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July 21, 2013

On being vegan...

I found an incomplete blog from 2009 that I wrote after concluding a vegan experiment...
One of our friends had mentioned that he ran his fastest marathon when he was vegan and was more careful about what he ate. I decided to give it an honest shot six months back as a ramp up to the Auroville half-marathon. It has been an interesting experience especially with a trip to France almost a few weeks after the decision and the Learning network conference which was in WB in the Sandesh season.

I run my fastest half marathon 2 hrs 15 mins (with possibly having got lost and missed a mile somewhere, but the official record stands :)).

I gave up being vegan when I started getting sores in my mouth and was worried that I needed to take vitamin supplements. I also felt that the sores went away if I had buttermilk and that was that.

Fast forward 2013, Ani and I have been off dairy for over a year. I'm not sure if I meant to write more in 2009, but there isn't much more to share, other than that we have been enjoying our food and now have a larger content of fruits and veggies than we did before.

This round of  veganism, primarily non-dairy diet, was prompted by an Ayurvedic doctor who advised me to get off milk to help with my frequent and lengthy bouts colds and nasal allergies.

We had also spent some time at a farm. It was not a profit making venture where animals were beaten or abused or overused and run by nice caring people. They had a cow (Lakshmi) and a calf (Kari). This made local, organic milk available to them and they took care of the cow. Kari was a good friend of Ani, he would lie down and put his massive head on Ani's lap (no serious horns yet) and let her pet him. He associated me with Shifu and unfortunately they didn't get along.

Kari needed to be tied during the day and when Kari was not tied well, he would run around and find his mother and drink the milk, and there would not be much left for the people on the farm. The calf would get to be with the mother for some time once she had been milked. Many times he was tied around where we lived and when he was tied well, he would bawl with something that sounded like 'Amma' and the cow would reply with something that sounded like 'Engay'. It would go on for sometime and it was a little surreal.

I knew that for me to get milk the calf would get less. But, I never connected it with the calf needing to be away from his mother most of the day. I also never gave thought that the calf may actually need the milk and not eat grass as soon as he/she was born. Kari would chew on a single blade of grass for an hour even when he was a couple of months old. I was even more surprised when Lakshmi stopped giving milk after 3 months. This period can vary among cows, the nati varieties can extend to 6 months and the Jersey cows 10 months. Nonetheless, I realized that for me to have milk, cows need to be repeatedly impregnated.

Some of these realizations had made me wonder if I needed milk so badly that such a complicated arrangement needs to be maintained...the possible need of supplements had made me give up being a vegan earlier. I felt that perhaps, if such a diet it lacking, its not for me.

Ani went for a workshop by Nandita Shah who explained that only vitamin B-12 is missing from the diet of vegans. Vitamin B-12 is made only by bacteria and is available in naturally occurring grass, veggies, etc. Of course we wash most of the veggies and so they do not get any vitamin B-12 from veggies. Cows and other animals consume the bacteria as part of their food and so its available in dairy, meat, etc.

We did a test to get our baseline B-12 levels and realized that we had low B-12 levels even without a vegan diet and needed to take the supplements. Given our experience and our need to take supplements irrespective of our diet, I turned vegan.

Diet is a personal choice, no statistics change because of my choice. I find this liberating. I do not need to make choices because it makes sense for the world, the world will take care of itself (or not!), I just need to make choices that take care of myself and makes sense based on what I know about the food I eat.

What I find is that generally I lack knowledge about where my food comes from, how it is made, the invisible costs, how it is processed, etc. It takes an effort to find this out, but to make an informed choice I need to take this effort.

1 comment:

Jayadeep(JDP) said...

I realized the problem of drinking another animal's milk when our daughter was born. I was reading about breastfeeding and helping my wife to breast-feed our daughter. I think it is a major mistake human beings made in our evolution. But the belief is so drilled into everyone that people can't think living without milk and off course the religious aspect to it.

So I have gone off milk for some years now though I couldn't convince my wife to not give cow's milk to our daughter, though a bout of rashes on her body forced us to stop diary consumption.

BTW, I am a non-vegetarian and not a vegan. I did think about the natural aspects of eating non-vegetarian food and came to the conclusion that it is NOT something that is unnatural. What I strive to do these days is to get a good balance.

I also did a test for B-12 and vitamins, by vitamin-D is on the border, I guess that is attributed to working inside home/office I guess. But in any case, I am convinced of our folly of drinking milk and diary products, it is surely not the right thing to do.