Thursday, November 30, 2023

Watch thy plate

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Somebody from a country abroad sent me four big bars of vegan chocolates as a gift. The sender had carefully selected vegan chocolate bars, knowing I didn’t consume food with animal milk in it. The argument that animal milk is necessary for the human body and does no harm to the animal is debatable.
Some theories suggest that milk is for the animal’s child (also, it’s not meant for a man’s system), while other ideologies believe that animals and humans are designed for a symbiotic relationship. Which is also why the vegan diet is catching up in Hyderabad. The trend is slow, though. The city boasts a handful of vegan cafes and restaurants, such as The Weekend Café in Karkhana, Simi’s World in Gachibowli, E’woke in Sainikpuri, Vibrant Living in Jubilee Hills (store/café), and a large counter of vegan ice creams on the premises of the Statue of Equality, among a few others.
Hyderabad also hosts a vegan market every year, Alt Mart, that showcases pop-up stalls of all things vegan, from chaat made of peanut curd to butter devoid of animal milk. Online stores, on the contrary, are replete with plant-based alternatives to animal milk. I personally have replaced the cow milk in my tea with almond milk, which I often make in my kitchen.
I personally think it’s easy to follow a vegan diet; what I fail to stay consistent with is my habits around food and eating. Like the crockery I eat in. For the largest part of my life, I have used bone china, unaware of what it all meant. Lately, some eco-friendly materials like wood, steel, and glass have made their way into the crockery section; however, when I eat out, escaping plastic is almost impossible. It seeps in, either in the form of a spoon or a straw. This is why some friends of mine save a pair of bamboo straws and spoons in their bags to come in handy whenever eating out. In fact, they go to the length of carrying a spare piece for their companion as well. The one practice I have been steady with is that of carrying a stainless steel water bottle wherever I go.
As I write, I am reminded of an environmentalist friend who carries a little box with her to restaurants. If, at the end of her time in the restaurant, there are pieces left over on her plate, she packs them in the box to eat later at home. Yet another instance I recall is from a corporate office where I worked in the past. There was a giant screen installed displaying real-time numbers of how much food was being wasted, causing everybody to take an alarming look at their plates before they discarded them in the bin.
Great initiatives. I wish, as a state or country, we had a framework to handle food waste. France has a law that says grocery stores cannot send their leftover fruits and vegetables to landfills, forcing them to donate food. Wasting food in a country like India, which ranks in the ‘serious’ category on the Global Hunger Index, is blasphemous.
Another recent step that I have inculcated around food in my lifestyle is that I have structured my diet to strictly three meals, mostly cooked fresh, a day with a cup of vegan tea in between. Much restraint is required to keep the temptation at bay and not give in to scrumptious snacks sitting on the dining table, but as the Buddha said, a man restrained is a man free from suffering. Every time I am off to a Vipassana retreat in Ibrahimpatnam before the course begins, I am instructed to take only what is ‘necessary’.
That instruction serves as a good reminder of what is most fundamental to conscious eating. Eat only what is essential. There is the retreat. I live on the portion of food that amounts to a meal back home, making me wonder if the deep love for food that the world validates is really a love or some sort of inner unrest that desires spicy noodles and salted chips, and sometimes another living being for its

(The author, Suhani Dewra, runs an online conscious store.)

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