Birth of a transformed me

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It was in my French class, around 3-4 years back, that I first came across the term veganism. As a vegetarian, not consuming meat, eggs and seafood was something natural or normal to me. However, abstaining from the consumption of any animal product or by-product was something radical in my eyes. I recollect reading the article curiously in class, thinking to myself, “wow, are there really people who refuse to have dahi, cheese and ice-creams?”

I’ll be honest, when I was younger, I used to judge people who ate meat. The sheer sight of people chewing and devouring flesh of dead animals disgusted me. Maybe it was my upbringing in a vegetarian household, maybe it was my naivety. But to me, ingesting dead animals was cruel and bizarre, whereas, having animal by-products like milk and honey was completely fine. My judgemental younger self was completely blind to the exploitation that goes behind vegetarianism.

As time passed by, I read more and more about veganism. As someone who is sensitive to environmental issues, I understood how following a vegan lifestyle was the single most beneficial thing one could do to reduce their environmental impact. I was so convinced that I had even written an article on the same, that too, as a non-vegan (I know, hypocritical much). I knew that a plant-based lifestyle was crucial in alleviating environmental challenges, nevertheless I was still completely oblivious to the ethical aspect of it. The inner voice in me always used to murmur “no khushi, that’s too much and you’re too young to do such sacrifices!”

Since 2019, the cognitive dissonance of partaking in something that was bad for the environment and the animals was unsettling me. I was sharing posts on social media about meat and dairy industries, while still being a part of it. And the guilt was eating me up. However, I felt unprepared and was too scared to take the leap.

In 2020, when I went to France to work as an English Language Assistant, I stayed over with my French correspondent during the weekends. She had turned vegan by then, and being with her helped me apprehend what it is like to lead a vegan lifestyle. It wasn’t as difficult as I had thought. After all, if she could manage being a vegan in France, I could certainly do that in India, considering that most vegetarian dishes here are actually vegan.

I remember vividly that I used to feel extremely guilty and ashamed of having animal-based foods in front of her. It was as if I knew that what I was doing was something I didn’t feel right about, but I still continued to do it, just because I was not ready to give up my old ways. I used to console myself by thinking that I was still better off than most people because I didn’t eat meat, I didn’t wear pure silk or leather and I didn’t use animals for entertainment or sports. I was trying to comfort myself with the thought that vegetarianism was good enough.

The innumerable discussions that I had with my correspondent about veganism were enlightening as well as confronting. On one hand I realized that being a vegan is not really a big deal (at least not as much as people make it), and that it is easier than one could imagine. On the other hand, the fact that I wasn’t able to embrace it despite knowing its significance was really confronting. Regardless, by the end of my journey in France, I kind of knew that I would turn vegan one day, although I was just not ready to digest that that day could be sooner than later.

In May 2021, I came back to India, along with all that cognitive dissonance at the back of my mind. I had decided to do more research on veganism and look at it holistically. I was clear that a plant-based lifestyle was the best for the environment since long, however, I was still largely unaware of the ethical side of it as I refused to watch any video on the same until then. But when I was back in Pune, I had promised myself that I will watch them, how much ever disturbing they be, because I had heard something that made sense to me – “if it’s not good for your eyes, why do you think it’s good for your stomach?”

So, in the last week of May, I came across a video titled “Unholy Cattle of India” on YouTube. That was the first time I watched a video made specifically on the dairy industry of India. It was a 12 minutes video that showed what exactly happens with cows and calves in the dairy industry. It wasn’t even graphical, honestly (at least as not much as ‘Deadly Dairy‘), it just showed the various practices followed in the industry. And for me, that was it. I was devastated and shattered; numb to the point that I couldn’t shed tears. For the first time in my life, I felt disgusted being a vegetarian. At that moment, I knew that there was no turning back. I could never unsee what I had seen, I could never not be aware of what goes behind my favorite milk-based products.

