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Monday, December 19, 2011

In Conversation with Amala Akkineni: Towards the Shared Vision of a Vegan World

It is that time of the year again – a time to reflect on the outgoing year and a time to scrawl out new resolutions. Earlier this month, a Harris Interactive® poll revealed that about 7.5 million Americans have embraced the vegan lifestyle, a number that is said to have doubled since 2009. This is heartwarming news. Although there is no study of that sort been done in India yet, we can see that change is clearly, slowly, steadily happening. This year we find significant awareness of the word, “vegan” among metro dwellers. "Awareness" is the first step to change. The year has seen a good sprinkling of vegan-related news features in mainstream media and some of them are documented in the N E W S – India page of this blog. The challenge for the coming year is to ensure that the V-word is understood and celebrated in the spirit it is intended. The challenge is also to facilitate this understanding in creative and harmonious ways. No effort made is irrelevant; all have a purpose. Afterall, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Today we feel privileged and excited to have amid us a celebrity Indian vegan who breathes the essence of veganism and is leading an extraordinary life. She has graciously consented to share some pages from her vegan journey in our year end post series. She provides insights and tips to shop, eat, and live vegan. She is none other than Amala Akkineni, former actor and Indian Classical dancer, an ardent human- and- animal rights activist, and a vegan of four years. We hope that her experience will inspire the new vegans and the vegan aspirants among us. Here is a short biography of the illustrious, multi-faceted Amala Akkineni before you read the interview.

Amala Akkineni: A Biography

Amala Akkineni is the co-founder of Blue Cross of Hyderabad, a registered non-profit animal welfare organization working for the welfare of animals in Hyderabad and extending support to other groups in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

A graduate of Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts, she completed her education in Chennai and toured extensively with the renowned Kalakshetra Dance Troupe both in India and abroad before joining films.

Her career in Indian cinema (1985 – 1992) had her complete 50 films as leading lady in five Indian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and Hindi) after which she married co-star and leading Telugu Film Actor, Nagarjuna.

Amala has worked for the last 18 years in South India through various non-governmental and governmental organizations in animal welfare, wildlife protection, child welfare, rural women’s empowerment, HIV awareness, and for the protection of the environment. Amala has trained as a presenter with Mr. Al Gore and The Climate Project India on climate change issues and has reached out to thousands of people in Andhra Pradesh regarding sustainable lifestyles through her presentations. 

As a film personality, she constantly brings into focus social and environmental issues through media interactions, speaking at public gatherings in both rural and urban communities, at educational institutions, and on popular television shows, to increase understanding and motivate social change.

Amala is a practitioner of Yoga and Vipassana and believes the key to social change is through education and a commitment to sustainable lifestyles: physically, environmentally, and spiritually.

In Conversation with Amala Akkineni
A Pretty Picture: Amala and Baby Cow
Photograph courtesy: WOW Hyderabad Staff Photographer

Vegan India!: Amala, thank you so much for taking out time to share your perspectives, a few pages from your journey with us. We shall start with the question that comes foremost to the mind. Most of us have had an epiphany moment when we have decided we want to go vegan. Please tell us when and why you decided to embrace the vegan lifestyle. 

Amala: I turned vegan four years ago when a number of truths dawned on me. I was a vegetarian since the age of 11, but recently for a few years since 2005, I had been having stomach problems. I thought it was just a stomach bug at first and later a sensitive stomach, so I avoided spicy food. The doctors would say, “you work with animals it must be something you get from them”, and they would give medication. It would always come back. I was eating well but did not feel energetic. It’s terrible to be constantly low on energy. And it’s not any fun eating boiled food all the time thinking one has to be careful. No one suggested I could be lactose intolerant and it didn’t strike me either.

Then in October 2007, I was asked to inspect a slaughterhouse for Animal Welfare Board of India, which turned out to be an eye opener. All the animals at the slaughterhouse were female buffaloes from the dairy industry. There were 500 of them waiting their turn for slaughter. Every day hundreds of them are sent from the dairy for slaughter when their milk production drops. This is a sad and harsh reality all vegetarians need to accept. These creatures were enormous, healthy and young, but they were not considered economically viable to keep alive when milk production drops after birthing a number of calves.

That day looking at their terrified expressions, it dawned on me that despite being vegetarian, my consumption of milk products was a direct cause for the commercial breeding and slaughter of these beautiful creatures. I experienced being part of the cycle and I knew I had to step away. I became vegan.

That’s when I signed up for *Dr. Nandita Shah’s workshop “Peas v/s Pills”. The workshop helped me make a smooth and easy transition into the new lifestyle.

Vegan India!: You have recounted a distressing reality of commercial milk production about which all of us must educate ourselves. Please tell us how this “new lifestyle” or of living vegan has benefitted you personally? 

Amala: One week into being vegan, all my stomach problems cleared up. I had been lactose intolerant without knowing it. The vegan diet healed my stomach and brought my energy back, the relief was tremendous. My inner strength grew. It has helped me become more detached about everything, more conscious, more responsible. Now I never take things for granted or expect to be served or fed – I always plan and feed myself. It has certainly made me more responsible, respectful about food.

Vegan India!: So wonderful, do tell us what has been the reaction of your family, friends, fans, and the society at large to your choice to live vegan and how did you/do you deal with it? 

Amala: Everyone admires my ability to do what I want, believe in, make up my mind about. They are very respectful and supportive. My dear friends and close family always plan a vegan item on their menu for me if I am eating at their homes. They understand the benefits from my good health and try it out sometimes for themselves, though they do find it difficult. My sister tried being vegan for a whole month when I visited her. Now she says the vegan diet suits her much better than a dairy-based one. As we age, our bodies have different needs. If we understand these needs and address them, our health can be so much better.

I deal with the subject of food with respect. Having been a non-vegetarian by birth and giving it up by choice, I know that the time comes to us in a sequence of life-changing events. When I know a person has arrived at a life-changing event and makes a pro choice that will save the lives of thousands of animals, I acknowledge it with ceremonious gratitude. But I am careful not to offend the choices of others. There are good people in this world doing their bit and yet not vegan or vegetarian. Who are we to judge?

Amala with Good Boy, a young differently-abled horse rescued and adopted by NGO, Samabhava
Photograph courtesy: Samabhava

Vegan India!: We are eager to know who/who all has/have been your inspiration and why?  

Amala: I have read Mrs. Maneka Gandhi’s pieces on the suffering of dairy animals many times and it struck a chord. But what finally drove the point home and made me change was to see it for myself. The animals inspired me to give it up. Dr. Nandita helped me do it without any fear or stress. Changing one’s lifestyle, diet, can be stressful especially when you have been accustomed to something all your life. The body carves for what it has been used to, so knowing how to handle that stage is helpful.

Vegan India!: Dr. Nandita and her team have guided the intent of so many people in the most creative and positive ways, thank you for sharing this. Amala, according to you, how easy or difficult has it been for you to find vegan parallels to food, clothing, footwear, accessories, cosmetics, jewelry, and other articles of daily use?

Amala: I don’t find it difficult, because I am not fanatical. I love being vegan and do my best to find vegan options, so is easy. Family and friends also shop for me on my birthday – I get vegan bags, shoes, jewelry, energy bars, biscuits – anything they get excited to find that is vegan. I have quite a stash!

Vegan India!: Could you please share some tips on how to shop vegan, especially for the new vegans and the vegan aspirants among us? 

Amala: Well, firstly it helps to not want everything one sees! When you want to buy something, look at the label, if it’s not vegan, put it down. In fashion, there is always cotton, linen, or synthetic fabrics to choose from, even in shoes. For food, you can’t want dessert all the time and then demand vegan as most desserts have dairy. It’s easier to give up dessert and be happy with a date or piece of fruit. Actually, vegan can be the most simple and environmentally sustaining lifestyle on this planet. My advice when shopping is, don’t be fanatical and don’t be greedy; be patient and persistent and you will always find what you need.

