It should not be that difficult to be a vegan in Bangladesh as our food is already vegan by default if you exclude the fish.”
~Rubaiya Ahmad, Founder, Bangu Vegan
When 21-year-old Nameera Ahmed embraced the vegan lifestyle, she was mocked by her university friends as they thought she was trying to look "cool" on campus.
"I was always a vegetarian and for several health issues; I had to avoid meat anyways. Subsequently, I found out details about veganism online and started a vegan diet," Nameera told The Business Standard.
"At the beginning it was not so easy and my mom did not support me when I stopped drinking milk, eating eggs or any other dairy products."
"It took me a long time to convince my parents that I was getting proper nutrition, especially protein from the plant based meals."
Being vegan in Bangladesh is challenging as it is a comparatively new concept and our cuisine is mostly fish based. As Bangladeshis, how can we also forget about our love for biryani?
The philosophy behind veganism is to abstain from consuming all sorts of animal products, particularly in diet, to avoid any kind of harm to animals.
Rubaiya Ahmad, the founder of the country's first vegan eatery Bangu Vegan, said, "It should not be that difficult to be a vegan in Bangladesh as our food is already vegan by default, if you exclude the fish."
"The main problem is with the fast food culture and the desire we have developed for junk food over the years."
When asked what obstacles vegans face, Rubaiya replied, "Initially, it takes time to make people understand the concept. If you are a food lover, you have to come up with alternatives for popular meat dishes; it is all about the support system and adapting yourself."
Another vegan, Faria, who hails from Chittagong, told The Business Standard, "I come from a family where everybody just loves beef, it was difficult for me to switch to a completely different diet. At first, many people could not believe that I gave up eating beef."
"People are concerned about the deprivation vegans have to go through for giving up meat, cheese, or things like that, but it does not work that way. Vegan meals can be as delicious as non-veg dishes."
Difference between vegetarianism and veganism
Vegans do not consume any products that exploit animals. For instance, vegans do not drink cow milk.
"For us to get dairy milk, the cow is artificially impregnated to give birth to a cub and the cub will be deprived from its mother's milk while we will get the milk, said Rubaiya.
"On the other hand, a vegetarian will eat dairy products. A vegetarian may eat egg or ghee. But vegans do not eat any animal products or animal by-products."
Veganism is not only limited to diet. Vegans do not wear silk or leather products.
"Anything and everything that exploits animals is forbidden in veganism," added Rubaiya.
What is the substitute for milk and proteins in veganism?
According to vegans, recent researches show that cow milk could be harmful for humans and is responsible for various kinds of cancers, including prostate and breast cancer.
"Milk is full of toxins, it is believed to be a great source of calcium, but our body cannot absorb that amount of calcium, and when we pump the milk from the cows, it contains all sorts of hormones," claimed Rubaiya.
"As a substitute for cow milk you can have plant based milk such as almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk-options are unlimited," informed Rubaiya.
Sumaiyah Rafique, clinical nutritionist at BIHS General Hospital said, "The milk of a cow that is grass fed in a natural environment is not harmful for the human body."
"However, commercially raised or produced cows are dangerous for the human body and if any cow is injected with hormones, that cow's milk and meat are harmful for us."
Talking about plant based milk, nutritionist Sumaiyah added, "Plant based milk cannot completely substitute cow's milk as it is a nutrient-dense food. Plant based milks serve as a better than none type of substitute for lactose intolerant people, but are not good for children."
Sumaiyah believes it is possible to balance protein in a vegan diet but not always - as plant-based proteins are considered second class proteins - since they are incomplete proteins which might cause protein deficiency for lack of proper nutrition knowledge.
"Food habit is very important and vegans should eat beans and different kinds of seeds more frequently," she concluded.