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South-Asian and looking to transition to Veg

Advice for those who were raised in a South-Asian veg household looking to transition back to their veg roots

For many, growing up and learning about the community around them is a stressful process that requires them to open their minds up to new ideas that have not been explored in their family circles. In an attempt to assimilate with the world around them and shed away from the rigid rules set by their families, many adolescents rebel and try to break away from anything that might have defined them. For many first generation South-Asian Americans, this process includes breaking away from a principle that was enforced since birth, vegetarianism.

For example, in your childhood it may have been difficult to relate with others in school when no one else looks like you. To make this difference even more obvious, the children at school may have had completely different lunches. It’s human instinct to try to fit into the majority, and an easy way to do this is to learn to enjoy the same foods as people around you. At that moment, the priority is getting rid of any barrier that might separate you from friends. For many, it’s easier just to abandon all rules that come along with being raised as a South-Asian American. Unfortunately, this includes the principle of vegetarianism. It’s difficult to pause and think about the logistics of this decision. However, fitting in and growing up in a different culture does not have to include ridding yourself of principles that make complete sense, just for the sake of assimilating.

From our personal experiences, Juhi grew up being vegetarian until she was eight years old, as she was finally convinced from influences all around her to try meat. Ultimately, the decision changed two years later after being confronted by her thoughts that this choice was not in alignment with her values, for she did not want to contribute to animal suffering. “As many, I certainly believed that I could not go back to eating vegetarian because of my desires to eat foods with meat, as I viewed it with superiority and better than the Indian food that my mom cooked at home. I was one of many that hid my cultural identity from others because of internalized shame of being different.” She later chose to follow a vegan lifestyle when she was seventeen due to one of her close friends educating her on the principles of veganism. “It’s a choice I have to make every day, and I am not always 100% perfect, but it reminds me to be conscientious and question all aspects of my life. It reminds me that the choices I make, slow or larger, can help protect and pave the way to a better planet.”

In a different manner, Adhi was raised in a meat environment. She had some sources of vegetarian inspiration, including her grandmother, and attempted to be vegetarian a few times during her adolescence after watching documentaries. However, she was unable to withstand the peer pressure and meat-heavy culture around her. She ultimately transitioned permanently once she built up enough conviction and sense of self to make firm choices, and found the new lifestyle very welcoming and full of new recipes and inspiration. “Going vegan was much easier than I imagined it would be. In today’s society, we have a plethora of resources and innovative options across the country and world.”

To highlight another example, Sonu is a first-generation Indian American who was raised in a vegetarian household. He grew up in New York City and shares that the multicultural environment bolsters diverse food options, and finding something to eat was never an issue. However, he noticed that the food he packed for lunch in elementary school was different from what was served, which did make him feel odd. Fortunately, the growing popularity of Asian cuisine has made vegetarian options much more mainstream. Although it was difficult adjusting to the college dining hall experience, he expresses that universities and food corporations are expanding their vegetarian options along with the rest of the country. Ultimately, he has come to embrace vegetarianism even though it set him apart at first.

Regardless of when and why you decided to stop being vegetarian, it’s never too late to embark on your journey back into vegetarianism. We hope to provide you with easy ways to embrace vegetarianism, even when the society you are in and the persona you are trying to create do not. We also hope that with these tips we have provided, you will find it easier to live with intention. Although it may be difficult to figure out the perfect blend of identities for you, remember that you are beyond that. Make sure what you’re doing is purposeful and meaningful to you, and not based on norms and expectations!

Here are some advice and tips:

  1. Learn to create recipes that fuse familiar flavors from your background with innovative ingredients

You can make recipe ideas with vegetables like cauliflower, lentils, etc. This can even be implemented for desserts! (Recipe ideas with plant-based milks and coconut.) Over time, you can introduce these recipes to the people around you, and get them excited about your lifestyle!