Vegan India!: You are so right, shopping vegan can actually be fun and we end up making all sorts of discoveries about the market, about ourselves if we go with an open mind. Amala, how do you see the vegan movement shape up in India? 

Amala: I dread armchair activists or critics and avoid people who sit in judgment of others. There are vegans with these attitudes who I believe do more damage and harm than inspire others. As of now, I stay far away from movements as I don’t think people who are moralistic or judgmental are better human beings just because they are vegan. Change needs inspiration, inner awareness, and a whole lot of purpose. To reach there takes time and life gives us opportunities for this. Each to his/her own, at their own pace. I hope the vegan movement in India takes a proactive, welfare involved approach that inspires others. I don’t see the difference between a dog, a cow or a buffalo, they are all wonderful creatures to me and deserve a better life.

Vegan India!: Definitely! You have been associated with animal rights activism even before you embraced the vegan lifestyle. Please tell us what motivated you to found Blue Cross of Hyderabad and what is the organization’s goal? 

Amala: Aha! That’s a long story. But it started with me rescuing animals as a student and taking them to Blue Cross of India in Chennai. Later when I moved to Hyderabad, I found animals lying on the road after accidents or sick, and no organized rescue or shelter to take them to. My home became a shelter and soon my husband suggested I start something more permanent. He gifted me an ambulance and that’s how Blue Cross of Hyderabad began. Dr. Chinny Krishna (*BCI) guided me and I trained with *AWBI.

Amala at a press meet to prevent dog killing and support ABC/ARV for street dogs in Bangalore
Photograph courtesy: The Voice of Stray Dogs

Vegan India!: Everybody who has met you has described you as a person who exudes peace that comes from deep within you. Please tell us how you retain the peace within and achieve so much for the rights of animals while at same time deal with animal cruelty perpetrated by thoughtless human behavior. 

Amala: Thank you, but I was not always like that. After a year of doing animal rescues, I fell apart. Helping animals in thousands just made me feel worse as I realized it was just a drop in the ocean. Facing suffering day in and out drained me of hope. I became bitter and angry like many working for animal welfare that I see around me. So of course, I started the universal search for a way out of suffering. I learnt to meditate Vipassana as Buddha taught it. I learnt about the impermanence of life, joy, and suffering. I learnt detachment from suffering itself, from my own beliefs and judgments. It was all very liberating.

I continue to mediate every day and I go on a retreat every year. If things get to me, I step aside and meditate for a while. Buddha says, “If you take praise, you must learn to take blame”. Those are very wise words for all of us. People lift you up and throw you down on a whim. If it weren’t for the animals, I wouldn’t be in animal welfare, so I must find my peace and carry it wherever I go.

Vegan India!: Amala, if you had to send out one prayer for animals to the Universe on this New Year, what would it be? 

Amala: Rukmini Devi, my teacher at Kalakshetra who was like a mother to me used to say that humans can liberate themselves from suffering, but animals require the help of humans. That is why as humans we must help them. But I strongly feel that the Universe does watch over all irrespective of species, and if we play any role to channel this positive support, we feel one with the Universe. My prayer will be that of the Buddha, “May all living beings be happy! May all be liberated from their suffering!”, please join me in this prayer.

Thank you Amala! We hope these prayer flags will carry the message really far and wide!

Dear Readers, the blog wishes you a very happy New Year. Thank you for your mails containing words of encouragement that inspire us to continually create content for the benefit of the shared vision of a vegan world. May the purpose triumph! May veganism triumph! Amen!

We wish to express our deepest gratitude to Sandesh Raju, Co-founder & Managing Trustee of  Samabhava, an organization for the rights of working animals. Sandesh helped us connect with Amala Akkineni, thereby making this interview possible. Thank you, Sandesh!

*AWBI: Animal Welfare Board of India
*BCI: Blue Cross of India
*Dr. Nandita Shah: Reputed medical doctor in the field of “preventive medicine” whose workshops, seminars, talks, and so on have helped many people reverse life-threatening diseases, look at “nutrition” and “health” with a holistic perspective, implement the learning into their lives, and reap enormous benefits for themselves and consequently for everybody else inhabiting the Planet. Anybody who seeks details can please check Dr. Nandita’s website by clicking this link.

For more interviews featured in this blog, you can click this link.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas-themed Recipes from the Pages of ‘Spork-Fed’, Vegan Recipe Book from the Spork Sisters!

For more recipe-related articles featured in this blog, you can click this link.

About a year ago, we had featured the “Spork” Sisters and introduced you to their online vegan cooking classes, which anyone, anywhere in the world can take, in this story. To recall, the sisters also manage Spork Foods, a Los Angeles-based organic-vegan cooking company offering in-person cooking classes, consultations on healthy eating, and recipe development.

We recently caught up with the sisters, Jenny Engel and Heather Goldberg and were excited to learn that they have just published their first cookbook, Spork-Fed: Super Fun and Flavorful Vegan Recipes! And, what’s more, they have graciously offered to share two Christmas-themed vegan recipes from the pages of their new book on this space, as you will see, quite literally!

Before you take look at the recipes, here is the foreword to the recipe book by another set of sisters, Emily Deschanel (star of the TV series, 'Bones') and Zooey Deschanel (film and TV actor):
Spork-Fed is a savvy, upbeat introduction to vegan cuisine written by sisters who know great food! Flavor is the top priority in these easy-to-prepare recipes, many of them gluten-free. With full-color photographs throughout, this visually striking book shows you how to make everything from decadent desserts to homemade tofu. The Spork Sisters share more than 75 delicious recipes, along with dozens of health tips. In addition to the recipes, Spork-Fed’s themed menu pairings will help any cook prepare for special occasions, quick family weeknight meals, or extravagant feasts sure to impress any guest.
And, now for the two Christmas-themed recipes straight from the pages of Spork-Fed! Please note that you can substitute agave syrup with jaggery syrup if you have difficulty procuring the former, so the sisters have informed us.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Click the image to zoom out the recipe.

Creamed Onions with a Whole Wheat Bread Crumb Topping

Click the image to zoom out the recipe.

Christmas is approaching and you have lots of time to plan and prepare a dinner for a vegan Christmas! For more recipes from Spork-Fed, you can click the Spork Foods website to find out how to order your copy of the recipe book.

“Our food choices have an incredible impact not only on our metabolism, but also on the initiation, promotion and even reversal of disease, on our energy, on our physical activity, on our emotional and mental well-being and on our world environment. All of these seemingly separate spheres are intimately connected.” ~Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University and Author of The China Study~

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Non Leather Shoes from ‘Crocs’

For more non leather/cruelty-free leather/synthetic leather/alternative leather/faux leather/non-animal leather/vegetarian/vegan shoes and accessories in India reviewed in this blog, you can click the story, Who Pays For Your Leather Shoes?.

A few days back, the shoes worn by a vegan friend at a vegan food binge caught our eye. They were pristine white, classy, and anything unlike we had seen before. One glance and you would wonder what they are made of. Looked plastic-ky but way too sophisticated for a plastic with excellent finish. We were told this is the women’s range of Crocs shoes and they are vegan! Crocs, the name rung a bell. Like most, we were under the impression that Crocs is a euphemism for perforated bright colored beach shoes! However, when we visited one of the Crocs stores, we were amazed at the variety and the riot of colors; it clearly appeared that Crocs wants to diversify their portfolio and be known as a company that makes more than just colorful beach shoes.

On digging deeper, we found that the Crocs range was founded by three American friends with the objective of creating unique spa or beach shoes. Unlike most American companies, this is a relatively young brand, which will celebrate 10 years of existence next year. It is amazing that in merely 10 years one can find a pair of these colorful Crocs in almost any part of the world. On wearing one of those, the first thing that came to our mind is how snuggly they fit in the feet. Light and sprightly.

What are Crocs shoes made of?

