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Vegan | Veggie and Vocal (Sub-story) | “You don’t look vegetarian…”

Logo for VegPlanet magazineThis piece is for VegPlanet, the new quarterly premier lifestyle magazine for vegetarian, vegan and veg-curious folk. This is the sub-story to (within) the cover story in the launch issue.

 You may read the cover story here: Cover story to this piece

“Don’t plants have life”, “Where do you get your proteins from”, “We will put chicken in your food, you won’t even know it”, and other things veggie millennials are tired of hearing…

“If we don’t eat animals, animals will take over this world.” – Altab, Kolkata

“If carnivores can kill their prey, then…” – Arundhati, Mumbai

Trust you me, I have converted many staunch vegetarians to non-vegetarians in my life…” – Deepan, Chennai / Bangalore

“Don’t you miss bacon?” (No, I don’t.) – Anne, Philippines

“But you’re an American… Why would you want to give up non-veg?” – Shevon, Mumbai

“So, what about fish?” – Erika, Mumbai

“How could you give it up? Is this forever??” – Kadambari, Chennai

“Plants have life and water is a fish’s home. A vegan should not have these both.” – Rahul, Mumbai

“God made these animals so that we can eat them…” – Lavanya, Chennai

This is epic: “You don’t look vegetarian…” – Vrushali, Mumbai

Brinda, Mumbai, has heard – and given back – a lot worse. Unfortunately, we had to exclude it for reasons of language. Her language, that is.

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Cover pic for this piece, a collage of all the respondents with the piece title and sub-head

Vegan | Veggie and Vocal (Main Story)

Logo for VegPlanet magazineThis piece is for VegPlanet, the new quarterly premier lifestyle magazine for vegetarian, vegan and veg-curious folk. This is the cover story for the launch issue.

Veggie millennials wear their animal love inside and outside, and wish others could do so too. Irfan Syed spoke with several of these new-age free thinkers and doers, and found that while it’s never easy, they won’t – or can’t – have it any other way

Kolkata-based vegan activist Altab Hossain holding a poster on animal welfare during one of his outreach events

Altab during one of his outreach events

Altab Hossain, Kolkata-based interior decorator, animal activist and vegan, dreams of ‘animal liberation’ by 2030. That’s barely 14 years from now. Altab is presently 28. In 14 years, he’ll be 42, the same age as this writer presently. To this writer, a non-millennial, though vegan and animal-lover himself, that may seem more a pipe dream. But not to veggie millennials such as Altab, who believe that anything is attainable, as long as you want it from the heart. So much so that they even wear it on their sleeve. Altab is a relentless campaigner on social media as well as in the real world. He even has a poster on his furniture company’s office door, urging visitors to not hurt animals. Other veggie millennials wear it closer to the skin. A fairly viral FB post bears a pic of a girl’s wrist with the following text tattooed: ‘Until every cage is empty’. But that’s the millennial mindset for you: empathetic, exuberant, expectant.

Now, who exactly are millennials? As the name indicates, they are folk who came into adulthood in the new millennium, so those born between 1980 and 2000, the oldest being on the younger side of 40. Psychographically, they are folk with a ‘refreshing mindset’, free of ways of thinking and living that are too ‘set’ with their seniors. Especially when it comes to animal welfare – or liberation, as Altab would say – and living a life with compassion for all.

We spoke with several such millennials – vegetarian, vegan and veg-curious (non-vegetarian folk who are curious / interested in vegetarianism) – from India, abroad and in-between (Indians living abroad as well as foreigners married to Indians and now living in India), to understand what it means to lead an animal-compassionate life, why it’s important to them, and how they deal with reactions to such a considerate way of living.

For sentient beings… and for well-being

Straight off, why veggie? The answers might seem like the usual suspects in categorization – love for animals, care for the environment, health concerns, spiritual leanings – but when you listen in on individual responses, they scintillate. And perhaps even inspire.

