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How and why I turned vegan

Shweta Thakur
8 min read • 
24 January 2024

Editor’s Note:

Hi there! Today’s piece is authored by Shweta Thakur, who intricately details her transition from meat-eating to veganism. Discussions about veganism often turn heated rather swiftly — they either lead to jokes or overly moral, preachy tones, leaving me baffled and none the wiser. But Shweta’s reflective narrative allowed me to see the world of food through her eyes, understand what led her on this challenging journey, and how it reshaped her. 

Her shift to veganism didn’t just alter her dietary choice; it altered her career trajectory: she is now building Wildermart, an AI-powered store focusing on healthy food choices.

— Samarth Bansal (samarth@thewholetruthfoods.com

Back in 2013, I decided to cut down my climate footprint, doing my bit for the planet by switching off ACs, fans, and stopping water drips. An amused friend nudged me towards a bigger change I hadn’t considered: going vegan to reduce my food-print. I wasn’t sure I understood.

He recommended I watch ‘Cowspiracy’, a documentary revealing the significant environmental impact of a meat and dairy-based diet. The data in the documentary was compelling. But the final 20 mins showed what happens in a slaughterhouse. That’s when the switch went off. We’re often shielded from these visuals, choosing to ignore where our meat comes from. But facing it changed everything. That was 23rd December 2013. Next morning, I was vegan. 

At that time, I didn’t know what it would entail, but I knew I had to do it. Infact, I thought vegan was short for vegetarian. I was a Bihari Brahmin, where meat eating is culturally intrinsic. I was the type who mocked my friends for dating vegetarians and never ordered vegetarian at restaurants because it wasn’t ‘paisa vasool’. 

But then Cowspiracy happened, and I went vegan overnight.

 I just completed a decade of being vegan — ten years of a journey that reshaped not just my diet but my entire world view, encompassing food, health, relationships, and a newfound spiritual connection with the universe. 

People often ask: was it tough? Yes, it was. This essay is a humble attempt to capture a transformation that has been, without a doubt, the most defining journey of my life.

Change One: Taste Palate

The decision was made, but the real challenge lay ahead: re-configuring my palate. You can’t erase years of dietary conditioning overnight — taste is a powerful memory. The struggle began the very next day.

At a Christmas party next evening, my options were starkly limited. I couldn’t find anything to eat. I ate potatoes and came back.

I was upset and hungry, yet determined. So I started researching about what I could or could not eat. Meats were off the table. Dairy was off. Honey was off. Most of the packaged foods were off because they contained milk solids and other non-vegan additives.

Fortunately, my meat craving died with Cowspiracy. And I had never been a fan of dairy—not milk, not ice cream, not curd. But cheese was my weakness. Especially on pizza. So during the initial six months of my vegan journey, I honoured my cheese cravings. Whenever I ‘needed’ pizza, I ordered one of those large New York slices.

This wasn’t a lapse; I allowed myself a gradual transition. Transformation is a process, not an instant switch. I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. So being kind to myself was important. This ensured I didn’t harbour any resentment about the changes I was making. It was about keeping my heart, mind, and body in sync with the journey.

Desserts were the toughest battleground. My lifelong sweet tooth had to bid farewell to dairy-laden Indian sweets and butter-rich international desserts. I had only two options: kaju barfi and dark chocolates. I chose the latter because my love for desserts can largely be equated to my love for chocolate.

At first, their bitterness was an acquired taste, but gradually, like a fine wine, my palate adapted. Now, these chocolates are a staple, a few squares savoured after each meal. This shift hasn’t just satisfied my dessert cravings but has also reshaped my health by adding good quality anti-oxidants and reducing my tolerance for sugar in general.

vegan food, vegan desserts options, vegan lifestyle

Shweta battled with her love for desserts while turning vegan.

The not eating part was relatively easier. The tougher bit was to figure out what to eat. Reinventing my kitchen went beyond removing meat. I had to broaden my vegetarian repertoire beyond the staple Bihari potatoes. Bangalore’s default vegan cuisine became a lifesaver. I discovered new vegetables. I learnt new recipes.  I developed a huge respect for vegetarian cooking because throwing meat in a curry was super easy. But just making a poriyal required so much more chopping and flavour balancing.

