Going vegetarian was not a tough choice for me. I never really enjoyed eating meat and in my late teens it just seemed morally wrong to do so. The transition from occasional meat eater to pure vegetarian happened gradually, and a couple of years before I got married I gave up meat once and for all. Ofcourse I would proudly crow to anyone willing to listen that I was gathering way more karma points than them, for being a vegetarian. So, armed with all this great karma and moral righteouness , I made my way to the United States, a new bride excited about her marriage and life in a totally different world, 8000 miles away from home! The first time I heard the word 'vegan' was on my flight to the States. The 'vegetarian' food that I had specifically requested, came with a 'vegan' label, each time that it was served. Curiously, there was no butter for the rolls, and the flight attentdent gave me an odd look when I asked for milk in my coffee. I just presumed that 'vegan' was short for 'vegetarian'; as for the flight attendant, who knows what drama was playing out in her life!
It took some months of living in New York and constantly being given 'vegan' options at restaurants before I figured out what the term really meant. No meat, no dairy. Put simply, anything that came off or from an animal was off limits. To me it was almost anathema to imagine a life without dairy products. How could I live without my morning latte, butter cookies and my growing love affair with pizza ?! I realised that the most difficult thing for me to do would be to give up milk, cheese, paneer and butter -- staples in my everyday Indian diet. I read books and watched documentaries on veganism being a humane choice. Every morning brought on a fresh bout of guilt when I fixed my favorite latte, and I was forced to look at my food choices in a whole new light. What a great big tumble from my moral high horse that was! But the beauty of the situation was the lesson it taught me in understanding how difficult it is to give up the things you get used to and probably love. If you have been brought up on a meat based diet, chances are that giving it up is the toughest choice that you ever had to make. So to every meat eater that has gone vegan/vegetarian, kudos to you! Ultimately, our food choices are a reflection of not just our tastes, but also our culture. While the former can be modified, thanks to the host of alternatives to diary and meat based products that are avialable today, going beyond our cultural beliefs about food to embrace an uncommon diet, takes strong conviction and tremendous self-control.
While I have found some delicious substitutes to butter and paneer and have overcome my need to dunk my Indian flat bread in clarified butter (ghee), I continue to struggle with giving up milk in my coffee/tea and fight a dying battle (atleast once in the week) with my craving for pizza. I still have a long way to go before I can declare myself a vegan, but the journey so far has been far from dull. There are plenty of choices for those looking to go vegan, and while I know that I will never drink rice milk ever again (and lets not even go into what it did to my morning cuppa), I am more open now to trying the alternatives and believe that eventually I will find my place on the vegan spectrum.