to try quitting. Initially I quit red meat and dairy- as I identified most with cows, goats and pigs. I realised they were just like my dog at home. With time I learned about the nutritional aspect and was shocked to learn that most chronic diseases today can be prevented and reversed on a whole food plant based diet. I didn’t call myself vegan, until about 6 months into the journey. I was scared to fail, but the one thing I learned is that if I don’t try, I’ll never know.
What are the noticeable changes in you since you became a vegan? How do you feel?
As a pilot, I have a yearly comprehensive medical exam. Prior to turning vegan, my haemoglobin levels were always low, despite eating a lot of red meat. Doctors said that it was normal for an “Indian female”. A year after I turned vegan, that’s the first thing I checked. My levels were much higher than any other time in my life. They were in the middle of the range and all my other numbers were also spot on. I have a lot more energy now and my body feels clean from the inside out. It’s been 4 years now and every year I’m shocked to see my blood test reports. It gives my great joy to see that the diet that’s best for the animals and the planet, is also the best for our bodies!
Obviously eating vegan can be unhealthy too, so it’s important to pick whole foods, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I stay away from processed foods as much as possible and that helps too.
What do you tell people who want to turn vegan for reasons of animal cruelty and better health but are afraid they are going to miss out on taste? How should they start the transition?
I make them try the delicious food I make at home or send them recipes to try on their own. Vegan food can be as delicious or tasteless as normal food. It’s just how you prepare it. It’s also important to try different things so you know what you like. I grew up eating maybe 15 vegetables and 4 meats in rotation. Now I’ve discovered a whole new world of plant based options like aquafaba and jackfruit meat!? It’s an exciting and fun journey!
Is eating vegan food expensive? Can people be vegan on a regular budget? What’s your experience on this?
I would buy meat and seafood every week and spend atleast 3 to 4K. I actually saved money as a vegan! Dal and rice is the staple food of people in the lowest economic bracket and its nutritious. This misconception needs to be changed. A whole food plant based vegan diet is much cheaper than an omnivore diet- and it’s much healthier too!
What are your favourite vegan meals to eat at home? Are there any restaurants or cafes in India that you love for their vegan options?
I love South Indian food. Dosa, sambhar and chutney are my favourite foods in the world. We keep it simple at home. I think our traditional Indian cuisine is rich in nutrients and tastes so delicious. Really can’t go wrong with it!
I do love Greenr cafe in Delhi. It’s one of my favourites to go to!
Tell us about the concept behind your Instagram page. What is it that you are trying to promote?
I started my insta page to show people that you can travel around the world and be vegan. A lot of people came to me and said that they would love to go vegan but they travel too much. So I decided to show people how easy it is. I also want bring about awareness on the cruelty behind the meat and dairy industries. It was something I was not aware of. It really shocked me to see how these industries want us to be ignorant so they can profit from it. India already has such a large number of vegetarians. Their reasons for being vegetarian are very similar to our reasons for being vegan. People don’t want to harm animals but they aren’t aware of the cruelty behind the dairy industry. It’s time that changes. Being a vegetarian is no different from being a non-vegetarian as far as ethics go. People might find that hard to hear but that’s the truth. Finding dairy alternatives is not that hard. Every large city has a vegan company supplying these alternatives. It’s just about doing your research and making the change.
Have you ever received harsh criticisms for being a vegan and how do you deal with that?
Yes, I guess criticism is part of life. It’s how you deal with it. I know in my heart that this is best thing for my body. I also know that I need to be true to myself. Calling myself an animal lover while paying people to kill them, is not the kind of person I want to be. People will talk no matter what you do, make it worth their while!
Would you recommend others to go vegan, if yes, why ?
Yes definitely. I try and understand every persons individual pain points. Some care about the environment, some want to become healthier, some want to be kinder to animals. I think whatever way you look at it, veganism is the answer. It may not cure all the worlds’ problems but it’s definitely a start!
What are your future plans? Your goals, ambitions. Where do you see yourself going in life?
I just started a vegan smoothie delivery service in Bangalore. It’s called Bella’s Bowls. We deliver whole food plant based smoothies to our customers in glass jars that are used on rotation. I am also passionate about the environment so it’s a zero waste initiative. plan to donate all profits to animal welfare organisations that focus on farmed animals. This is my way of giving back to the animals I once ate. In the future, I hope to buy some land and open a sanctuary that rescues farmed animals like cows, goats, chickens and pigs. I also hope to spread awareness on a larger scale to make veganism a norm in our country.