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Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 7:59:44 AM
by christine cheah
Being vegan in Malaysia takes persistence.
The vegan diet.
I AM not a meat person, nor am I choosy about food. Generally, I am content as long as there is food on the table.
Hence, I thought that this vegan challenge that my editor suggested would be child’s play for me since I once did it for three weeks while I was studying in the United States.
Now, following a vegan diet means not consuming any food that originates from animals, which includes dairy products, eggs and honey.
I usually try to maintain a vegetarian diet, which is relatively easy but being a vegan in Malaysia is a far cry from how much easier it was in the States.
Salads are readily available everywhere over there but here, I faced food issues on the first day itself!
Breakfast wasn’t a problem as I had bread with strawberry jam but when it came to the main meals, that was where the challenge began.
There was no pure vegan lunch dishes at the office canteen and I could only settle for rice with stir-fried vegetables and dhal curry.
Abroad, I used to pack my lunch box with a vegetable sandwich and cereal and could refresh my supply of vegetables daily from the dining hall mart but it’s more difficult to get fresh vegetables at restaurants here, not to mention, pricier.
Which would look more appetising to you: a bowl of fresh lettuce decorated with cute red tomatoes or a plate of wilted yellow-hued sliced cabbage with yellow gravy on rice?
My lunch menu continued for the next few days, with the cabbage being swapped with winged bean, eggplant or okra. At least I had the choice of tortillas, hummus and veggie burger in the States ...
Dinner was easier. Since I don’t usually stock fresh groceries at home, I ended up with a malted chocolate beverage, egg-free cookies or some snacks I grabbed at the convenience store.
And since I was determined not to accidentally consume some animal-based additives, I went to the extent of reading labels on food packages. So, I now know which cheese-flavoured snack contains animal-extract flavouring.
During the weekends, my friends were kind enough to accommodate my request to have banana leaf rice or a cup of instant noodles to fill my tummy. I was pretty sick of Indian food after a few days.
There were also the satanic temptations when my colleagues celebrated our team intern’s birthday at a Thai restaurant.
I only had mango kerabu with rice, and I still had to pick out the tiny pieces of dried shrimps from the dish, while the others ate signature Thai dishes of green curry chicken and tom yam seafood right in front of me.
But I’m proud that I “survived” those temptations.
However, the last straw was when I attended the Macee-Fulbright Malaysia 50th Anniversary gala dinner on the seventh day of my vegan diet.
I had requested for a vegan meal the week before but I was served non-vegan courses.
Not wanting to trouble the organisers or make a huge fuss about it, I decided to be the cincai (whatever) me again, and consume whatever I could eat at the table.
No doubt, I felt bad about it but I continued the diet for four more days before totally giving up on finding proper vegan meals around my office.
Mentally, being a vegan helped with my work. I felt less tired and sleepy since there was less acidity in my body, and I could focus better, especially after lunch.
I am a climber of moderate fitness, and I found myself feeling lighter and it was easier to exert myself.
Some experts would argue that it is all about one’s state of mind, and that if you believe that eating healthily will improve your body and mind reflexes, then it will.
A vegan diet certainly has benefits, but it also requires persistence.
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