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.

Source: plantbasednews.org

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 vidhi228@gmail.com or instagram for any queries. Thank you!














Veganism and health

Today, we are in the middle of a global crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. All over the world millions of people have been infected and are dying everyday. But indirectly, each and every person has been affected as all the economies have shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Most businesses are having a hard time surviving and millions of people have lost their jobs and are unable to meet their basic needs of paying rents or EMI’s and providing for their families. The whole world is crippled and come to a halt.

But what is the root cause for all this?

Raising and killing animals for human consumption breeds disease and is the root cause behind this global pandemic. Despite the obvious need to close live-animal markets and slaughterhouses, these places are still open for business. And this is not the only health crisis caused by consumption of animals and animal products. Let me start with clarifying that,

Meat and dairy are not good for your body.


I know there are thousands of questions popping in your head and I will try to answer all of them, one by one.

What’s wrong with milk?

You can read more about – How an advertisement campaign got us duped into believing milk is necessary for healthy bones here.

What’s wrong with meat?

What’s wrong with fish?

So what is the solution you might ask?

Ditch animal products.

We are anatomically herbivorous and during most of our evolutionary history, we were largely vegetarian. Our body is not designed to eat meat, unlike carnivores.

  • Humans have short, soft fingernails and small “canine” teeth. In contrast, carnivores all have sharp claws and large canine teeth that are capable of tearing flesh.
  • Carnivorous animals swallow their food whole, relying on extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in it, which would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison, because strong acids aren’t needed to digest prechewed fruits and vegetables.
  • Animals who hunt have short intestinal tracts and colons that allow meat to pass through their bodies relatively quickly, before it can rot and cause illness. Humans’ intestinal tracts are much longer than those of carnivores of comparable size. Longer intestines allow the body more time to break down fiber and absorb the nutrients from plant-based foods, but they make it dangerous for humans to eat meat. The bacteria in meat have extra time to multiply during the long trip through the digestive system, increasing the risk of food poisoning. Meat actually begins to rot while it makes its way through human intestines, which increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear chunks of flesh from their prey and swallow them whole. Humans and other herbivores can move their jaws up and down and from side to side, allowing them to grind up fruit and vegetables with their back teeth. Like other herbivores’ teeth, humans’ back molars are flat for grinding fibrous plant foods.

A 100% plant based diet also known as a vegan diet is what is best for our personal health as well as for our environment.

I am sure the next big question that would have come in your minds would be – ‘But is an only plant based diet healthy?

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only healthy, it is healthier compared to a non vegetarian diet.

A whole food plant based diet is the only diet that has been proved successful in reversing lifestyle diseases.

But what about our calcium and protein?

Only 18% of global calorie and 37% of global protein comes from animals.

This shows that we are anyways getting majority of our nutrients from plants. In fact, all the nutrients we get from animals, including proteins, is 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. But when you eat it through animals, they come with lot of other burden like high levels of cholesterol, animal hormones, etc.

So why not eat it directly through plants, like its meant to be?

You can get all essential nutrients like protiens, calcium, minerals and vitamins through plants itself. Lets compare few of the basic nutrients we get from certain animal and plant foods. Also, while studying this table it is important to keep in mind that it is not only about the numbers but also how the human body reacts to these nutrients.

I know, you will find it difficult to believe everything I said. So, I interviewed a Mumbai based doctor, Dr. Rashmi Menon to clarify our doubts.

Dr. Rashmi Menon, is a Holistic Medical Doctor and psychotherapist who specializes in reversing lifestyle diseases and homeopathy. She has been helping patients become medicine free and lead a healthy life since two decades.

VD – Is it true that milk actually depletes calcium from bones?

RM – The bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis can lead to small and not-so-small fractures. Although many people think of calcium from milk in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.

Yes, milk has calcium as seen in the lab studies, but only 30 percent of this is actually absorbed in the bones. To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.  This can be easily covered by a whole food plant based diet with inclusion of greens, sesame seeds, legumes, etc, along with exercises which help the bones to absorb calcium as well as vitamin D either directly from the sun or supplementation.

VD – What are the benefits of having a plant based diet? What all diseases can it reduce the risk for and by how much? Is a vegan diet actually helpful in reversing lifestyle diseases?

