MonthJune 2020

RVD Wedding video

The long wait has finally come to an end! Just two days before I was going to get the final edited videos of my wedding, the whole country went into a lockdown. All offices were shut, including the video editor’s. Finally, today more than 6 months after our wedding celebrations,RVD wedding videos are finally out!

So here I am presenting to you – The RVD wedding highlight!

For those who are interested in seeing the long detailed version (more than an hour long) capturing almost every important moment – this is for you. 

People who think it is too long, just skip! 

You can read about how R and VD went about planning their wedding here.

You can also check out how to go about your wedding shop here.

Photographer and videographer – Jetaime production house. You can check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Wedding venue – Basho Bougainvillea, Karjat

All Roads Lead to Home

Today, we are living in an unimaginable situation. The whole world has come to a standstill. People are stranded in different countries and cities, away from their loved ones. Many have lost their jobs and dying to come back home. For people stranded outside India it is almost impossible to get a flight back, as only repatriation flights are running. Also, for people stranded in different cities within the country, even though flights are running there is a fear to travel.

Palak Kapadia, 24, Copywriter by profession, storyteller by heart

Palak, our guest writer, spent the last year pursuing her postgraduate studies in New York City. You can check out some of her work at Having recently flown back to Mumbai in the midst of the pandemic, on a special request and in a hope that this will help many others, she has noted down her entire experience. If you’re planning to fly to India soon or know someone who is (or you’re just bored in quarantine), here’s the whole play-by-play.

One month before the flight:

I was graduating and my visa was set to expire on June 25th. This had been a major source of anxiety to me for the last few weeks because India was (and continues to be) under complete lockdown, operating only repatriation flights. I didn’t want to risk overstaying my visa.

Like several other Indian students, I came very close to being stranded in the USA with an expired visa. I found out about the Vande Bharat mission repatriation flights and signed up on the Indian embassy’s website to be considered for the same.

At the time, they were evaluating all applications on a case-by-case basis and contacting those eligible to travel personally to book the flight. This would mean that I wouldn’t know until a couple of days before or even the actual date of the flight that I had been chosen. As you can probably imagine, things seemed rather uncertain.

Two weeks before the flight:

On June 8th, Air India announced on Twitter that they were going to open bookings for Vande Bharat flights from their website. The plus side, this meant no more uncertain waiting for the embassy to get in touch. On the downside, I’d be competing with the rest of America in a fastest-fingers-first contest to get a seat on one of only 5 flights to Mumbai.

At 10:30am on the dot, I had 4 friends, my parents and myself trying to log on and make the booking. I’d assigned everyone a specific date from among the 5 available so that we’d have backups. After a good 45 minutes of cursing our way through the archaic Air India website, my roommate finally managed to make it to the payment gateway on the Air India iPhone app. I thus got my tickets from Newark (EWR) to Mumbai (BOM) for June 22nd, 2020. My one way ticket was priced at $1361.40. VERY expensive but honestly, I was just grateful to be going home.

I got two emails from Air India – an e-ticket and an itinerary receipt. The tickets have all the instructions you need to pack and prepare for the flight. I was also asked to fill and sign an Undertaking stating my date of travel, flight no., purpose of travel, etc. However, I see now that it has changed slightly and the new document can be accessed here:

Two days before the flight:

The baggage allowance was as follow: 2 x 23kg of check-in luggage and 1 x 8kg of carry-on luggage. The website didn’t mention specifically if an extra personal item/laptop bag was allowed, I decided to bring one.

I also read online that having a negative COVID test could help waive off the institutional quarantine so I got myself tested, just in case. However, I was asked to quarantine in a hotel regardless (more on that later).

Web check-in is mandatory for all passengers. The web check-in opened 48 hours before departure and I was able to pick a window seat as I’d have liked to. In order to prepare for the flight, I printed my boarding pass, the 2 emails (e-ticket and itinerary receipt) and the undertaking. The email also mentioned that they may inspect the card used for booking the ticket at the airport. Since my tickets were booked from my roommate’s card, I was asked to carry a photocopy of the front and back of her card with CVV covered, self-attested by her authorizing the use of her card for the purchase of my ticket. I brought this with me but it was never inspected.

On the day of the flight:

I arrived at the Newark airport at 8am (4 hours before the flight) to find a long queue already. The queue snaked through the waiting area and extended outside the terminal. There was barely any social distancing. While waiting in line, we were asked to fill and sign another undertaking stating that we don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, are traveling at personal risk and consent to institutional quarantine in India at our own cost. Those who hadn’t printed the original undertaking were given a copy to fill at the airport.

Queue outside Newark airport

My temperature was also taken in this queue and was written on the undertaking. When asked, the medical staff told me that the cutoff to fly was 98.6°F. (For context, the average human temperature is 98.3°F, mine was 98.4°F.)

Next up, the embassy staff inspected our passports and collected the undertakings. Onward to the check-in counter.

