Exploring alternative lifestyles: Amita Desai

A Vegan’s Guide To Life

amita_desiaMeet Amita Desai, the Director of the Goethe Zentrum, (German Institute), Hyderabad. Her work gives her a wonderful platform to learn new things, meet new people, connect with artists, academicians and amazing audiences of all ages and with all sorts of interests, so much so that there is never a dull moment.
Text-Deeksha Marur; Photo credits: Santosh Kumar

She lived her childhood all across Chicago, Delhi, Hamburg and Paris with her family. There was a time she says, where she stayed abroad more than in India, though now that ratio has tilted in the right direction. She lives with her two dogs in Secunderabad and has two lovely daughters, who helped convert her into veganism. “My girls are conscientious, thinking and feeling young ladies! There have been numerous incidents that led me to look up the links they used to send me, particularly my younger one. I was aghast to learn how I was participating in exploiting animals so that I could eat milk produce with every meal, use toiletries and cosmetics which were tested on animals, like rabbits – and we used to have rabbits as pets for a long time!” she explains, shock still radiating from her as she speaks.

She could not love animals, have pets and selectively protect some while looking the other way for others, she confesses and says that she felt it was wrong to live a selfish life and knowingly allow pain to other species. Amita adds, “When I saw videos on how cows were separated from their new born babies, not even allowed the physical proximity all young ones need, and how both the mother and the calf would cry heart renderingly – I had to do something.” So Amita’s turning vegan was a conscious decision, triggered by her children and most decidedly for ethical reasons. Though the numerous health reasons to avoid animal products were a bonus, she feels much better as her constitution and character underwent a huge change, for the better.

Amita believes more in the philosophy of the movement rather than the elitist trend that it is made out to be. She informs us that primarily vegans avoid all animal products – leather, fur, cosmetics or products that are created by animal testing and of course, the most obvious avoidance is all dairy produces, meat, eggs and such. Some also give up honey, she says.
So what does the meal of a vegan consist of? “For me, my meals are delicious and plant-based – every meal is an exciting and
consciously created menu. It was the first time in my 50 odd years that I became aware of what I was allowing on my plate
(and what I was vehemently dis-allowing on my plate!)” Amita says she became aware of what natural and local organic
produce is; which food has preservative and where the nutritional values were.

Through veganism, she began to lead a more aware and healthy existence. “I consume plenty of salads, all legumes, nuts, sprouts, fruit, and such – an exciting range of products to experiment with,” she adds further. But surely there are difficulties that one comes across, especially when eating out or even traveling. “It is regretful that a country which has historically had a
plant-based healthy diet is rapidly and blindly espousing fast food and junk food habits. It hurts to see how market forces
are undoing the good practices,” says a concerned Amita. Though while travelling she says, “One has to be better prepared,
carry your fruit or nuts along. What is wonderful is that every meal gives us an opportunity to talk about veganism when
ordering food.”

Speaking of opportunities, growing up in the 70s in Germany, Amita saw the country say no to Nuclear and Atomic
Energy and turn towards recycling, reducing and reusing waste, and an organic, eco-friendly lifestyle. And thus, it was natural that she would bring about her experiences to the Goethe Zentrum. “Some of my colleagues and I have been able to create a more natural environment at the center. We began to blend the political philosophy and social considerations from both India and
Germany and espouse ‘Green Living.’ We are happy that all of the office uses paper on both sides, envelopes are reused,
plastic is avoided, water is used sparingly, and we have created a green wall; we also use solar energy for all our electric use.
There is a clear change in our thinking and with 30 or more people and their families practicing such an environmentally
conscious lifestyle, it does give one a reason to celebrate,” she concludes.