Digangana Suryavanshi has taken up this new 30-day vegan challenge where she is trying to avoid certain foods and products for a month.
Rediff.com Contributor Prateek Sur spoke to the pretty actress about why she decided to take up a vegan lifestyle, her favourite food right now and more...
What prompted you to take up a 30-day vegan challenge?
I happened to watch this film called Seaspiracy. Even though I have always been a vegetarian, and against animal cruelty, when I watched this film, it really hit me hard.
I then rang up my team and expressed my sadness over all the animal cruelty that’s taking place in the world.
I really wanted to speak up about it, do something about it. That’s when my team got in touch with Million Dollar Vegan, a global non-profit dedicated to educating people about the personal as well as the environmental benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
Following a series of conversations with the Million Dollar team, they suggested that I take up this thirty-day vegan challenge.
Even though I’m already a vegetarian, I wanted to understand what kind of difference avoiding certain foods would take on me.
So what's your new vegan diet like?
I was sent this vegan starter kit. It included nutritious items like feta almonds which I have with crackers, vegan chocolate, herbal spreads, vegan cheese, and banana bread granola, and quinoa chocolate.
It’s all really tasty.
Another thing I do is to avoid bread, and consume lots of vegetables.
I’ve always anyway been a vegetarian, and being vegan requires me to take away milk and ghee out of my system.
I technically follow this routine all my life so it isn’t really that tough.
As a vegan what foods do you avoid?
Meat, of course. And then dairy products.
But in my opinion, the reason dairy products aren’t part of a vegan diet is because of the way the milk is extracted from the animals -- the way they are treated cruelly to get milk from them.
I’m not saying the cruelty to extract milk from animals happens everywhere. For instance, my father comes from a family where cows and buffaloes are raised as pets.
There are also many towns in India where these animals are treated lovingly and as a part of one’s family. They are never tortured and are even allowed to move around the town freely.
They’re not constrained or confined into a six-by-six box and kept alive to just extract milk. Well, that’s evil.
I’m not saying I’m anti-milk, but I’m against some of these techniques that are being used to extract milk from animals. And I think we’ve reached a point where we’re so technologically advanced, but yet can’t do anything for animals.
Why? We’re doing so much to make our lifestyle convenient; I just wonder why we can’t do anything for animals.
A lot of people in India get confused between veganism and vegetarianism. What's the difference?
There are a lot of people who even think an egg is part of a vegetarian diet.
I remember once (I was) going out to eat somewhere, and they served me eggs even though they were informed that I’m vegetarian.
So people do have a lot of misconceptions.
Even though there is a sea of correct information out there around this, most people, at the end of the day don’t want to change their ways or their lifestyles.
And I know that the daunting question of ‘Can I really make a difference individually?’ has crossed millions of minds, including mine.
I want to say that it does make a big difference.
Only if we as individuals decide to make a difference, the difference will actually be made. It’s not some external force that will make things change miraculously.
What are the challenges of being vegan in India?
For me, not too many.
Since I’m already a vegetarian, I just have to cut off dairy products. Everything that I eat is anyway plant-based.
A lot of things can be made without using dairy products with substitutes.
One of the important reasons why I took up this challenge is to gain as much information as I can about the vegan diet, and understand what kind of a difference it would make; just be more aware.
I’m not anti-milk, but the whole process of extracting milk, as I mentioned earlier, can be wrong.
If I had a huge farm with happy and healthy cows, then I would not feel guilty about consuming milk. But I wouldn’t kill/hurt and eat them, that’ll make me guilty.
Milk can be extracted without damaging animals; but what about killing innocent animals for meat and leather?
So where do you get your protein from?
Dal, spinach and soya bean.
What's your favourite vegan dish?
Feta almond with crackers.
If someone wants to try veganism, what's your advice?
Identify one’s purpose, and understand why one is doing what they’re doing. There’s no right or wrong.
Something made me feel guilty as a human being because I felt like I haven’t been able to take up my responsibility as a human being.
Even though, after the challenge is completed, and I decide to go back to drinking milk, as a non-vegan I’ll still be against meat.
With limited options, isn't it expensive to be vegan in India? What are your thoughts?
It can be expensive if you’re looking for exceptionally fancy dishes that you see on the internet which are inspired by the west, and you look for the same ingredients in India, it’s bound to be heavy on the pocket.
One needs to understand the purpose of being vegan and be mindful of what one is eating every day.
For instance, I eat the most basic food every day.
I don’t think money has anything to do with the kind of food that you eat. It’s really about your health.
How do you deal with arguments against veganism?
Many people argue saying that you don’t have to kill animals to get dairy and eggs, so what’s wrong with those products?
Like I said earlier, it’s all about the way the animals are treated. If there’s a better way to treat them, and extract milk, it’s great.
Talking about an egg, it’s of course a life because there’s a possibility of a chicken being born out of it, so killing that process is indirectly killing because aborting is also killing.
Cows need to be milked, don’t they? Aren’t we helping them out in doing so by using their milk?
Again, it’s not wrong to milk a cow to extract milk. It’s wrong to confine them in tiny spaces and treat them like a product just to extract milk.
How do you think this challenge benefit people?
Million Dollar is a global non-profit dedicated to educating people about the personal as well as the environmental benefits of adopting a plant-based lifestyle.
They’re currently on a mission of delivering over a million free vegan meals across India to inspire people to try vegan food and switch to a plant-based diet.
They also aim to reduce animal suffering and build a sustainable future.
Since I closely relate to these causes, I decided to join the movement to do my bit.
How are you spending time in the lockdown?
We’ve helped people with food. Also, my father and his friend contributed together to step out and help people as much as they could.
As a family, we tried to help as much as we could. I think a handful of help in times like these can make a great difference.