With veganism being the fastest growing food trend in 2019 in India, it is really picking up and making a difference environmentally, but the discourse around activism and choice often fails to acknowledge caste, poverty, and access.
As a university student exposed to the global and political schemes of the world, this ‘Veganuary’ made me realize the implications of being vegan in India. Most of us start our journey after being influenced by the powerful graphic documentaries and the internet. A vast majority of the information consumed on veganism comes from privileged people in western countries.
As a vegan in India, I’ve come to realize the discourse on the veganism movement in India is still very whitewashed, failing to acknowledge the cultural intricacies and history of India.
For those who are victims of structural violence and oppression on a daily basis, such as low-income groups and marginalized peoples, food choices and veganism is the last of their worries. There are also the Adivasis and indigenous tribes in our country who have been the original stewards of the land for centuries. These cultures respect and value natural resources, taking only what they need, maintaining balance in the ecosystems, in spite of their animal consumption.
To what extent is our consumption cruelty-free? Not all plant-based products and food consumed are cruelty-free. Farm and factory workers are often subjected to poor labor conditions and low wages. Exploitative industrial agriculture destroys ecosystems, traditional agricultural systems and causes diseases. Concern for animal rights and environmental rights are the primary reasons to become vegan. Industrial agriculture is the second biggest cause of climate change after the burning of fossil fuels.
Historically, meat has been essential in many cuisines. Vegan discourse often fails to acknowledge the traditional reliance on meat and appropriates recipes. One might not be able to afford plant-based food when animal products and by-products are cheaper, more economical and affordable, especially in the lower-income groups. Classism and casteism should not be ignored while combating speciesism.
Taking care of the earth, water, soil, ecosystems and non-violence is an inherent responsibility valued in most religions and cultures. Industrial farming and animal agriculture have led to blatant exploitation which has deeply impacted the treatment and consumption of animals. So, do we blame it on the religion and cultures, or the system? Personally, I think governments can influence the treatment and production of foods but has no authority to ban foods.
Intersectionality is vital for veganism. For the marginalized and oppressed, veganism is far away, and we need to improve our efforts at making it accessible. Moving forward, the animal liberation and vegan movements in India must acknowledge and participate in the anti-caste, pro LGBTQIA+ and anti-ableism movements, question the structures of class, caste and capitalism and be mindful of the privilege of being vegan.
As a vegan, I know that changing my diet and consumption choices has helped me reduce my ecological footprint, but only when I am mindful of the origins and production of what I consume. Buying groceries from the local market instead of the supermarket in the mall, supporting co-operatives and self-help groups, supporting artisans and cottage industries should all be included in the veganism discourse.
Community-supported agriculture, shopping and eating local and traditional foods, avoiding fast foods and fast fashion, supporting ethical consumption and promoting human rights, animal rights and environmental justice should be the essence of the movement.
I am enthusiastic about the future of veganism in our country and how plant-based diets can contribute to climate change mitigation. We need food production systems that are sustainable, inclusive and nutritious, which keep up with climate change, retain cultures and build resilience.