The check-in counter was the point at which the normalcy of the airport returned. My bags were weighed. They’re quite strict about the weight-limit. One of my suitcases was slightly overweight (26kgs) and I was asked to reduce 3kgs. I panicked a little bit because I was holding up the line and decided to toss out the first heavy thing I could find – my bag of toiletries. (In retrospect, that was a bad idea because it was liquids that I couldn’t move to my cabin luggage.) On remeasuring, it weighed 24.3 kgs and was accepted. So I got out of that mostly unscathed, just a few lotions/face washes short.

My cabin bag was never weighed and personal item wasn’t questioned. But I may just have been lucky in that regard.

This whole process took well over an hour. Newark airport doesn’t have free trolleys but I highly recommend paying for one. I didn’t and I was exhausted by the time my bags were dropped. If the travellers are senior citizens or need wheelchair assistance, family members are allowed to accompany them till the baggage drop to help with the luggage.

After this, the process was as usual – border patrol inspected my passport, visa and tickets. There was the usual security check and I proceeded to my boarding gate.

In a major moment of panic, I realised my passport hadn’t been stamped. But a quick Google search revealed that passports are no longer stamped on exit from the USA, an electronic record of entries and exits is maintained on your form i-94 ( It takes a couple of days to update, mine has been updated now just over a day later. Phew!

At the boarding gate, thermal testing was done once more and passengers in middle seats were given additional PPE in the form of a full fibre robe. It was finally time to board the plane.

In the flight:

Air India crew welcomed us on board in full PPE. Every seat had a kit containing a mask, face shield and 6 sachets of sanitizer. Meals were kept packaged on all seats as well.

Kits on each seat consisting of food, water, masks etc.

Every time I board a flight and see the middle seat next to me is empty, I do a little prayer that it stays that way. For this one in particular, when they announced boarding was completed and the middle seat was still empty, I was overjoyed.It allowed me quite a bit of social distancing in an otherwise full flight.

I noticed some more empty seats on the flight. In fact the entire row behind mine was empty. I wonder now if they’re doing anything to accommodate emergency cases on these but at that moment, I shamelessly reclined my seat as far back as it would go and settled in for the 15 hours.

Other than mild turbulence, the flight was uneventful. What we think of as flying essentials (think in-flight entertainment, constant snacking, open bars, etc.) was a distant dream.

Contact with the crew is minimum.

Food and water are on your seat already. I found it to be sufficient but I had brought some of my own just to be safe (and also because I wanted my last slice of Artichoke pizza before I said adieu to NYC). The food itself was fine. I had requested a Jain meal, I have no idea if it was honoured or they had a standard meal that could work for everyone. Regardless, this is what it looked like:

Meal 1: A basil-tomato-mozerella sandwich, cheddar cheese and crackers, buttery spread (not butter lol), cookies and cream mousse and no-fat blueberry yoghurt.

Meal 2: Bread roll, buttery spread, blueberry muffin, protein bar, oatmeal and raisin cookies and no-fat blueberry yoghurt.

Snack: Orange juice, Haldiram Aloo Bhujia, fried vegetable straws, butter cookies and Cadbury Dairymilk.

Personally, I thought the food was great. Well, as great as airplane food can get! But if you’re hoping for Air India’s usual piping hot paneer and dal makhani fare, you’re in for disappointment. (For all their flaws, Air India has some of the best airplane food, fight me!)

If you’re a picky eater or for older people who don’t vibe with continental meals, I’d suggest carrying your own food. I would also recommend bringing an empty bottle of water so you can fill it after the security check.

There is no in-flight entertainment to avoid contamination. So download a lot of bingeable Netflix. The seats have a USB charging port for your phone/tablet. No newspapers/magazines are provided, bring your own.

There are no pillows/blankets provided and the flight gets chilly, so bring a light jacket and blanket.

I stayed the hell away from the bathrooms because I had zero desire of contacting anyone’s bodily fluids, pandemic or no pandemic. So I cannot comment on how clean/unclean they were.

I spent the journey drifting in and out of sleep and watching Netflix’s Elite (Spanish Gossip Girl, perfect for mindless bingeing). I also realised how easy quarantine has made sitting in one place for 15 hours straight.

Lastly, we were given a self-declaration to be filled in duplicate with all our details and confirming we don’t have any COVID symptoms.

After landing:

Like clockwork, we landed in Mumbai 15 hours later. Deboarding the plane took longer than usual as they were letting people out in batches.

There are several pitstops at the Mumbai airport. Thermal testing is done once again and you submit the self-declaration filled on the plane to the health ministry officials.

At this point, you must download the Aarogya Setu App and that is checked by the officials to monitor how much of a risk you pose. Having an active Indian SIM card is essential because you need an OTP to sign up.

Even to access the WiFi at the Mumbai airport, you need an OTP.

Those who didn’t have a sim card could purchase one from the Airtel kiosks at the airport. I had mine but it hadn’t been recharged in a year so it wasn’t functional. I had to ask one of my co-passengers for help to connect to the WiFi and recharged my SIM using Google Pay. Don’t make my mistake – recharge your SIM a day in advance 🙂

We then moved on to immigration and baggage claim which was business as usual.