  • Educate yourself to understand your roots and add your WHY with current issues

Exploring your cultural background with vegetarianism may help you understand the principles of the lifestyle. Research to understand the principles and rationale of vegetarian cultures to learn about how it’s more than just a “rule,” and the implications on nonviolence, health, and well-being. Reading historical texts, exploring talks online, and other scientific literature is one form of research that can help grow your understanding. In addition, joining community groups from your school or in the area that you live in[DW1] , as well as societies/associations from a local to national level helps reconnect to others of similar backgrounds.

Adding to your reasons to support vegetarianism from issues today that arise from the pandemic crisis, environmental challenges, socio-economic issues, animal welfare and rights, helps you continue your journey towards sustainability. We must adhere to some values and remembrance to act upon our personal will. Before making a decision, ask yourself: “Is this a decision or action made from my own sense of agency? Is this chosen with my best intention and is well purposed? How is this personal choice affecting a facet of society at large?”

  • Keep it balanced: from a nutritional, appetizing, and wellness standpoint

The best features of a plant-based diet is the wide array of flavors and nutrients, and you can find the blend that works for you! Kavitha Shankar, a nutrition studies PhD student at Texas Woman’s University, shows us how she does this for herself and her family. She aims to follow a balance between 60% unrefined foods and 40% refined foods as a general identification to a balanced meal. She tries to choose foods in their whole form, and experiments with tons of colorful produce. If you are interested in looking for further information about nutrition, check out https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/ for more. Treat your palate and your body!

  • Engage in home-cooked meals for yourself and for multiple persons

With the life shifts brought with being at home in quarantine, our lives have changed to be cohabiting space with a partner, family members, and other individuals. Preparing food in some form also helps you form a routine and engage in healthier eating habits. In addition, sharing and cooking food for others creates a bonding experience that motivates, educates, and starts a conversation with food. In these situations, you can incentivize your foods by sharing with others, as well as have a reason to explore familiar cultural and vegetarian-friendly foods with your own twist! If you are unable to share with others in person, you can also educate close ones on your cultural foods through social media[2] .

  • Explore and connect with food outside of the kitchen: From gardening, to trips to the farmers market, and supporting CSA’s (community-supported agriculture)

Shankar, who is also mother of two children, engages her family by growing food outside of their home in a container-based garden. In addition, Shankar continuously makes trips to the farmers market with her children and hopes to be a member of a CSA (community-supported agriculture). As she states, “It’s fulfilling to directly connect to the selection of food you are purchasing, from buying local seasonal produce, to supporting your local farmers’ livelihood.”

  • If and when all else fails, set aside expectations and all of the nitty gritty details

When we find something daunting and not yet an unattainable goal, commend and appreciate the stage you are at now through compassion.

  • Explore online and through all mediums of literature, social media, and books related to food for inspiration

To not feel bored, integrate the veg lifestyle to your personal interestsThere is a plethora of content out there from health care providers, researchers, and regular people who want to make a difference. The Vegetarian Resource Group has many recipes, tips, and more at vrg.org. Take advantage of various online resources, learn from everyone, and make your journey as entertaining as possible!

Some of our favorite Youtubers and Social Media accounts include:

Rainbow Plant-Life, an Indian-American YouTuber who creates easy dishes and provides tips for veganizing traditional Indian recipes.

Meatless Monday: Check out the Meatless Monday Instagram for inspiration to swap out meat for delicious plant-based options for your health and the health of the planet!

CookingShooking, a young Indian cuisine based chef who explores and provides easy to follow vegan as well as vegetarian dishes (Hindi and English Subbed)

Sophia Esperanza, “What I Eat in a Day videos and more”

Sophia, a popular plant-based influencer, shares her recipes as an inspiration guideline for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Rachel Ama, a plant-based Youtuber who shares many recipes centered on carribean-themed food

Pick Up Limes, a channel by Sadia, who provides nutritional information and easy ways to eat wholesome foods while not compromising on creativity or taste.

So Many Cooks in the Kitchen, a Facebook show that features several members of the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). They share online demos, recipes, nutrition, and more!

Written by: Juhi Dattani and Adhi Muthukumar, VRG Summer Interns

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