RM – Since food is a major part of our lifestyle, it is also a major cause when it comes to lifestyle diseases. The animal products in our diet increase acidity, have low fiber, are high in fat and cholesterol, antibiotics, steroids and hormones, all of which hinder the normal functioning of the body.  Over time this malfunctioning manifests in the form of lifestyle diseases. A plant based diet along with a moderate exercise routine can reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases and cancer by about 40%. A few lifestyle diseases that have scope of reversal are heart disease, diabetes type 2, PCOD, PCOS, asthma, obesity, fatty liver, renal disease, migraines, IBS, acidity. Refined, processed food and foods filled with chemicals in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, preservatives and colorants can also have a similar effect on the body, which is why vegans who eat an unhealthy diet can also suffer from lifestyle diseases.

VD – Can you share some real life stories of your patients and how a vegan diet has helped people reverse lifestyle diseases.

RM – A vegan diet can definitely help people feel lighter and more healthier. Eating wholesome real food meant for the human body otherwise called a whole food plant based diet with high raw, has helped hundreds of my patients reverse their disease. It eliminates everything that physically triggers the body to dysfunction.  Sharing just a few here:

A 60-year-old lady with 10 plus years of diabetes was able to get off her medicines in a month by following the wfpb plan, stress reduction methods as well as a moderate exercise plan.

A 40-year old lady, diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and was able to see re-absorption of some of her breast lumps as well as calcification of the rest in a one year time period.  This was possible partially due to the inculcation of a strict high raw wfpb regimen.

A 45 year old professional suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes for 8 years saw a reduction in his blood sugar and blood pressure readings within a month of starting the plan, and was gradually able to get off medicines within the span of 6 months.  Here too, the wfpb diet played a majpr role.

A 30-year-old saw the PCOD cysts disappear in two months follow up sonography.  She was able to follow vegan diet 100% and the wholesome part around 50%. 

VD – If this is true, then why do many dietitians and doctors still suggest milk, eggs and meat to be included in a healthy diet?

RM – Over time we have formed the habit of disintegrating food and depending on lab tests to find out how much of the identifiable nutrients are there in the food and to segregate them and apply them in our diet.  This does not take into consideration the fact that the human body as well as the food found in nature have so many components and nutrients in them which we are still in the process of identifying. Since we believe only what the lab says, if we were to take a drop of milk to the lab and test, it will show a certain amount of calcium, protein, etc.  What it will not show is, how much of the same is absorbed into the body and what are the other effects of the same on the body.

The dairy, poultry and meat industry has grown into a big organisation providing employment to many people. Since it is important to keep the demand on, most studies on the merits of these products are also funded by the same industry. But the best study is the one which we experience ourselves.  One of the best things to do is to just drop these animal products from our diet for just one month, and keep notes on the changes observed in the body—physically and mentally.  This is the only study which cannot be manipulated.

VD – What about vitamin D and B12? Is taking supplements for these vitamins safe?

RM – Whether vegan or not If we live in an urban setting chances are we will need to take B12 and Vitamin D supplements.  Vitamin D is a hormone created under the skin on exposure to sunrays and then stored in the liver.  Due to the pollution particles in the air in the cities the the sunrays that reach the skin are low quality.  Add to it our indoor lifestyle and use of sunscreens, the city dwellers then to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.  

Vitamin B12 is created by the bacteria present in the mud.  In the urban space our exposure to mud is extremely limited.  This mud also is high in pollutants and chemicals, which in turn kill the bacteria. If one is eating meat or dairy, the animals are fed these supplement and it is the second hand supplement that our body gets. Still, 90% of non-vegans from cities have severe B12 and D deficiencies. It goes undetected because unless you tell the doctor you are a vegan, you are not asked to get a B12 or Vitamin D test done. If one were to  live in a village and live a life without modern trappings, living close to nature and natural mud one may not need first hand or second hand  B12 supplements, whether vegan or not.

Yes, in an ideal world, supplements should be avoided.  Alas, we do not live in an ideal world.  So we can do the second best.  That would be to take check for these deficiencies via blood tests and supplement accordingly.  Over supplementation can be as harmful as a deficiency.

