**This may not be the best argument for why someone should be a vegetarian, but I struggled a lot in my teenage years to try to persuade others to follow this exact argument… fond memories… This is my attempt at writing persuasively**

Are any of you vegetarian?  There are many different kinds of vegetarians but in general it is the practice of being an herbivore and not eating meat, poultry, and fish.  Why would you become one?  Well, there are many reasons.  It may be a requirement of your religion, or you may just hate the taste of meat.  Also, you might be against the horrifying injustices and cruelties animals suffer in slaughterhouses, or just want to lead a healthier lifestyle.  The three main types of vegetarians are lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs and dairy products, lacto-vegetarians, who use dairy products but not eggs, and vegans, who consume neither.

Milk and other dairy products are not used by vegans because they believe that it is only meant for calves.  We are the first species to drink milk after our weaning years and the first to drink the milk of other animals as well.  Also, eggs are not alway considered vegetarian because they are the hen’s offspring and the product of their sexual organ.  Also, the size of the egg grows as time passes.  Therefore, they are impure and not completely lifeless.

I am a lacto-vegetarian.  Since the time I was born, I was brought up to follow this diet because of my religion, Jainism.  As ahimsa, non-violence is one of the most important Jain principles and way of life, being a vegetarian is a way of minimizing the amount of violence and pain I give to other living creatures.  Other Jains who are very pious, are much stricter than myself and don’t eat tuber-roots, which are vegetables grown underground.  The reason is that vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, are the home of many tiny organisms.  So, by digging up these vegetables, the lives of many creatures can be in danger.

Being an herbivore doesn’t mean I don’t harm anyone.  Science has proven that vegetables and fruits are one-sensed organisms.  They have the sense of touch.  However, there is less violence involved in plucking a fruit rather than killing a chicken.  Trees are living beings as well.  Scientists have been able to hook up cardiographs to them, which show their heartbeat.  They are very sensitive and their graph goes wild when someone comes to cut them or their friends down!

Did you know that many famous people are either vegans or vegetarians?   This includes Drew Barrymore, Michael J. Fox, Brooke Shields, Brad Pitt, Ricki Lake, Leonardo da Vinci, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain among many others.  All of theses individuals probably realized that by eating meat they would become murderers.  In other words, by being a non-vegetarian, it would be like you were killing and eating your own ancestors, which is the not too different from cannibalism.

There are many advantages of practicing vegetarianism.  People have less pesticides, fats, and cholesterol, and at the same time, are less likely to have a heart attack, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, gallbladder disease, hypertension or any other illness.  Their bodies retain fewer antibiotics, fossil fuels, and toxic chemical residues, and they have a very small chance of receiving a bacterial infection such as E. coli.

Vegetarians get their calcium, protein, iron, and vitamins from different vegetables, leafy greens, beans, cereal, nuts, fruits, juices, bread, and about fifteen minutes in the sun each day.  The proper food promotes their physical and psychological health.  Meat has more proteins than the daily need but an excess amount of meat protein creates unnecessary uric acid, which is a breeder of several diseases.

Becoming a vegetarian is the first step in lowering the violence done onto animals.  A total number of about seven billion animals are slaughtered each year in the United States alone. SEVEN BILLION ANIMALS ARE SLAUGHTERED EACH YEAR!  That’s about 500,000 animals killed each hour!  Animals raised primarily for the production of food are not capable of having natural sexual, social, hygienic, and parental behavior.  They are in excruciating pain from they time that they are born and taken away from their mother to the time they are taken to the slaughter house.  R. M. Dolgin once said, “Anything that can feel pain should not be put to pain.”

Individuals who consume meat, dairy, and egg can cause many sicknesses including: strokes, heart attacks, kidney stones, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and stomach cancer among others.  Vegans have a four percent risk of death from a heart attack compared to fifty percent risk for meat eaters.  Also, the intake of cow’s milk is linked to dysfunctions of the thyroid gland, osteoporosis, headaches, and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.

It is imperative that everyone become a vegetarian in the near future for the sake of the environment, for animal rights, and for health purposes.  Being a vegan or vegetarian will significantly increase the lifespan of human beings and help them have a more tension free life.  They will be able to save the lives of about 100 million people who would have starved to death as a result of malnutrition and at the same time decrease the amount of pollution in rivers and streams.  Vegetarianism will help make the world a better, happier place where all beings will be treated as equals and animals will have their own rights.  As Leonardo da Vinci said, “The time will come when men will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men.”

