18 Apr 2024  |   05:49am IST

Dialogue with a Vegan

Chander Gupta

Initially the term ‘vegan’ was vague for me. Gradually it became clear that vegans are a notch more puritan than vegetarians. While vegetarians don’t eat any animal meat, vegans don’t even consume animal products. 

Milk is the main animal product of widespread consumption. The dairy products - cheese, curd, ghee, butter, khoya – are derived from milk. Milk is a key ingredient in many of desserts and mithai.  Dairy products are normally part and parcel of vegetarians’ daily diet. Vegans even give up milk and other dairy products.

I was enlightened about the vegan philosophy through interactions with my neighbor Dr Ruchika, who has freshly converted to a strict vegan diet from the New Year 2024. Already a slim lady worthy of both envy and emulation, she has dropped a few ounces more after conversion as a vegan. Even before she became a vegan, she was a frugal vegetarian. She believes that we generally eat much more than our bodies need for good health. She manages to be more active with less food. Extrapolating the example of fuel-efficient vehicles which give more mileage out of 1 litre petrol, I wondered if her body derived more energy per calorie.

The other day Dr Ruchika expressed jubilation for having convinced scores of both non-vegetarians and vegetarians to become vegans. She cajoled me also to turn into a vegan. Though I pay heed to most of her advice relating to health and diet, I did not commit immediately to becoming a vegan. Being a near vegetarian – exceptionally taking eggs and fish – my dependence on dairy products could not be given up suddenly. 

One day, Dr Ruchika mentioned that strict vegans don’t even consume honey as it is also an animal product. Her argument was that extraction of honey involved inflicting cruelty to bees. The basic premise of shunning animal products is to save animals from being subjected to cruelty. Vegans believe that commercial production of animal products involves cruelty to animals.

Dr Ruchika has taken her idealism to another level. She advocates non-consumption of animal products not just as food but also as wearable. She says that we should not wear silk clothing as silk is extracted through a process which is torturous for silkworms. Likewise, we should avoid using products made of leather and fur. 

Honey is recommended for both prevention and cure of many ailments. Silk sarees are the favourite of women. It had never occurred to me that the commercial production of honey and silk inflicts cruelty upon bees and silkworms. I never felt any qualm in either consuming milk and honey or wearing silk and leather etc. But Dr Ruchika’s persuasiveness has made me sit up and ponder.

To allay the doubts that pure vegan diet might be lacking in all the necessary nutrients, Dr Ruchika cites the examples of elephants and horses. Both elephants and horses, considered epitome of strength and power, are vegans. She argues that the benefit of mother’s milk fed in the infancy is sufficient to last the entire life. 

A major portion of our population depends upon non-vegetarian food. Even vegetarians depend so much on milk and dairy products. Is it practical to completely shun milk, honey, silk, leather, fur etc? This is the predicament I am presently unable to resolve.


Idhar Udhar