VD – Anything else you would like to share 

RM – People have been living a healthy life for years without having any animal products in their diet.  That itself proves that it is possible for a human to live without animal products.  Then to add to the exploitation and abuse of these innocent animals becomes a choice.  A choice which we can all choose to avoid without ANY harm to ourselves. Like every other diet or lifestyle, a balance in eating and making wise choices are important. 

If you have more questions about a whole food plant based diet and wish to consult with her, please drop a comment below or email me on vidhi228@gmail.com and I will share her contact details with you.

Sports is going vegan

Slowly, as people are becoming more and more aware and finally accepting the science that meat and dairy are bad for ones health, more and more athletes are turning vegan. Traditionally, athletes believed that the only way to meet their daily protein requirement was via meat consumption, but with increased awareness around nutrition, this has changed. They have realized that many plant-based foods are actually richer in protein than meat. Plant based diet gives endurance athletes an edge as a vegan diet can enhance athletic performance due to enhanced cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol and weight loss.Also, plant based diets are more conducive to recovery.

Meat-free athletes from tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams and Novak Djokavic to Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton to NFL’s Derrick Morgan and Davod Carter to the current Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli have all adopted vegan lifestyles and proved the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet.

I interviewed Kuntal Joisher, who is a vegan mountaineer and the first but not last vegan to climb the Mt. Everest. Many climbers have started following his example now.

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai, the man who became the first vegan to Climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds.

I have been a Vegan for the last 18 years, but I have never had issues building lean muscle mass on a vegan diet. 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.

To me Veganism is about animal liberation and saving animal lives. That’s the first and foremost. Animals are here sharing the planet with us, they are not here to be used by us. Hence, I not only climbed Everest on a vegan diet but all of my mountaineering gear was also vegan, made completely from animal-free material. I used a one-piece synthetic suit, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather.

Kuntal Joisher

Beauty of veganism – Substitute not sacrifice

The beauty of vegan food is that you do not have to give up on the taste of your favorite animal based foods like meat or dairy as there are amazing substitutes available for all animal products from milk for your tea, to curd, ice creams, cheese and even meats and sausages!

Dairy milk can be replaced using plant based milks like cashew milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, pistachio milk, coconut milk, hemp milk etc. There is so much choice available and the best part is that you can decide your preference based on the texture and flavor you like and also other factors like cost, local availability etc. Also, these milks can be very easily made at home ensuring they are pure and preservative free.

Cheese, mayonnaise, curd and ice-creams are also possible from these plant based milks. There are many retail products available in USA and Europe for the same. In India, we have small vegan businesses catering to all these needs who are slowly expanding to reach bigger markets. You can check out few of them here.

Meat can be replaced by mock meat options made from soy, peas, seitan etc. Recently, around the world the products of mock meat brands like the Impossible burger and Beyond meat have taken everyone by surprise as they replicate the taste, look and texture of meat perfectly. Innovative companies like GardeinNew Wave FoodsOcean Hugger FoodsGood Catch, and others are creating fool-your-friends vegan versions of fish filletscrab cakescoconut shrimptunascallops, and even caviar. Even in India there are mock meat brands like Gooddot, Vezlay and Nutrela.

Also, more and more vegan restaurants are cropping up all over the world. You can check out a list of Indian vegan restaurants here. For people in Mumbai – Imagine Cafe, is Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. You can read more about them here or visit their Instagram page.

Is veganism expensive?

Like any other diet and lifestyle, veganism can be as cheap or expensive as you make it.

Veganism is expensive, is a myth. In fact, vegans survive mainly on beans, rice, grains, fruits, and vegetables which are way cheaper than meat and fish. Replacing meat burgers with a veggie burger patty will be the cheapest option ever but if you opt for processed specialty mock meat patties it might sometimes be more expensive, especially since most of them are still imported to India. However, it should be remembered that these meat-alternative products are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. Cheaper foodstuffs like tofu, mushrooms, aubergine, chickpeas and jack fruits can be used at home to make delicious meals mimicking meat products.

