Guide to surviving India as a Vegan

This is a guest post by Sunny Jain an MBA Candidate who is a leader in US Young Jain Professionals

I’ve heard the story one too many times of my vegan friends abandoning their diet while visiting India either due to misinformation or perceived difficulty. Some would say it’s too difficult and would rather just enjoy food there, and others falsely believe that the dairy industry in India is humane (would be interested in educating you if you’re one of those people spreading fake news).

Before my trip to India, I decided that I would be the one to break this mold and wouldn’t give in like everyone else does, and I readied my battle armor as I boarded my flight.

10 days in, I found being vegan in India extremely reasonable and not as awful as I originally thought it would be. In addition to eating lavishly and trying almost any and every street food I laid my eyes on, I had the opportunity to attend Mumbai’s first and largest vegan food festival.

Here are a few tips I want to share with those who plan to remain vegan while in India:

Dealing with Aunties and Uncles

  • Don’t hesitate to speak up and tell them in advance what you can and can’t eat. To them, it’s like some unusual variation of the Jain diet that they may not entirely comprehend
  • Aunties are notorious for being pushy and persistent when it comes to eating home-cooked food, but they’ll respect your dietary restrictions without question (at the end of the day, you’re the guest and they want to cater to you!)
  • Just say: “no doodh (milk) and no ghee (butter)”
    • By default, food labeled “vegetarian” in India doesn’t have eggs in it, so it’s just a matter of avoiding butter and milk

The Plane Ride to India

  • When purchasing to your flight, you’ll have an option to request a vegan meal. Depending on the airlines, you may have to do some digging and click the “Extras” tab to select a special meal type, ask for VGML, this is an international airline code for vegan meals.
  • Important: You must request a vegan meal 24 hours in advance before the flight or you will be out of luck
    • If that happens, just let the flight attendant know (they’re usually super accommodating and will find something for you – even if it’s as little as providing you with snacks and fruits/vegetables during the flight)
  • The vegan meal I received was delicious: quinoa rice with tofu and red sauce, a fruit cup, salad with vegan ranch dressing, bread, and vegan butter
    • It was so fire that I took a photo of it just to share on social media
  • If you’re able to survive the first connecting flight, the airport in Amsterdam has great vegan options

Soy Milk (“Soya Milk” in India)

  • The first thing you’ll want to do when you reach in India is get a hold of soy milk wherever you’re staying
    • This is important because you’re going to be offered chai multiple times a day so it’s good to let them know in advance to make it with soy milk
  • One option is to either ask your family in India to get some in advance before you arrive, or you can buy some yourself
  • Soy milk is very accessible and readily available
    • Can be found at almost any decently big grocery store. If you can’t find it at a location, just walk next door because all the grocery stores tend to be next door to each other
    • I found regular unsweetened soy milk, chocolate soy milk, hazelnut milk, and rice milk
    • When converted to USD, you’ll spend about 6 bucks a box
  • I would recommend getting a few extra boxes to last your time there. Vegan milk doesn’t spoil so it makes sense to stock up
  • SoFit Soya Milk is a famous Indian soymilk brand endorsed by John Abraham

Pau Bhaji

  • Pau Bhaji is a staple street food you’re going to want to indulge in. However, it’s usually served drowning in butter
    • I watched in disgust as a street vendor tossed entire slabs of butter (un-human amounts) into the Pau Bhaji, and used another slab of butter to wipe down with pau
    • There’s legit more butter swimming in it than actual bhaji
  • Fortunately, there’s an easy workaround which will allow you to enjoy street Pau Bhaji without the animal cruelty. It is completely acceptable to demand Pau Bhaji with no butter (remember: they’re catering to you, not vice versa). Tell them what you want, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll deliver
  • In their continuous process of making and replenishing bhaji, they’ll just serve you bhaji from the batch they cook before adding butter. This goes for pau as well.