That day, the purpose or “raison d’être” of being a vegan was crystal clear to me. I gave an ultimatum of approximately a month to transition into this lifestyle and decided that I would turn vegan on the midnight of my birthday, without any idea as to how I would do it. During that one month, I tried to find substitutes for the non-vegan products I consumed on a daily basis, and also devoured my favorite non-vegan dishes one last time. Yes, even after knowing and acknowledging the cruelty and the invisible blood that goes behind milk products, I still consumed some non-vegan products in my transitioning phase (hello again, cognitive dissonance!)

I feel that this was because I was ready to accept that I needed to be a vegan as a moral obligation but I was still not ready for that change, for that lifestyle. And I feel that this is how it is for almost everyone. One can never be fully ready. But once we know the “why” behind it, the little courage that we need to take that first step comes automatically, even when we aren’t ready for it.

So, this day, last year was my last day as a non-vegan. And on the midnight of 27th June, a transformed me was born. I had embraced veganism willingly, even though I felt I wasn’t ready for it and was shit scared about how it would unfold. And here I am now, one year into this journey, happier and proud than ever to have chosen this lifestyle, wishing I had done it sooner (like every other vegan! :P)

-Khushi Goyal

PS: Thank you for choosing to read until here. This write-up is Part I of my veganniversary series which covers my vegan story. In Part II, I will be sharing my experience and journey as a vegan. It’s no less than a roller-coaster ride! ;P

Unlearning Insecurities

It took me a lot of courage to write what you’re about to read right now; as it throws light on one of the biggest insecurities that I’ve had since childhood. But I thought that this was something that needed to be shared and talked about, because we’ve all been through this in one way or the other and have been affected by it at some point in our lives.

There have been multiple instances where people, including my friends, family, relatives, cousins or even acquaintances, have commented on my acne, thin hair, bald spot or belly. Be it unintentional jokes, unsolicited advice or taunts, the remarks on my looks and body have affected me at a psychological level since I was a school-going girl, occasionally leading to emotional outbursts and breakdowns; taking a toll on my self-confidence and self-esteem.

No matter how much I try to forget these comments, they tend to come back to me again and again, with more and more people adding on to them. “Are you undergoing a treatment for acne”, “You’ve got so many pimples! Is this a reaction to something?”, “You’ve got such thin hair with so less volume”, “You’ve put on weight, haven’t you?”… Constantly hearing judgemental statements such as these has always been making me so self-conscious about my appearance in whatever I do, whenever I speak and wherever I go.

Although the awareness about effects of appearance and body shaming is increasing day by day, it’s not enough. I feel that sometimes people just don’t realise how harshly this might affect someone and for how long this might stay with them. They say that the jokes are all in good humour or that they are just concerned and are thus sharing their opinions and advices, but only those who are at the receiving end of it know how frequently they have to deal with such unsought commentary every single day.

Despite making conscious efforts to not let someone else’s view determine my sense of beauty, I cannot help but succumb to it sometimes. But that does not stop me from trying. I believe that there are always going to be people who point out your “imperfections”, but you need to remind yourself time and again that their opinions simply do not matter, because they are just focusing on what you look like, and not what you are or what you do.

We are all insecure about something or the other, and most of the times it’s because people make us think that we should be insecure about it, by mocking us or by trying to give us remedies to look better. But try not to let people’s judgements make you insecure about anything. I know it’s easier said than done. So, here’s another thing you can do – try not to be that person; a person who points out or jokes about certain aspects of someone’s appearance. There are already many people who do that. So, the least you could do is to not be one of them, isn’t it?

-Khushi Goyal

Addressing the Avoided

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A few days back, for the first time ever, I had a moderate level anxiety attack. Heavy breathing, heart palpitations, uncontrollable tears… I could actually hear my heartbeats, while falling short of breath. Fortunately, this happened when my mother was there by my side; so she helped me calm down. However, those few minutes of perturbation served as a warning sign to address what I had been avoiding for long – my emotions.