Anne with one of her nine doggie friends

Anne Camille Guevarra of Philippines holding one of her nine doggie friends

Anne Camille Guevarra, a pre-med student and aspiring writer based in Manila, Philippines, where “veganism is considered a taboo” (why, even veg dishes have tiny pieces of meat in them, she exasperates), one day clicked a link to what she thought would be yet another funny animal video. What she watched though proved to be life-changing. The video, now quite famous, shows a cow running from a slaughterhouse, determined not to be a menu item. Roused by his desire to live, witnesses and others who followed the story urged for him to be housed in a sanctuary, where he, now named Freddie, spends his time eating and ambling around with other cows, safe in the knowledge that they can finally lead a free life. That night, beef was on Anne’s family’s menu. Anne got thinking, ‘This is another cow that wanted to live.’ She stopped consuming meat that day on. Eggs, dairy and leather followed four days later. Anne has now been vegan for 1½ years.

Kamaldeep Singh of Kanpur with Ginger, a street puppy he met on a holiday in Manali

Kamaldeep with Ginger, a sweet little pup he met on a holiday

With Kamaldeep Singh, a practising CA in Kanpur, the realisation and change was more slow and experiential. Although “concern for animals was brewing within for some time”, it got a kick-start when he watched Hachiko, the heart-wrenching movie of a dog who keeps waiting for his human companion at the latter’s disembarking station long after he has died – nine years, to be precise. Like most others who’ve watched it, Kamaldeep was moved to tears by the end. He started volunteering at People for Animals (PFA) in his city. An occasional meat-eater until then, he gave it up soon after. Eggs, which had formed a massive part of his diet, exited next. One day, others brought in an injured cow at the centre. By experience, volunteers felt she wouldn’t survive for long. Then, someone informed of a calf roaming nearby. They brought in the calf too. Turns out, they were mother and child. Mom and calf cried on being re-united. But a few days later, the mother passed away. Seeing “the cruel effects of the dairy industry” at close quarters (the debilitated and weak animals seemed to have been abandoned by a dairy farmer), Kamaldeep resolved to turn vegan. He decided to do so on an apt date: October 2, birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who held that ‘the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’. Perhaps to continue the symbolism, Kamaldeep also responded to his email interview in green text.

While she may not have helped animals directly, Shevon Bhattacharya, an American science teacher married to an Indian and living in Mumbai, has worked with animals as a scientist. In her university days, she would use live rats for experiments, but slowly realized that just like dogs and cats, animals who everyone finds easy to love, rats too are sensitive beings. She turned vegetarian, no, not in India, but in the US of A itself. However, she is happier to be veg here due to the variety of options available. Plus, she’s lost a good deal of weight since ‘going green’. She was never too hot about meat, and giving it up has led her to adding more vegetables and fruits in her diet, which anyway is a good thing, she cheerfully adds.

Like Shevon, there are others who share that while being healthy wasn’t the main reason to go veggie, it’s a great ‘side effect’ to have. Rahul Gala, a procurement professional in Mumbai, too is great shape since turning vegan four years ago; among other things, he doesn’t have a bloated stomach anymore. Jaan Adam, born and brought up in Chennai but living in Australia after her marriage, and the lone veg-curious person we spoke with, relishes that thinking more vegetarian helps her get more greens and fruits – with their accompanying beneficial vitamins and minerals – into her family’s diet. She is keen that her kids have more of a plant diet even in the Western Australian country town where she currently lives, where it’s difficult to find veg food outside.

For Erika and Rica, though, the reason was primarily health. Erika Bhatia, Belgian by birth but living in Mumbai for the past three years with her pilot husband and a student pilot herself, has been vegetarian for 20 years, after she was diagnosed with celiac disease at the age of six. Celiac is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the intake of gluten leads to damage of the small intestine. It needed her to adopt a largely plant-based diet. However, even at four, she was grossed out one night when a piece of bone got stuck in her throat while having ham. Erika has been very healthy since turning veg, and as these things go, has proved to be quite an animal lover too: she is a proud doggie mom of 1½ year-old Lab, Piper.