Indian McDonald’s and Burger King

  • Request any veggie burger or wrap and subtract the cheese and mayonnaise
  • I would choose a food item that comes with other stuff like tomatoes and lettuce so you don’t end up with a plain burger with just the patty and onions (those burgers are already pretty simple as is)
  • If you’re a daring and adventurous foodie like I am, try out the Maharaja Mac

Mitthai (Sweets)

  • Ask a nearby Aunty about which desserts have ghee or made with milk. Should knock out about 75 percent of your options, but you’ll always find something worthwhile
    • For me, it was Kaju Katri and fresh Jalebi cooked in oil
  • Avoid sweets with Warakh (the silver coating on top) because it’s associated with animal cruelty

Vegan Friendly Indian food

Below are some great food items I tried in India which are vegan friendly:

  • South Indian food
  • Vada Pau
  • Pani Puri
  • Sev Puri
  • Samosas
  • Chole Bhatura
  • Home Food (Moong, Daal, Sabji)
  • Frankies
  • McDonald’s Burgers
  • Burger King Burgers
  • Fries
  • Paan
  • Pau Bhaji (without Butter)

Feeding Biscuits to Stray Dogs

  • This is something I wish I realized early in my trip and recommend to all my friends
  • Purchase a few packs of biscuits and carry it around wherever you go
    • Comes at about 10 rupees at any stall or store (converts to mere pennies in USD)
  • As you travel and explore the city, hand biscuits to any stray dogs you encounter
  • These poor dogs on the streets are malnourished and hungry/thirsty, and will gladly accept any food you give them
  • You can just place them on the floor and make a kissing sound to get their attention

Jain sadhvi: Jain sutras prohibit dairy

 

Jain ascetics are increasingly recognizing the violence inherent in dairy products and speaking out.
In this video, Sadhvi Vaibhavshree discusses the question “Being a Jain and a follower of nonviolence, should I consume milk or not? I am confused as my family and I do want to drink milk and I am not sure what to do.” Her talk is in Hindi. Thanks to Prof. Pankaj Jain for rendering the translation (to which i have made minimal changes, including re-ordering her ideas to emphasize her “big reveal”).

 

You will be surprised today. I am going to reveal a big truth for the Jain society. In the Jain sutras, dairy products are called vigai and are prohibited in our shastras. Even root vegetables are actually not prohibited in our texts. In the 16th and 17th chapters of Uttaradhyayan, Sthananga Sutra, dairy products are prohibited. It is mentioned that such products cause sexual desires so a spiritual seeker should avoid them. An ascetic consuming milk or yogurt cannot remain an ascetic and will become sinful. However, today, our Jain society does not renounce milk that is a product of five-sensed beings but some of us do renounce root vegetables that are products of one-sensed beings. We should prioritize avoiding the violence to five-sensed beings before worrying about violence to one-sensed beings. We make excuses about nonviolence but refuse to change our habits of consuming dairy products. I am sorry to say this. If one wants to practice nonviolence, start from self, be free from attachments and aversions, and avoid the stress. When we commit violence to ourselves, we also commit violence to the entire universe, according to Lord Mahavira in Acharang Sutra. Violence to one is violence to all.

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Climate Change and our Lifestyles

This year at the JAINA convention, I spoke about having Ahimsak lifestyles for health. Not only does that mean vegan, but also climate friendly. I found a couple of articles today that draws a parallel between individual prevention of disease and prevention of climate catastrophe. It’s always harder for people to act to prevent harm than to react to harm that occurs. However, on this eve of Paryushan, it’s time for us to reflect and act in order to prevent widesspread himsa. Here is the article about prevention and another, associated with the picture, is about what we can do on a broader scale.

 

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Plant based milk recipes

Our friend Barbara posted these tricks for making plant milk.

We have a Soymilk maker which makes the Soymilk much easier than what she’s posted but maybe her recipe is useful for those who don’t .

