food, Reflections, Responsible Travel
Comments 50

Why I Turned Vegan – And What It Means for My Travel Lifestyle.

Gujarati thali, Gujarat food

I had no idea that an ordinary ‘chicken bus’ ride in Nicaragua was (sort of) going to transform my life. But that’s how it is with the road; it changes you when you least expect it.

I no longer remember what our destination was, only that the chicken bus – so called because people are crammed in like chickens – was far more crowded than usual because it was the day before New Year, and locals were heading home to the rural countryside. An old Nicaraguan lady kept her sack next to my feet, and I felt it move! When staring didn’t work, I asked her in polite Spanish to move it. Minutes later, I felt something poking my back. Much to my horror, inside were three little squeaking chicks trying to survive in a sack without a hole to breathe.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the lady got off at her stop. Clearly she had taken the ‘chicken bus’ literally.

Read: Isla de Ometepe: Where the Streets Have No Name

ometepe nicaragua, nicaragua blog, vegan travel

If only I had stuck to this mode of transport in Nicaragua!

A month or so later, while making myself an egg in my friend’s apartment, the incident came back to haunt me. I know the eggs we eat wouldn’t become chicks, but I wanted to know what eggs really were, and what conditions they came from.

Some hard-hitting facts about eggs and dairy:

(Warning: Read at your own risk)

  • Just like women have periods, hens have periods. In the wild, jungle fowl would produce eggs every 15 or so days till their nest is full, and try to hatch them. Selective breeding has led domesticated hens to increase the frequency with which they lay eggs, but they say that if the eggs weren’t taken by humans, hens would continue laying them only till their nest is full. Hens are often starved (forced molting) to increase egg production.
  • Hens lose a lot of their body calcium in these eggs, in the outer white layers we throw away. In nature, when a hen feels malnourished, it tends to eat its own eggs to refurbish its calcium.

If you’re a woman, you probably know how much energy a monthly period can sap out of you (if you’re not, ask one or take my word for it). I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to have to bear it again and again, for every day of my life.

  • If you’ve been on the road in India, you’ve probably seen a truck full of caged hens at some point. The egg industry is known to keep hens in battery cages with almost no space to stand, and sometimes even cut beaks to create more space.
  • Also, since male chicks consume a lot more food and space and don’t produce eggs, it is said that the egg industry grinds them alive by bucket loads…

So anyway, at first, I decided to only eat eggs that were cage free or certified humane, but sifting through their definitions and what companies could get away with in their labels didn’t convince me for long.

Gradually, in early 2015, I decided to stop eating eggs and egg products.

vegan nyc, vegan travel, why go vegan

Eating vegan in NYC.

But here’s the thing about reading about the egg industry – you inevitably slip into the dairy industry and more horrifying facts. Ready?

  • Just like women lactate when they have a baby, so do cows and buffaloes. The milk is meant for the kid, and the female only produces enough for the kids’ needs.
  • So how do we get so much milk from farm cows? Hormones to make them lactate artificially, for the rest of their lives. When their glands become sore, they are fed antibiotics – and as I recently heard in Gujarat, the antibiotics poison their bodies slowly, leading to the mass death of vultures who feed on their carcass.

I toyed with the idea of veganism for a while, not sure how I could live without milk, cheese, chocolates, and all the foods that contain dairy and eggs. I read blogs and watched videos, but it was meeting a college friend in Germany who had gone from being a meat eater to being vegan that tipped me over. If she could do it, surely I, a vegetarian of over 12 years, could cut out all animal products from my life.

Read: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me

vegan travel, why go vegan

Moments of introspection.

The transition from eating vegetarian to vegan 

It’s been almost 5 months since I’ve eaten dairy or eggs (or honey or ghee or any animal products)! And I’ll tell you the truth – the transition wasn’t as hard as I had thought. I’ve found substitutes for everything I cut out, I feel healthier, and well, I appreciate my food a lot more now than I did before. Believe me, I’m still a foodie.

Read: Tasting Romania: A Vegetarian’s Guide to Romanian Food

vegan sri lanka, sri lankan food, upalis colombo

Can’t have enough of these (vegan) Sri Lankan curries!