Now that is the question that is foremost in a vegan mind. An email from a company spokesperson as well as salespersons at the Crocs store confirmed that Crocs shoes are primarily crafted from a material called croslite. Croslite is a proprietary resin substance made from a polymer by the name of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). EVA is sometimes more popularly known as “foam rubber” or “expanded leather”. We were told that the women’s and children’s selections are made of the croslite material; however a few designs in the men’s range use a strip of animal-derived leather. It is easy to bypass these designs with non-vegan strips. The salespersons guide you at the stores. For a glimpse into the myriad Crocs designs and their prices, you can click this link on the Crocs website.

Where are Crocs shoes available?

Crocs shoes have become so ubiquitous that it has given birth to a counterfeit look-alike industry where the products may be available at cheaper prices. If you want to purchase the authentic version of Crocs, you will need to go to the exclusive Crocs stores. Presently, Crocs has stores in 12 cities in India: Amritsar, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Goa, Jalandhar, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Mumbai, Noida, and Pune. For the store addresses, you can click this link on the Crocs website.

Additional information

One of the most striking features we feel about Crocs shoes is that they constrict or expand to match the shape of your feet. The Crocs website confirms that “Croslite works to the wearer’s best benefit because it forms to the wearer’s feet and, therefore, offers the best support to individual’s unique feet shape”. So even when you are jogging, the shoe would never slip out, rather stick to your skin snuggly. And when it is maintenance time for the shoes, all it needs is a stream of water that can clean it for the next use!

As we speak about Crocs, a dialogue from the film, Forrest Gump comes to the mind. Forrest says, “Those are magic shoes, they could take you anywhere.” Quite so! You could slip into one and wade into any surface – land, water, mud, slush, beach, party, and even your office. They just work. Most importantly, barring a few designs, everything else is vegan!

“By having reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world.” ~Albert Schweitzer, German Theologian, Philosopher, and Physician~

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alternative to Animal Wool: Vegan Wool. A World Vegan Day Special!

Poster courtsey: EVOLVE! Campaigns

Merino wool, angora wool, shahmina wool, shahtoosh wool, vicuña wool, "pure" wool... behind the colors, the softness, the expensive tag, the brand, the style… there is ONE story: the story of confinement, of loneliness, of trauma, of bereavement, of illnesses, of deliberate physical hurt, of loveless touches, of being used, of being abused, of suffering in the cold, of suffering in the heat, of suffering without food, of suffering without water, of smelling death, of suffering in silence…

Myth: When sheep shed their fleece naturally or are shorn to relieve them of too much of it, it is collected and converted to wool.

Fact: Sheep do shed their fleece naturally. Nature’s wisdom provides for sheep to retain or shed just enough fleece to protect them from different weather conditions – heat, cold, or rain. However, they do not need human intervention to shear them to relieve too much of their fleece, they can maintain themselves. Therefore, sheep do not “give us” wool as our primary school text books teach us. Their fleece is extorted from them and converted to “wool” as part of a profitable and cruel industrial process. The wool industry cannot sustain itself or make profits if it were to depend on the fleece that the sheep would naturally shed.

Forty-five percent of the world’s wool comes from Australia, followed by China, New Zealand, and UK. The Merino, Australia's most commonly raised sheep, is selectively bred to have wrinkly skin to produce more wool. The Merino carries fleece equal to their body weight, with what consequence, we shall find out. The unnatural breeding of sheep has the following impact on the animals:

  • The overload of wool causes many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months.
  • The overload also causes farmers to shear sheep before they would naturally shed their winter coats and consequently millions die during the cold months from freezing temperatures.
  • Fly strike is common. The flies seek out the moist areas of the animal (such as around the backside) and lay their eggs. The maggots, when hatched, initially live and feed in the moist skin of the sheep and slowly move out to feed on the healthy skin. In an attempt to prevent this, when they are still lambs, sheep are subjected to mulesing, a cruel mutilation in which farmers carve skin and flesh from the animals' backsides, often without anesthetic.
  • When sheep begin to produce less wool, millions are loaded onto extremely crowded, multi-tiered filthy pens inside cargo ships and sent on terrifying long journeys to the Middle East or North Africa, (where there are no animal protection laws) with little access to food or water and through all weather extremes.

When the sheep finally arrive at the destinations, if they have not already perished on the journey due to suffocation, trampling, or starvation, they are taken to unregulated slaughterhouses where their throats are cut while they are still conscious. They are slaughtered for “meat” while a last attempt is made to extract wool from their slain bodies; this wool is known as “skin wool”. The skin wool is named such because it is closest to the skin and the skin must be torn to extract the wool.

    Along with wool, an oily substance from the sheep’s fleece called lanolin, is also extracted from the animal. Lanolin is used in the preparation of cosmetics and vitamin D3. Therefore, vegans do not use cosmetics that list lanolin as an ingredient or purchase supplements and food containing vitamin D3. (The best source of vitamin D is sunlight that Nature meant to provide us without harming animals.)

    Besides the procedural horrors, the shearers treat sheep very roughly since they are paid by the volumes and not hours. The shearers are known to kick, injure, and cut off parts of the animal’s body in their hurry to extract maximum fleece from them.

    The wool industry is comparable to the dairy and egg industries where the animals may not be killed at the time of extracting marketable substances and portions from their bodies; but the manner and scale at which the extortion is done causes them a few cycles of immense suffering before they are finally destroyed at the slaughterhouse.

    Did you know that sheep are gentle, sensitive animals who are emotionally complex and highly intelligent creations of Nature. To reiterate, sheep does not “give us” wool as our primary school text books teach us just like the cow, the hen, and the goat do not “give us” milk, eggs, and meat. Any industry that depends on raw materials from animals cannot be anything but cruel because in order to make profit, which is the primary reason for their existence, they will have to exploit the animals to extract maximum from them. 

    Source: EVOLVE! Campaigns and The Vegan Society.
    For an in-depth story on the bloody, cruel wool industry with eyewitness accounts, you can click this link on the Animal Liberation Victoria website.

    For an informative article on the wool industry in India, you can click this link on the Beauty Without Cruelty, India website. It is a similar story of torture, mutilation, and eventual execution.

    Vegan wool/Cruelty-free wool/Synthetic wool/Alternative wool

    When you purchase “pure” wool, it is likely that the wool used for the garment is from the Merino breed of sheep in Australia. Would you want to keep yourself warm after learning about the multiple ways in which the intelligent animals suffered for it and if given a chance would have fled from the humans responsible for mutilating them?

    Well, guilty-free, kind woolens are not only possible, they exist. Vegan woolens are warm without being bulky and besides are easy to maintain, less costly, environment-friendly, colorful, and stylish. Vegan warm clothes are made from humane fabrics such as cotton, acrylic, polyester or polar fleece, orlon, gore-tex, polarguard, polartec, thinsulate, and any other wool fabric preceded by the term “synthetic”. (source) The labels clearly indicate which.

    Just as when we select edible products, we read the labels; similarly, to ensure that the woolens we purchase are cruelty-free, we need to read labels. Gone are the days when there was a stigma attached to the word, “synthetic” as though it were not the “real” thing. With paradigm shifts already happening on Earth, the word “synthetic” is slowly and steadfastly becoming the second name for the words, “compassion” and “justice”.

    Where to buy vegan woolens?

    You can check with any shop or company that sells animal-derived woolens because many of these companies have a “synthetic” wool selection as well. We have preferred to buy from large retail formats such as Westside, Lifestyle, Shopper’s Stop, Globus, and the like because one can find a variety of brands under one roof. This way it also becomes easy to compare both the price and merchandise across brands.
    To get some tips on how to buy vegan clothes in general, you can click this link for an informative Wiki article.
    To get a glimpse into the breathtaking world of vegan yarns, you can click this link on Fake Sheep, a fantastic website on vegan knitting.  

    We thank EVOLVE! Campaigns ( for sharing their poster for this story and for their valuable inputs to develop some of the viewpoints.

