I start my day with a cup of coffee, (or tea as most Indians would prefer) reading the newspapers where celebrities boast about the improvement in their health ever since they had adopted vegan diets. My phone buzzes with a reminder from my dermatologist asking me to reduce my dairy intake in order to tackle the lactose intolerant hormones that my body produces. Being an environmental science student, I am well aware of the correlation between the increasing green house gas effect and the dairy industry, yet turning vegan has not been an easy journey. It comes with many obstacles, including unavailability of alternative food products and absurdly high prices when found. This essentially raises the question of how a consumer can turn vegan when the food industry itself has not?
Even though veganism is not a concept that is widely understood and adapted in India, more and more individuals can be seen drifting towards it. This is due to many reasons. Consumers today wish to make choices that leave a healthy footprint on their bodies and the planet. With the prolonging climate crisis and awareness regarding animal cruelty, veganism stands underneath a spotlight. One may think that a vegetarian oriented country like India would have no problem in making this shift but that has certainly not been the case. India’s vegan market broadly emerges from two sectors- cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi etc. that motivate an eco-conscious environment, and areas with yoga and meditation centers such as Goa and Dharamshala.
The largest obstacle preventing India’s food market from turning vegan is dairy. India is the largest producer of milk contributing to 19% of the world’s total milk production. This number can be traced to religious sentiments that milk holds for a majority of the people living here. Its consumption starts right from most Indians’ childhoods and stretches beyond their diets. Milk and ghee (clarified butter) are often used to perform religious ceremonies and cultural traditions. This has been followed up from the Ayurveda diet recommendations and Indian mythological tales of Lord Krishna and his love for cows.
This also happens to be the reason why despite the beef ban imposed in 2017, India is still the largest exporter of beef in the world. The Hindu majority’s vegetarianism in this country sprouts from more of a religious than an ethical stance.Plant based meat producers have claimed that it’s easier to convince non-vegetarians to eat ‘mock meat’ – a word that often puts a vegetarian off. Once again portraying how habitual the population is in practicing its religion rather than following up on the principles that underline the religion. In an interview, co-founder of VeganBites (vegan lunch providers), Samir Pasad talks about innocuous branding. He explains- “If we say vegan ice-creams, it is limiting because people immediately think it will not taste good.” In fact, on surveying his customer base, Samir found only 10 percent of them to be purely vegan.
Several entrepreneurs emerging from this genre, predict capitalising on this business in the long run. Even though the market for vegan food is large and growing, it is highly restricting in terms of where its growth lies. Currently, only the rich and the very choosy have the liberty of opting for this food. The market eliminates even that small section of vegans who lie outside of this bracket and want to convert to veganism for ethical reasons. This creates a cycle where the food industry does not turn vegan friendly making it difficult for many consumers to turn vegan. This independent industry now needs an external stimulus to provide an escape route from this cyclic process. Introducing government policies such as subsidies to vegan food productions and taxes to food industries with a high carbon print would help in bringing the cost of production down and making the market more inclusive.
Vanshika Mittal is a student of Economics and Environmental Science and is currently enrolled in Ashoka University as an undergraduate student.