When it comes to milk and milk products, it is important to know that globally all the governments heavily subsidize milk. And in spite of that making most of the plant milks at home turns out to be much cheaper. And what could be better than making your own milk, fresh at home whenever you need it, ensuring what your are drinking is of the best quality and preservative free? Retail prices of plant milks are still high comparatively as they are not subsidized by the government and the demand is comparatively quite low. Once the demand starts increasing, the prices of even these store bought milks will go down.

We as consumers have the power to change the world. What we demand is going to be produced. If we demand more animal free products that’s the direction the business world will take.

Kuntal Joisher, vegan mountaineer
Cost comparison of animal milk vs various plant milks
Cost comparison of animal milk products vs plant milk products

And that day is not far. Already in the US, the dairy milk consumption is declining and demand for plant milks is rising.

Source: USDA

Also, in the grand scheme of things, the vegan diet is the most inexpensive diet on this planet as once animal products have been eliminated from the menu, chances of getting diseases has been comparatively reduced by a lot. Our health is priceless. Add the cost of health care and insurance, prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, doctor visits and hospital stays, and you can easily see how meat, dairy and egg-eating is the most expensive lifestyle around!

Downside of the health movement

Health is a complex issue and has two parts to it – physical health and mental health. It is also a privilege. Those with economic privilege have better access to high quality healthcare and are much more able to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as regular exercise, access to better quality food and time and resources to have proper home cooked meals. By positioning health at the level of the individual, it sometimes neglects the socio-economic and genetic determinants of health. Nobody has complete control over their health, regardless of the lifestyle that they lead. We can try and do our best, but there is no guarantee. Another major problem is that today, more than being strong and disease free, weight is conflated with healthiness, and being thin is assumed to be symptomatic of being healthy. Conversely, fatness is assumed to indicate a lack of healthiness. The weight stigma experienced by people in larger bodies, even from healthcare professionals and their own families, does not help improve their lives or lead to health but affects their mental health even more. The emotional costs are incalculable.  Hence, it is important to ensure that we don’t overemphasize physical health and overlook mental health.

For me, Veganism is not about health, it is about ethics, and health is just an ancillary benefit.

What you eat and how it affects your body is a personal choice as long as it only affects you. So you might chose to indulge in unhealthy foods like oil, sugar and processed junk foods even after knowing it is not that good for your body just like you might indulge in alcohol or smoking. Its an informed decision, that you are making.

But, it stops being a personal choice the moment what you are eating affects millions of other lives.

I would like to conclude by saying that, meat and dairy are not only bad for the environment and our personal health but over and above an extremely unethical and cruel food choice made to selfishly satisfy human taste buds by exploiting, torturing and killing millions of lives every single day.

I will speak more in detail in my next article about the most important reason and the essence behind adopting a vegan lifestyle – Compassion.


Milk is unhealthy







Meat is unhealthy







Fish is unhealthy



Other references:






Veganism is Environmentalism

Today our environment is in serious trouble. We are in the midst of terrible ecological devastation and mass extinction.

In a landmark UN report, 2018, the world’s leading scientists warned that there are just twelve years to keep global warming under 1.5 celsius or we significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, and other extreme temperature changes.

Twelve. Years. Two of which are already gone.

That timeline is shocking. Generally speaking, conversations about climate change usually end up including fossil fuels. Mentioned far less are the ways that animal agriculture contributes to the changing climate. Confused?

Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass (i.e. zoo mass) was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoo mass. Raising animals for food is the single greatest human-caused source of destruction to our environment.

Land and Rain forests

Animal agriculture is very land intensive. Of all the roles trees play in climate change, their role as carbon sinks might be the most important. A carbon sink is anything in nature that holds or stores more carbon that it releases, like trees. They manage this by acting like a sponge and soaking up carbon and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free and wrecking havoc on climate patterns. But animal agriculture is the biggest industry leading to deforestation.

Greenhouse gases




The fishing industry affects a number of marine conservation issues, including: fish populations, water pollution, and habitat degradation.

The fishing industry needs to be significantly decreased in order to maintain healthy marine environments around the world. Oceans of the world may be fish-less by 2048, and irresponsible fishing practices are being held as one of the major culprits behind this potential disaster.

