Better health choices, animal welfare and climate change — on World Vegan Day, vegans in the city explain what made them embrace the plant-based lifestyle
Almost four years ago, when Sundeep Varma, a 28-year-old resident of Visakhapatnam, was scrolling through Instagram, he stumbled upon a video about the life of chickens reared in poultry farms, before they are slaughtered and cooked. An ardent meat lover at that time, Sundeep couldn’t believe the chickens had to send all their lives locked up in small cages. This made him research more on the meat industry and it was in this process that he learnt about veganism and its benefits. He decided to embrace a plant-based diet. “I could never digest the fact that a bird or animal was brought into existence only to be caged and slaughtered just so that I could enjoy a kebab,” says Sundeep.
However, the switch was not easy for a person whose family considered meat to be an important source of nutrition. “Initially, they thought that I was influenced by some trend and the ‘phase’ would pass. But when they saw me sticking to my food preferences and making serious changes to my diet they realised I had become a vegan,” he adds. Inspired by him, a year later his whole family decided to turn vegan.
Like Sundeep there is a growing tribe of people in the city who are embracing veganism. Most of the people cite one or more reasons to go vegan – animal cruelty, personal health and environmental concerns being common factors. The Internet, with its unending pool of information, has played a major role in not only introducing veganism to people but also teaching them changes that need to be made to stick to the diet of their choice.
Twenty-year-old Gunwanth Theegala overheard the word ‘vegan’ during a conversation with a few students. Curious, he looked up more information on the Internet and overnight he embraced veganism. “Being a vegetarian it was not that hard for me to turn vegan as I did not have to alter my meals drastically. However, milk, curd and buttermilk constituted a major part of my day to day meals, so taking those out and then finding replacements for them did take some time,”says Gunwanth. Initially, for several weeks, when his family wasn’t convinced about his food choices, Gunwanth cooked his own meals. “People need to realise that veganism is so much more than just boring salads. Most of the south Indian tiffins are vegan in nature. If you avoid the butter and side of raita, our pulavs are vegan,” he says.
Heralding a change
In 2017, Gunwantha started the page Vizag Vegans on Instagram where he posted the benefits of being a vegan to the environment and our own body. The group that had a handful of people then has now grown to over 150 people. Until the pandemic hit the group hosted Vegan Potlucks every month where over 30 members from the group would assemble at a venue and chat, play games or watch a movie. The group is also actively involved in creating awareness about veganism among the citizens. “We visit Beach Road in the mornings and distribute pamphlets to people about the benefits of a vegan diet. We also strike a conversation and provide them with contacts in case they need more information about it,” says Sundeep who is also a part of Vizag Vegans.
However, eating out still remains a struggle for most of these people as not many cafes and restaurants in the city have a curated vegan menu. “In such scenarios, I go with the accidentally vegan products or dishes in the menu. These dishes are not made with the purpose of being vegan but are a happy coincidence. One or two cafes had begun a vegan shake and vegan cupcakes but those have stopped too,” he says.
The Vudata family launched Sana Vegan Products, a store located in Adarsha Nagar almost four years ago at a time when veganism was not so popular in Visakhapatnam. “Our family turned vegan over six years ago, and that is when we realised there are not much vegan alternatives to fresh food in the city. This led to the inception of Sana Vegan Products. Initially, we provided our products to just a few stores but today we have tie-ups with Big Basket and Spencers apart from the weekly subscription we have from people for milk and curd,” says Vineela Vudata from Sana Vegan Products. Vineela over the past few years has seen a steady rise in the number of people shifting to veganism. “If more number of people demand for vegan food and drinks, I am sure we will soon have vegan restaurant in the city,” she adds.