I’ve already been a vegan in 5 countries!

  • The US: New York City gets half the credit for a painless transition. At Whole Foods Market, they sells everything from vegan cheese to vegan chocolate; I’ve sampled vegan cafes that even my meat eating friends love; almost every cuisine has a vegan-friendly restaurant.
  • The Dominican Republic: Beans and rice rock! The trick to being vegan in the DR was about being creative – studying the menu, mixing and matching vegan ingredients and asking for a customized dish. I loved many a wholesome meals, especially in the mountains.
  • Trinidad and TobagoWith Creole, Caribbean and Indian influences, Trini introduced me to some exquisite flavors – dishes like Bus Ab Shut and doubles – that are traditionally meat and dairy free.
  • Gujarat, India: Traveling in India’s dairy capital without eating dairy – who would’ve thought? But once I identified buttermilk and ghee as my culprits (both feature heavily in Gujarati food), my quest became easier. My taste buds still exploded with the sweet and sour flavors of Gujarati thalis and traditional Saurashtrian recipes!
  • Sri Lanka: People in Sri Lanka were the most shocked when I said I didn’t eat animal products, yet ironically, Sri Lankan food is super easy and super delicious as a vegan; the only thing to look out for is dried Maldivian fish that some locals like to add to their vegetable curries and sambhol.

But guess what? I had the hardest time visiting my own parents in Dehradun, simply because my mom insisted I was being stupid and even slipped a bit of yoghurt in my breakfast. UGH.

Read: 5 Ways I’ve Changed to Travel More Responsibly

vegan travel, vegan traveler, vegan dominican republic, vegan caribbean

Vegan in the Caribbean and can’t complain.

But being vegan is not just about food

Being vegan is about cutting out animal cruelty from my life – and unfortunately, that goes far beyond eating animal parts. Take my Loreal shampoo for instance, a brand I’ve used (and loved, gulp): among other things, it contains silk protein, to obtain which silk worms are boiled alive. I’m still learning how to decipher labels and pick natural products that aren’t derived from animals. I’m also wondering how one draws the line… where do you stop?

Read: Turkish Food: A Vegetarian’s Delight

vegan India, why eat vegan, vegetarian to vegan

Psst… ignorance was bliss, but that boat has sailed.

What being vegan means for my travel lifestyle

Changing the way I travel: Veganism has become an important factor in how I travel. It means changing my packing habits to less clothes and more food – both vegan substitutes as well as emergency rations like energy bars. I’m pouring more research into where I stay, looking for access to a kitchen, alerting my hosts in advance, even changing plans to keep the foodie in me happy. Will I miss out on local food experiences? Maybe. But in Sri Lanka, my hostess went from being ‘stressed’ about preparing vegan food for me, to remembering her forgotten dark chocolate recipe, and deciding to experiment with vegan ice cream after I left.

Getting enough nutrition: That’s the number one concern about going vegan – but believe it or not, I’m eating much healthier than before. Now that I’m more selective about what I eat, I consciously ensure that I get my proteins and vitamins; I eat less junk food, simply because much of it has dairy or eggs; vegan substitutes for cholesterol laden things like egg yolk and cheese are made of healthy soya or almonds. I have a family history of cholesterol and my bad cholesterol was off the charts in mid 2015; 8 months later (of which 5 months I’ve been vegan), it’s back to normal.

Human-animal conflict: I know there will be conflicting times. Like when I serendipitously came across a nomadic camel-herding tribe who live deep inside the Banni Grasslands of Gujarat. With no land and no source of income, these traditional nomads rely entirely on camel milk to feed themselves and sell the remaining for not-so-much money. They don’t afford hormones, so it’s only when a calf is born that they take the milk from the lactating mother, while the calf learns to fend for itself. Save the animals, or save the tribe?

Carbon emissions: Incidentally, both The Guardian and Independent recently published pieces on the one thing that would make a real impact on climate change – going vegetarian or vegan! If everyone in the UK went vegan, they say the country’s carbon footprint would fall by a whopping 25%. I’ve been thinking about my travel footprint much lately, and I feel like going vegan has been an incidental step in the right direction.

