Saturday, 6 August 2011

Supply up, demand down?

There's a lot of vegan gyaan on the Internet. Some of them are calls of distress. Some are tales of surprise. And some more claim that veganism in India is a difficult bid. 'Vegan' originated from the word 'vegetarian' and is widely understood as a stricter version of vegetarianism. Its practitioners consume no animal food or dairy products. Many Puneri eateries have brushed up their menus to provide for the miniscule group of vegans in the city. 

The traditional thali, costing Rs 70, at Asha Dining Hall on Apte road is a vegan delight. Minus the curd and buttermilk, and the ghee on the hot fulkas of course! At the cash counter, owner Prakash Kina doesn't register the request for a 'vegan' thali , but obliges you when asked to keep the diary products out. "It’s not too difficult,” he says. "We anyway only offer curd or buttermilk with the menu, which can be removed, on request."

The city has many places like Asha Dining Hall on offer. But the principle of veganism continues to evade the understanding of most eateries in the city. At Aromas on FC road, chef Tejas Vilankar explains the reason for the lesser-known concept. "It’s easy to give any dish on the menu a vegan twist, but such requests are quite rare. That is one reason why most places would not even know what a vegan diet is all about." At Aromas, he promises you a spiced up vegan dish from the Italian menu. Same for Dario’s situated on Lane 1, Koregaon Park. Owner Dario Dezio instantly understands a request for a vegan version. But even here, not many ask for it.

Then there are some who have tried to inculcate certain ideas of veganism in their menu cards. At the Cofee Café Day, the Vegan Shake comes with an interesting description - "Milk not your thing? This refreshing cold coffee on ice tastes smooth and creamy without milk. No one misses out on the fun!" Priced at Rs 76, the Vegan Shake is actually espresso coffee served chilled. Similarly, the Sorbetto at Ti Amo is a resplendent delight. The Musk Melon flavour that is available all through the year at Rs 70 fulfills the vegan’s need for yummy desserts.

Vegans have also given impetus to a whole new range of food products – right from packaged soya, tofu to exotic veggies. But this, according to 19-year-old Zuri Camille de Souza, is precisily the reason she quit being a vegan. "The market of imported vegan products have diluted the idea of veganism. I started it as a way to show my environmental concerns, but had to quit later," says De Souza, who had no problems in being a vegan as her hostel in Pune catered to that food alternative. "After I finished school, I felt out of place at the dining table," says De Souza. "I realised that I was practising something which was a part of the viscous circle of consumerism and market." But being a vegan creates a demand for a whole new set of products like soy milk to make up for the lost protein. "Packaged soy milk has more carbon foot-prints than any other non-vegan food, so it is pointless."

Shantaram Kane, the author of Diet and Lifestyle: Health in the 21st Century, does not reject veganism on ideological grounds, but on arithmetical grounds. "One gram of protein is required for every one kilogram of body weight. I wonder about their protein intake given the fact that they do not consume milk products." 

My take

Vegan articles in Indian newspapers bring a smile on every vegan and animal rights activist’s face. But more often than not, the articles give a somewhat negative take on veganism. This particular article lists food joints in Pune which include or can arrange for a vegan meal/snack which is helpful.

It also highlights the experience of a 19-year-old Zuri Camille de Souza who turned vegan due to environmental concerns but quit later because vegan packaged food products have more carbon footprints. I would say this is a result of limited knowledge. Soy is not the only source of plant based protein. There are many Indian vegan sources of plant based foods which can fulfill the daily protein requirement of human body. A list of these foods is produced below to prove the point. (I have also listed some sources which are readily available in certain parts of Europe and USA for the benefit of varied readers).

"One gram of protein is required for every one kilogram of body weight. I wonder about their protein intake given the fact that they do not consume milk products." This quote of Shantaram Kane comes as a shock to me since he is the author of Diet and Lifestyle: Health in the 21st Century. But on second thought, many nutritionists are not aware of the wide array of plant based protein foods. I have listed few of plant based foods with amount of protein content. This list is an output of my brief research. I am sure there are many more sources. A combination of these can be used in different meals to meet the daily requirement of protein.

The RDA recommends that we take in 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram that we weigh.
Protein content of few plant based foods:

100g chickpea (chana)-17.1g
100g spilt chickpea (chana dal)-20.8g
100g chickpea with brown skin (kala chana)-22.5g
100g black gram (urad dal whole)-24g
100g mung beans (moong dal)- 24g
100g kidney beans (rajmah)-22.9g
One cup lima beans (sem phali) - 14.66g
One cup dried spirulina- 64.37g
One cup French beans- 12.48g
100g rye- 10.34g
100g oats- 16.89g
100 g Soy Beans- 35.22g
100g finger millet (ragi) - 7.7g
One cup boiled peas - 8.58g
One ounce cashew nuts- 5.17 grams
One ounce peanuts- 6.71 g
One ounce pumpkin seeds- 8.46g
One sunflower seed kernels- 5.48 g
100g durum wheat -13.68 g
100g hard red wheat-15.40 g
100g hard white wheat- 11.31g
100 grams of buckwheat- 13.25 grams

India is the highest producer of millets. The protein content in millet is very close to that of wheat; both provide about 11% protein by weight. 

There is an urgent need to make nutritionists, journalists, etc aware of the wide range of plant based food which can easily meet the nutritional requirements of the human body. In such articles the focus should be on creating awareness on wholesome vegan foods.  



  1. Amruta, kudos to you for this excellent and well-timed initiative! It is an extremely constructive, proactive, and useful way of clearing misconceptions about the vegan lifestyle in society. Oftentimes, we register our comments on the articles in the internet and they do not get published. Or if they do get published, they get lost in cyberspace. Your initiative ensures that myths are appropriately countered and in the right spirit. About the current article, just to add to your points, how many adults do we know who have died or contacted a horrible disease because of protein deficiency? :) Rather, we know many people suffering from diseases such as of the heart and cancer because of excess proteins -- all of which comes from animal sources :)

  2. Many thanks Ambrosia! You make a valid point! Veganism is not known to Indian people at large. So it is good to see articles on it in local/national newspapers. Unfortunately, most of them highlight myths and negative experiences of people. Therefore it is important to debunk the myths.