One of the most detrimental techniques is bottom trawling, in which fishermen drag a net along the bottom of the ocean floor. It disturbs the bottom of the seabed, stirring up significant amounts of sediment and damaging the coral species which is a vital component of healthy ocean ecosystems as it provides shelter to a number of deep sea-dwelling species. The sediment that is brought up from the bottom of the ocean floor can be carried along by currents, reaching areas of the ocean located miles away. An overabundance of sediment creates murky waters, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater plants and creating dead zones of oxygen deficiency. Additionally, many of the organic pollutants that have settled into the sediment are stirred back up and reintroduced to the food chain, beginning with plankton and moving up to humans. The UN has estimated that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling. Blast fishing and cyanide fishing are two other practices that are detrimental to marine habitats. In blast fishing, fisherman use explosives to kill large quantities of fish. The explosives do more than kill the fish, however, and also cause destruction to underlying habitats such as coral reefs. Cyanide fishing is a similar practice, but uses cyanide to kill large quantities of fish. Fishermen spray this poison throughout coral reefs, Then collect the stunt fish and place them in freshwater for roughly two weeks. The fresh water is believed to cleanse the fish of any remaining cyanide. In many places, these practices are illegal, yet continue to be used.


What if everyone starts eating only plants? That will also lead to increase in the agricultural land requirement and lead to deforestation etc.

No, it wont. Raising animals is very resource intensive as opposed to cultivating crop for direct human consumption. Animal based diet is 16 times more resource intensive than a vegan diet, whereas a vegetarian diet is 3 times more intensive. Hence, if everyone in the world ate a plant based diet even after factoring the increase in demand of land for human crops we will be able to return almost 80% of the total land today under agriculture to the forests. (Assuming, the level of global calorie intake stays the same)

How much would changing my diet actually help? I am just one person! Can I really make a difference all by myself?

Source: Aleksandrowicz et al, PLoS One

As you can see, it would definitely make a big difference if the world’s heaviest meat eaters scaled back even moderately, helping to free up land to feed everyone else. If many people collectively made changes to their diets, it will add up.

Why is animal agriculture resource intensive?

Instead of directly eating plants and getting our nutrients from there, human as usual tend to do it through animals who themselves get their nutrients from plants. Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats and corn; however, they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. An animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass known as feed conversion ratios (FCR) (i.e. feed: meat). The range of FCRs is  according to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry. The larger the animal, the larger the percentage of that animal’s body mass is inedible material like bone, skin and tissue. The second reason for meat production’s great resource intensity is due to its immense scale. Globally, there is a projected “food animal” population of over 20 billion, almost thrice that of the current seven billion humans the planet carries, with the animal count expected to rise along with human population growth. It all adds up.

What about grass fed beef and free farms?

Most cattle spend their first year on pastures eating grass, after which they are typically moved to a feedlot, where they are fattened up with grain. By contrast, “grass-fed” cattle keep grazing on grass until they are slaughtered. But, on the flip side, grass-finished cattle which are not given antibiotics etc. also take longer to reach slaughter weight, which means they spend more time burping up methane into the atmosphere. Because of this, some studies have suggested that grass-fed beef can actually be worse for the climate over all.

Is organic produce better than conventionally grown produce?

Organic produce is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, which is definitely good for your health. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better from a climate perspective. In some cases, it can be a bit worse as organic farms often require more land than conventional farms.

Should I worry about whether my produce is local and seasonal?

Transportation accounts for only about 6 percent of food’s total climate footprint. Anything that’s in season where you live, whether you buy it at a local farmers’ market or at a supermarket, is usually a good choice. Things get trickier when it comes to out-of-season produce. Some fruits and vegetables that are shipped by plane can have a surprisingly hefty carbon footprint. In some cases, though, there can be an advantage to food that’s shipped in from elsewhere grown in its natural environment than to buy a local variety that was grown in an energy-intensive heated greenhouse.

Also, many believe that air-freight is more common than it actually is. Very little food is air-freighted; it accounts for only 0.16% of total transportation involved in the food supply chain, as most foods are transported by ships. Many of the foods people assume to come by air are actually transported by ships – avocados and almonds are prime examples and crops even when shipped at great distances, its emissions are much less than locally-produced animal products.