    You can also read:

    “This is dreadful! Not only the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity—that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself—and by violating his own feelings become cruel.” ~Leo Tolstoy, Writer and Philosopher~

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Sign Up for India’s First 21-Day Vegan Kickstart to Lose Weight, Improve Health

    An announcement from Vaishali Honawar, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

    The Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is bringing its popular 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program to India on November 7 – just in time to lose those Diwali pounds. The program is designed especially for the Indian diet by PCRM president Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D. It is absolutely free for anyone who signs up online. Participants have access to 21 days of dairy-free and meatless Indian recipes that will not only help whittle off the weight but also reduce risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.


    Obesity: Overweight rates in India increased by 20% between 1998 and 2005, according to a study released last year by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Another study by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research found that 22% of Indians living in cities were overweight and 7% were obese.

    Type 2 Diabetes: The prevalence of type 2 diabetes in urban India has shot up from 3-4 percent in the mid-1980s to 11-12 percent today. In some parts of South India, experts say, that the number is as high as 18 or 19 percent.

    Kickstart coaches

    The debut edition of the Kickstart will feature a number of Indian celebrity coaches including Amala Akkineni, Madhavan, Jackie Shroff, Celina Jaitley, and Murali Krishnan among others. They will offer their best nutrition tips and favorite recipes, and you can chat online with PCRM dietitians and ask nutrition questions via an online forum. There is also an interactive restaurant guide for vegans and online cooking demos by Dr. Nandita Shah of SHARAN, one of our Kickstart coaches.

    This is a great way to get access to information on making your own vegan diet healthy and to get those reluctant friends and relatives to try out a delicious vegan lifestyle for a few days – chances are they will stick with it.

    Signing up

    You can sign up for the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart at And, don't forget to “Like” it on Facebook at

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Veganism and Spirituality: A Commentary

    Dear Readers, greetings! The festive season is upon us and today is the first day of the Navaratri. The Navaratri period is marked by the theme of the victory of 'good over evil'. This is that time of the year when people worship 'shakti' (the divine power) and embark on a 'purification' drive by consuming 'strictly vegetarian' food. While we believe that self-cleansing is an ongoing process that does not need a special occasion, we do however appreciate the emphasis given in these nine days to live a 'good life' and the willingness of people to accept it. We fervently believe that one day all the evils, whether of thought or of action, will become passé and humankind will be able to completely realize its true spiritual self. This is the self that can give and receive all-pervading love, kindness, and compassion, both towards other humans and non human animals.

    To grace this occasion, we are privileged to introduce our guest writer on the blog, Dr. Krishnaiyengar Varadarangan, who will share his thoughts on the topic of 'veganism and spirituality' and comment on how both are interconnected, just like the helices of the DNA. Dr. Varadarangan holds a Ph.D degree in Applied Physics and is currently working as Director – Wireless R&D, Melange Systems, Bengaluru. He is also an accomplished musician and a musicologist, and has several publications to his credit. Needless to say,
    Dr. Varadarangan follows a vegan lifestyle and is actively involved in the promotion of ethical values and compassion towards animals through his blog PREVANKA, Facebook, campaigns, and writings.

    Dr. Varadarangan can be reached at We are immensely grateful to Dr. Varadarangan for enriching this space with his pearls of wisdom.

    By Dr. K. Varadarangan

    At the outset we shall briefly explore the meaning of the terms, ‘veganism’ and ‘spirituality’. The key objective of this article is to demystify spirituality and examine what it involves to lead a spiritual life.

    I)    Demystifying Spirituality

    Veganism: Veganism (pronounced ‘vee-gun-ism’) is a lifestyle based on the core ideal of non-violence and, for that reason, seeks to avoid the use of animal products and products tested on animals. According to Donald Watson, the father of veganism, “Veganism” may be defined “as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. We explore more about veganism later in this article.

    Spirituality: Spirituality is the process of inner awakening that enables one to realize complete purity of thought, word, and deed. This inward journey takes a person to a higher level of consciousness. Through spiritual practice, one develops the ability to recognize his/her pure, absolute, and unbiased true self. Spiritual practice involves giving up selfishness, greed, arrogance, and cultivating the qualities of composure, inner power, moral strength, love, compassion, and respect for all beings human and non human. A spiritually-aware person is able to envision that we all are part of a whole and that all forms of life are interconnected. Spirituality inspires a human being to assume responsibility and not run away from life.

    For many people, spirituality is synonymous with understanding God. For many others, it is seeking the ‘reality’ or the ‘truth’. Some others see spirituality as reaching out to our inner core or the ‘soul’. Whatever the approach, it should be clear that spirituality is our fundamental nature and may be experienced by all theists and atheists included.

    Spirituality and Ahimsa: Compassion and respect for all beings is the core element of spirituality. Thus, the practice of ahimsa is an essential aspect of spirituality. Ahimsa literally means non injury, not only to humans but to all sentient beings, including animals. In the broader sense, ahimsa implies ‘compassion and respect for all life’. In his book, Bliss Divine, Sri. Swamy Sivananda writes:
    Practice of Ahimsa develops love. Ahimsa is another name for truth or love. Ahimsa is universal love. It is pure love. It is divine Prem. Where there is love, there you will find Ahimsa. Where there is Ahimsa, there you will find love and selfless service. They all go together...There is one religion the religion of love, of peace. There is one message, the message of Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a supreme duty of man...Ahimsa is a great spiritual force.
    A man on the path of spirituality sees no difference between himself and others. He treats every being with equanimity, love, and compassion. He has no ego, no superiority complex. He has rid himself of selfishness, greed, arrogance, and materialistic desires. He sees no difference between himself, a dog, or a cat. He seeks to live in harmony with his fellow humans, animals, and the environment. He seeks to harm no one. He seeks the well being of all life forms, and all his thoughts, words, and actions are directed to achieve that goal.

    Spirituality and Liberation: The ultimate goal of spirituality is liberation liberation of the ‘society at large’, consisting of both humans and animals from abuse, exploitation, bondage, pain, and suffering. Liberation starts at the individual level and gradually expands to the whole Universe as more and more people make spirituality a way of life. Dr. Will Tuttle, author of the book, World Peace Diet regarded as one of the most important books of the 21st century, succinctly puts the idea of spirituality and liberation as follows:
    Spirituality is about liberation, and thus always calls us to awaken to the interconnectedness of all life, and to practice kindness and respect for others. These are both pre-requisites forand the natural results ofauthentically realizing our essential nature as spiritual beings.
    Action and Reaction: We Reap What We Sow: One of the basic laws of nature in general and a law of physics in particular is, ‘action and reaction are equal and opposite’. So every action of ours has an equal and opposite reaction. These laws not only apply to physical entities such as the natural forces but also to every kind of action that occurs in the Universe.

    During our lifetimes we indulge in several activities and our actions create an influence on the external world. When we commit brutalities such as cruelty to animals, where will the reaction to such evils go? They can not just vanish. There has to be a reaction to neutralize the action because everything in nature is balanced. This cumulative evil has to react upon us. Conversely, good actions such as acts of compassion and love to fellow beings and animals are sure to bring us everlasting happiness and peace. Thus we reap what we sow.

    Most often, the connection between our actions and the results of the actions may not manifest immediately or in ways that we understand. This is primarily because of the limitations of our senses. We understand our external world through the five senses of touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight. Coupled with our ability to think and reason, we are able to understand things that are beyond our senses. However, our sense organs and the ability of the human brain hit a limit to which our perceptions and knowledge can stretch.

    By developing a compassionate and loving attitude, we create a win-win situation. We save the animals from enormous pain and suffering, we save our flora and fauna, we save our environment, we save our Earth our only home, and we save ourselves from the horrific effects of our crimes. Lord Mahavira proclaims:
    Non-violence and kindness to living beings is kindness to oneself. For thereby one's own self is saved from various kinds of sins and resultant sufferings and is able to secure his own welfare.

    II)    Why Vegan?

    Ethical, personal health, and environmental issues are the three major aspects of a vegan lifestyle. However, the primary reason for people converting to vegan is ethical.