Read: Simple Ways to Travel More Responsibly in Ladakh

Gujarat tribe, banni grasslands, nomads india

The Fakiranis, a nomadic camel-herding tribe in Gujarat.

Food for thought

After researching, and on occasion, witnessing the treatment of the majority of farm animals, I’m of the opinion that it’s better to kill a wild animal for meat than enslave it all its life for milk and eggs. As a free soul, I would pick death over life imprisonment every time.

vegan chocolates, vegan lifestyle, how to become vegan

I made these dark, nutty vegan chocolates with the recipe learnt from my Airbnb host in Sri Lanka!

The vegan debate

I think it’s time to emphasize that going vegan is a very personal choice for me – and I’m not living under any ‘making a difference’ illusion. It’s my way of choosing not to participate in animal cruelty as far as I can help it, eating healthier and incidentally lowering a bit of my enormous carbon footprint as a nomad.

Just so we are clear, I do oppose the beef ban in India for curtailing freedom of choice and expression. The people closest to me are either meat-eaters or vegetarian, and while I’d love for them to reconsider their choices, I wouldn’t impose mine.

vegan travel, why go vegan, why do people become vegan

A new era in my traveling life?

Read: 10 Life Lessons From 2 Years of Travelling

I’m sure you have questions, thoughts and opinions, and I’m always up for a well rounded argument. Bring it on. 

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50 Comments

  1. This is really a hard hitting article. Also, knowing how difficult it is to stay true to your dietary choices while traveling, I’m amazed at your perseverance! I’m not sure if you’ve already written it but I’d love to hear what you ate and where in the last 5 months.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know – maybe I should’ve started with that warning😉 I plan to write my ‘being vegan’ experiences from every country I visit. The first one’s coming soon!

      Like

  2. Nice thoughts and bold step to transform to a 100 PER CENT VEGGIE. Your ideas sounds a bit radical but the intention behind it deserves a loud applause. I would love to undergo this transformation to a complete veggie, perhaps it required a bit time, determination and commitment. Happy VEGGIE days.

    Like

    • Haha, thanks Sunil. I think it just requires a bit more conscious and planned eating – and well, fighting temptations initially. But these are hardly my ideas – some people think veganism is a trend, but there are many who’ve been living this way of life for years. Some inspiring stories out there🙂

      Like

  3. Inspiring read Shivya. Very well thought out and makes one think. Thanks for sharing.

    On Thu, Feb 4, 2016, 10:43 AM The Shooting Star wrote:

    > Shivya Nath posted: “I had no idea that an ordinary ‘chicken bus’ ride in > Nicaragua was (sort of) going to transform my life. But that’s how it is > with the road; it changes you when you least expect it. I no longer > remember what our destination was, only that the chicken b” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pratham says

    This is a wonderful step taken by you. I have been a vegan forever according to my upbringing and culture. So I never had to make a conscious effort in this regard. And hence I appreciate people who decide to go total vegan and change their lifestyle so as to avoid cruelty towards animals. Great post.

    Like

    • That’s a first to hear Pratham. Can you share more – where did you grow up and why / howcome your upbringing was vegan? Eager to hear it.

      Like

  5. Great read. But isn’t this how nature maintains its balance? Deer eats grass and lion eats deers.. Food chain? I’m all for treating animals in a humane way but animal products have always been are a source of nutrition for us, humans. (Also, they are super delicious! No amount of saag can match a plate of butter chicken :P)

    Also, by the same logic, shouldn’t we stop eating vegetables and fruits also? They also come from trees and plants which are living organisms.