A couple of years ago, Rica Donabelle Umayan, a fourth-year BS Psychology student in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, started restricting her diet, among other reasons, to lose weight. (In the past, she has also had an undiagnosed medical condition.) Over time, she saw that she was consuming only five foods: bread, apple, raisins, peanut butter and bananas. Her “boring” diet led her to research on more foods she could have and enjoy, leading her eventually to Dr Michael Greger’s Nutrition Facts site. Dr Greger is a renowned nutritionist and a zealous advocate of a plant-based diet. On the site, Rica came to know of the benefits of such a diet and the many foods she could enjoy therein. Vegan for 1½ years now, the best part, she feels, is how it led her to also caring about animals and the environment (thanks to all the reading and viewing she did). No, the really best part, she adds, is starting her own vegan dessert store, Ethical Munch, where she places PETA fliers for interested folk. Outside, she often wears T-shirts with animal compassion messages. Now, what did we say earlier about veggie millennials wearing their animal love on their sleeves?

For the animals, against the world

Deciding to go veggie is one thing, living that decision quite another. And no, the challenge, as one would suppose, is not the seeming lack of food options available; veggie folk are quite happy to survive on salad when nothing else is available, such as when they travel abroad. The first, and biggest, wall is reactions of people around them, from immediate family and relatives to friends and colleagues, and even to random ‘well-wishers’.

Vegetarian Lavanya Ratha with her infant son

Lavanya has to fend many annoying questions, around her son and herself

Shevon’s parents back in America were initially hurt by her decision to go veg, as she would no longer be eating what they cooked. Also, they weren’t sure what to serve her. Slowly though, like most of these stories seem to go, they came around and began preparing veg dishes for her. Things are better in India and with her in-laws. Although her husband and his family are all non-vegetarian, they haven’t forced her to go back to meat-eating. Lavanya Ratha, born and brought up in Mumbai but presently a Chennai resident, married the same way: her husband and in-laws like their meat. However, it’s not them she faces resistance from; it’s everyone else around. She’s had to face questions ranging from “Then, why did you marry a meat-eater?” (as if food preference is the only reason for love and marriage, she retorts) to “What will you feed your kid?” (she’s miffed that they’d think he’d automatically grow up liking meat just because his father does so). Tired of the constant volleys, her response is categorical: “Just like my religion, my loans and my problems, this is none of their business.”

Altab, of the animal-liberation-by-2030 goal, perhaps had it the hardest. His family isn’t just staunchly religious, but also relishes having meat twice a day. They also stay in a predominantly Muslim area of Kolkata. So, Altab was up against a trifecta. When he informed his family of his decision to go vegan, they first tried to dissuade him, citing reasons of religion and health. Finding his resolve steely, they refused to cook vegan food for him. As a result, he often had to sleep hungry. Family, friends, neighbours alike called him crazy, stupid, unreasonable. But Altab refused to budge. Slowly, seeing how determined he was, his family gave in and started making some vegan meals for him. In the meantime, Altab learned to cook for himself – like any self-respecting vegan, no doubt – and today makes a very mean vegan biryani. Well, maybe his liberation dream isn’t really that far away then.

Brinda Poojary of Mumbai holding aloft a poster for animal welfare during a march

Brinda during one of her animal marches

While it’s great joy to see your close ones accepting your decision and taking care to make veggie food specially for you, it’s even better when they decide to join you on the journey, at least to some extent. Mumbai-based learning specialist, Vrushali Tillu’s family, already vegetarian, has been taking further animal-friendly steps: they ensure that the products they purchase – food and grooming items – are free of animal ingredients and haven’t been tested on animals. Brinda Poojary, an embryologist pursuing her PhD in Mumbai, went less the gentle-persuasion way and more the tell-them-of-the-horrors route. She shared with her family harrowing truths of the dairy industry (gained from watching documentaries like Earthlings, Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives, and the outreach work she does); over time, they reduced and eventually gave up bringing home dairy items. Arundhati Lakkad, an instructional designer also in Mumbai, was thrilled when her dad let her keep the street dog she had rescued during the floods of 2006. (Named Chikki, she eventually passed away a couple of years ago.) However, Arundhati was even more joyous when her dad too decided to go vegetarian, thus making the entire Lakkad family 100% veg. Kind of like that green dot certification. Rahul though perhaps has the happiest ever after: his wife decided to turn vegan too.