After that we were given a list of hotels we could pick from to quarantine in. The list has the phone numbers of the hotel and you can call to check availability and book. Again, an Indian SIM is a must for this.

I asked if I could quarantine at home as I got a COVID test in the States and the reports were negative. However, I was refused and told home quarantine is only for specific cases such as pregnant women or people coming back for a death in the family.

I chose to quarantine at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. The tariff is INR 4000 per day inclusive of all taxes and 3 meals.

I was then directed outside the airport where a fleet of BEST buses waited to drive us to our respective hotels. We had to pay INR 100 for the bus fare. They accept cash and Google Pay. Having some Indian currency on hand helps simplify the process a lot. I was lucky I had enough on me to cover my fare and even help a couple others.

After a long and humid bus ride with several pit stops to drop people off, I arrived at Grand Hyatt in Santacruz. The whole payment (INR 28,000) has to be made upfront. Since, I didn’t have enough cash or an Indian card on me, my parents were allowed to come to the lobby and pay for my stay.

Meeting them after a full year, albeit from 6 feet away with only air hugs and flying kisses, was the highlight of my very long day.

I checked in to the hotel and that’s where I am now. Writing to you from a fancy room that I can’t leave for the next week. There’s a set food menu and my meals are brought to me.

View from the room in Grand Hyatt, Santacruz

Arriving at the hotel and taking a long bath, I felt a ball of anxiety unravel from the pit of my stomach. I realised then how stressful the whole ordeal of traveling during a pandemic had been. Even though my experience was pretty positive, I had been harrowed internally by the idea of being in such close proximity with 300 other people for 15 hours. I realised the magnitude of the fear and stress only as I finally felt it dissipate.

It made me extra thankful for embassy officials, Air India’s crew and BMC officials who put their lives on the line every single day just to bring us home. This may sound preachy but it really is something I need to acknowledge.

Please don’t be the person who is a brat on a repatriation flight. People are taking major personal risks just to do their job. Don’t make it harder than it is.

Can’t sleep on a plane without a glass of wine? Stay awake just this once. The power socket on your seat doesn’t work? Put away your phone. Read a book. Look out of the window.

There is a time and place for criticising the government. And there is a time and place for being cooperative.

Yes, this isn’t ideal. None of this is even normal. But at the end of it, you get to come home. And that, to me, is reason enough to be grateful.

If you have any more questions you can ask them in the comment section below.

Koffee with Kuntal – In dialogue with a Vegan mountaineer

I first met Kuntal two years back, when he visited our new venture Imagine cafe – Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. And after that first ever conversation with him itself, I had developed an immense respect for him as a human being.

Fast forward to 2 years later, I started writing about veganism with an intent to educate people about the horrors of the livestock industry and benefits of a vegan diet. I asked him if he could give me a quote for one of my articles, he said he was always happy to collaborate and will write back to me with his answers. But I was completely shocked, when, 24 hours later, he wrote back to me in great detail and told me I could use the answers however I saw fit. I could sense his emotions and passion through the mail. That is when I decided that the story in this email conversation has to be out there for people to read, a quote is just not enough!

For those who don’t know him –

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai is the man who became the first vegan to climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds. He not only did it on a vegan diet but used only vegan gear including a one-piece synthetic suit made completely from animal-free material made by ‘Save the duck’, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather . Amazing isn’t it?

So here it is!

At what point in your life did you decide to go vegan?What/who was your inspiration?

As a part of my upbringing I was taught and always believed that, ‘Animals are sentient and emotional beings with individual characters, and have as much right to live freely and happily as much as we do’. And so consequently I grew up a vegetarian. Then I moved to the United States in Aug 2001 to pursue my Masters degree. And then sometime in late 2002, my room-mate at the university exposed me to the horrors of the eggs, dairy, and leather industry. After that conversation, I connected the dots that a piece of meat, a cake made with eggs, a glass of milk, a block of cheese, or a leather belt, or the Down jacket I was wearing – are all the same and come from abused animals. 

That is the first time I actually thought about where the milk we consume comes from? Cows are impregnated over and over, their babies stolen from them and slaughtered for meat just so that you can have their milk! Or think about eggs – male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, and so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders while they are still alive. The birds are crammed so closely together that they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. Disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds, and many birds die! What about that leather belt or feather jacket? These are made from the skins of cattle, horses, sheep, lambs, goats, pigs, elephants, snakes, and feathers of chickens, geese etc who are all slaughtered so that you can look good.

Every animal wants to live, just as much as we do. Every animal loves, just as we do and every animal feels the same amount of pain as we do. I learnt the true meaning of words empathy and compassion the day I decided to turn Vegan, some 17 years ago. It was the start of a new journey – like a rebirth. And it was the best decision that I have taken in my entire life.

This was not the end. I learnt more shocking facts. Animals raised for meat, eggs and milk – the livestock industry – generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses up about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. After knowing all this, I lost my sleep and peace of mind. I could not reconcile with the fact that as a Vegetarian I continued contributing to immense amounts of animal abuse, cruelty and slaughter, as well as destruction of the planet, and so I had to take a stand. That is the moment when I turned Vegan.