Trick #1 Xanthan gum

I love nut milks, they are nutritious, smooth and oh so tasty. Have you ever made a batch, marveled at its white creamy texture just to be so disappointed the morning after when, opening the fridge, you were greeted by an unappealing separated sludgy looking beverage?

It happened to me several times, close your eyes and shake before drinking, yes …but! Just adding ¼ tsp Xanthan gum to one liter of milk does the trick, your mil will not separate.

I strain the milk using a nut milk bag, place it I the blender one more time, add the xanthan gum and blend it on low for few seconds. Et voilà, no more surprises or shaking in the morning.

Trick #2 the nut butter

In a hurry, cannot peel those almonds? Adding two tablespoons of almond butter to 1 liter of water in a blender makes a delicious milk. I then add some little salt, maple syrup and my ¼ tsp xanthan gum. I experimented with hazelnut butter as well…delicious!

Trick #3: 1-2-3 Cashew

Another no time milk – Cashew milk does not need to be strained – ½ cup of raw cashews in 1 liter of water make a very smooth and creamy milk. Again, I add a little salt, vanilla and xanthan gum so it does not separate

Trick #4: No beany flavor soy milk

Soy milk is very nutritious, but when I started making it at home, I had a very hard time with its beany flavor.  After experimenting a bit, I am set on the following method. While not quick, it yields very good results: creamy home-made soy milk without any beany flavor!

·      Blanch 1 cup of beans for 10 minutes in boiling water + 1 TBS bicarbonate

·      Soak the blanched beans for 8-10 hours in water + 1 TBS sodium bicarbonate

·      Rinse the beans

·      Blend the beans with 2 cups of boiling water in your Vitamix or another high-speed blender

·      In a large pot bring 5 cups of water to a boil

·      Place bean paste in the boiling water

·      Simmer for few minutes stirring often. The milk will foam and at some point, rise in the pot. Turn off the burner and let it rest few minutes.

·      Place your nut bag in a strainer on a clean pot. Pour the milk in and strain it with the help of a ladle to push on the bag as it’s still very hot.

·      Cook the strained milk for about 10 minutes then let it cool. Stir it often during the first 15 minutes of cooling to break the skin that forms on top

·      You can add salt, vanilla and sweetener or your choice. Transfer the milk into a container and refrigerate. I did not use any xanthan gum on this.

Jain declaration on Climate Change

Our Jain religion emphasizes ahimsa and we care for all living beings. Given today’s challenges, it is time for us to take a position on climate change. We invite comments to this position! (The picture below is not ours, we like it but it is just for illustration. Our position is in the text .)

Earth pledge

 

A Call to Action for Jains on Climate Change

 Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA

Climate change threatens to harm all living beings on an unprecedented scale. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims and others have all published their statements on climate change and make specific commitments to mitigate further damage. Our principles of ahimsa and aparigraha make Jainism a religion of environmental protection. The Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA has drafted a position on climate change to translate our principles into actions.

We will hold a session on Sunday afternoon, July 5 from 4-5 pm at the JAINA convention  and invite you to participate in this session to discuss the right approach to present this position to the world.

Jain Declaration on Climate Change

In 1990, L. M. Singhvi wrote the Jain Declaration on Nature which described a Jain commitment to preserving nature. Almost 30 years later, there is an urgent need for action on climate change.

Jainism is one of the world’s oldest religions, having originated in Northern India well before 500 BCE and, as underscored by The Jain Declaration on Nature, is an ecological religion whose philosophies and codes of conduct inherently provide solutions to address our current crisis of climate change.  The principal tenet of conduct followed by Jains is that of Ahimsa or non-violence to any living being. As a result, practicing Jains are vegetarians.  We also have a long history of building sanctuaries for wounded animals. Jains refrain from the use of pesticides and herbicides, and the teachings prohibit Jains from engaging in professions that harm plants, animals and the earth. Another key tenet followed by Jains is Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Ahimsa and Aparigraha as taught and traditionally practiced have great relevance to the climate crisis.  We also encourage our community and the world community to embrace new practices based on our fundamental Jain philosophy.