Making the veggie journey

The actual process, or duration, to go veggie was like the proverbial bump compared with the mountainous reactions of people around. Almost all millennials we spoke with did so in a time-frame of a few days to a few months. Altab took one month to go from veg to vegan. Anne did so in a week. Kadambari Narendran, a special children educator and volunteer at Blue Cross, Chennai, was only veg-curious when she attended a bootcamp a year or so ago. The sessions and discussions with animal activists and campaigners from across the country shook her to the core. In about six months, she turned vegetarian. Compare that with first the eight months this writer took to go veg and then 1¼ years to go vegan, and you get the millennial mindset right away.

Chennai- and Bengaluru-based Deepan Kannan regarded a South Indian veg food menu on a banner

Chennai- and Bengaluru-based Deepan loves his veg South Indian food

Vrushali, Arundhati and Deepan Kannan would all love to turn vegan, but their love for various items of milk keeps them from doing so. So, while Vrushali is able to resist the loveliest leather shoes that are apt for her tiniest feet (her words), she isn’t able to do the same with the lure of milk in her tea. Arundhati, who does much animal welfare work, including buying promotional materials from SPCA, loves her Bengali sweets and cheese too much to think of ever giving them up. Deepan, a management consultant from Chennai but presently based in Bengaluru, who “loves animals more than humans” and has been vegetarian for 15 years, also would love to take the next step and go vegan, but finds his joy for paneer a deterrent at present.

While it’s already heart-warming that they’ve come so far in their animal-love journey, if they need that final push, Kamaldeep has a nudge to offer. He says, “If you’re still dangling between your love for animals and that for animal products, you are yet to make the connection.” To which, Shevon counterpoints, feeling it’s best to do so when you are ready, rather than out of a sense of guilt or obligation. What they all do agree on is that there are enough options available these days – veg or vegan – and you won’t feel like you’re missing a thing. Anne and Brinda used to have mock meats, for the texture and feeling, but over time, didn’t feel any more need for it. And if you still feel you’re missing something, Anne shares a heart-felt thought: “Just think of the animal. And you’ll automatically not miss it anymore.” We couldn’t agree more.

Reaching out – with love and wisdom

Going veggie is just the beginning of the animal-welfare journey, feel our millennials. Brinda, who does a lot of outreach work such as organizing marches and hosting kiosks in public places along with conducting visits to animal sanctuaries, feels that if they don’t spread the message, instead keeping their beliefs to themselves, then they aren’t really helping the animals. Many others belong to her school of thought. Altab has tirelessly ensured many see the cruelty that animals go through on a daily basis and has helped several hard-core meat-eaters turn veggie themselves – even while he rues that he lost some close family and friends in the process. Animal freedom requires a lot of sacrifice, he both sighs and sounds out.

Many others frequently help animals in distress. Arundhati narrates fondly of the time she rescued a few owlets, which made her fall in love with these birds of the night. Vrushali warmly recalls her experience of giving a solemn shelter dog a bath during a visit to In Defence of Animals (IDA), Mumbai, the canine gurgling with joy.

Others do the “more regular” helping around. Lavanya secretly feeds the street animals around her home, as the other residents don’t like an open display of affection to these “filthy animals”. Shevon contributes to ASPCA back in America and to Youth in Defence of Animals (YODA) in Mumbai. Apart from that, she is a doggie mom to June and Pepper, with who she fervently enjoys Kukur Tihar, the second day of Diwali celebrated in some parts of North-East India and Nepal in honour of man’s best friend. Training specialist, Richa Godse’s home in Mumbai is a “nursing home for dogs”, where her equally animal-loving friends tend to injured, sick and sterilized animals.

