Dec 03 2020. views 1016
With increasing numbers of people becoming more aware of their diet and lifestyle, veganism as a way of life is being embraced especially among millennials. Internationally experts predict that by 2026 the global vegan food market would be worth $24.3bn. In Sri Lanka too the vegan community is increasing daily and veganism is gaining momentum.
The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. One thing all vegans have in common is a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish and insects), dairy, eggs and honey - as well as products like leather and any tested on animals.”
The roots of veganism can be traced back to the time of gladiators where ancient Roman texts mention that the first athletes on a strict plant-based diet were gladiators. Roman fighters adhered to gladiatoriam saginam which was based on plant foods and included large amounts of legumes, pulses and grains and contained hardly any animal protein. In the modern world, the traces of veganism can be attributed to British doctor William Lambe and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley who in the 19th century was the first to air in public their opinions on not consuming dairy and eggs for ethical reasons. This is said to be the start of the “non-dairy vegetarians” as the term veganism had not yet been coined.
In Sri Lanka, the vegan community is spread across various strata of society. Many are active on social media sharing recipes and intelligence when a new vegan store or a vegan product hits the market. Stefan Andre Joachim describes himself as a vegan but occasionally a vegetarian. He has been a vegan for 8 years and became a vegan as he chose life over death.
Having converted to veganism, Stefan claims that he has noticed a change in his health as his breathing pattern has completely changed. At social events, Stefan manages by picking around what is available and to those who question him about the vegan concept he does not mince his words when he says “I tell them that the lips of their mouths are no different to the gates of a cemetery and their fridges are an inhouse mortuary and once they figure that out I’ll explain the rest.”
Arguably Sri Lanka’s most high profile vegan is Chistina Sirisena whose Instagram profile bears testimony to her vegan lifestyle which she marries with a rigorous fitness regimen. Christina became a vegan when she accepted a challenge and at the end of the three-week challenge she says “I felt so much better and never looked back. For me personally, it was super to go vegan. Once I watched the documentaries on what the meat and dairy industry does to the environment and our bodies, it was a no brainer.”
Commenting on the health benefits she has experienced, Christina adds “mentally you feel so much better, you are not eating another living being. Health-wise it’s easy to stay fit, I hardly ever fall sick, more energy.” Christina’s favourite vegan food is rice and curry. “People don’t realise a majority of Sri Lankan food is vegan!” she quips.
“In Sri Lanka, if I do go out to eat I choose Seed Cafe, any Chinese or Thai restaurants and a lot of great vegan cafes down south.” A healthy role model for veganism, Christina says that the pitfalls of being a vegan is “arguing with non-vegans when they do not want to know or hear about the reality.”
Noticing a gap in the market for vegan products, Ina Wheleit Perera, a committed vegan for the past 25 years started Soul Food which sells a selection of vegan food. Ina who also works as a model credits her shift to veganism with having more energy and better hair and skin. The only fact that irks Ina is that she has to read all the labels when she buys food to ensure that the product is completely vegan.
Kanchana Perera Kern became a vegan after having watched numerous documentaries and reading up on the impact of animal husbandry on the planet and the socio-economic disparities of nutrition and health. She says “I didn’t go cold turkey. I had my blinds on sometimes deliberately. But something snapped inside me towards the latter part of 2015 and I started watching documentaries such as Cowspiracy, What the Health and Forks over Knives on Netflix, which changed my perception.” Commenting on the vegan foodscape in Sri Lanka, Kanchana opines that there should be subsidies for people who make nut milk, tofu and other vegan products. Considering we have a drive now towards ‘locally produced’ this is a great opportunity. Also, restaurants should have more innovative menus as plant-based food does not have to be boring."
Speaking on those who have experienced the taste of meat and have made the change to veganism but still miss it, there are substitute produces like soya, variants of tofu etc. Having done her research, Kanchana says “ the Supersun brand which is local has an amazing product range. Arpico too has started some precooked meatlike products which are quite yummy.” When she does eat out, Kanchana recommends “Smokies brownie bar, The Vegan Boralassgamuwa, Vov café and The vegan kitchen by Sulo. Home bakers such as Cinner and evolved meat, The crusty bar and Hash Deli too have some amazing vegan products.”
For Kanchana since turning vegan her health has improved vastly. “One of the plus points is that I have experienced less bloating. We are not meant to be drinking milk as adults so quite a percentage of the population walks around with lactose intolerance as if it's normal. It is not” she adds.
For Chinthi Suranimala becoming a vegan happened after watching a friend post videos of animal suffering during farming. Having initially unfollowed her on social media, Chinthi started watching the video and became more curious and initially became a vegetarian before turning vegan. Having been a vegan for the last six years, Chinithi laments that she misses Mrs G’s chocolate meringue cakes! Speaking on some of the restaurants that offer good vegan options she recommends The Vegan Kitchen by Sulo, The Vegan, Asylum and Dolce Italia. Away from the city, she gives her thumbs up to Kola and Angel Beach which have great menus for vegans. Chinthi has experienced multiple health benefits since becoming a vegan. “My cholesterol levels are much less than before and blood pressure has reduced too. I’ve also managed to keep the weight I lost off".
Having spent 28 years as a vegetarian, two years ago Darshi Keerthisena finally gave up milk and honey to become a fully-fledged vegan. Her husband and child are ovo-lacto vegetarians, which means they eat egg and milk products. Darshi says she feels much happier since she adapted to veganism.
Judging by the increasing shift in lifestyle towards veganism, it seems apt that more enterprising entrepreneurs should explore the possibilities of creating a better and varied range of vegan products for the increasing numbers of people who are turning to veganism in Sri Lanka.