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Veganism: From fad to lifestyle


World Vegan Vision logo Photo: website worldveganvision.org

Thirty years ago, a few Indian-Americans got together to form Vegetarian Vision when they saw more and more Indian immigrants becoming non-vegetarian of the difficulty accessing their traditional Indian products.

“People coming from India couldn’t find enough vegetarian food. So they were changing their lifestyle. We felt an organization like this was needed,” Chairman H.K. Shah, founder of Vegetarian Vision founded in 1992, now called World Vegan Vision, told News India Times. He and his wife turned vegan 15 years ago.

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For an Indian vegetarian, to turn to a vegan diet bereft of dairy products, is only to be imagined. But Shah does not think so.

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“Some people find it hard (without dairy),” he concedes, “But there are so many substitutes today and some of our 2,000 members have been vegan for more than 30 years,” he added.  That membership is a far cry from the small group which formed the organization and also included Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold,.

The WVV has a membership that has also shifted over time, and now it is spreading its wings to India. On Sept. 9, World Vegan Vision, which opened branches in Mumbai and Delhi just before COVID-19 became a pandemic, hosted a reception to welcome India’s new Consul General in New York Randhir Jaiswal, at Akbar restaurant in New Jersey, a sign of its spreading wings.

Changing With The Times

An interesting factoid is revealed with a search for vegans in America. The American Vegan Society, according to Wikipedia, was founded in 1960, by H. Jay Dinshah in Malaga, New Jersey, when he was just 26 years old, 3 years after he became a vegan. Dinshah married Freya Smith whose parents were active in The Vegan Society of U.K. He remained the president of the organization until 2000 when he died of a heart attack at the age of 66. He brought out a magazine called Ahimsa.

As to how many vegans there are today in the U.S., the numbers differ from one study to another. An Ipsos Retail Performance survey in March 2020, estimated there were some 9.6 million Americans on a plant-based diet than there were 15 years ago, Vegannewsnow.com  reported March 6, 2020.

Livekindly.co referred to a 2004 survey by Time and CNN which found only 290,000 people in this country were interested in a vegan diet. Ipsos used that as its baseline.

On the other extreme, Onegreenplanet.org, referring to “recent studies,” claims “30 percent of Americans are not only leaving meat off their plates but also seeking out plant-based meat alternatives,” a claim that could not be verified.

The reality may be somewhere in between or even on the lower side.

Foodwaysinfocus from Michigan State University, noted that the 2015 book, The Rise of Veganism: Start a Revolution, said only 2.5 percent of the American population is vegan, which however, was still a significant rise from the 1 percent it was in 2009.

The Vegan Society, an organization formed back in 1944 in United Kingdom, quotes a 2016  Oxford University study which estimates that if the world went vegan, it could save 8 million human lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds and significantly affect climate change positively, not to mention reducing healthcare costs totalling some $1.5 trillion. The Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Future of Food, built several models, and estimated that if a vegan diet was followed globally, it would cut food-related emissions by 70 percent, compared to 63 percent if everyone went vegetarian, and if ‘global dietary guidelines’ were followed, it would reduce only 29 percent.

“Our analysis indicates that adopting global dietary guidelines would not be enough to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions to the same extent that total greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall to keep global temperature increases to below 2°C,” Dr. Marco Springmann, leader of the study, is quoted saying in the press release from Oxford University.

World Vegan Vision

When the U.S.-based Vegetarian Vision was established in 1992, it focused on spreading awareness not only about being vegetarian, but also where such foods could be procured by the new Indian immigrant, hosting events, and securing a following, not just of Indians but also white and black mainstream Americans. “At one time our membership was fifty-fifty Indian and non-Indian,” Shah said. Things have come a long way since then.

Today, not only has vegetarianism caught on in Mainstream America, but vegan lifestyles are proliferating. While not statistically proven, it is reasonable to assume that many Americans know someone who is a vegan in their circle of associates and friends, and many who are vegetarians.

World Vegan Vision’s overarching message on its website (worldveganvision.org) is, “Let us make the world free of violence and suffering,” and that includes the suffering of a calf whose mother is deprived of the milk meant for her. That is what turned Selina Dhunna, now 24, to the vegan regime when she was just 19 years old, followed by her mother.

“The main message is about compassion – not just for humans but also animals and putting yourself in the animal’s position-Why would we drink someone else’s milk that is not meant for us?” Dhunna questions, adding, “Besides, many Indians or other South Asians don’t do too well with milk anyway, with lactose intolerance etc.”

According to The Vegan Society, 1 in 5 Brits cut down on meat consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

Certainly, veganism has moved from being seen as a fad to becoming a lifestyle that businesses are also pushing as they see customers lining up behind it.

 

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