How did people in the mountaineering industry react when they came to know that you are planning to climb the Everest as a vegan?

Sometime in 2009, I realized that climbing Mt. Everest is the biggest dream of my life. I told myself that I am going to climb Everest as a Vegan, or not climb it at all. Most people in the high altitude mountaineering world thought I was crazy, as the recommended diet for extreme climbing expeditions includes salami, spam, cheese, processed meats, eggs, and dairy. I can’t eat any of these high-fat high-protein animal products. However, my diet has never been an issue. I’ve now been part of over 25 serious Himalayan climbing expeditions, and I’ve never had any problems being a vegan, even on this last climb to the top of Mt. Everest from the China side in May 2019! 

What is your diet like while training?

‘Whole foods plant based diet’.  Low fat, High carbohydrates. I love eating fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, dates, nuts / seeds and this diet has done wonders for me. I recover much quicker even when I do some of the most excruciating workouts (example – a 20 hour steep hike in the local mountains). On the other hand, every-time I eat unhealthy food such as deep fried stuff / white refined flour, I’ve realized that my recovery becomes slower. One’s body tells it what it likes. And my body likes a whole foods vegan diet. Some of my favorite foods are fruits such as Banana, Mango, Grapes, and power-packed dried Dates/Raisins/Figs, and I can not forget — the Oatmeal made with either water or soy milk (my favorite breakfast of all!).

Isn’t it hard trying to find vegan food while on an expedition?

My diet while on climbing expeditions is very different. At higher altitude the calorie requirements of a human body are dramatically different compared to while at sea-level. At Base camp, which is at 18,000 feet a climbers calorie requirements could easily be around 4000 calories a day, and this number would easily go upto 8-9000 calories at 25,000 feet, and a climber burns through about 15,000 calories on a typical Everest 20 hour round trip to the summit. While on an expedition, for me as long as the food is Vegan, I don’t care whether it’s healthy. I’ll eat it as I need the calories. For example a small bottle of 250 ml coke = 100 calories (99% simple carbs). A single oreo cookie = 45 calories, and so about 20 of them would be around 900 calories! These are all calories – Vegan calories, and they taste great, and at 23,000 feet where most people can’t eat anything, I would rather eat these and get my calories requirements met.

Regarding my diet while I’m climbing – a lot depends on where I’m climbing. If it’s the Himalaya, then most of the local food tends to be Vegetarian, and easy to Veganize. The food spread typically consists of Vegetable stews / curries, fruits, lentils, beans, soups, wheat bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles etc. So on my climbs in the Himalaya, I stick to eating the local cuisine. At the same time I do carry comfort food from home which tends to be trail mix of dried fruits and nuts, nutrition bars made out of dates and nuts, and a few local snacks even if they are unhealthy (after all on the mountain – calories are calories – you need them!).  Veganizing the climbing expedition food menu isn’t that difficult. I’ve successfully worked with kitchen staff of expedition operators in the high Himalaya in India & Nepal, and even a remote region such as Northern Ice-cap in Chilean Patagonia.

For the Everest/Lhotse climb, at the Base camp (18,000 feet) / Camp two (21,500 feet) – I ate pretty much everything fresh right from beaten rice, to semolina / oat porridge, deep fried Indian bread and curry, Tibetan bread, pancakes, Lentils and rice, pasta, french fries, burgers, and several Indian food items – all Vegan of course. Our awesome cooks Ngima Tamang and Anup Rai even baked us a Vegan cake!  Beyond Camp two, I survived on mainly few things: Electrolyte & Energy powders, Freeze dried meals, Instant Soymilk oatmeal, Oreo cookies, Dried dates/figs, Dried fruit such as Kiwi, Pineapple, Papaya, Nuts – almonds & cashews, and some Indian comfort foods.

Do you think you had an advantage over other climbers or that you were compromising and taking a bigger risk by trying to climb on a vegan diet?

For me, when I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs!

Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a Vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go Vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

And now, a question that every vegan is always asked- ‘But what about protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient, absolutely critical not just in building and repairing muscle tissue, but in the maintenance of a wide array of important bodily functions. Your body contains thousands of different proteins that serve different functions, all made from amino acids. It’s the arrangement of these amino acids that determines the type and function of a protein. There are 20 different amino acids that combine to form proteins, and although your body requires all of them, you only have the ability to make 11 of them. These are termed non-essential amino acids. The other nine—those you can’t make—are termed essential amino acids, and must be obtained from the diet. But these nine essential amino acids are hardly the exclusive domain of the animal kingdom. In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day.

While certain foods—like soy, buckwheat etc — contain all nine essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts, other plant proteins have a lower amount of at least one essential amino acid. But that’s not a problem because your body does the work of making complete proteins for you. Your body creates a “pool” of amino acids from the food you eat throughout the day. So, if you eat oats in the morning, a salad at lunch, and legumes for dinner, your body will pool together all the essential amino acids from these foods and use them as needed to make proteins. This means you don’t have to worry about getting all the essential amino acids at any given meal. As long as you are eating an assortment of plant foods over the course of a day, your body will take care of the rest.