Even almonds are very water intensive. Is’nt that bad for the environment?What is the environmental impact of different types of milk?

Yes, almonds are more water intensive as compared to other nuts and grains. But even they use 50% of water per litre as compared to milk from cows.

This graph is a good representation of the environmental impact of different types of milk, per liter.

Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science

Why aren’t governments speaking more openly about how harmful animal agriculture is for the environment? How come we have never heard of this before?

Reducing your carbon footprint by eating less meat and dairy rarely gets attention. This strategy has been recommended by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and a host of other highly-regarded researchers and organisations.

Industry and lobby groups have traditionally had much economic and political power. They push heavy consumption and meat marketing campaigns which target our insecurities, attempting to convince us our brain development is linked to hearty meat intake. Governments under the pressure of these lobbyists and capitalists aren’t acknowledging this openly or making policies that could aid in this shift.

Religious and cultural associations are definitely there as well. It is a difficult shift to make mentally and it appears we don’t want to be put off our food by acknowledging the implications of our diet. And hence, as we say, ‘Ignorance is bliss!’

I would like to conclude this answer by quoting a speech given by Greta Thunberg a climate activist who is only 17 years old –

We are about to sacrifice our civilization for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue to make enormous amounts of money. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. Even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You say you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. But I do not care about being popular, I care about climate justice and the living planet.

To all of you who have never treated this crisis as a crisis. To all the political parties that pretend to take the climate question seriusly. To all of you who chose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change it self. Your silence is almost worst of all.

We are running out of time. We are standing at a crossroads in history. We are failing but we have not yet failed. We can still fix this. It is up to us. The real power belongs to the people.



  • Modern agriculture inevitably contributes to climate change, but some foods have a bigger impact than others.
  • It is definitely good to buy stuff locally as far as possible and eat organic as it is better for ones health but what you eat matters a lot more than whether it’s local or organic, or what kind of bag you use to carry it home from the store.
  • Beef, lamb and cheese tend to do the most climate damage. Pork, chicken and eggs are in the middle. Plants of all kinds typically have the lowest impact. Hence, a vegan diet is being considered as the most environmental friendly.

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only good for the environment but also ethical, cruelty free and good for your personal health.

I will talk more about the same in my next few articles. Follow my blog for regular updates.

References and sources:

All the data has been taken from reliable sources. I have listed down all the major websites and articles I have referred to for the data. Most of the statistics are global averages, but some of them might be more specific to USA/Europe as many of the studies are carried out there.







Article from The New York Times



Book – No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg

Imagine – A world full of compassion

I have been a proud vegetarian all my life. And not just a vegetarian, but a Gujarati Jain! I have never used leather products or even tasted honey as those industries harmed animals.  But I have always loved cheese, butter, paneer,dahi and chocolates. 

The roots of compassion were always there within me, but what was lacking was the knowledge and awareness about how cruel the dairy industry is. I knew that a vegan diet meant no dairy on top of a vegetarian diet but I had no idea why. I just assumed it was a fad or a diet for lactose intolerant people.

Suddenly, my colleague and best friend Ritwik(R), who was a hardcore Non-vegetarian Bengali, turned vegan! I was shocked and absolutely sure that this was not going to last very long! But to my surprise, this person who would have at least one non-vegetarian meal a day had turned vegan one fine day and he never looked back. It was from him that I realised veganism was not only a diet, it was a moral perspective. I slowly came to know about the horrors of the dairy industry.  I realised that cows, like humans, have to be pregnant to produce milk! And that they are raped and artificially inseminated so that we can have our daily dose of milk, cheese and butter. I was shocked and would experiment and bake vegan cakes for R on his birthday but not yet strong enough to give up my cheese and paneer.

Once we finished designing and  building NEXT school, Mulund ( I will write about that experience in my coming posts), R took a month off to try his hand at cooking. He had already been vegan for one and half years by then. Since he had not tasted dairy products for a long time, he had forgotten the taste of cheese and would call me over to give feedback. We did this to and fro for a month until we figured out the perfect cheese recipe. In the past few months, the only reason I turned a blind eye towards the atrocities of the dairy industry  was because I loved my cheese, butter, paneer and chocolate too much to consider giving up on them. But now that I knew that I could have guilt-free versions of all these things (which are also way healthier for me and way better for our environment) there was no reason to continue doing so. We were fascinated by food-science and slowly figured out ways to emulate cheese, cheese sauce, mayonnaise, butter, and even ice cream. This took a lot of time to get right as most recipes and guidelines online pertain to a Western palette. Once we got it just right, we started cooking dishes with these core ingredients. 