    Vegan is Ethical: At the core of a vegan lifestyle is the ideal of ‘ahimsa’ or non injury. Thus vegans avoid all products that are derived from animals. Even milk is avoided as it rightfully belongs to the calf and not to us. Modern dairy practices involve unimaginable cruelty to cows in the form of artificial insemination, killing of male calves, constant cycles of pregnancies leading to shortened lifespans, unethical hormone injections to increase milk yield that leads to diseases, and finally treacherous transportation and brutal murder at the slaughter houses. How can a person with conscience consume milk under such conditions?

    Animal sacrifice in the name of God is one of the most heinous, disgusting, and absurd acts that one can ever imagine. Animal sacrifice amounts to murdering and then offering the corpse of the butchered animal to the creator Herself! What an irony! What gross ignorance! What shame! She is the creator, the mother, of every one of us, including the animals. How can we offer a butchered child to its own mother? What will the mother think of us? We call her mother, then kill her own baby and even worse, expect her to consume it!

    Sacrifice means surrendering ourselves to the supreme force in all humility. We need to surrender our ego, selfishness, greed, hatred, and arrogance and not the lives of hapless animals over which we have absolutely no right of ownership. Cruelty to animals is indeed a grave crime. In what way is killing an animal different from the murder of a human being? In the words of Sri. Rabindranath Tagore:
    Cruelty (to animals) a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions.
    Vegan is Healthy: Innumerable studies have shown that a plant-based diet is healthy and associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and mortality. Replacing non-vegetarian food with a diet of whole grains, vegetables, dry fruits, nuts, and fruits, combined with a regular exercise regime helps in greatly lowering blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and obesity. Plant-based foods in general have lower saturated fats and cholesterol. They are also rich in soluble fibres that reduce serum cholesterol. Further, a vegetarian diet of fruits and vegetables is rich in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, flavonoids, folic acid, phytosterols, and caretenoids that provide a good measure of protection against cardiovascular diseases.

    Vegan is Environment Friendly: As several large-scale scientific studies have confirmed, severe environmental degradation is taking place due to animal farming. Animal farming for meat, leather, and milk is depleting our natural resources at an alarming rate. This depletion rate is estimated to be anywhere between 10 to 1000 times. Green-house gas emissions from animal farms are a major contributor to global warming. Enormous amounts of water and plant food is required to produce meat. It is estimated that about 100,000 litres of water, 100 kilogram of hay, and 4 kilogram of grain is required to produce just one kilogram of meat. Another serious issue is managing the waste produced in these animal farms. Such wastes are becoming potential threats and causing air, soil, and water pollution. Referring to the practice of animal farming Keith Akers in his well researched and highly popular book, A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1989) notes that:
    This is a matter of historical record. Most of the world's soil, erosion, groundwater depletion, and deforestation—factors now threatening the very basis of our food system—are the result of this particularly destructive form of food production.
    All of Us are Born Vegans: All of us are born impeccably pure. The food that a new born child needs is only the mother’s milk and nothing else. Nourished by the mother’s milk, her love, and care, the child develops to become a pure and perfect human being. It opens its eyes to the beautiful world around with awe and joy. It makes an instant connection with the beautiful animals around and wishes to befriend them and play with them. There is no discrimination, no superiority. Only love, that is unconditional, pure, and absolute. This love is our essential being.

    The human being is created to be an herbivorous animal. Thus, we are all born vegans. But what happens over our socialization with the world is a profoundly saddening process of corruption of our pure being. Cow’s milk is poured into our mouths in the name of nutrition. Flesh is thrust upon us in the name of food. The lesson of ‘might is right’ is taught. We are assured that God has sanctioned all this. We are made to believe that all is well with this utterly heinous, tragic, and nonsensical stuff. We are told that it is our habit, culture, and tradition. After years of brainwashing we turn ourselves in to the kind of unthinking adults that we are. We start advocating all the negative conditioning we inherited. Thus the cycle of crime goes on and on.

    III)    Veganism at the Core of Spirituality

    With the ideal of non-violence being the core, veganism and spirituality are inseparable from each other. The practice of ahimsa in thought, word, and deed automatically purifies our mind and elevates our consciousness. We become sensitive to the consequences of our actions. Our diet changes to a plant-based one because we can never hurt an animal for the purpose of eating. We are unable to tolerate violence and so, animal products such as leather, silk, fur, wool, and so on get eliminated. We stop traveling or transporting our goods by animal driven carts. We boycott the use of animals for entertainment. We stop using products tested on animals. We abhor the use of animals for medical experimentation. We never abuse and exploit an animal for any purpose, whatsoever. We always weigh our words before we speak to others and be kind and polite to them. Our very thought process becomes pure, lofty, and noble.

    We Are what We Eat: As the saying ‘sound mind in a sound body’ goes, a healthy body is essential to have a sound mind. However, many foods influence our mind directly and in this context, a vegan diet is most appropriate for a spiritual life. A vegan diet helps to develop a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Most plant-based foods are gentle as they emit positive vibrations. Animal protein is a potent carcinogen. Many animal products are found to influence our mind adversely. Most importantly, when flesh is consumed, there is a tremendous amount of negative vibration, because the animal had died in pain, agony, and horror. Toxins are also produced in animal bodies during slaughter. Such food is simply incompatible with the practice of spirituality.

    Veganism as Spirituality: For most vegans who choose to be so on ethical grounds, veganism is no different from spirituality. At the core of veganism is the recognition that all life forms are interconnected. In the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer, author and Nobel laureate:
    When one becomes a vegetarian, it purifies the soul.
    A vegan diet promotes good health and creates positive thoughts. The philosophy of veganism is all-encompassing and promotes the harmonious coexistence of humans and animals on this planet. Veganism has enormous potential to conserve our plants, save the animals from pain and suffering, conserve our environment, and reverse global warming and climate change. What more can we ask for? Simply by changing our attitude towards life we can accomplish so much! Let us create a world that is cruelty free. Human sufferings will melt like snow when we end cruelty to animals. Our planet will breathe easy. Let us celebrate Freedom!

    ~ ~ ~

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    One Year of Pony Love: A Commitment to the Cause and Care of “Working Animals”

    Animal rights NGO, Samabhava organizes annual function, a Vegan India! report.

    Bangalore, Rotary Club Auditorium, Lavalle Road, 17-Sept-2011: The plight of “working animals” in our country is comparable to the plight of the human workers in the unorganized sector. In the absence of adequate legislation or in the presence of poorly enforced legislation combined with the lack of will on the part of influential human counterparts, both suffer numerous injustices that have direct bearing on their health and safety. The next time you see a pony pulling a cart on the streets of Bangalore, do spare a few moments and think about this “working animal” that transports load, mostly pipes and other construction materials, from the core commercial areas of the city to destinations within the city to aid human economic activities. It is only just reasonable that these working ponies are treated fairly: treated for wounds that they are highly susceptible to and given old age care as opposed to being abandoned.

    An organized effort to bring about change in the status of working animals

    It requires organized efforts to bring about change in the status of working animals and Samabhava in the first year of its existence has made this change possible. Samabhava has brought together trained veterinarians, donors, NGOs, horse lovers, and pony caretakers on the same platform to think and act to better the status of working ponies in Bangalore. The result is something for all to be proud of and the result gives us hope: hope, that human compassion and fairness is not lost; it only needs to be kindled.

    A working pony

    In the first year of Samabhava’s existence, 442 ponies have been treated as part of curative care for a range of conditions such as external injuries, respiratory disorders, musculoskeletal disorders (lameness), gastro-intestinal disorders, eye problems, skin diseases, hoof ailments, and infections. Lameness (153 cases) and wounds (101 cases) were found to be among the dominant conditions that afflicted working ponies. Preventive care has been rendered to 275 ponies, to many in the form of vaccinations against tetanus – a deadly disease that when once sets in, can be fatal to the ponies. Besides this, donors with space, resources, and the mindset have come forward to rescue and adopt 5 ponies who for various reasons such as accidental electrocution, emotional trauma, being differentially-abled, and abandonment are not fit to pull loads. Today, these ponies are leading lives of dignity amidst compassionate human beings in the farms and shelters in and around Bangalore.