A plant based diet is devoid of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3? How to deal with that?

Now let’s see how a non Vegan gets these. The animals that are raised for dairy and meat are injected with high doses of Vitamin B12. These animals are then consumed by humans, who thus get Vitamin B12. To me this seems like a highly inefficient and a far more unnatural process. Wouldn’t it be smart to just inject yourself with Vitamin B12 or eat a tablet? Save the animal life, and make the entire process more sustainable? And similarly with Vitamin D3. So no I don’t think Veganism is unnatural or unbalanced, on the contrary it’s the most natural and balanced diet that a human can consume – a mix of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Good for our health, the animals and the planet. Win win for everyone involved.

Would you like to give some pointer/tips for folks wanting to switch to a vegan lifestyle?

Start out by replacing your dairy and meat by Vegan  alternatives. For example, you can easily replace your milk with a plant based version such as Soy milk, Almond milk, Oat milk which these days is readily available in most grocery stores across India. Several companies such as Sofit, So Good, Soyfit, Good Mylk, Raw Pressery, Urban Platter etc provide plant based milk options. Then you can easily replace your meat with a plant based alternative. There’s Good Dot / Vezlay Vegan meat which is today available across India, or the Nutrella soya chunks that are available at almost every grocery store across India. Several companies offer Vegan versions of cheese, dahi, butter, ghee, sweets. These would be great stop gap arrangements as you transition to a diet filled with more vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains combined with occasional servings of vegan dairy and meat alternatives.

  • Another idea would be to gradually cut down one thing after another. For example, you can take a 21 day challenge of completely cutting out lets say “eating chicken”. Research shows it takes about 21 days to form a habit, and so you can slowly take on these challenges and start cutting out animal products from your life.
  • Also during the journey there is a good chance that you will face cravings to eat animal products. Try and begin by eating vegan alternatives – in today’s world everything from Vegan butter to cheese to ice cream to Shrikhand etc is available. However, if you can’t find it and you go ahead and eat some non vegan stuff, don’t beat up yourself over it. It’s not the end of the world. The key here is to focus and stay committed to the path of transitioning to a Vegan. There’s not many people in the world who have found success without failing. So go easy on yourself.
  • Find other Vegans in your area, in your city, meet with them, attend the potlucks, learn Vegan recipes, discover Vegan and Vegan friendly restaurants, goto Vegan movie screenings, participate in a Vegan outreaches, follow and join various social media groups on Facebook and instagram to learn more about Veganism. Many people try to make the transition into the world of veganism alone, but if you have a group, community, or friends who are vegan, the transition is smoother and easier.
  • Be prepared to read food labels. If you’re serious about being vegan, checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet. Casein and whey, which come from milk, and honey are present in many cereal bars, breads, and granolas; while gelatin and tallow are derived from meat. Read the labels carefully before consuming.

If you have anymore questions for him, he is a gem of a person who is always happy to help. He reads and responds to every single message in his Facebook / Instagram message box. So, do not hesitate in reaching out to him.

As a Vegan, I have never told anyone of them to become a Vegan, instead my idea is to do spectacular things and inspire them to ask me a question — ‘What do you eat that you can pull off such feats?’.

Kuntal Joisher

You can read more about him and his Everest journey on his website.

Veganism – A compassionate lifestyle

Today, busy in our everyday routine, it can be easy to miss the connection between how we live and how other lives are affected by our lifestyle. In my last two articles, I spoke about how consuming meat and diary is not good for our body and environment. But let me clarify –

Veganism is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.

A lifestyle which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. And at the heart of it is, compassion, justice and respect for all sentient beings.

A social justice movement

Bonded human labour and Slavery has existed in our society for tens of thousand years now. In the early 19th century, there was a global historic social justice movement known as ‘Abolitionism’ to end slavery. Today, majority of us look down upon slavery, something which was then an extremely common practise, wondering how humans could have been so heartless to trade their fellow beings and treat them in such an inhumane manner. ‘Veganism’ is a similar social justice movement against speciesism that places an animal’s right to be left to his or her own devices as the center of justice.

Alongwith what one chooses to eat or not eat, chooses not to wear, chooses to forego for entertainment and chooses to purchase in terms of cosmetics and household items, advocating for veganism is about fighting against the industries that profit from the use of animals. It’s about fighting against the governments that protect the rights of those industries to use and abuse animals. Ultimately, it is about reaching a public that allows and perpetuates the abuse of animals, and educating them about speciesism.

What is speciesism?

Speciesism is the core belief in the inherent supremacy of humans. It is what justifies  the confinement, torture, and murder of billions of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and research. The idea that human beings are the center of the universe and that animals are a sub-species is unethical.

Let’s look at some numbers.

India has a reputation as a vegetarian nation. But this may not be quite accurate. According to a nationwide survey, by the Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner in 2014, reveals only 29% Indians are vegetarians. Amount of meat consumed in India is certainly lesser than the global average, but not as less as we might think it to be. Also, the rapid change from an agricultural society to industrial economy and surging population in India is driving the fastest-growing poultry market in the world, as cultural norms change and eating meat becomes a status symbol.

