The rise of a plant-based diet is slowly changing America’s perception of how we eat vegetables. However, as some vegan influencers change their minds about eating meat, the difference between a vegetarian lifestyle engrained in culture (India) and a plant-based diet as just another diet alternative (some social media vegan influencers) shows the volatile foundations of the latter.
In a Women’s Health Magazine article, former vegan influencers turned meat-eaters chronicle the backlash they faced. All three women interviewed in the article cite health problems. Their plant-based diet made them sick. Meat cured them. And that’s the difference. In parts* of India where vegetarianism is a way of life, “eat meat” doesn’t always qualify as a prescription for someone feeling unwell.
Can you even imagine a vegetarian Hindu doctor in India, seeing a patient feeling unwell, prescribes eating grass-fed beef as part of a cure? Or if self-diagnosing, a person who was born vegetarian starts eating meat for better health?
The lack of historical and cultural anchor explains the fall-out from some vegan influencers. And the three interviewed in the article are not the only ones. There’s something fundamentally different when from birth your immediate family, relatives, and community live a vegetarian life. This highlighted by being in a medical system full of experts that follow or understand the sacredness of a vegetarian diet.
There are many reasons why people give up meat, either for ethical, religious, environmental, or health reasons. When we distill veganism to one of many ways to eat healthy instead of making it a part of culture, changing your tune, especially with medical backing, is more justifiable.
Diets Are Flexible | Traditions, Not so Much
Society understands the flexibility of diets. What may feel good for you to eat today, might not feel good tomorrow, so you change your ways. This mutable attitude, although not unheard of, gets more complicated when food consumption integrates with moral and religious beliefs. Without medical backing and grounded in tradition, it’s less acceptable to say that you started eating meat because you want to.
When a vegan influencer decides to start eating meat, the backlash comes from social media followers and vegan communities they belong to. The challenge stems from the need to re-brand. I’m not saying that pivoting becomes easier for these influencers. After all, when your business hinges on what you eat, there are financial risks. That’s not something to take lightly. But considerations change when one is vegetarian for reasons other than diet and nutrition.
Learning from Indian Cooking and Culture
For all the hype with veganism, unlocking the power of a plant-based diet is nothing new. Indian recipes, especially South Indian ones, are mostly vegan. Traditional vegetarian recipes can be easily transformed to vegan dishes by substituting cow’s milk, yogurt, and ghee with plant-based alternatives.
In the US, the narrative on vegetables takes on three angles: parents force their children to eat them because although nutritious, they lack taste. Vegetables are side dishes. To add taste, one needs to cover greens in dressing. From commercials to movies, this seems to be the underlying message.
In contrast, Indian cooking doesn’t hide the taste of veggies; rather, the spices enhance it. You don’t have to force children to eat vegetables, because vegetable dishes taste good.
The Plant-Based Revolution
It’s undeniable that issues such as animal welfare and climate change are redefining the world’s relationship with meat. Combined with celebrities, vegan influencers, and companies offering meatless alternatives, it has never been easier to eat less meat or eat vegan.
But the difference between the current vegan cooking and its roots in Indian veg cooking is that the latter doesn’t try to imitate non-veg dishes. A veg potato patty doesn’t try to taste like a beef burger. Rather, it’s the creamy taste of potato, infused with spices. It’s delicious without trying to taste like a meat-based dish. In its essence, the dishes celebrate the vegetables, and not try to imitate.
Inspirations from Indian Bloggers and Chef
I admire and peruse recipes from vegan influencers, but I understand the fickle nature of the belief system, so I’m not shocked when minds change. This is not to say that vegan influencers motivated by ethics are not going to change their minds either, but the stakes involve a change in an identity tied to family, history, and religion.
For this reason, I believe that sometimes, the best way to love vegetables is to find inspiration from the source of it all: Indian vegetarian cooking. A favorite is Veg Village Food with currently more than 3.3 million subscribers on YouTube. A grandma cooks loads of food in her outdoor fire pit and then feeds children. She doesn’t say much and doesn’t provide precise measurements. But you’ll get a glimpse of life when vegetarianism is part of life. There’s no need to label food as vegetarian, because it’s a given.
The grandma reminds me of everything I love about cooking veg dishes: eating vegetables is not a fad, celebrate flavors, you don’t need fancy gadgets and tools, and that good food nourishes.
Another website I visit frequently is Cook with Manali. She cooks mostly Indian vegetarian dishes with a modern flare. Chef Atul, a Michelin star chef on YouTube, makes Indian cooking look so effortless.
These sources cook veg dishes, and Chef Atul has non-veg options. For me, what’s important is that they provide you the basic foundation of what it means to fall in love with vegetables, without the hoopla. Watching them, you forget that these dishes are vegetarian—you’re just eating well.
Go ahead and try. Create flavors for Aloo Gobi (cauliflower/potato). Easily make fresh flatbread with wholewheat flour. With chickpea flour, you can whip up a protein and fiber rich, Indian omelette (eggless) for breakfast. Or try this vegan version of palak paneer (spinach/paneer).
*It’s important to note that not all Indians are vegetarians. But restaurants in India typically specify if they serve veg and non-veg dishes, since some prefer to not have their food cooked alongside non-veg dishes.