    Identifying the core causes of discomfort for working animals: Dialogue with farriery or horse shoe makers and experts

    What is exceptional about Samabhava’s work that this Vegan India! blogger found is their attention to detail. This attention to detail translates to the identification of the prime areas of concern in the working lives of ponies that happens to be 1) lameness and 2) external injuries. Lameness in ponies largely stem from the ignorance of the caretakers about the biomechanics of a pony’s feet with the result that the animal ends up working with badly designed shoes. To bridge this gap, Samabhava has networked with experts from abroad to train farriery and horse-shoe makers in Bangalore to produce shoes that are comfortable for the ponies and will help prevent lameness and wounds in the long run.  

    A holistic approach to animal welfare and animal rights

    Another exceptional aspect of Samabhava’s intervention is the organization’s holistic approach to animal welfare and animal rights – by integrating the concept of a vegan lifestyle and helping people to make the connection between animal suffering, human suffering, and the degradation of the Planet due to human choices. Veganism is the ultimate goal in any animal rights movement because the philosophy seeks to ameliorate animal suffering. All of Samabhava’s founder members are vegan (you can click this link to get introduced to them), including the chief guest at the function, the soft-spoken, Mrs. Amala Akkineni. Mrs. Akkineni, former film actor and now at the helm of affairs at the Blue Cross of Hyderabad, is one of the loveliest celebrity animal rights activists and supporter of a host of human rights work as well. Icons such as her demonstrate that human rights and animal rights go hand-in-hand, one is incomplete without the other, and “compassion” is an over-arching philosophy towards “life” in general, be it that of a human or an animal.

    Future plans

    Where does Samabhava go from here, we ask Sandesh Raju, Founder Trustee and Managing Trustee of the organization. Sandesh explains:
    "We hope to train the caretakers of the ponies in better preventive management as well as in measures, which will help alleviate the day-to-day 'working' lives of the ponies. We know that this change will not be an overnight phenomenon and we hope to continue to work for this cause for as long it takes. On similar lines we hope to continue and expand "Project Atonement" (rescue and adoption of old, abandoned, and injured equines) so that more and more equines can live out the rest of their lives in comfort and dignity".

    There are other aspects to Samabhava’s work that you can explore by visiting the organization’s website at: You can also read in detail about the five freedoms of animals that Samabhava seeks to work for by clicking this link on the website.

    In conclusion

    What is life without food? What is life without good, nutritious, healthy, and most importantly vegan food?! The celebration of Samabhava’s first year was commemorated by a lovely vegan lunch sponsored by In The Pink organic-vegetarian bazaar and restaurant based in Bangalore. The highlight of the platter was delicious peanut-curd rice and ragi payasam sprinkled with cashew nuts. We leave you here to enjoy a photograph of this appetizing platter!

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Vegan Bengaluru Potluck, Sept. 24, 2011

    An announcement from the Vegan Benglauru team 

    The official Vegan Bengaluru potluck for this month will be held at Jaaga on Lalbagh KH Road on the 24-Sept-2011. It is a lunch potluck from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

    The address for Jaaga's new location is:

    No. 68, Lalbagh KH Road
    Opp. Vijaya Bank & Next to HDFC Bank
    Bangalore – 560027

    Check out Jaaga's website for a map by clicking this link.

    Here's some information about the Vegan Bengaluru potlucks:

    1. *All* are welcome! :) You don't necessarily have to be vegan to attend the potluck event. Even if you're just curious about a vegan lifestyle or interested to learn about veganism you can join us.

    2. You *MUST* bring a 100% vegan dish to share. Everyone brings something so it won't be fair if you walk in empty handed.

    3. It would be nice if you bring a vegan dish that is prepared by yourself; however, if you are unable to cook then feel free to carry food which you have purchased.

    4. If you've purchased the food, then make sure there's an ingredients list on the package so we can be assured that it is vegan. Particularly if you're a first time attendee who is not vegan, please don't expect us to take your word for it that the food you've purchased is completely vegan.

    5. If you're unsure about what to bring then the best bet is fresh fruits or fruit juices. Everyone appreciates fruits. :)

    6. Please bring plates, bowls, forks, spoons, serving spoons, and glasses for yourself. Everyone brings their own.

    7. Come, relax, and enjoy the food, and conversation! :)

    Please do drop in and RSVP on the Facebook event page if you get a chance by pasting this link on your browser. You are also welcome to join us at the Vegan Bangalore facebook group or follow the Vegan Bengaluru blog to get updates about all the latest vegan-related happenings in Namma Bengaluru. :)

    Looking forward to meeting everyone. :)

    – The Vegan Benglauru Team

    Thursday, September 1, 2011

    Seven Vegan Recipes from Orissa on Ganesh Chaturthi

    For more recipe-related articles featured in this blog, you can click this link.

    Welcome to the second post in the state vegan recipe series! This time we bring you recipes of seven vegan dishes from the state of Orissa in east India. Similar to Bengal, Oriya vegetarian cuisine is mostly vegan and offers a large variety of dishes cooked in numerous styles. Each style represents a particular region in Orissa. We bring you a sample selection that particularly represents the coastal-cooking style of Orissa. The recipes have been contributed by Smt. Minati Mishra, resident of Keonjhar in Orissa. We are grateful to Smt. Mishra for sharing the recipes of these Oriya dishes that are not only easy to make but very tasty and nutritious too. The last dish on our menu is the “Chuda Ghasa”, a sweet creation that is offered to Lord Ganesha on Ganesh Chaturthi day. Chuda Ghasa is a concoction of nutritious ingredients that does not require any cooking, and therefore is a raw-vegan preparation!

    As mentioned in our Bengal post, in all our recipes, we have used the cold-pressed versions of cooking oils obtained from organic stores and organically-grown raw ingredients to ensure that we are offering the healthiest food to our bodies. However, if you have difficulty procuring organically grown raw materials, please do not let that hinder your trial with the recipes.
    The Recipes

    1) Brinjal Paga (Brinjal Garnishing)

    For four servings, you will need:
    Brinjal – 5, as big as medium sized tomatoes
    Tomato – 2, medium sized
    Mustard oil – 1 tsp+
    Onion – 1, medium sized
    Garlic – 6-10, medium sized pods
    Coriander leaves – As per need
    Green chilli – 1-2, as per taste
    Salt – As per taste

    Preparation: Piece the brinjals into two longitudinal halves and tomatoes into four longitudinal parts. Heat 1 tsp mustard oil. Sauté the vegetables in high flame for 3-5 minutes or until they are 80% cooked. Remove from fire and keep covered for 20-30 minutes. Finely piece the onion, garlic, coriander leaves, and green chilli. Mash coarsely the sautéed brinjals and tomatoes, and add the finely pieced ingredients, salt, and a few drops of mustard oil as per the pungency you want. Brinjal Paga is ready to be served. Very similar in idea to the North Indian “Baigan ka Bharta”, Brinjal Paga is a dish that is relished across Orissa from the rural to the urban areas.

    In fact, Paga can be prepared with different vegetables such as okra, ridge gourd, potato, and tomato. The okra and ridge gourd needs to be roasted while the potato and tomato needs to be boiled. The rest of the method is the same.

    2) Mushroom Haldi Pani (Mushroom in Turmeric Water)

    For three servings, you will need:
    Mushroom – 200 gram, as available in one packet
    Onion – 1, medium sized
    Garlic – 6, medium sized pods
    Mustard oil – 1 tsp+
    Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
    Turmeric – Two pinches
    Salt – As per taste
    Amchur powder or Tomato – 1 tsp or one small, respectively

    Preparation: Piece the mushrooms and onions into small cubes. Crush the garlic. Heat 1 tsp mustard oil. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the onion, garlic, one pinch turmeric, salt, and mushrooms. Cover and sauté until all ingredients are soft. Add two cups of water and bring to boil. Add another pinch of turmeric and amchur powder (or finely chopped tomato). Boil for 5 minutes. Add a few drops of mustard oil as per taste and remove from fire. Mushroom Haldi Pani is ready. You can serve it either as a standalone soup, and/or with steamed rice or toasts to make a full meal. Mushroom Haldi Pani originates from the Puri district in Orissa.  