I missed the taste of my meat curries. But I realised the taste was more about the spices and flavours than the meat itself. So I adapted, creating vegan versions of prawn masala and pandi curry using alternatives like jackfruit and harder vegetables like carrot and beans. I avoid processed meat alternatives. But occasionally, I satisfy my cravings for a vegan pepperoni pizza at home.

Truth be told, the vegan versions will never taste the same. But you don’t go vegan for the taste. You go vegan in your mind first. And then you build the motivation to put in effort to unlearn years of conditioning. Because food is culture, family, celebration, and emotion. 

It is hard work. But with practice, I learnt to say no with confidence and compassion.

🌱Turning vegan may be hard but sharing this is not

Change Two: Health

Even if you aren’t thinking about it, your social circles will make you feel sick once you go vegan. They suddenly don the hats of nutritionists, asking many annoying, albeit relevant, questions about the health impact of such a huge dietary change. I had to learn more. Documentaries were my primary source of understanding.

To my surprise, I learned that animal food in my diet was strongly linked to a bunch of lifestyle diseases: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases. I learned that the WHO had classified processed meat, like my breakfast sausage, in the same category of carcinogens as cigarettes. I learned that 60-70% of antibiotics produced in the world were given to livestock, and that I had perhaps, inadvertently, built antibiotic resistance over 30 years. How did I not know these things?

I studied nutrition, learning about the importance of proteins, not just for muscle building, but for overall body function. I learned the significance of nutrients like Vitamin B12 for brain health, Vitamin D for bones, and omega fatty acids for the heart. I looked up my food choices, identifying what nutrients were abundant and what were lacking in a vegan diet.

I took hemp, tofu, and beans for their rich protein content, soaked myself in sunlight for Vitamin D, turned to mushrooms and supplements for B12, and relied on flax for omega fatty acids. The process wasn’t just about substitution; it was about the mindful reconstruction of my diet, piece by piece.

vegan , vegan lifestyle

Shweta reconstruced her diet piece by piece.

I didn’t experience any significant digestive shifts, but it’s common for others during the initial phase. As your gut biome adapts to a vegan diet, temporary discomforts like flatulence or acidity may occur. These symptoms typically subside as your body adjusts.

The health benefits of going vegan were palpable. Within months, I lost weight, and my bad cholesterol went down, thanks to more fibre in my diet. Years of constipation, which my family had me convinced was genetic, was gone. My blood sugar stabilised, and my gut got healthier. The energy boost was tangible. At 40, I’m more energetic than many of my younger friends, powering through busy workdays and dancing through the night.

Change Three: Lifestyle

Navigating social events as a vegan was initially a challenge. I didn’t find it easy to attend events, parties, or visit restaurants and find suitable food. Today, it’s easier—but still not easy.

Initially, I used to eat before parties to avoid inconvenience to the host. Sometimes, my friends asked me to ‘manage’ or fed me leftover dosa because they ‘forgot’ to get something. They couldn’t figure out what a vegan eats. I felt unwelcome and taken for granted. 

And it didn’t stop there. My diet became every dinner table’s conversation. It was mocked at and debated. So initially, I withdrew from my social circles. Over time, I realised I needed to occupy space. Why should I feel embarrassed for choosing a more conscious lifestyle? I began to see it as a host’s duty to be accommodating, just as they would for vegetarians. 

I also started throwing raging vegan brunches. Showing them how it’s just about making a few extra Google searches, same kitchen ingredients. It’s not always about finding a vegan substitute. A lot of food around the world can be vegan by just omitting or swapping. Nachos with creamy cashew sauce, rice bowls with tofu, brilliant and filling salads, cacao based desserts. Same pantry ingredients, with new recipes.

Dining out evolved too. Initially, it meant settling for the usual vegan options like Hakka Noodles. But soon, I got bored of the limited variety. That’s when I started requesting chefs to veganize dishes. It was heartening to see the willingness of some to experiment and adapt their culinary creations. 

