For a country like India, with all its cultural and religious aspects running riot, it is not easy to stand up for what one believes in; especially with regard to food, which is an extra-sensitive topic for most. As an advocate of veganism, Pune-based Anuradha Sawhney has been making an unlikely impact in this field, transforming not only diets but also the mindset of many urbanites.
This foray into no-animal product diet, including milk, was a natural move from her nine-year-long association with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) India chapter as head of operations. “My first introduction to veganism was when a foreigner asked me about it, and I nodded thinking that he meant vegetarianism. Later, when I looked it up, I realised it was a very different field,” says Sawhney. Today, she’s at the forefront of advocating this diet in India which has found quite a bit of following across the world.
“The quality of dairy products in India is abysmal, with cows being given oxytocins and antibiotics. Animals are ill-treated, given forced hormonal treatments and artificial pregnancies are induced to keep producing milk for our consumption. There are also so many adulterants mixed in milk — like detergent, soap, urea — that by the time the milk comes to our table, it is more harmful than beneficial. With a vegan diet, we provide every form of nutrition without depending on the animal derived ones,” says Sawhney.
The ill-treatment of animals, whether it is for food or for goods, has been a hotly-debated topic across the world. After graduating from Sophia College in Mumbai, Sawhney had joined a leather buying company and became intimately aware of the processes. “I had always been fond of animals and took care of injured or suffering ones, but I was not exposed to the cruelty that they face due to the industries. While working at this company, one day there was a piece of leather lying on the table, an untreated portion of skin still with hair on it. When someone remarked that it was from an Australian horse, it jolted me,” says Sawhney. That was when she decided to join PETA and take a more active role in safeguarding animal rights.
Sawhney’s contribution in the animal protection field has been massive, and she has even received several awards. After her PETA stint, she decided to follow her heart into advocating for a vegan diet and lifestyle and set about with a focus on it about five years ago. From releasing a cookbook titled The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style! to starting several meal services in this field in Pune, including vegan desserts, Sawhney is on a roll.
Talking about how this concept has changed over the years, she says, “Initially nobody knew what veganism was and would order my food because it was healthy. I had two types of clientele — the health-conscious ones who wanted a nutritional diet and the elderly diabetic people.” She believes that because of our lifestyle, soon veganism will be the preferred choice of diet, more of a necessity than an option. “One in three people has or will get diabetes in India after which one is not supposed to consume animal products because they are more difficult to digest,” she points out.
India is a country driven by milk-products, be it ghee, milk or paneer — specially the vegetarian community is hugely dependent on it. The urban lifestyle though with its rising awareness levels regarding food quality as well as animal treatment in the industry has seen quite a few converts. Today, people are not only aware of this concept but it has formed an integral part of the diets of many. “Initially, I would have to specifically ask restaurants for food without milk products, yet inevitably they would still give something milk-derived. It used to be a very alien concept earlier but today there are places catering to only vegan diets,” says Sawhney. Most of the metropolitan cities across India today have quite a few eateries with vegan food on their menu. With fast food and unhealthy diets continuing to dominate food markets, many more will continue to convert.
For those in Pune who want a taste of healthy yet yummy vegan food, you can order from Vegan Bowl and Back to Basics led by Sawhney’s culinary skills. Those looking for nutritional, healthy alternative, can certainly give vegan diet a try.