US-born, India-married Shevon Bhattacharya celebrating Kukur Tihar with her doggie friends, June and Pepper

Shevon celebrating Kukur Tihar with her doggies, June and Pepper

In true millennial style, all campaign relentlessly on social media. Rica, for instance, regularly publishes blogs and vlogs. Social media, our digital-savvy millennials not surprisingly feel, is a great platform for spreading the word further and also for connecting with animal lovers worldwide. Many are part of veggie groups, from local ones to global communities. Most, perhaps wisely, believe in presenting their point of view and leaving it at that. Which is very important, Anne can’t seem to insist enough. She espouses that being aggressive and shouting, whether on social media or offline, will get you nowhere; then, “people just remember your shouting and not your message”. Deepan’s is another voice of reason, urging veggie enthusiasts to be conscious of the difference between animal love and animal-based politics, such as what seems to be happening in India presently. He cautions that animal rights in our country needs a nuanced dialogue, for vegetarianism has traditionally been tied to Brahminism, thereby acquiring religious tones. Go soft and slow, our millennials seem to be saying. Kamaldeep possibly puts it best: “I keep planting seeds. I know they will grow.” Trust our veggie millennials to use a nurturing, plant-based analogy.

There is a sub-story to this piece: One common thing veggie millennials are tired of hearing. Read the sub-story here: Sub-story to this piece

Text 'What is Veganism?' against background of grapes

ThinkVegan | The Heart of Veganism

Yesterday, there were two social commitments I ended up avoiding. The first was a wedding of a relative followed by lunch. The second was my folk, who did go for the wedding, returning with a few close relatives, who in the evening, they then took out for dinner. Now, the only thing vegan at Muslim weddings is water, and the dinner was at a Rajasthani restaurant where ghee flows like water.

Thus, my parents, especially my mom, had to do overtime explaining to folk why I wasn’t coming, and then what veganism is. Many people in India still don’t know what it is – they think it’s another term for vegetarianism – and Muslim folk don’t even know what vegetarianism is. I mean, they do, but you know what I mean.

In the evening, my sweet hapless mom came up to me and asked, “What exactly is veganism? What exactly do I tell them?” I did my number of asking her back – to know how much she knew. She managed to an extent (she does make vegan dishes for me, after all), and I filled in the rest.

So, is veganism just about avoiding animal products, things that have come from the exploitation of a sentient being? When you really become vegan, or when you become really vegan – in spiritthe answer too goes beyond. And this came out in the recent Chennai super-rains.

Man wading through neck-deep water in the recent Chennai floods

We were stuck at home for four days due to the water and two days due to no electricity. We did whatever work we could in the natural light, and then went to sleep early. We rationed our provisions, wanting little, wasting nothing. We performed our ablutions sparingly and absolutely thoughtfully. It felt like living in the village or in the early 1800s. And when the power came back and the water subsided, we didn’t rush to the nearby supermarket – there was still enough at home. Veganism is about austerity.

Then, you finally went to the supermarket, and found people hoarding up for the next 100 years. You spotted only two packets of your favourite snack left – anything is food in times of flood. So, you took both, right? But what if someone else wanted it – even if one – as badly? Veganism is also about thinking about the other. Comes from thinking about the “really lowly other” – the animals.

Mostly empty racks at a Chennai supermarket after the recent floods

The rain and the collected waters receded, but fear psychosis took over. Words started flying around that there’s an even greater storm coming; this – these two – was/were just the appetizer/s. Someone’s got to keep the calm in the storm and tell people that for all practical purposes, the worst is over, storm can’t strike the same place thrice, and that if indeed it does, with what you’ve just experienced over two-three weeks, you can handle it. Being/Keeping calm. Veganism is about that too. Coming as it does from patiently answering countless and ceaseless queries like “Where do you get your protein from?”, “Don’t animals die in farming?”, “It’s not sustainable”, the epic “What would you do if you are stranded on an island with only a goat?”, and from fighting for the freedom of beings whose protection laws have been formed by humans.

