People should be encouraged to go vegan just once a month or once a week. Becoming a flexitarian is more doable than radically dropping all animal products.
The famous Israeli author, Yuval Noah Harari, writes in his book, Homo Deus, “How do you know if an entity is real? Very simple – just ask yourself, ‘Can it suffer?’ When people burn down the temple of Zeus, Zeus doesn’t suffer. When a cow is separated from her newborn calf, she suffers. This is reality.”
The atrocities that humans have inflicted on less intelligent beings (animals) are described by the author in his other book Sapiens as well. Harari’s books made a profound impression on my psyche. So, I eliminated milk and milk products and went vegan during the pandemic.
The potholes on the road to Veganism
Just before the pandemic, my sister – who was already a vegan – and I used to travel quite often. We took short trips once every month to satisfy our wanderlust. My sister’s vegan diet limited our food choices as all dishes with cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese were off-limits. Often, the high spice levels in restaurant food set my mouth on fire. I was forced to call for a bowl of yogurt to dowse the flames.
Hence, for me, going vegan called for a huge sacrifice. I stared at the possibility of subsisting on bland lentils with rice even on vacations! We developed the habit of procuring fruit wherever possible. On many occasions, we managed by packing homemade date-nut energy bars, raisins, roasted peanuts, and garbanzo beans as dinner replacements.
Part-time veganism is an excellent way to taste the ideology and partake of it in small amounts. It’s like trying out something new by just doing it a little at a time, initially. Slowly as we warm to it, we take on more. Before we know it, we are converts.
Compassion for newbies on the journey
You must be wondering why I am telling you such intricate details of my vegan journey. Well! Just so that you can appreciate that going vegan is not as easy as we tend to believe. Like me, most people have different health-based diet requirements. This makes switching to a vegan diet an uphill task. Shouldn’t our compassion be all-encompassing? Vegans need to go beyond extending their compassion to animals to include fellow humans who are trying to walk this path.
Embracing a vegan lifestyle might be much more difficult for a person who has been a hard-core non-vegetarian than it would be for a vegetarian. A vegetarian just needs to quit milk and milk products. And you will all agree that even that is not an easy task. But for non-vegetarians, the idea of eating vegetables daily is alien. Hence, whatever they can manage should not only be appreciated but encouraged.
Mahatma Gandhi was the epitome of strong willpower. He slotted milk in the same category as meat. Hence, he had vowed to abstain from drinking milk. However, he was forced to add goat milk to his diet to recover from a major illness. He regretted that his health left him with no other alternative.
Why Flexitarians or ‘Part-time Vegans’ should be encouraged
A yoga website I had chanced upon encouraged its participants to challenge themselves by trying to go vegan just once a month or once a week. This seems more doable to most people rather than quitting all animal products from their diet in a radical manner. Most hard-core vegans will frown upon this. A few of them openly heap criticism on flexitarians or ‘Part-time Vegans’.
However, I swear by the adage, ‘Slow and steady wins the race.’ Part-time veganism is an excellent way to taste the ideology and partake of it in small amounts. It’s like trying out something new by just doing it a little at a time, initially. Slowly as we warm to it, we take on more. Before we know it, we are converts.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), Nobel Peace winner, has found that the world needs to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Any more warming than this and the planet will no longer be liveable post-2030. But this cannot be done without the entire global population playing an active role in containing environmental damage.
The IPCC has urged people to buy less meat, milk, cheese, and butter and eat more locally sourced seasonal food. They also urge us to stop food wastage, among other things. Since flexitarian diets are much more sustainable in the long run, that is the way to go if we want to sustain our planet.
Climate advocates urge people to buy less meat, milk, cheese, and butter and eat more locally sourced seasonal food. They also urge us to stop food wastage. Since vegan diets are much more sustainable in the long run, that is the way to go if we want to sustain our planet.
Be forgiving of slip-ups on your Vegan journey
I also advocate practicing self-compassion instead of frowning upon ourselves for our lapses. I embrace veganism wholeheartedly for most days of the year. Yet, there are times when I make exceptions. At the same time, it is important to be conscious of when and why you temporarily set aside your convictions.
Let me tell you about a family friend who follows a Jain diet. The Jain cuisine is completely lacto-vegetarian while excluding root and underground vegetables such as potato, garlic, and onion. The Jains believe that this prevents injuring small insects and microorganisms and saves the entire plant from getting uprooted and killed. It is practiced by Jain ascetics and lay Jains. We too are a Jain family, but we don’t conform to the Jain diet. Yet when this family visited us, she did not ask for any special preparation. She had set aside her dietary preferences. Her compassion did not allow her to inconvenience her hosts.
Compassion is a very important precept of Jainism. I have taken a leaf out of the Jain family friend’s book. I try to follow my vegan diet as much as I can, within the limits of the food being served to me. Since my parents are not vegan, I set aside my vegan diet when we dine out as a family. I do not avoid partaking of the Prasad, a devotional offering made to God. Prasad typically consists of food made in clarified butter that is later shared among devotees.
There is yet another argument for encouraging ‘Part-time Vegans.’ When we benevolently accept everyone wherever they are in their vegan journey, the shift will be easier to make. It was the renowned Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung who taught us that “What you resist, persists.”
Photos courtesy: Pexels and Unsplash