IT ISN’T UNTIL YOU GO VEGAN that you realize how dependent on nonhuman animals we humans are. How much we take from them – everything; how we exploit them – in every way; and how we don’t even think about how many lives are taken because we can’t (or don’t want to) look beyond meat, eggs and dairy – as if those are the ‘food’ items that we really want to taste and “can’t live without”.
It so happens that the first not-so-cheap restaurant you visit after going vegan is one you’ve been to quite a few times before, but as an unawakened non-vegan who wasn’t concerned at all what went into your food, as long as it was tasty, not too unhealthy; you considered yourself not a herbivore, not an omnivore, not a carnivore, but a vore – an eater. An eater of all… an eater of everything.
And now you’re looking at the menu, and you’re halfway through the pitcher of beer but you still haven’t been able to decide on what you’d like to eat. There’s absolutely nothing for you. So you order a vegetarian burger and you ask them to veganize it: cheese nahi chahiye, paneer nahi chahiye, butter nahi chahiye… The burger that comes is a shit patty between two buns. You can’t have it with the mayonnaise because it isn’t fucking vegan. The pitcher of beer is now over.
Let’s have the bruschetta, you say. Veganized. “Cheese nahi chahiye.” It arrives stillborn. It’s a fucking flop, and you’re disappointed but not surprised. See, there’s nothing to do in a situation like this, so you call for another pitcher and wonder if you should have whisky as the main course. But you’re with friends – vegetarians – who are forgoing cheese and other dairy items because you’re with them. How sweet of them.
Let’s call for pasta, someone says. They veganize it for you. “Inn ko cheese nahi pasand,” or “Inn ko dairy se allergy hai,” they tell the waiter, who isn’t surprised anymore. But the pudfucker returns grinning with parmesan on the fucking pasta as if he’s done you a huge fucking favour.
This happens every time. There’s a Mexican restaurant, and there’s one that serves finger-licking good north Indian food, and there’s a place famous for its Gujarati thali. The restaurant changes, the food changes, but the story remains the same.
BEFORE YOU GO VEGAN you’re filled with anxiety: how will you not have ghee on the roti and in your rice, how will you live without butter in a lot of things, what about dahi, buttermilk, paneer, lassi, and honey (which you never really cared much about) – all those things that always seemed harmless. The worry is mainly about the diet, because you’ll give those leather shoes away, you won’t buy leather belts again, you’ll throw the wallet away, who wears silk anyway… but how are you not going to eat a fucking pizza? What about your morning chai? Ice cream? Fuck.
And we haven’t even started talking about not eating animals, but “meat, fish and poultry” were forbidden for some of us, and that’s what makes it even worse. You thought you were an ethical vegetarian, but it hits you like a ton of bricks that there’s nothing ethical about vegetarianism; you cease to be an ‘ethical’ vegetarian when you become aware of what happens to the animals we don’t love as pets, the ones we don’t think of as ‘cute.’ This is when you see the light and awaken.
That’s when your anxiety and sense of loss turn into disgust and hatred for mankind. That’s when you stop thinking of veganism as giving up things you’ve always loved and couldn’t imagine living without, and start seeing it as boycotting animal products completely. That’s when you make a promise to yourself that you will never again pay another human to cause pain and suffering to any being that wants nothing to do with you. That’s when you go from being the person posing with the leg of an animal to one who tells others “What the fuck are you doing?” That’s when you know that Jainism isn’t a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that being a vegetarian isn’t enough. Egg whites are used to give your naan and others breads their firmness; your potato fries have natural beef flavouring. Breads aren’t Jain, fries aren’t vegetarian.
But if the nicest, kindest and most amazing of us refuse to end this cycle and continue to participate in unnecessary violence against animals for the sake of our own pleasure or convenience, you certainly can’t expect an establishment that exists solely to make profit to know how to cook food that doesn’t involve the exploitation of animals or was made without making someone who never knew what it’s like to be happy and free cry and suffer and die helplessly.