Source – Left: Our world in Data, Right: The Atlantic

Besides this, even though the consumption of meat in India might not be as high as compared to other countries like USA, India is one of the leading players in export of meat, especially beef. Shocked? India is one of the leading countries in production of milk and has less demand of beef within the country due to religious beliefs in certain cultures. As a result, most of the meat is exported, making India, one of the topmost exporters of beef in the world. And this is not going to change, unless we start drinking less milk.

Horrors of animal agriculture

Meat industry – Everyone knows that the meat on their plates is a result of an animal killed and slaughtered. But what most of them don’t know is that it isn’t a clean, quick death but an entire life of sufferings

Animals like cows, pigs, lambs spend most of their miserable lives in tiny gestation and farrowing crates so small that they can’t even turn around. They are impregnated repeatedly until their bodies give out and are then sent to slaughter. They are torn away from their mothers, they are branded with hot irons, dehorned, their teeth are snipped off with pliers and males are castrated – all without painkillers. After spending their short lives in cramped, crowded pens on slabs of filthy concrete, they are transported for slaughter without food and water. Those who don’t die on the way are shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun and hung up by one leg then have their throats cut before finally being dumped into tanks of scalding-hot water, which is intended to remove their hair and soften their skin. They die piece by piece.

It doesn’t even stop there. Once the cows are butchered, they are cleaned and injected with a cocktail of water, salt, preservatives and a chemical solution to enhance flavor, mask any foul ones, prolong the meat’s freshness or make it more tender. Much of this meat is then placed in airtight Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and inserted with gases to delay the aging process and make it appear fresher/redder for longer during transit and on store shelves. Many meat packagers purposefully leave off the ‘packaged on’ date, because if you saw that you wouldn’t buy it. All these processes are meant to provide more profits for the companies while worsening the health of the consumers.

Dairy industry – The dairy industry is often presented to consumers as wholesome and humane. What actually goes on at dairy farms doesn’t match up with the marketing message, though. There are no happy cows gladly providing their milk for humans to consume, as we are made to believe. Dairy cows lead miserable lives from the moment they are born.

Cows, like humans, have to be pregnant to produce milk. And the milk they produce, again like humans, is for their kids. But the dairy industry can not survive if cows mate whenever they feel like it. Hence, they are raped and artificially impregnated again and again through their whole life span. And it does not stop here. Immediately after birthing, her calf, male and female is immediately taken and dragged away, an unbelievably stressful affair for both, the calf and cow. Animal biologist Daniel Weary has proven that like us humans, cows are emotionally sensitive and when separated they often cry out in search of one another. As if the trauma of separation wasn’t enough, female cows are then hooked up to milking machines which are significantly more uncomfortable than the natural act of suckling their young. And in order to meet the demand of a greedy milk-obsessed nation, these cows are selectively bred and drugged. Due to cramped factory conditions and high-consumer demand, antibiotics and bovine growth hormone are used excessively in dairy farming as a means of fighting infection and increasing milk production. Once drugged, these cows bloat and produce up to ten times the amount of milk than they would naturally. The females are destined to follow in their mother’s footsteps, while the males face early slaughter for the veal industry. When these cows are spent, and cannot produce milk any more, dairy farmers brand these cows useless and send them to slaughterhouses only for their meat to be packaged and sold as hamburgers or pet food.

All the women out there, Imagine being repeatedly dosed with high levels of antibiotics and growth hormones, raped, compelled to give birth, only to have your child instantly removed from your care. Incomprehensible, isn’t it? Don’t you think, being a vegan is also a part of being a feminist?

Egg industry – Many people believe that there is no harm in eating eggs as there is no life in them. The reality, though, is that layer hens are given no more room or mercy than the animals raised for meat. Layer hens are the female chickens who spend their entire lives laying eggs for commercial purposes. Raising chickens for their eggs isn’t as wholesome a practice as the egg industry wants you to believe. In fact, the suffering and mistreatment of layer hens make it one of the cruelest types of farming in the food industry.

Hens are then shoved into tiny wire ‘battery’ cages, about the size of a file drawer with several other hens, unable to lift a single wing. Each hen gets about half a sq. ft of space. The birds are crammed so closely together that although normally clean animals, they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. These cages are stacked one upon the other, due to which the faeces from the upper cages drip down on the birds in the lower cages. The stench of ammonia and faeces hangs heavy in the air, and disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds. Many birds die, and survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cage mates, who are sometimes left to rot. To prevent the birds from attacking each other, a large portion of their beaks are cut off with a burning-hot blade within hours or days of birth. No painkillers are used. Birds are in pain both during and after the procedure. Chicks, who often have a hard time eating and drinking after their beaks are mutilated, can suffer from hunger and dehydration because their food and water intake is greatly reduced for several weeks after the procedure.

Male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders, called ‘macerators,’ while they are still alive.