    3) Saaga Mooga (Green Leaves in Green Gram de-skinned and split)

    For four servings, you will need:
    Drumstick or Methi (fenugreek) or Mooli (radish) leaves – Two bundles
    Garlic – 6, medium sized pods
    Moong dal – ¼ cup
    Salt – As per taste
    Mustard oil – 1 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp (Please check the Bengali vegan recipe post for notes on the panch phoron by clicking this link.) 
    Green chilli – 1-2, as per taste

    Preparation: Clean methi leaves and keep aside. Boil the moong dal with salt in a pressure cooker removing from fire just before the first whistle and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron, crushed garlic, and green chilli. Add the methi leaves and cook until it is 75% done. Add the boiled moong dal and cook fully. Saaga Mooga is ready to be served. This dish is relished across Orissa. You can follow the same method of preparation using drumstick or radish leaves; however, the natives swear by the drumstick leaf preparation!

    4) Chawala Chuna Bhaja (Shallow Fried Vegetables in Rice Powder)

    For four servings, you will need:
    Kantola – 5, medium sized
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Salt – As per taste
    Any white oil – 2 tbsp
    Rice + jeera + dry red chilli mix – 2 tbsp (In proportion of 50:25:25. You can make this mixture in a slightly larger quantity and store for at least 6 months.)

    Preparation: Piece the kantola into thin disc-shaped slices. Steam kantola with turmeric and salt in half cup water until it is 50% cooked and keep aside. Soak and dry the rice (you can soak the rice and keep it to dry overnight). Coarsely grind the rice with roasted jeera and dry red chilli. Heat any white oil. Shallow-fry the kantola. Add the rice + jeera + dry red chilli mixture. Remove from fire when the preparation turns slightly red and the texture is crispy. Chawala Chuna Bhaja is ready. This dish represents the Puri-Bhubneswar style of cooking. Kantola can also be substituted with karela (bitter gourd).

    5) Khatta (Translated means “sour”)

    For five servings, you will need:
    Tomato – 6, medium sized
    Any white oil – 1 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Green chilli – 1
    Dry red chilli – 1
    Asafoetida – 1 pinch
    Curry leaves – As per taste
    Dates – 10
    Green peas – ¼ cup
    Jaggery – 100 grams

    Preparation: Piece the tomatoes into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Heat any white oil. Add panch phoron, green chilli, dry red chilli, asafoetida, and curry leaves. Add the tomato, dates, and green peas. Cook until all ingredients are soft. Add jaggery and cook until each ingredient has blended with the other. Add one cup water and simmer for 5 minutes. Khatta is ready to be served. Khatta is a universal phenomenon in Orissa.

    6) Dalma (Oriya Dal)

    For six servings, you will need:
    Arbi (colocasia) – 4, medium sized
    Potato – 1, medium sized
    Parval (pointed gourd) – 2, medium sized
    Barbati (long beans) – 4
    Mooli (radish) – 1, medium sized
    Raw banana – ½ of a medium sized one
    Arhar (thoor) dal – ½ cup
    Salt – As per taste
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Grated fresh coconut – 3 tbsp or as per taste
    Any white oil – 1 tbsp
    Jeera – ½ tsp
    Dry red chilli – 1

    Preparation: Piece the vegetables: arbi, potato, parval, barbati, mooli, and raw banana in long, big parts. Pressure cook the vegetables with arhar dal, salt, and turmeric with 2 whistles. Keep until all the steam is out. Add the grated coconut into the pressure cooker and keep aside. Heat any white oil. Add jeera and dry red chilli. Let them splutter. Add the boiled vegetables and dal. Dalma is ready to be served. Dalma is the traditional Oriya dal recipe. You can include kathal (jackfruit) too.

    7) Chuda Ghasa (Powdered Rice Flakes Mixture)

    You will need:
    Rice flakes – 1 kg, thick variety
    Grated fresh coconut – 2, big sized
    Powdered jaggery – ½ kg
    Camphor – 1 pinch
    Cardamom – 2
    Black pepper – 8

    Preparation: Coarsely grind the rice flakes and add the following ingredients to it: grated fresh coconut, powdered jaggery, and camphor. Mix, rubbing all ingredients together until you get a homogenous consistency, or until you can no longer tell individual ingredients apart. Coarsely powder the cardamom and black pepper and lightly add them to the mixture. Chuda Ghasa is ready. Chuda Ghasa is a preparation that originates from the coastal area of Orissa. Traditionally, preparing Chuda Ghasa is a community activity where women sit around banana leaves mixing the concoction to perfection. It is made in large quantities and offered to the Gods because the preparation is raw or uncooked and nutritious as well. Chuda Ghasa is offered to Lord Ganesha on this holy day in Orissa.

    Happy Ganesh Chaturthi, Everyone!

    “Humanity’s true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” ~Milan Kundera, Author, The Unbearable Lightness of Being~

    Saturday, August 20, 2011

    Seven Vegan Recipes from the State of Bengal on Janmashtami Eve

    For more recipe-related articles featured in this blog, you can click this link.

    The soil of Bengal bears the essence of the three great rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, and Brahmaputra, along with their myriad tributaries. This remarkably fertile soil provides nourishment to an incredible variety of flora. Bengal is one place in the country where, along with the vegetables and fruits, the stalks, leaves, as well as the flowers of the plants are made into tasty dishes. Did you know that fritters made from kumro phool (pumpkin flowers) and shojne phool (drumstick flowers) are relished with great indulgence. Well, so much for the infinite variety of Bengali cuisine.

    Most people know Bengal as the “fish-eating” state of the country; however, what many people do not know, is the fact that Bengal offers the richest variety in vegetarian cuisine in the world, most of which are vegan! Not only this, the vegan cuisine of Bengal is extremely healthy, cooked with minimal oil and spices, and very tasty because the method of preparation elicits the best flavors from all the ingredients in the dish. The USP of Bengali cuisine is that all tastes are blended beautifully – tok (sour), mishti (sweet), nonta (salty), and jhaal (chilli hot).

    Today, on the eve of Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, we take the opportunity to launch the State recipe series on Vegan India! blog. We are very grateful to Smt. Sanchita Paul (Pal), resident of Shillong, for contributing all the six main course recipes in the Bengal series. Smt. Paul originally hails from “East Bengal”, now Bangladesh, and therefore brings the taste of “opar Bangla” into her preparations.

    The last dish on our menu is “Tal er Bora”, a sweet dish recipe contributed by Smt. Urmila Dutta, resident of Gurgaon, with ancestry rooted in West Bengal. The Tal (Toddy Palm) fruit is available in the monsoon season; so in Bengali homes, Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm fritters) is prepared on Janmashtami day and offered to Lord Krishna as bhog (offering made to the Gods). “Tal er bora kheye Nondo nache re!!” are famous lines in Bangla that roughly translated means, “Lord Krishna dances in ecstasy as He pops Tal er bora in His mouth!!” However, as you will learn from the recipe, just in case you are unable to find the toddy palm fruit in your city, you may well substitute with ripe bananas. Details in the recipe.

    A note about spices in Bengali cooking: Before we get on with the recipes, it is fair that we introduce you to the “panch phoron”, the ubiquitous spice mixture used in most Bengali recipes. Panch phoron meaning ‘five spices’ is a mixture of the following spices: jeera (cumin), kalojeera (black cumin), methi (fenugreek), sorsae (mustard), and saunf (fennel). It may not be too easy to find the ready-made panch phoron mixture in shops outside Bengal. However, you can prepare the mixture in your own kitchens. You will need to lightly roast each of the spices separately, then combine them, allow the mixture to cool, and finally bottle the mixture. This now becomes your panch phoron.

