Be it raising awareness of animal rights or a greater interest in fitness; for various reasons, there is a tendency among many people these days to become a vegan. Though the harmful aspects of animal protein and the health aspects of being a vegan are being discussed anew, many are showing interest in the subject. But is it really that easy to be a vegan; specially in this country?
Every day at the dining table, 16-year-old schoolboy Jihad's focus is on vegetables. Fish, meat and eggs are not his very choice. Suddenly one day he thought, "When I eat vegan foods, I like them the most, how about being completely vegan?" To that end, Jihad kicked out animal derived food from his daily food chart. Although primarily all seemed easy, on the first day he discovered that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to eliminate all dairy products, including chocolate, ice cream, cakes and biscuits.
There are more people in Bangladesh having such experiences like Jihad who want to go vegan for various reasons but later face problems in creating a balanced diet with vegan protein. Their endeavour ultimately culminates in the realisation that vegan is easy to eat but not easy to be a vegan.
If you look at the history of food in Bangladesh, the influence of the Mughals will be very clear, where the presence of nonveg is more prominent than any other item in most Mughlai dishes; even in the case of pulao or bread, sufficient amount of clarified butter was used.
"A familiar phrase is used to describe the characteristics of a Bangalee, 'Machhe-bhaate-Bangalee' or Bangalee with the signature habit of having fish and rice. It is difficult to exclude fish from the daily diet in the country of Bangalee people," Rajshahi resident housewife Kamrunnahar Asha was talking. She continued: "Since my children are not that fond of fish and meat, I cook vegetables with clarified butter and sometimes cheese, and also give them dairy food regularly. Everyone has their own family cooking culture which forms their food habit. For this, I think it is very difficult for anyone to become a vegan in Bangladesh." She added that it would be very tough for her to create a balanced nutritious diet if she excludes dairy products from the regular cooking ingredients.
Vegan food habits in East Asia are well maintained by many. However, unlike Bangladesh, vegan proteins such as tofu and soybeans are easily accessible there.
"In Bangladesh, soybean is grown mainly in Noakhali, and in a small area of Bhola and Laxmipur, which is insignificant compared to the demand of the country. That is why soybean or its derivatives may not be found in the daily food list of this country, or even if it is found, it is not cheap at all." Said Dr Md Shahidul Islam, chief scientific officer of Agronomy Division at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), which clearly upholds the expense of maintaining vegan lifestyle.
Now at the end of the day, no matter how difficult it is to maintain a vegan diet, whether you eat fish or meat or dairy products, it is entirely in your control because you can see it. But what about those which are not visible?
"Ever since the thought of becoming a vegan entered my mind, I realised that eating vegetables and rice every day would be very boring. Then I found out that it is possible to bring variation in food with veggie sandwiches, noodles, pasta etc." said Mead Ahmed, a young software engineer. "Suddenly I forgot that the bread I buy for the sandwich contains yeast, along with milk or eggs. On the other hand, looking for vegan bread is also a luxury for the common man. The same is true of noodles or pasta. However, veggie noodles are now available in many super shops."
Even if you read the ingredients label of the packet of bread or noodles, it is very easy to know if it contains animal extracts. But are we still clearly aware of all the elements? Just a year ago, Alyne Tamir, content creator of Dear Alyne, published a video on social media where she shared about a lot of food which are hiding meat in them. Gummies, jam, jelly, even peanut butter sometimes contain gelatine and it is not mentioned in the packet that this gelatine is made of fish or pig feet or some other animal extracts. Even any kind of food product containing Omega 3 contains fish in it. Besides the common names of ingredient label like glucose, glycerides, lactic acid, lactose, pepsin, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and vitamin D3 are mostly animal derivatives. In many processed food products, there are some E-numbers in the ingredient label which are mostly hiding animal extracts in them.
Considering all these circumstances, it is easy to realise that becoming a complete vegan is indeed a challenging issue and if it is a middle-income country like Bangladesh then there is no question. However, it is hoped that increasing the awareness of practicing vegans will pave the way for new vegans in the near future.