    Like

  6. Sophie says

    Funny, I’d had a thought the other day about your adventures and thought I wonder if it would be difficult to be a vegan in some of the places you travel and how it would affect the way you connect with people whereby a lot of cultures are often showing their hospitality and graciousness through food and how to navigate the pull between not wanting to create separation or be disrespectful to a person who wants to share their house, their table, their food with you and to also respect the desire to eat a diet that creates less suffering. I had no
    idea you were following a vegan diet so it was interesting reading about your experiences. Thankyou for sharing.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading Sophie! To be honest, I’m still grappling with these thoughts, thinking of that balance between ‘authentic and respectful’ travel and a diet I strongly believe in. I plan to write more food stories (and that struggle) from every country I visit.

      Like

  7. Nice post!! Keep it up.
    So I see you not only like the Trini accent but also the Trini food….I’m longing for a “doubles” 😊

    Like

  8. Amit Kalsariya says

    Hey dear shivya ! It’s a really great article of you.. I like that you’ve described based on soo many scientific reasons.. being a pure vegetarian, personally I like soo much about your thoughts for vegetarian and vegan… I’ve been trying hard to become vegan from vegetarian.. I appreciate your clarification about choice of people for veg and non veg… you mentioned Gujarat in your precious post that’s really pleasure for me… I can Say that ‘Delicious and healthy’ post..

    Like

    • You know I loved my time in Gujarat, Amit! Thanks again for coming to meet me in Ahmedabad🙂 I promise it’s not hard to be vegan in Gujarat, especially when you’re eating at home. My hosts in Gir managed to find ways to replace / remove buttermilk, butter and ghee in traditional Saurashtrian recipes and it still tasted so good! Give it a try!

      Like

  9. Way to girl. Have been a vegetarian all my life so that bit is easy for me. Turned vegan for 10 days and was feeling great about it but was pregnant then and my doc scolded me into stopping my little ‘experiment ‘ as she put it. Have been thinking of going vegan after my son’s birth but breast feeding him now so not sure how it will be accepted by family. have to also admit though that the thought of no curd, no milk, no chocolates, no cheese also stops me from going vegan. But I also know since I went vegan for 10 days that it’s not that difficult, especially in Bangalore which is quite vegan friendly. Time to crossover I feel. Thanks for the nudge🙂

    Like

    • That must have been quite energy sapping for you Mansee, I can imagine. But as I’ve found out, being vegan doesn’t mean giving up on milk, chocolates and cheese. In India, you can easily get plant based alternatives – soya / almond milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B12, dark chocolate (like Lindt and amul dark chocolate), soya cheese, tofu. It takes a little getting used, but I don’t miss dairy cheese / milk anymore!

      Also check this out – https://sharan-india.org/vegan-products/ – some places in Bangalore even make vegan curd! I also stumbled upon a vegan potluck in Bangalore a while back. Discovering a whole new world😉

      Like

  10. krunal shah says

    Hi Shivya,

    Loved your article about turning into a vegan. I myself is a vegetarian and would love to spread the word about being a vegan as much as possible.

    Thanks for doing that

    PS: I too don’t want to impose my choice to anyone..it’s their choice at the end

    On Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 10:43 AM, The Shooting Star wrote:

    > Shivya Nath posted: “I had no idea that an ordinary ‘chicken bus’ ride in > Nicaragua was (sort of) going to transform my life. But that’s how it is > with the road; it changes you when you least expect it. I no longer > remember what our destination was, only that the chicken b” >

    Like

  11. I have been wanting to go vegan since quite some time but all the time some hiccups happen and I probably just end up reducing dairy than being done with it…your B12 supplement, do you have it everyday?

    Like

  12. Great article, Shivya, and good for you for making the switch. It seems like it’s been quite a smooth transition.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of going from vegetarianism to veganism, but always felt that as a long-term traveller it may be difficult. You’ve definitely given me some food for thought here, though.

    Like

  13. Shivya, while I’ve been a silent follower of your blog for years and have enjoyed reading all your stories from different corners of the world, I have not left a comment before or token of my appreciation for reasons unknown.
    This post really triggered something in me and my admiration for you has increased manifold; I just felt compelled to respond.
    Good on you for your journey towards veganism and so glad it’s going well for you.

    I’m personally constantly conflicted between taking a stand against animal cruelty and providing gratification to my tastebuds, that after years of being indulged in all forms of dairy and meat products, are quite a bit spoilt!