One of our first good batches of vegan cheese

I signed up for Veganuary 2018 – Veganuary is a pledge to stay vegan in January – and let me tell you, I had the most foodgasm-ic January of my whole life! Everyday we would experiment with a dish to add to the menu and we’d “test” it all by ourselves. It took us 3 days and 4 batches of brownies to get it right, but we persevered! I must be the first vegan to gain 5 kgs in the first month of turning vegan! 

And there’s been no looking back – I have been a vegan ever since.

Slowly we started calling our friends over to taste the food and give feedback. Their feedback gave us a lot of encouragement. It was my dream – retirement plan actually – to open a quaint cosy cafe – and now it was seeming more and more important to open one – because we knew lecturing wouldn’t make people turn vegan – only good food will! The reassurance that they won’t have to give up on those cheese, paneer, chocolate or even meat cravings will convince people and give them the will power to try and go vegan.

I am an odd Gujarati because I hate the idea of starting your own business. I really love my job as a designer. But this cafe was now no more a dream or retirement plan but a necessity for both of us. We had to prove to people that vegan food is just as delicious,  and it was much healthier for our bodies & much better for our environment. We decided to build a business model to figure out how much investment we will need. We told a broker to check out available shops in an exciting, up-and-coming retail development in Mulund. It also happened to be really close to our place of stay and work (a common theme in my life!). When the broker got back to us we realised that there were only 4 shops left to be leased out in the entire complex – 146 shops were already taken! This was when we knew we cannot just keep messing around in our kitchen any more – If we want to do it , we have to do it now!

We did not overthink it – or even do the regular amount of thinking for that matter! We chose the shop and paid the token amount as a deposit. I think it was around 4-5 days’ time between the broker getting back to us and us paying the token. Once we started thinking, and planning, and getting scared we had already paid the token for the space and now there was no going back, just moving ahead. Now, there were thousands of things to do – we had to form a company before we could sign our formal rent agreement, we had to open a bank account, apply for all the necessary licenses, start designing the space and start the work on site, hire and train the chefs, choose each and every tile, fabric, faucet,crockery and so much more. It took us 50 days in all after the first brick was laid to be able to invite customers to the restaurant. 

We played of all the following roles between the 2 of us –

  • Interior Design –  We designed the space & procured the materials ourselves. We wanted the cafe space to be very simple, modern and vibrant. We custom designed almost all the furniture in the dining area and we even custom designed the storage, work tables and some of the equipment in the kitchen. We worked directly with our steel fabricator on the kitchen equipment – this meant we could build at a higher spec and at a fraction of the cost of branded kitchen equipment vendors.
Imagine cafe, Mulund, Mumbai

You can check out the 360 view of the cafe here.

  • Project management and site execution-  We were there, everyday, coordinating the work at site. It was April/May in Mumbai and it was hot as hell, but it didn’t matter. We also placed all the orders for materials and managed the cash flow. It was made much easier with help from a good network of contractors and vendors from our day-job as architects.
Us on the first day at site
  • Raising investment – We pitched the idea to friends and family and raised enough money to make sure that we did not need a bank loan – this meant, long term, that the cafe was on very firm financial footing.
  • Graphic design and social media –  We worked on the branding with Keith – a long time friend and collaborator. 
  • Hiring & Training– This was the biggest unknown for the two of us and it proved to be the most difficult part to get right. The restaurant industry is filled with shitty employers which has led to a complete, systemic breakdown in trust between staff and management – this is for another longer post! It was hard work but we put together a very good team when we needed to start. 
  • Licensing – We had to get necessary licenses and permissions before we could start running the cafe from the health department, fire department, food safety authority etc. All this took a lot of research and follow up visits to the ward office. 
  • Recipe and menu design – We had created the recipes over the last 4 months – now it was time to be ruthless and edit it down to a menu that fit on a single page. We wanted to do a select few things but do it right.
These mozzarella cheese sticks are one of the first recipes we tried at home with our cheese and is now one of the best selling items at Imagine cafe.
Quiche – Another Imagine special inspired by its non-vegetarian version which R’s mom would make when he was a kid. Vegetables, unKeema and cheese baked in a buttery, flaky pastry crust.