    Another noteworthy feature of Bengali cooking is the usage of sugar. Most recipes use between one pinch to ½ teaspoon of sugar – not to make the end product sweet, but to balance out the flavors of the different ingredients and unify them.

    Suggestions for healthy cooking: Finally, this may not be specific to Bengali cooking but important for overall healthy eating: In all the recipes, we have used the cold-pressed varieties of cooking oils obtained from organic stores and used organically-grown raw ingredients to ensure that we are offering the healthiest food to our bodies. However, if you have difficulty procuring organically grown raw materials, please do not let that hinder your trial with the recipes. And, if you do manage to procure the organically grown counterparts of the vegetables especially, please do not remove the skins entirely, for example, from the ridge gourd, potato, pumpkin, pointed gourd, or any other such vegetable. Most of the goodies are sitting just below the skins of the vegetables. Since organically grown vegetables are pesticide-free, you can enjoy the goodies to your heart’s content eating them with much of the skin.

    The recipes!

    1) Jhinga Posto (Ridge Gourd with Poppy Seeds)

    For three servings, you will need:
    Jhinge – 1, medium sized and tender, light green variety
    Posto – 1 tbsp, soaked for 10 minutes
    Mustard powder – 1 tsp (can use by Weikfield)
    Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste, 2 for garnishing
    Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Salt – As per taste
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Sugar – Less than ½ tsp

    Preparation: Piece jhinge into small cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of posto, mustard powder, and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add jhinge, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until jhinge is soft. Add the paste. Sauté for a minute or two. Add little water if too tight. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with split green chillies and serve.

    2) Green Tomatoes in Mustard Paste

    For three servings, you will need:
    Green tomatoes – 3, medium sized
    Potatoes – 2, medium sized
    Mustard powder – 1 tbsp (can use by Weikfield)
    Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
    Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
    Panch poron – ½ tsp
    Dry red chilli – 1, small
    Salt – As per taste
    Turmeric – One pinch
    Sugar – ½ tsp

    Preparation: Piece green tomatoes and potatoes longitudinally, and keep aside. Prepare a paste of mustard powder and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch poron and dry red chilli, and let them splutter. Add potatoes, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until potato is soft. Add the green tomatoes and the paste. Cook until tomatoes are soft, adding water if required. Add sugar and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.

    3) Tok-misti Kumro (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)

    For three servings, you will need:
    Kumro – ½ kg
    Tamarind – 1 lemon-sized ball, soaked for an hour
    Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
    Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Salt – As per taste
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Sugar – ½ tsp
    Coriander leaves for garnishing

    Preparation: Piece kumro into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Prepare a paste of tamarind and green chilli, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add kumro, salt, and turmeric. Cover and fry until kumro is soft. Add the paste. Cover for 2 minutes. Add water, as required. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Ensure the proportion of tok (sour), jhal (chilli hot), and misti (sweet) is as per your taste. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

    4) Pineapple Potol (Pointed Gourd with Pineapple)

    For three servings, you will need:
    Potol – 3, medium sized
    Potato – 2, medium sized
    Pineapple – 1, two-inch slice
    Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Turmeric – 1 pinch
    Chilli powder – 1 pinch
    Salt – As per taste
    Sugar – 1½ tsp to ½ tsp (The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the pineapple.)

    Preparation: Piece potol and potato into medium-sized cubes and keep aside. Grate the pineapple and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron and let it splutter. Add potol and potato. Cover and fry until the vegetables are soft. Add water, as required. Add the grated pineapple, turmeric, chilli powder, and salt. Cook until mushy, add sugar, and remove from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together and then serve.

    5) Mocha Ghonto (Banana Flower Curry)

    For five servings, you will need:
    Banana Flower – 1
    Potato – 2, medium sized
    Cumin powder – 1 tsp
    Chilli powder – 1 pinch
    Turmeric – 2 pinch
    Ginger paste – 1 tsp
    Bay leaves – 2 
    Salt – As per taste
    Mustard oil – 4 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Dry red chilli – 2
    Sugar – ½ tsp
    Garam masala powder – ½ tsp
    Cashew butter – As per taste
    Coriander leaves for garnishing

    Preparation: Apply a layer of mustard oil on your palms and knife, and mince the banana flowers into very tiny pieces making sure that you remove the hard stick-like portion from each flower. You must grease your palms because banana flower tends to leave them black in color since it is rich in iron (greasing can reduce the blackening considerably, although not eliminate it). Parboil the banana flowers with one whistle in the pressure cooker. Strain the water from the boiled banana flowers and keep aside. Piece the potatoes into small cubes and keep aside. Make a paste of cumin powder, chilli powder, one pinch turmeric, ginger paste, bay leaves, and salt, and keep aside. Heat mustard oil. Fry potato pieces with one pinch turmeric and salt until soft and keep aside. Add panch phoron and dry red chillis in the left-over oil. Add the paste. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the boiled banana flower and potatoes, and cook until mushy. Add water, as required. Add salt, sugar, garam masala powder, and cashew butter before removing from fire. Keep covered for 30 minutes for all the flavors to come together. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

    6) Moong Dal (Green gram de-skinned and split)

    For three servings, you will need:
    Moong dal – ½ cup
    Salt – As per taste
    Turmeric – ½ tsp
    Ginger – 1 inch piece, cubed
    Mustard oil – 2 tbsp
    Panch phoron – ½ tsp
    Dry red chilli – 1
    Bay leaf – 1
    Green chilli – 1 or 2 as per taste
    Sugar – Less than ½ tsp
    Coriander leaves for garnishing 

    Preparation: Roast the dry moong dal and then clean in water. Boil the dal with salt, turmeric powder, and ginger cubes in a pressure cooker with four whistles. Heat mustard oil. Add panch phoron, whole dry red chilli, and let the spices splutter. Add the bay leaf and green chilli, wait till aroma comes out. Add the boiled dal and water (if required) to bring the preparation to the consistency you want. Add sugar and remove from fire. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve.

    7) Tal er Bora (Toddy Palm Fruit Fritters): As said earlier, Tal er Bora is a sweet delicacy that is offered to Lord Krishna on Janamastami day. If you have difficulty finding the Toddy Palm fruit in your city, you can substitute with ripe bananas. Our contributor has tweaked the original recipe a bit to make it healthy, for example substitute whole wheat for maida, introduce sesame seeds, and use cold-pressed canola oil for any other. There is another purpose to using canola oil: it does not have a taste of its own, therefore will not interfere with the tastes of the other ingredients. 

    You will need:
    Tal fruit – 1 or 5 big ripe bananas
    Whole wheat – 1 cup
    Coconut – 2 cups, grated
    Sugar – 1 cup
    Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
    Cardamom powder – 1 tsp
    Sesame seeds – 2 tbsp
    Canola oil – As per deep fry

    Preparation: Extract the sap from the tal kernals and keep aside. You can take tips from My Saffron Kitchen to learn how to extract the sap from the Tal kernels by clicking this link. If using bananas, mash them in a mixie and keep aside. Dry roast the grated coconut in an oven or tawa. Add the roasted coconut, sugar, fennel seeds, cardamom powder, and sesame seeds to the fruit mixture and combine well. Heat canola oil. Wet your hands in water, form small lumps from the mixture with your hands, and lightly drop them in the oil, one by one. Fry until golden brown and serve hot.

    Happy Janmashtami, Everyone!

    “We manage to swallow flesh only because we do not think of the cruel and sinful thing that we do. Cruelty... is a fundamental sin, and admits of no arguments or nice distinctions. If only we do not allow our heart to grow callous, it protests against cruelty, is always clearly heard; and yet we go on perpetrating cruelties easily, merrily, all of us—in fact, anyone who does not join in is dubbed a crank.” ~Rabindranath Tagore, in 1894 at the age of 33, in Glimpses of Bengal Letters, a selection of his letters.~