Anuradha Sawhney, India’s best advocate of veganism speaks about her interesting journey
Anuradha Sawhney has been the country head for PETA India for over 9 years. She has been ranked amongst the 50 most influential women by Femina magazine for her work for animals. She has won many awards for her work, including the Women of the Future Award, Karamveer Puruskar, Lifetime Achievement Award, Founders Award amongst others. She has been profiled in leading publications and magazines in India for the work she did for animals. Articles written by her have been published nationally and internationally and she has regularly appeared on foreign as well as Indian television and radio channels debating the rights of animals.
During her tenure at PETA India, Anuradha facilitated the rescue of numerous lions and tigers from circuses, monkeys and bears from road side ‘madaris’, monkeys used in laboratories, captive birds, ducks, camels, elephants, horses amongst other animals.
After retiring from PETA India, Anuradha chose to continue to help animals using the power of food. Anuradha is the author of a vegan cookbook called ‘The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!’ which contains vegan recipes from top celebrities.
Anuradha’s book was launched by His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan in Delhi and by a host of Bollywood celebrities in Mumbai. The ex Indian Ambassador to Russia, His Excellency Mr Ajai Malhotra launched her book in Moscow. Anuradha runs Pune’s longest running and first 100% vegan food business under the name Back to the Basics. She has launched the best vegan cheese out of India under her brand Bombay Cheese Company and owns a vegan Indian mithai brand called Hari Prasad Mithai Wale.
The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style! by Anuradha Sawhney
How long have you adopted a vegan diet? What was the reason behind it? What are the awareness levels in India these days as far as adopting a vegan diet goes?
I turned vegan on 21st August 2000, 20 years back, the day I joined PETA India. I learnt about the cruelty that animals suffer in many areas, but mainly in the area of food. They are killed in front of each other, they are forced to walk the march of death even with broken legs (if animals fall to the ground out of exhaustion the men driving them to their death break their tail bones till they stumble up with pain and start moving again), they are kept hungry and thirsty till they are killed, mothers and babies are separated regardless of the anguish caused by this to both, animals are often half killed and left to bleed to death, they are stuffed into tiny spaces where they cannot even sit upright forget stand upright and so on. All because people want to eat flesh.
Fortunately people are now more aware of the cruelty in this sector and are turning vegan especially the youngsters.
What are the limitations if any of a vegan diet? Is India ready for vegan cooking?
There are no limitations at all of a vegan diet. In fact I often challenge non vegans and tell them I can prepare vegan versions of their non vegan dishes including. The trick is to think out of the box. Put conventional cooking aside and let your creativity free reign. For those who eat Indian food, it is very easy to turn vegan. Just avoid paneer, ghee, butter and curd. In today’s market there are so many non dairy alternatives of dairy products; you don’t even feel you are missing out on any food. We get non dairy ghee, soya paneer (soya is the best form of vegetarian protein), non dairy cheese and butter and even meat analogues. What more do we need to just eat more kindly?
What exactly is vegan consultation and how do you go about it? Are there many takers for this service these days?
Vegan consultations are at 2 levels… I consult with individuals and help them turn vegan. I help them plan their daily menus, explain how they can get their vitamins and teach them vegan cooking if they want.
The other type of consultation I do is for people who want to open vegan restaurants. I guide them from start to finish in most cases, which includes menu making, sourcing of staff to training the staff in the making of the menu, best practices in their kitchen, Indian hacks for foreign expensive food items, where to buy wholesale items and more. I have consulted with the vegan cafe in Hyderabad and in London (in both cases their chefs came down to Pune, yes even from London, and I trained them in their chosen menu). I have helped set up the vegan cafes in Pune, Shirdi and one of the Mumbai cafes from scratch. The number of people who want to start vegan cafes is increasing.
Please tell me about your online vegan workshops if any, how is it convenient especially in these times?
Online workshops are a great idea right now though personally I feel that nothing beats the experience of actually making the food yourself, as people do at my workshops.
Do you plan to open more branches in the country? Your website says currently you operate from Pune in India.
I have been approached by many people from all over the country to open branches in different cities. Let’s see, it’s an idea that I am toying with.
What is the secret of a good vegan kitchen?
All products used should be wholegrain and locally sourced.
What about the suppliers, are there enough in India currently and easily accessible?
One can buy wholesome wholegrain food everywhere. And fruits and vegetables are available everywhere too. There is no need to use processed ingredients when so much good quality food can be made using simple everyday ingredients.
How can restaurants/ hotels/ cooks… communicate the approach of veganism to others?
The best way is to ensure that they cater to the taste buds of their clients. If the food is good, people will keep coming and will also spread the word to their friends and family.
What are the challenges for chefs/restaurants with an increasing demand for vegetarian or vegan menus?
The main challenge for chefs and restaurants is to know how to make substitutions to make a dish vegan. And it’s important for them to have vegan ingredients handy so they can service their vegan clients too.
Tell us about your two most popular vegan preparations.
My vegan cakes are very popular amongst my Pune clientele. And so are my vegan quiches.
How does it help local farmers/suppliers?
Using ingredients that are grown by local farmers and ingredients that are native to the area one is based out of, is the healthiest step one can take in these times. Not only is there less chances of the food having been sprayed with heavy loads of chemicals to keep it fresh if its traveling from far away, but one gets fresher food with a smaller carbon footprint.
Please tell us about your book The Vegan Kitchen.
The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style! is a compilation of vegan recipes from Bollywood celebrities, celebrities who I had worked with during my time in PETA India. Celebrities like Sonakshi Sinha, John Abraham, Rahul Khanna, Vidya Balan, Hema Malini, Sonam Kapoor and
top fashion designers Hemant Trevedi and Anita Dongre are just a few of the contributors to my book. There are forewords from top international doctors who explain how a vegan diet can help reverse heart disease and diabetes (both of which are so rampant in India). Also a top fitness expert talks about the importance of a vegan diet in keeping fit.
Your plans for the future?
For the last 2 years I have been working on making a vegan cheese which not only tastes like it’s dairy cousin but behaves like it. I’m happy to say I achieved that and launched my vegan cheese brand Bombay Cheese Company last year. The responses have been excellent and I received PETA’s vegan food award for my cheddar version. My plan is to make this available around the country. I also recently took over the vegan Indian mithai brand Hari Prasad Mithai Wale. This year I would like to make it more mainstream.