    If nothing else, your post triggered an impulse in me to at least give it a go. I’m not the most wilful person in the world, and I’ve never even managed to be vegetarian for any lengthy period of time (except the forced abstinence that the Bird Flu threat caused years ago), but I’m feeling like encouraged to atleast try!

    Like

  14. Vidisha says

    Well-written Shivya. Am a vegetarian and married to someone who follows strict Jain diet. Many a times we come across people who ridicule and fail to understand the rationale behind our food choices. Your thought on animal cruelty is bang-on, something we always feel but not able to express correctly. Will definitely share your post, hope it encourages a conversion.

    “As a free soul, I would pick death over life imprisonment every time” 🙂 Who wouldn’t agree to that !

    Like

  15. Congrats and hats off on making the shift! I’m still a dairy lover and am finding it difficult to make that transition but some day soon hopefully. This is inspiring, thanks🙂

    Like

  16. I keep going from no-meat phase back to meat eating. Have done it twice so far. The longest I could keep up was 8 months.
    But I have definitely done a lot of research on cruelty free cosmetic products. There are a lot of Indian brands lately. I did this mainly for my testing lab rescued beagle (read at http://thisandthatifancy.com/2013/04/23/a-new-leash-of-life/). But yes, there are available flying bunny crossed products.
    Checkout http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/10-go-brands-cruelty-free-skin-care-products-india/.
    I recommend rustic art and my all time favorite lotus. While there are still chemicals in these, they are cruelty free.
    On the food note, did you notice any changes in your health pattern or energy levels after you went vegan?

    Like

  17. Srinivas says

    Very thought provoking article. I started searching for a good travel blog and ended up here. Being a vegetarian and residing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (past 3 years), I know how much struggle it is to maintain vegetarian lifestyle out of India. This article left me with a serious dilemma on my dairy product use, which was never a contentious issue within me, though I stopped eating eggs long back. I appreciate your perseverance in maintaining the vegan lifestyle even while you travel abroad and inspiring more people into such zen lifestyle. Keep inspiring…

    Like

  18. Nice article..I like the part where you talk about how hens eat their eggs.Did not know that! Well your articles are full of surprises Shivya. Thanks for a great write up again…..I have been visiting your blog but commenting for the first time.

    Like

  19. Its very inspiring to hear a travellor speak about choosing veganism. I particularly resonate with all your thoughts and why you made this choice. Great going!! You could help a lot of vegan travellers.🙂 Those chocolates look yum. Would love to have the recipe.

    Like

  20. reachlife360degrees says

    Wow ! I have been contemplating with the idea of turning vegan myself, not for the reasons stated in your article ofcourse. But this is an eye opener. This is my first time on your blog, will definitely follow you.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Erica says

    Welcome to the yummy world of vegan. I’m so gald you wrote about this because as I read your blogs over time, I thought about how I’m vegan and the research and planning I do when I travel related to feeding myself. I try to not make it a big deal, but I do pack extras in case I can’t get to a health food store or find a restaurant that has vegan food right away…or if I’m just too tired from traveling and want to stay in my room to rest. Fortunately, vegan is becoming known throughout the world and people are supportive when I tell them I am vegan. I wondered if I could travel like you, as far and wide as you do being vegan, but it’s nice to see you are doing it fine. Once I became vegan my awareness of different types of food and all the yummy things out there increased tenfold; it’s an ongoing and fun discovery process as vegan becomes more and more mainstream. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  22. Kartik Aruda says

    Hi Shivya,

    Thanks for such a lovely read. The strength behind the write up is clearly visible and felt. You have taken lot of effort and sensitivity to communicate the same at a very subtle level with all the violence that we are living in.

    Thanks,

    Kartik

    Like

  23. Nice article ! I have been a veggie all my life (upbringing) and have kinda never thought about that. My time in the US made me think about food choices, organic / inorganic farming etc. While I wouldn’t claim to have converted to a vegan or anything of that sort, I try to be a little more conscious of my decisions about what I eat. Maybe one day make me cut down my carbon footprint further.