After about two years in these conditions, the hens’ bodies are exhausted, and their egg production drops. These ‘spent’ hens are shipped to slaughterhouses. By the time they are sent to slaughter, roughly 30 percent of them are suffering from broken bones resulting from neglect, osteoporosis, and rough treatment. Their emaciated bodies are so damaged that their flesh can generally be used only for companion animal food. Their entire lives are like being under the ‘Cruciatus curse’ from the Harry Potters wizarding world. Being tortured till death.

Chicken industry – Chickens raised for their flesh are called ‘broiler’ chickens. They are typically confined to massive, windowless sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds each, where intense crowding and confinement lead to outbreaks of disease. Not only are they the most-killed animals for the purposes of feeding humans, but more chickens are killed for food every year than all other land animals put together. They’re bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly that their legs and organs can’t keep up, making heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities common. Many become crippled under their own weight and eventually die because they can’t reach the water nozzles. When they are only 6 or 7 weeks old, they’re crammed into cages and trucked to slaughter.

Workers rush through the sheds, grabbing multiple birds by their legs and slinging them into crates for transport. Every year, tens of millions suffer broken wings and legs from the rough handling, and some hemorrhage to death. The journey to the slaughterhouse may be hundreds of miles long, but chickens are given no food or water. After this nightmarish journey, the bewildered chickens are dumped out of the crates, and workers violently grab them and force their legs into shackles so that they are hanging upside-down, breaking many birds’ legs in the process. Once in the shackles, the upside-down birds are dragged through an electrified water bath meant to paralyze them, not render them unconscious. This means that chickens are still completely conscious when their throats are cut, and many are literally scalded to death in the feather removal tanks after missing the throat cutter.

Isn’t it horrible? Do you have goosebumps on your hands? I am sure you do because compassion is one of our core belief system and we love animals, at least some if not all.

And the industry knows that people love animals, and so they make every effort to keep us from finding out what goes in those windowless factory farms. Instead they bombard us with lies in the form of happy cow and chicken ads and visuals of cows grazing in a huge field with her calf on her side.

Many people think that animals are slaughtered after living their full lives. But that’s not true. They are slaughtered as soon as their meat is good enough to be sold or their bodies are spent and can not produce anymore milk or eggs.


The meat paradox

Have you ever thought why do we eat a pig, wear a cow and love a dog? Why do we feel sick at the thought of eating a dog, but hungry at the thought of eating a pig or cow or chicken? Or how we can feel so outraged about whaling while continuing to enjoy fish and chips? Why do some animals appear to deserve our concern and consideration and others so much less so when anatomically as well as emotionally they are all the same?

“There is an invisible and dominant belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals and love others. A belief system that is against our core values of compassion and justice. And the primary tool of this system is ‘psychic numbing’ which is a psychological process by which we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we numb ourselves. In and of itself, it is not evil. It is adaptive or beneficial when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive or destructive when it is used to enable violence, even if that violence is as far away as the factories in which animals are turned into meat. The mechanisms of psychic numbing include denial, avoidance, routinization, justification, objectification, deindividualization, rationalization and dissociation.”

Melanie Joy, author, An introduction to Carnism

Another important mechanism I personally feel is ‘Convenience’, ‘greed’ and ‘culture’. We first discarded all wildlife or animals who could potentially harm humans when they are tried to be domesticated in huge numbers. The rest we categorized them into categories like – pests, pets and meat. Now which animal is classified in which category stems from our cultural and religious influences whereas convenience and greed get factored in along the way. The same animal can be classified in different categories in different parts of the world based on socio-economic factors.

Let’s take an example of a rabbit. You may see wild rabbits running around, or you may have friends who keep rabbits as pets. Some people eat rabbits. And in still other situations rabbits are used for scientific or cosmetic research. What’s right and wrong in the way we treat animals?

“One thing that enables us to negotiate these sort of difficult questions is that we have category systems in our head so we can put a rabbit in the pet category. We can put it in the meat category. We can put it in the pest category. And then we treat them completely, completely differently,”

Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

Another example is that of dogs. Dogs in India and America are classified as pets, but around 25 million dogs are slaughtered for food every year in South east Asia. Similarly, cow meat or beef is what an American eats at least once or maybe twice a day but it is illegal in India to do so.

Also some other factors influencing the classification might have been how dogs and cats are smaller and more manageable to keep at home whereas animals like cows and pigs are big, hence much more difficult for everyone to be kept at home and much more useful commercially as they can be milked and reared for meat. A cruel and unjust definition of balance of these human emotions of greed and convenience (for the consumers as well as for the sellers) influenced by culture and religion has led to segregation ofanimals as we know today in our respective parts of the world. And somehow through the years systematically with lot of players involved, we have managed to rationalize this and ingrain it deep into ourselves forgetting that all animals have something incredibly important in common. They are all sentient beings with emotions, who can feel pain, just like us.

Today, we have not only managed to disassociate but very conveniently also differentiate between them just like we have managed to differentiate between our own kind based on race, caste, money,sex etc.