While there is no central authority that speaks on behalf of all Jains, the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA) is a well-established organization with an evolving agenda proposed by a number of committees. JAINA organizes conferences, activities and an education curriculum for Jains in North America. The Ahimsak Eco-Vegan Committee of JAINA affirms the consensus position of scientists that human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels and animal agriculture,  are the main cause of global warming. JAINA recognizes the extreme threat that climate change poses to all life on Earth.  We ask Jain individuals and communities to sign on to this Position on Climate change in order to make a public commitment to action.

Climate change in 2019

Burning massive quantities of fossil fuels to build and run modern society has increased the concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million (PPM) to over 410 PPM. The CO2 molecules in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun. To date the average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by 1 degree Celsius due to warming by greenhouse gases released through human activities. Most of the extra CO2 and heat has been absorbed by the oceans, creating stress and dangerous living conditions for marine animals.

Higher temperatures have made life very difficult for many animal and plant species. In fact, tens of thousands of plant and animal species are going extinct every year due to habitat loss and changing climate. Hundreds of humans also die every year due to hotter conditions and from extreme heat events cause by climate change. Disease patterns are changing, with the most vulnerable animals and humans getting even sicker. Changes in the climate have already changed the geographic distribution of pathogen carrying mosquitoes and increased the risk of diseases such as Zika virus.

We see that sea levels are rising due to melting glaciers and hotter ocean temperatures. Low lying areas are flooding, causing people and animals to be displaced. Warmer ocean temperatures are also adding extra energy to hurricanes making them ever more destructive, again causing much loss of life and suffering.

We also see that forests are getting drier and wildfires are becoming increasingly more prevalent and destructive. All of this causes incredible suffering and loss of life – plant, animal and human. This is an unacceptable situation for Jains who hold that all life is sacred.

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A whole food plant based diet to address heart disease risk in South Asians (Indians)

Dr. Nandita Shah from Sharan gives a great introduction to veganism in this video

and this NYT article discusses the increased risk of heart disease in South Asian, linked both to those that eat a very traditional diet with lots of refined grains and saturated fat, and also a too Western diet with high fat meat and dairy. The type of whole foods, plant based diet that I, and Dr. Nandita and other vegan nutritionists and doctors recommend fit the recommendations to  incorporate whole grains, vegetables and legumes into a mixed diet.

Vegan Chai at JCNC’s anniversary celebration and food: Great reviews!

A note from Pranav:

 

Hi All, I want to sincerely thank the Jcnc kitchen committee and volunteers to prepare vegan foods in sufficient quantity and for allowing the use of separate serving  table on this dhwaja ceremony day (Aug 4, 2018) . This time the volunteers decided to really educate the members on the availability
of vegan alternatives and quite a few people wanted to taste the vegan foods side by side with the dairy based foods. Afterwards, we informally reached out to them on the tables they were eating and they said they found vegan items more flavorful because milk/yogurt was actually diluting the original flavor of chaula sabzi as well as daal. Vegan Gattha was the most popular because people found the dairy version was actually too dull and watery. All in all, we noticed that just like a kid doesn’t like plain milk and want it flavored, Jcnc members realized that milk was working against the flavor of the base food and they would rather enjoy sabzi, daal, legumes etc without dairy. Below are few verbatim feedback from members who aren’t currently vegan themselves.
I sincerely request the food committee to make more menu items vegan as I think community is open to it.
Dhiral —- “vegan chaula sabzi tasted better because it felt more flavorful… if there was only one counter I would have rather enjoyed vegan chaula… “
Krinaben shah —- “loved the vegan version and I would go for it anytime”
Mudit khasgiwala —- “vegan dishes were more delicious and highly recommend to make more of those”
And here are some reviews of the vegan cha: