It’s Dashain again. Soaring meat prices take precedence over other topics as most Nepali households plan for elaborate meat-filled feasts.
Sales of the animals and meat in Nepal peak during the Dashain festival – around 100,000 goats are sacrificed and sold in 10 days, according to rough estimates.
But Bikesh Shrestha could not care less.
The meal Shrestha serves to his guests in Kathmandu for Dashain does not look like the one most Nepalis will share: the traditional goat drizzled with gravy sauce.
But Dashain is a special time for his family as they prepare different food items than on regular days. Only that they are all 100 per cent vegan, without any animal products.
“I have a lot of recipes up my sleeve. I even have a vegan book,” revealed Shrestha, the president of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, Nepal.
During the festival season, he cooks tofu dishes, seiten foods, and avocado salad in addition to Newari cuisine like fenugreek, small peas curry, and more. But Shrestha says he will go for one that he loves the most.
“Avocado season is currently on,” he explained. “So, we add lemon, onion and mint leaves to avocado to make a salad.”
Shrestha, who is 61 now, turned vegetarian in 1995. Then he became vegan in 2004 when the concept was still new in Nepal. Seeing him leaving milk products too, his family disapproved of his lifestyle choice.
But switching to veganism has been a blessing in disguise for him. "Since I left milk products, I have started to feel lighter. "My mind is sharper, and I sleep better. I am a compassionate person now," he said.
It would be a stretch to say that goat meat faces stiff competition from tofu, but menus are shifting for a growing number of Nepalis, especially the youths.
Over the past decade, more youths have adapted to veganism, with more than 10,000 vegans in the country now, according to community members.
Veganism was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson – an English animal rights advocate who co-founded the Vegan Society. He became vegan in 1940 after witnessing a pig being slaughtered at his uncle’s farm. He died in 2005 at the age of 95.
It is a lifestyle choice that abstains from using and consuming animals and their by-products. Therefore, vegans do not even drink milk products and refuse to use leather, silk, and more.
While vegetarianism is common, veganism is relatively new in Nepal.
Until 10 years ago, leading a lifestyle free of animal products in Nepal was nothing more than a concept.
Reason for the switch
Across the world, as much as healthier lifestyles and environmental concerns, animal cruelty has been the reason for people switching to these ways of eating. It's no different in Nepal. The cruelty in the dairy industry is a major factor for the local vegans.
Suresh Prasad Sharma believed that animals were loved and well treated in Nepal. That was until 2013.
After noticing the rising number of stray cows on the streets of Kathmandu, he started research to trace their origin. "I found they come from the dairy farm," the 39-year-old told NepalMinute. Digging deeper into his research, he uncovered the cruelty in the sector.
"I found a lot of male calves being abandoned on the streets. Plus, if the cows don't give milk, they are beaten and killed by the dairy farmers," said Sharma, who now chairs the World Vegan Organisation, Nepal.
That was the reason why he chose to switch to veganism nine years ago. Sharma is not alone in making such a life decision.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kajol Sethia says she also decided to switch for the same reason.
"It is the same thing everywhere, be it Nepal, India, or New Zealand. Cows are treated horribly," says Sethia, who won the PETA Asia's Outstanding Activist Award in 2019 for her work with animals and activism.
But she found practising this lifestyle more difficult during her student days in Singapore. "In Singapore, the options were costly. As a student, you have limited resources," she said.
But after moving back to Nepal in 2018, she started having more homemade food, leading to a cleaner eating method. "From what I've seen is that Nepal is a vegetarian-rich country. There are vegetarian options everywhere," she added.
While Sethia has seen limited options in the vegan sweets section in Nepal, she is thankful for that. "If you want to live a healthy life, then you should refrain from having sweets."
Vitamin B12: Myth or truth?
While veganism has been linked to multiple health benefits, missing nutrients and micro-nutrients are common. The most prominent micro-nutrient lacking is vitamin B12.
The vegan ordeal, however, remains divisive.
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-sourced foods like dairy products, eggs, meat and fish. While vegetarians can extract it from dairy products and eggs, vegans have no alternatives.
However, vegans in Nepal dismiss suggestions that they suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency.
"Vitamin B12 can also be less in meat-eaters because it depends on the body's hormones. This vitamin doesn't come from meat but bacteria," Sharma said, emphasising that any vegans facing this problem can easily take supplements.
Vegans also do not believe that such ways of eating make people weak. But again, many non-vegetarians in Nepal "eat meat only once a week", they argue.
"We normally eat daal-bhat, vegetables and fruits. Vegetarian products constitute as much as 90 per cent of our diet, and the rest is meat and milk products," Shrestha said.
Nepal's vegan community holds a positive outlook, as the world considers it a vegan-friendly country.
"People visit Nepal for the nature and developments. So, if we promote veganism, wellness and special tourism, the future looks bright."