Over time, restaurants have increasingly embraced veganism, incorporating simple swaps like using olive oil instead of butter or omitting cheese, marking vegan options clearly to having full-blown vegan menus. I am back to eating pizza every week again. I am spoilt for choice and it’s actually also healthier with coconut or cashew cheese. All this, in just 10 years. What a time to be alive!

But it wasn’t just about diet: veganism reshaped my entire lifestyle, extending far beyond my plate. It’s a commitment to reducing animal suffering in all forms. This meant rethinking my support for activities like zoos, animal exhibits, and horse races, ensuring my actions aligned with my values.

Adopting pets became a conscious choice, favouring rescue over breeders. I transitioned my four dogs to a vegan diet over time, driven by my inability to handle meat. After research, I arrived at the menu and a mix of supplements which would ensure their health is taken care of. Seven years of that diet, and they are thriving. My cat remains un-vegan and hunts for his own food at times.

Revamping my wardrobe was another significant change. Leather, silk, fur, and wool were replaced with cruelty-free alternatives. Parting with non-essential items was straightforward. I retained a few pieces like silk sarees and a leather jacket as a reminder to the journey I have taken. Since I’m not a fashionista per se, this transition wasn’t too challenging.

It is difficult to call yourself a 100% vegan because there are many things you do or consume or use unknowingly that are un-vegan. This is a constant reminder that the journey is as much about continuous learning as it is about making informed choices. For me, the goal has been to do better than what I did yesterday.

🥗It’s veganuary, take up this challenge with a friend.

How it changed me

This 10 year journey has been profoundly spiritual.  Some find spirituality and then change their food; I changed my food and became a spiritual, connected and a better human. 

I had never in my life felt that the meat I ate came from living animals. I knew it. But I hadn’t ever made the connection. After Cowspiracy, I watched ‘Dominion‘ and felt sad and angry at the same time. I almost felt lied to. I felt angry because I hadn’t ever thought of it myself.  

I connected to those animals and the universal consciousness in a very dramatic Buddha way. I considered myself to be kind and I couldn’t believe I had unknowingly contributed to that extreme injustice all my life. As many vegans eventually realise, the regret is never going vegan; it was not doing it sooner.

The scale of this crisis is staggering. Six million animals are slaughtered every hour—that’s half the human population of Bangalore. Oceans will be fishless by 2048 due to overfishing. We use approximately 1000L water to produce 1L milk. And the biggest irony is that there is enough food being produced today to meet the caloric needs of 10 billion humans, but we still have world hunger as Goal 2 in the the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Our food system is broken. We consume resources inefficiently to feed a high number of livestock. Then a small group of humans consumed this livestock while the rest went hungry. All this, while the same amount of land, with fewer resources could have produced more protein. This problem seemed too big to let it slide. Especially because the solution seemed too simple. Stop killing living beings: animals and humans. 

I unplugged from this Matrix. And I felt powerful. I felt I contributed by simply changing what’s on my plate — thrice a day. It wasn’t some misguided sense of self-adulation or over-compensating for a sacrifice. It was a statement. A stand for something greater. It deepened my connection with the universe. My food elevated my thoughts, actions & vibrations.

The thing is, you become vegan in your mind first. Then through action. Your mental resolve is the only thing which will keep you on this path. If you haven’t reconciled with the why of being vegan, you may become vegan, but will not be able to stay vegan.

But I did it. For 10 years. It was mind over matter, everyday. It took unlearning, learning and relearning. In my eyes, I have saved lives, taken better care of myself and contributed to us having a possible future, as a species. There are times when I put myself on a moral high ground, believing that the universe should be kinder to me, people should be nicer and animals should just flock to me. But none of it happens. 

Shweta’s 10 year journey in veganism has changed her life.

Eventually, I realised that reward is not in accolades or acknowledgments, but in the quiet certainty that each choice, each day, aligns with my version of good and right. I sleep better. I feel like I was here, I did something. It was hard—it is hard—but I had the strength in me to change. Truth be told, I am vegan and proud.

🌱Share this with someone who has been wanting to turn vegan.

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