Graphic with text 'Over 1.5 lakh illegal structures in Chennai'

Life finally started getting back to normal, enough for people to then play the blame game: ‘Rampant construction.’ ‘Improper planning.’ ‘Building on marsh land.’ Veganism is, and always has been, about being sustainable. Sustaining animals, their habitats, the earth, and thus humans. Else, the next deluge will happen in less than 100 years. If not earlier.

Really short: Vegan’s about… thinking with the heart.Self-created logo for my ThinkVegan philosophy

Famous image of Einstein showing his tongue, with an illustration effect

IrfindingVegan: Refinding Senses

IrfindingVegan Logo

“You will become weak.”

“You will feel constantly deprived of energy.”

“You will suffer from severe calcium deficiency.”

“You will lose weight.” (Smiley.)

When you tell people you are turning vegan, you will hear a lot of grim things about your physical future, and the odd positive thing (such as that smiley-inducing one above). Well, I took 1.25 years to go vegan and have been vegan for almost seven months now (and have been vegetarian for over 19 years), and none of that has happened. (Sigh, not even that positive one – proving yet again that weight loss is the result of a combination and complex interaction of multiple factors.)

Illustration of the story, The Princess and the PeaWhat no one tells you though, or at least I didn’t come across in these 1.5 years, is that turning vegan turns on (heightens) your taste-buds and even other senses such as smell and sight/perception. Or this could just be me. But I have been steadily noticing that I am no longer able to tolerate even the slightest excess of sweet, salt, sour, spice and masala in my food (the last three being the most “hit”). I’ve kinda become like the princess in that tale about her and the pea.

Even more, I’m able to easily figure out whether someone has added some special flavouring/seasoning to a food item and what this seasoning/flavouring is. A couple of months ago, the friendly neighbour lady sent my mom a dish as part of the daily exchange of Ramzan iftaar items. One sampling, and – even while noting it was delicious – I was able to identify why: she had added special taste-maker (probably Maggi) to enhance the drool-worthiness of the dish.

But things got sealed last week. I had gone to this new restaurant – new even concept-wise, as it’s a weigh-and-pay restaurant, where you pay for food not by the menu but by the amount/weight you eat. (Read the review here.) Seal # 1: while it’s not a vegan eatery, I could correctly sense which of the vegetarian items were not vegan, having only the slightest of cream. (Of course, this could be from the knowledge gained from 1.5 years of vegan research.) But it gets better. After round 1, I knew the food, the taste was different (from Chennai standards; it’s a multi-cuisine restaurant, having Indian, Chinese and Continental), but wasn’t right then able to figure out what was different about it. So, decided to try out the taste-bending items (nutty pulao, baingan wedges, veg biryani) once more to determine the cause. (Of course, I didn’t repeat the spicy peas, as they were, well, too spicy.) Along with the three mentioned items, there was a new item, the daal, which the owner had made specially vegan (without cream) for me. I wiped these four items clean, and by then the cause was as clear as my plate: Their chef had to be Bengali; no one makes food such a delectable combination of sweet, salty, oily, spicy and tasty. I went up to the owner to confirm this. Not sure, she in turn asked her husband, who, not sure, in turn asked the manager, who, sure, responded: “Yes.”

With the way things are going, I think I’m heading to becoming a sniffer dog. Or if it gets more pronounced, I will soon become a cow, not being able to tolerate anything else along with my greens. And then, someone will yoke me and use me to plough the fields or pull a cart, or in a worse case, send me to the abattoir… sigh, perpetuating the animal-cruelty cycle.

I actually wrote this as a guest post for the site, Bleed Green, in the ‘Green Living’ section (but with a pic and a title more appropriate for that site). Bleed Green, as the name suggests, is a site for all things green: sustainable energy, organic products, and of course, the vegan life. Find the post here: Turning Vegan, Turning on Senses

Logo of Chennai's first weigh-and-pay restaurant, Weigh-Out

IrfindingVegan: Weighing and Eating

IrfindingVegan Logo

IrfindingVegan has been about finding vegan eateries and products and writing about them, mostly in a good light (but that could be because most vegan stuff has good light). However, I’ve decided to extend its scope now. No, not because it’s difficult to find vegan options in a country like India, where while a good part of the populace is vegetarian, many parts are still to even register the concept of ‘veganism’. (Or maybe that’s why: As food, and religious, lines are divided very strongly along the habits/practices of vegetarianism/non-vegetarianism, it’s difficult for a third option to find a squeak in.) Even a city like Chennai, where I stay, while known for its veggie fare, has only three all-vegan restaurants. (But this could be because the city loves its curd and ghee too much to know any other way of life.)

Anyway, I felt the urge to extend the scope of this series because being vegan, if you take it intently, turns out to not so much about eating vegan but about living vegan. Living pure, living frugally, living consciously, and in the case of this post, consuming consciously (rather than conspicuously), and therefore wasting minimally.

Let’s start weighing

Newspaper ad for Weigh-OutSo, last week, after seeing its ad in the papers for a week, I visited Weigh-Out, an all-day buffet restaurant where you don’t pay for food by the menu but by the weight. Going by the ad, it seemed to be close to my ex-office. So, I figured it would be easy to locate. I couldn’t be wronger.

Weighing Google Maps

The actual location of Weigh-OutI Google-mapped it before going, on getting there (to the area), and even after getting there, but just couldn’t spot it. As per G Maps, it seemed to be in a small hotel, which is right next to my ex-office building, but as I knew this hotel well, knew it couldn’t be there, but still went in. And was told the same by the manager. Stepped out, and going by the address, felt I should try the opposite side. Did so, and there it was. (That in the image taken from Weigh-Out’s FB page is the actual location.) Moral of the story: Don’t trust Google Maps too much.

Weighing the exteriors…

The building looks new and spanking, and it’s got the Weigh-Out boards on all road-facing sides. So, you can’t miss it – that is, once you junk G Maps and look the old-fashioned way.

And the interiors

Part of the interiors at Weigh-OutStep in, and it’s quite spacious. Or maybe because it’s new, not many know of it yet. I look around inquisitively, and a lady comes up to me. I guess she’s the owner. Guess confirmed.

Weighing the concept

A patron weighing his filled-up plate at Weigh-OutShe explains the concept to me. “It’s only a buffet, an all-day buffet. You get a card, take a plate, fill up, and go to weigh the filled-up plate at the weighing counter. The guy there swipes the card, informs you how much (by weight) is on your plate. You eat to your fill, but obviously need to weigh and swipe with each filling. At the end, you go and pay for the final weight/amount.”

This wasn’t so easy to understand when she explained it. I’ve made it easier (hopefully) after going through one cycle during my visit. And I guess they factor in the weight of the plate.

Weighing the price

In their ads too, they say it’s 70p/gram. So, I ask her how much a typical bill for one comes to. She tells me that if you eat well, it comes to 400ish. Mine came to a bit above that. But I was hungry that day.

Weighing her response to “I’m vegan”

I inform her I’m vegan, and then proceed with my typical assessment of whether the other person understands what that means. We almost make a game of it. Earlier, I had asked her name, tried to spell it, and almost got it correct, just interchanging two letters (‘Buelah’ instead of ‘Beulah’). So, ask her to tell me what she knows of vegan food. She gets it right. Weigh-Out 1, IrfindingVegan 0.75. (Hey, ‘u-e’ is good enough.)