The past few weeks have been difficult for all of us. We are all confined to our homes, confronting the worst possible nightmare. Seeing the things we had planned falling apart; all while feeling miserable and helpless about the current situation. This is what many of us are going through, including me. All my plans for this year seem to be going haywire. The uncertainty of the future and the bleak chances of it ameliorating anytime soon are making it worse. In order to avoid letting our feelings overpower us during these tough times, we try to avoid them. And that’s where we go wrong. We bottle up all those emotions and feelings, only for them to come out in the form of an emotional meltdown later on.

A couple of months back, I had attended a session on dealing with emotions in SP College. The takeaways from that small session helped me address this issue and I reckon it could help others as well. We tend to keep away from emotions such as frustration, anger, sadness, loneliness, confusion, envy, fear, etc; considering them to be bad or negative. However, this is where the problem lies. We need to change our perspective regarding them. These kinds of emotions are not bad or negative in any way, and you shouldn’t be ashamed for feeling them. These emotions are just unpleasant or uncomfortable, because of the way they make you feel.

Emotions are colours to what we feel. Since these emotions are dull, we steer away from them. We do anything possible to not let our mind’s canvas be painted by sombre sentiments. For this, we resort to binge-watching or gaming for hours together; we feel that eating our favourite dish or a cup of our favourite ice-cream or just sleeping will make things better; we do everything but what is actually needed – sitting down, taking a deep breath and making ourselves aware of what exactly we are going through. After all, it’s about awareness, not avoidance.

“The most valuable commodity in times of crisis is clarity.”

Capt Raghu Raman

It is essential to be aware of what we’re feeling and then paying heed to it. It is the most important step and the most difficult one as well. We sometimes run away from such emotions by thinking “why am I feeling this way?” or “I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” But remember, address the ‘what’ first and then the ‘whys’. First be aware of what colours are being painted in your mind and heart; and accept them, and more importantly accept yourself for painting them. Don’t run away from them. Once you are aware of them, it will be a great degree easier to answer the ‘whys’. And once those ‘whys’ are answered, you will definitely have an idea as to how to deal with them.

So here’s what you can do in such situations. Pen down what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. Then think of the possible ways in which you can address and overcome them. I personally sat down and thought of all the things that I can do if things don’t go as I had them planned. Trust me, once you get down to do it, you will certainly find feasible solutions to resolve your issues. I could do it, and so can you. Just remember to take a few deep breaths and not be harsh on yourself. It’s not as difficult as you think. And it’s definitely much better than living in the bubble of avoidance.

Khushi Goyal

An Uneasy Choice

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Rising sea levels, melting ice caps, increased global temperature, extreme weather events, species extinction; the issue of climate change has unequivocally aggravated. Climate change is a global concern affecting us at an international, national, local and individual level; hence the dire need to take effective, robust actions.

Climate change mitigation can be accomplished in two ways. Firstly by curbing the emission of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). Secondly by removing the already existing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere. While the latter can be effectuated through forest regeneration and creation of carbon sinks, the former needs to be addressed diligently at various levels.

Countries worldwide ought to comply to the objectives and obligations set forth by international treaties such as UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol or more recently the Paris Agreement in order to tackle the matter in hand comprehensively. Additionally, at a national scale, a transformational shift towards low-emission sustainable development along with sound policy framework and direction must be the chief concern. Moreover, systemizing waste management, adopting suitable business policies and practices, advocating electric transportation technology and energy efficient buildings, promoting private sector engagement and greening urban areas are other key measures that shall be undertaken to combat the climate crisis.

Besides, at an individual level, few strategies commonly popularized are: less plastic usage, proper waste segregation, judicious use of water and energy, greater application of renewable energies, switching to public transport, car pooling, practicing the 4 R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle) and the like. However, the solution which I am about to propose requires a paradigm shift in people’s lifestyle; more precisely in their dietary habits.

