The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Becoming Vegan in an Evidently Non-Vegan Community

Posted on April 16, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Navaal Mahdi

The average Pakistani diet is conveniently full of vegetables and lentils, so you would think that it wouldn’t be difficult for a Pakistani to cut out meat completely and make a significant diet change. The only thing that prevents many from doing so is the fact that many traditional Pakistani dishes contain some animal products. Actually, the biggest culprit is butter, and many Pakistanis seem to think that it–as well as other dairy products–are essential to make the food tasty. This is undoubtedly far from the truth, though.

When I decided to go vegan, it was ultimately a spur of the moment decision. I researched the meaning and lifestyle for almost a whole year; however, growing up in a house where dairy products were a part of almost every meal made me nervous to become vegan. For the longest time, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to eat the gourmet-quality dishes my mom had always made and that I had grown accustomed to. However, after checking numerous recipes, I realized that most foods my mom made were already vegan, and those that weren’t could easily be made vegan by skipping a step. In reality, sometimes it’s just a matter of adding olive oil instead of butter, and the dish is vegan. Knowing this made it easier for me to be content with the decision to go vegan, so I was able to cut out all animal products immediately.

When it comes to eating at parties and community gatherings, I make sure to eat a meal before I head out because I can’t expect to find too much that I can eat at these events. Most of the time, there are plain salads and vegetable-based dishes that I can eat, so luckily I’m not left to starve on the days I don’t eat beforehand. But the problem really isn’t the food; most of the time, it’s the questions, comments, and looks I get from people.

Though we shouldn’t have to explain ourselves, having a lifestyle so different from the majority of our peers means we definitely have to be willing to give them some answers when they notice what we aren’t eating. In the Pakistani community that I’m familiar with, it’s usually only the older people who don’t take me as seriously as the others do when it comes to my choice to be vegan. In this case though, it’s important to remember that most people who have lived the same lifestyle forever will naturally find it hard to comprehend the way you live. In the beginning, it’s essential to stay true to your beliefs and to not let anyone’s words get to you; if your beliefs in vegan principles are strong, then nothing will be able to change your decision.

As daunting as the task of becoming a vegan seems in a community that generally uses animal products in all food (which is arguably the most important aspect of its culture), it’s not as difficult as you might try to make yourself believe it is. If you’re willing to put up with some curious people–which will be no problem if you’re passionate about the cause–and if you’re willing to get creative with your meals, then don’t put it off because it’s not conventional in your community. Just remember that you’re making a positive change in the world, and eating as well as you do will make you feel great while you’re doing it, too.

Navaal Mahdi wrote this piece while doing an internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.

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