Weighing the vegan fare

A view of the vegetarian section at Weigh-OutThere is enough vegan fare, and some non-standard options, such as baingan (brinjal/eggplant/aubergine) wedges and nutty pulao. I fill up my plate with some salads (aloo/potato chat and spicy peas), the baingan wedges, gobi/cauliflower manchurian, noodles, and two varieties of rice (nutty pulao and veg biryani).

A view of the desserts' section at Weigh-OutI have a perfunctory look at the desserts’ section, and am not surprised: apart from cut fruits, there’s nothing vegan (but obviously). So, skip them. I also don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

Weighing the taste

The chat’s a bit spicy, but palatable; but the spicy peas are too spicy and tangy for my taste. The wedges are not very oily and give the taste of both the baingan and the besan (gram flour) in equal measure. The noodles too are nicely between crunchy and soft, and go perfectly with the equally perfectly-done manchurian. The biryani again is a bit too spicy for my palate. But the winner is the nutty pulao: everything in the right measure – nuts, sweet, salt, spice, oil.

The food overall has a taste that reminds me of something, but I’m not able to get my tastebuds on it just yet. So, decide to do a refill with most of the first-round items, but leaving out the very spicy peas, and this time, there are two new items: sautéed broccoli and daal without the cream, which the owner has had made specially for vegan me.

Getting the taste

I’m glad she made the daal, because that, and the second round, helped me nail where I’d tasted this kind of food before. It’s the distinct taste of Bengali food, which while leaning toward the sweeter side, also has the right blend of salt, oil and spices, and of course, baingan. (Bongs seem to love this king of vegetables as much as they love the king of fish, the hilsa. Their favourite way of cooking it, the brinjal, is frying – it’s called baegoon bhaaja – so, the wedges were a noticeable change. Their favourite way of cooking the hilsa is… hey, ask a Bong; I’m vegan, remember?)

Checked this (whether the chef is Bengali) with the owner after paying my bill, and again she confirmed it. Incidentally, further down in the same area, there are several Bengali messes, serving more humble Bengali fare. So, did the chef come (graduate) from there? Maybe I’ll find out next time.

Weighing Weigh-Out

Neat-tasting food. Decently priced. Amiable ambience. So, will it work? Let’s weigh what it’s got…

Location: This initially seems an obstacle. It’s in a commercial area with several other mainstream restaurants, but maybe that’s why it will work: upwardly mobile office-goers who want a decent-sized meal but with some space and quiet. And this is confirmed by the second point.

Concept: Would the concept itself work, or as I asked her at the beginning, “Is it too ambitious for a conservative place like Chennai?” She replied that they are aimed at people who want decent-tasting food and don’t like wasting or overordering, and she seems to be having quite a few people showing interest so far.

“Tension-eating”: This isn’t eating in a hurry or eating out of a psychological condition, but like this… Quite a few times during my meal, I kept on thinking, ‘I just ate 50 bucks’ more worth’, ‘Now, I ate 75 bucks’ worth’, ‘There goes 125’. I was counting my morsels the way many people count calories. It seemed tension-inducing. The last thing you want when eating a nice meal. Or was that just me?

Positioning: Again, this could just be the ad-guy me, or maybe not. While weigh-and-eat is an innovative concept, is it a sustainable one? Do we go to a place for how less it, and you, waste, or how good the food tastes? (Well, as I said at the beginning, maybe if you’re vegan.) Guess we’ll have to weight, er, wait this one out…

If interested, visit their Facebook page (from where I’ve taken the pix): Weigh-Out on Facebook

Composite image of a graphic black sheep with a heart in the background

Animal-Friendly Nursery Rhymes: ‘Rah, Rah, Black Sheep’

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Let it be on me, sir,

Shearing is cruel.

So, what about the master, the dame,

And the little boy who lives down the lane?

They can wear poly fleece, you know,

It warms just the same.

Yes, I know some of these already exist, but like so many writers retell Shakespeare’s works and the epics, this is my retelling. And so, more coming up…