A report by Worldwatch Institute states that animal agriculture (raising and killing animals for food) is responsible for 51% of the total GHGs emissions, 30% of the world’s water consumption, 45% of the earth’s land use and 91% of the Brazilian Amazon destruction. Thus, the meat and dairy industry, as confirmed by the UN, is the leading cause of deforestation, habitat and rainforest destruction, ocean dead zones, species extinction and water degradation. In other words, it is one of the prime causes of environmental devastation. This is why embracing a vegan lifestyle becomes the need of the hour.

Veganism essentially refers to the exclusion of all animal products (be it for food, clothing or entertainment) due to ethical, environmental and health related reasons. It needs to be emphasized, however, that transitioning to a vegan diet does not necessarily imply complete elimination of milk & milk products. It simply refers to substituting them with plant-based products such as soy, coconut, cashew or almond milk, vegan cheese, butter, ice-cream and yogurt. Nowadays, even vegan meat is available in the market!

According to surveys, such kind of a plant-based diet saves approximately 1100 gallons of water (roughly equal to 3.5 months of showering), 45 pounds of grains, 30 square feet of forest, 10 pounds of carbon dioxide and an animal’s life per day (Source : ‘Cowspiracy’, Netflix). There’s indeed more to climate change than just fossil fuels! All of us, including major environmental organizations, have conveniently ignored this solution since it encompasses a massive change in our lifestyle, mentality and choices, while neglecting that it contributes tremendously to combat climate change. After all, we know what to do, we know why to do it, we know how to do it, we just have to choose to do it.

-Khushi Goyal

PS: This essay won the 1st prize in a competition organised by the Language Services Bureau, Pune; the topic of which was “How to mitigate Climate Change?”

Ex-changing my life

I vividly remember my first French lecture in 11th std during which our teacher had informed us about the Indo-French Exchange Programme. My mind had instantly started playing scenarios of what and how it would be if I were to be a part of it. Fast forward to today, it’s already been two years since I participated in the same, the memories being nonetheless crystal clear in my mind.

The entire journey was and still is so overwhelming. It enabled me to explore a new country, adopt a different culture, speak a foreign language more confidently, meet new people (who soon turned into family and friends), and most importantly exchange thoughts and opinions with people who didn’t share my language, nor my culture. Moreover, it gave me a deeper understanding of my own city, country and culture as well (trust me, I hadn’t been to several places in Pune earlier, which I then got to visit with my correspondent).

However, for me, the best part about being an exchange student is not discovering a foreign country as a mere tourist. Exchange programmes aren’t just about visiting the tourist attractions or savouring the culinary specialties. It’s much more! Making chai-poha for my host family, drawing and colouring along with my correspondent’s little cousin, listening and dancing to French songs with my host parents, cooking with my correspondent and her sister or learning french swear words from them,  going through my host family’s old pictures, hanging out with my correspondent’s friends, giving presentations about India in their classes (that, too, in French), enjoying the late-night conversations and discussions with my host family… these little, yet invaluable moments truly made my journey unforgettable.

Moreover, since it was an “exchange”, my correspondent, too, got the opportunity to explore a new country in a different way; while staying here with my family and I. This brings me to another significant benefit of an exchange program- it wasn’t just I who got the exposure, but my own family as well. My family, too, got a chance to meet, talk and stay with a person who didn’t share the same language, culture or country. Be it my mother watching Bollywood movies with my correspondent and teaching her to put mehendi or my father asking her about the life in France; my brother teaching her new English words and expressions (and learning French ones from her) or my sister sharing our childhood memories; my cousins chatting and playing with her or my correspondent tasting the apparent spicy Indian dishes with my family… it was so overwhelming to see my whole family have this kind of an experience, about which they talk to this day!

I had once read a quote: “Travel far enough, you meet yourself” and today it makes much more sense to me. This exchange programme helped me improve as an individual. I became stronger, braver and more responsible. I also became bolder and much more confident, both as a person and as a French-speaker. I could genuinely feel the change in me. Being an exchange student, for me, was life-changing in every sense of the word, and I can never imagine my life otherwise. After all, it wasn’t merely a month in my life, it was a life in a month.

-Khushi Goyal