Thoughts from India: World Vegan Day

Following World Vegan Day yesterday, 1st November it got me thinking about veganism around the world and what it would mean if the world really did and could go vegan.  

I'm currently travelling in India and whilst I am having an amazing experience, it has been very tricky sticking to a vegan diet.  In general, India seems to be predominantly vegetarian and many restaurants and cafes proudly state on their signage that they are serve 'VEG' food.  The main religion here is Hinduism, which does not strictly forbid Hindus from eating meat but it does promote non-violence against all life forms, including animals.  In my short time here so far, it does appear that many Hindu people stick to a vegetarian diet.  Interestingly, eggs are also avoided but other dairy products like milk, butter and cheese are common.  Cows are sacred to Hindus and allowed to freely roam - we have had to stop mid journey and allow cows to amble across the road on many an occasion already.  They are respected for their gentle nature, and the sustenance they provide through dairy, their help in  working the fields and their poop for fertiliser.  There is also a large Muslim population in India, especially down South where we are currently staying.  Islam forbids the consumption of pork, and requires all meat to be halal, which means that animals should be slaughtered quickly and without suffering, as life is a valuable gift from God.  It is interesting that the people here respect and hold animals in high regard for the milk and meat they produce, a world away from the millions of cattle that go through the slaughterhouses in the UK and America.  

Cows on the beach in Palolem, Goa.

Cows on the beach in Palolem, Goa.

 Saying that, I have been more acutely aware of animal slaughter and exploitation in India; I have seen chickens and birds in small, cramped cages, lamb and goat carcasses hanging upside down and drained of blood, their heads stacked in pile nearby, and beautiful fish and sea creatures lying lankly in plastic bowls, freshly caught that day. And yet, while this shocks and disgusts me so much that these images are imprinted in my mind, I cannot begin to imaging the level of suffering that goes on every minute of every day for the millions of animals and fish back home in the UK and other Western countries.  There is something jarring about seeing the dead animal itself here, but our supermarkets and mass production has made it so easy for us as consumers to disassociate the pink slab of beef, lamb or chicken from ever being close to a living thing. Although I do not know the ins and outs of the meat and diary industry here, there is a definite sense that the scale of it is on a significantly smaller scale, and there is no pretence about what you are eating or where your food has come from.

Unfortunately, what with the rise of tourism and western influences there are many restaurants and cafes which proclaim that they serve 'VEG' and 'NON VEG' food, and therefore I wonder if India will begin to slaughter animals on a larger scale in order to provide for this demand.  We have been supporting the 'VEG' places whilst here, and  although  I have not yet broached the subject of veganism with any Indians, I hope to bend the ear of a few people before we leave to hear their take on it! We have tried to stick to coconut milk based curries and tandoori oven vegetables, which have all been mouth wateringly delicious, but at times it has been difficult and even frustrating (how many times can you ask for a coffee without milk?), and I admit not perfect. It does seem that that ever turning wheel of the meat and dairy industries are unstoppable, and the idea of a vegan world completely unachieveable, but celebratory days like yesterday do help to spread the word, stir up a sense of community and a hope that things will and are changing,   I feel like the exposure to real animal exploitation really is a wake up call, and certainly poked me into becoming vegetarian and then eventually vegan. Whether you are lucky enough to visit countries like India and see it in the flesh (excuse the pun) or watch documentaries and footage from home, it's important to be aware of the challenge we face in becoming a vegan world.