Human victims of Factory Farming

Slaughterhouses are sinister places. Making a living from killing helpless animals must surely take its toll on anyone with an ounce of compassion. There have been many undercover investigations into factory farming over the years, many of which expose the inhumane conditions in which animals are forced to live on these farms. But the animals aren’t the only ones subjected to cruelty. The people working there are also severely impacted physically and mentally by industrial animal agriculture. 

This industry employs the most vulnerable people in the society, as who else would be willing to spend their entire days amidst animal blood and carcass? Factory farms depend on these vulnerable types of employees because they are thankful for the work and, as a result, unlikely to unionize, will endure horrible working conditions, long hours (sometimes 10-hour days or more) and be satisfied with very little pay. 

The longer the employees work at factory farms, the more likely they are to be injured. An employee who works at a factory farm for five years has a 50%  chance of being injured at the workplace. This could range from contracting diseases from handling the animal carcasses to severe injuries from using the line equipment.

During an average workday, employees inhale anything from ammonia to hydrogen sulfide, plus a number of other airborne bacteria. The air quality is so bad in these farms that 70% of farm workers experience some sort of respiratory issue. There are also long-term injuries to the employees’ hands, arms, shoulders and backs due to the physical and repetitive nature of the work. You would think that an occupation with such a high injury and illness rate would offer adequate healthcare to their employees. Unfortunately, many of these workers go without healthcare or cannot find proper transportation or time off to get them to a doctor. Most workers are afraid of reporting these conditions because they want to keep their jobs. Labor laws are also not taken too seriously in the factory farming industry. While no employees under 18 years old are ‘officially’ hired, investigations have shown workers as young as 15-years-old employed by these farms.

Many stories of slaughterhouse workers are emerging which gives us an insight into how their minds and bodies are affected by their everyday work.

Unsurprisingly, many workers develop addictions, drinking problems and anxiety issues related to their work. One worker explained that the key to getting through the role was ‘disassociation’ and to become ‘numb to death and suffering’. But this disassociation psychology at work was also making many of them violent outside work. In fact, researchers have found a connection between numerous after work fights instigated by slaughterhouse workers and the killing and dismembering of animals all day at work. They are increasingly feeling the weight of killing helpless, emotional beings.

You can and must read the detailed article on ‘Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker’ by BBC


Do animals feel pain?

Mammals share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, perceptions, and emotions, all of which are integrated into the experience of pain, says Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist and author. Many of us have pets, and we all know they feel pain, they express it in their own ways which we understand. Then why do you think cows, pigs, turkeys,fish and chicken are any different? They not only feel pain but all other emotions as well. They form relationships. Cows and pigs are as smart as dogs if not more.

Don’t plants feel pain?

No. Plants respond to stimuli, for example by turning towards the light or closing over a fly but they have no brain or central nervous system, which means they can’t feel anything. Regardless, going vegan is by far our best bet. We have to eat, it’s a matter of survival. And eating plants directly, rather than feeding them to animals and then killing those animals for their flesh requires far fewer plants and doesn’t hurt animals, who, we already can see feel pain. So if you worry about plants welfare, going vegan is your best option.

What about organic, free range meat and ethical / humane slaughter?

Animals on organic and ‘free-range’ farms endure the same cruel mutilations such as debeaking, dehorning, and castration without painkillers. Also, they, too, are artificially impregnated every year, and their calves are taken from them soon after birth. Cows on organic farms often aren’t given antibiotics even when they’re sick or when their udders become infected, something that happens often because medicated animals lose their “organic” status.

There is no such thing as humane/ethical slaughter. The words humane/ethical and slaughter are completely contradictory and can’t coexist in the same sentence. However quick the process is, cutting short the life a living being by killing it can never be humane! It is like giving a person a luxurious life for half a year and then killing him, because he has had enough freedom and enjoyment. Isn’t it extremely messed up?

What has been happening since human beings began to breed, raise, and kill animals has been a continual genocide. This genocide has been going on for thousands of years without a pause. In fact, it is increasing with human population growth and industrialization.

But it needs to stop now, and you can be a big part of this social justice movement with us against using animals for our own selfish needs, which our future generations are going to look back down upon, just like we look down upon slavery, sati system etc. And every small step matters in this long fight. So do not hesitate to take your first step, how much ever small and insignificant it might feel in the moment.

Despite there being plenty of sound ethical arguments in favour of veganism, people’s moral compasses vary enormously, and while some people are unaware of many of the facts about how meat is produced, and how animals are treated, others are well aware but choose to turn a blind eye. This is something people do with many potentially troubling issues in the world, from the destruction of the environment to poverty to racism, sexism and patriarchy. Why? Because as long as something directly does not affect us ‘Ignorance is bliss’. But as veganism grows in popularity around the world, there is the distinct possibility that the compassion vegan ethics promotes in relation to animals might produce benefits for humanity and the planet as a whole. We live in hope.

Lastly, if you found this series of articles about veganism eye-opening, please share it with a friend. And have that friend share it, too. The more people who know the truth behind the meat industry, the more lives are changed by the power of knowledge, choice and informed action. We can change the cycle by starving it. Don’t give this industry any more money; they are poisoning animals, us, and our world! Feel free to contact me on my mail or instagram for any queries. Thank you!