Also for both of us it was very important that the menu was – Vegan and indulgent. All our core ingredients like cheese, mayonnaise, cheese sauce, butter are all made in-house. Our menu is loaded with cheesy stuff which is otherwise difficult to find in a vegan diet like burgers, pizzas, pastas, quiche, cheese sticks, cheesecake and even ice creams. You can check out our entire menu on our Zomato page. 

Loaded nachos – Gluten-free nachos topped with freshly made salsa, beans and our signature nacho cheese sauce
Freshly baked pizzas made with our special in house pizza base, tomato sauce and melterella cheese.
Hot dog – A chorizo-style Italian sausage served in a bun with caramelized onions, mustard & thousand island 
Unchicken Burger – Fried unChicken strips, masala onions, Sriracha mayo, iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. A classic!

We bake and prepare all our desserts in the kitchen as well – there’s almost no outsourcing for even basic ingredients. 

Snickers का बड़ा भाई
Berry cheesecake ice-cream sundae – A scoop each of vanilla & strawberry ice cream served with a slice of blueberry cheesecake and topped with toasted almonds.
Classic Blueberry cheesecake

There is a popular vegan eatery in Berlin which has a big neon sign over the bar counter that reads: ‘no f**king salads’. Many vegan eateries conflate veganism with no gluten, no sugar and even no oil – this is very commendable and props to these places for trying to pioneer something new. But it’s not the kind of food we always crave. Sometimes we want that sloppy burger and we want to dip the fried cheese in some melted cheese.  Our menu has a lot of indulgent food. I think it’s important to know that you have these options and we believe the inclusion of these indulgent foods will help make the process of turning vegan and staying vegan a whole lot easier. 

Along with our dine in service we also sell our cheese, chocolate bars, cakes, pastries etc. To be frank – How often will you go out for dinners to a cafe especially if it is really far from where you stay? The bigger impact will be when our cheeses and butters reach peoples home so that they can use it in their everyday life as it makes people’s life easier and determination stronger to live a cruelty free life.

Imagine classic cheese
Just chocolate cake

Every week we do specials wherein we experiment with new vegan dishes so that even regulars get to have new dishes every time they come. We hold a lot of events and workshops at the cafe as well. 

Imagine chocolate bar – Loaded with toasted almonds & cashews
Topped with salted caramel

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Are you wondering about how my family reacted? Well my family was very supportive of my decision and did everything they could to help whereas R’s mom had started crying when she came to know that he’s turned vegan. It took them some more time but eventually they  got their heads around it and helped us by investing in the cafe as well. My parents were slightly skeptical about how I would manage both my day-job and the cafe but they got over that very quickly. My mom learned how to make vegan dahi so that she can pack a glass of chaas with my lunch everyday. She loves cooking and wholeheartedly experiments and cooks vegan meals for me. She veganises a lot of  Indian dishes like dal makhani, shrikhand, methi malai matar, strawberry basundi and even makes chocolate shakes and cold coffees for me. 

Starting Imagine has, for the first time in my life, made me feel like I am doing something for the greater good. The amount of happiness and satisfaction that we get with the knowledge that Imagine is helping people turn vegan or continue being vegan is incredible! This directly contributes to a world with less suffering and less environmental waste.  

If you want to know more about the benefit of turning vegan you can check out these movies,books and articles- 

To know more about benifits of turning vegan you can also check out these articlesVeganism is environmentalism, Veganism and health, Veganism – A compassionate way of life

and these documentaries –

Ethical – Dominion on Youtube, Okja on Netflix.

Environmental – Cowspiracy on Netflix

Health – What the health, Forks over knives, Game changers on Netflix

I will say goodbye for now hoping that you guys will at least check these movies and articles out with an open mind and take it from there. Also, do visit Imagine cafe whenever you get a chance!