    And, please share the recipe of the dark, nutty dark chocolate recipe learnt from your Sri Lankan host🙂 Thanks !

    Like

  24. Thankfully you have used the term Vegan, a term that is still new in India. Most foreigners do not realise that in India, owing to culturally embedded eating practices, Vegetarianism is a norm but not Veganism.

    Like

  25. Shivya..you beautifully wrote the story of my life in the last 4 months!! Admire your compassion for these innocent souls..I totally agree to ur point that life long suffering is worse than death…so just want to share that u may want to hence avoid products tested on animals too ( loreal, Mac, everything from unilever,p&g etc). I cant fathom anything more cruel than animal testing😦 You’ll find tons of amazing cruelty free choices ( colorbar, chambor, faces, himalya etc) on Peta’s and Leaping Bunny’s site..
    As for me, I do take animal products in medicines and basically situations when its ‘do or die’. Last week I went to a conference where not a single thing was vegan..I had nothing for breakfast, and by lunch my tummy was growling..this was a 5 star, at least 3km from the main city, and my leg was recovering from a ligament tear which prevented too much movement. The only option was the nearest in-house restaurant where even the starters were above INR 1000..I hate these grey situations😦 I ultimately ate the non-vegan food..and the guilt really bothered me..wondering what u would do in such a scenario, which typically crops at least once a month!😦 I would also advise u to watch the second story in the movie ‘the ship of theseus’ which shows the exact predicament a compassionate brahmin faces in this situation

    Like

  26. thenomadicvegan says

    Congratulations on adopting this compassionate, healthy and delicious vegan lifestyle! I really enjoyed reading about your transformation, and it’s clear from the comments that your story has touched many people. Thanks so much for sharing it! I personally enjoy travel even more as a vegan than I did before. And for that matter, I enjoy food much more now too!

    Like

  27. Swarnali Mondal says

    Sometimes i get this feeling your stories are put in front of me by that universe conspiracy we speak about. Everything i think of doing but don’t know the way yet. Voila! You have done it. And there is a way.

    Like

  28. Laudable effort.Though I amm a vegetarian,never could think of going vegan. Your concerns about animal cruelty is valid. Kudos to you for your self determination.

    Like

  29. Pingback: Week in Review {Pics + Links} - Kimberly Wilson

  30. I was born and raised as a vegetarian and started eating meat about a decade ago. I can easily give up eating meat and eggs as I only Eat it once in a blue moon, But it’s really hard for me to give up curd, butter, ghee, milk, cheese, ice cream, cakes , chocolates. I tried my best substituting soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and vegetable /sesame oil or coconut oil in place of butter/ghee. I’ve replaced a huge chuck of my consumption with these alternatives like 60-70%of vegan option and only 30-40%dairy) but I’m not able to completely give it up.😦

    Like

  31. Prachi bansal says

    So going vegan means you dont eat any bakery products as well? As they all contain eggs. Yes there are eggless bakery option but with you travelling all the time, different countries and inner parts of them.

    Like

  32. Ankita says

    Brilliant article Shivya! I’ve never even considered the idea of giving up non-vegetarian food even though I don’t eat it on a daily basis. But this inspires me to start with a no dairy diet for a start. Baby steps…🙂

    Like

  33. Applauds for your brave attempt at being vegan and summing up all the facts of the dairy and egg industry. I saw a video couple days back about the whole process and it was shitty as hell. Although I ain’t a vegan but I have Hypo Thyroid for last 4 years, and I read somewhere these added hormones in eggs or dairy are not good. So I don’t have milk, I rarely have eggs or chicken. I tried to substitute milk with almond milk but store sold almond milk has lot of chemicals including the whole food ones.I am still battling with the food sold in US under numerous labels, atleast in India we didn’t had a lot of choice, here the choices are so much, that it confuses at time. So when I get Tuna to eat sometimes, I have to literally check all the ingredients in it. Most of them have preservatives or chemicals added. The natural ones have less chemicals, the normal ones have more.. I can’t give up on chocolates, I try to eat them less than before. But claps for being vegan🙂

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