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Stirfry Spring Rolls

Fresh Vegetable Stir Fry Spring Rolls

**Most of the time, I like to cook quick meals that I know are healthy and require little preparation. One staple go-to meal for me when I’m feeling peckish but not famished is a simple fresh spring roll with stir-fried vegetables. By fresh, I mean not deep-fried. Since I bought my first packet of rice paper in Chicago, I’ve never looked back. It is now one of the main ingredients I will buy in bulk to bring back to India whenever I’m travelling.**

Stirfry Spring RollIngredients:

1 tsp Oil
1 Onion
1 Carrot
1/2 Bell Pepper
1/4 Cabbage
1-2 Tbsp your choice of Sauce
[Option: tasty with a handful of bean sprouts and/or rice noodles]

Recommended Sauces:
Soy Sauce
Barbecue Sauce
Peri Peri Sauce

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in a frying pan and add onions. After 2 minutes, add carrots and green peppers. In the end, mix in cabbage and noodles/sprouts (optional) then put in a few drops of your favorite sauce to the mixture. Make sure it tastes a tiny bit stronger than you’d like, because it will get wrapped in rice paper.
  2. Take a rice paper round and dip in water for 10-20 seconds. place wet rice paper sheet on a mat or cutting board, load stir-fried mixture, and wrap into a parcel to make spring roll. Repeat until your rice sheets and stir-fried vegetables are over.

Note: Through trial and error, I’ve learnt that this form of spring roll tastes better when the sauce flavoring is put inside the roll, as opposed to a dipping sauce accompaniment. Also, even if the filling for the spring roll is runny, the rice paper tends to hold liquid well. Alternatively, adding just a few strands of rice noodles will have the effect of soaking up any extra liquid. Just have fun and experiment!

Cooking Time: 15 mins
Yields: 4-6 rolls 

Russian Baklazhannaya Ikra / Poor Man’s Caviar

IMG_20151119_135815

**This classic Russian eggplant spread is best served cold with Russian rye bread. The flavors remind me of Indian dishes like Pav Bhaji and Baingan Ka Bharta, and would taste great warm with roti as well! This Ikra was made using local Indian produce and will require readjustment in amounts if cooked elsewhere.**

This is a Vegan, and Vegetarian dish that can be eaten warm or cold!

Ingredients:

2 medium-sized eggplantsIMG_20151119_125950.jpg
1/4 cup tomato puree
4 tomatoes
3 onions
1 green pepper
1/2 head of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Directions:

Place whole eggplants on direct heat and roast until skin begins to bubble. Take off heat, peel skins, and dice eggplant. Dice or mince the tomatoes, onions, pepper, and garlic too.

Heat oil in a frying pan and put in onions and garlic. When translucent, add green peppers and eggplant pieces. After 2 minutes, stir in tomatoes.

Now add tomato puree, salt, and sugar. Mix, cover with lid, and turn down the heat to medium low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes while stirring occasionally.

Your caviar is ready to eat as is (that is what I did) or refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight) before serving with your choice of bread!

Note: I tried an online recipe much like this one (no tomato puree) about a year ago and loved it, but I misplaced the recipe, so this time I made it from memory and it still tasted delicious. A lot of the recipes you will find are either pureed to a paste or a lot chunkier, but I like making mine with minced/diced vegetables so that it can evenly be spread on the wheat bread we have at home.

Cooking Time: 60 minutes
Serving Size: 4  people

Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake

**I adapted this recipe from allrecipes.com according to what local Indian ingredients are available and take into account my family’s food preferences. This delicious recipe is super simple to make and very moist to eat. It doesn’t require frosting and can be gobbled up in a matter of minute!**

This is a Vegan, Vegetarian, Egg-Less Recipe!

Ingredients:

Ingredients for Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake

carrot cake ingredients

5 carrots finely grated
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flax seed meal
3/4 Tbsp cinnamon powder
3/4 cup hot water
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/8 cup sliced almonds
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 180 degrees Celsius). Prepare a greased baking pan (I used 3 small bread loaf pans).

How To Make Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake

dry and wet mixtures

In a mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: whole wheat flour, cinnamon powder, baking soda, and salt. In another mixing bowl, soak flax seed meal in the hot water until it absorbs the water, then add sugar and vanilla essence.

Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake Batter

ready to bake!

When sugar has melted, add grated carrots and almonds. Now add dry mixture to this wet carrot mixture and pour into baking pan.

Baking Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake

bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 180 degrees Celsius

Bake for about 30-40 minutes or until the cake is cooked properly in the center.

Sliced Vegan Carrot Cinnamon Cake

sliced and ready to gobble up!

Let it cool before slicing, and it’s ready to eat!

Note: I halved the original recipe, which also suggests eating this with frosting but I found it sweet enough on its own. It was gobbled up in a matter of minutes!

Cooking Time: 60 minutes
Serving Size: 10-12 people

You’ll find that I don’t have a post up for my green smoothie attempt #1 up because it was a DISASTER! I’ve since tried to eradicate that particular disaster from my mind (lets just say, spicy green chutney in a smoothie – even by mistake – is a sure way to die by acid reflux…).

Anyway, attempt #2 was a success and I really liked the combo of ingredients in this one! Plus, it doesn’t call for sugar, honey, or maple syrup! Unless it’s chocolate or pastries, I prefer my food & drink not too sweet anyway. So, the smoothie I made a few days ago was perfect! It was mild, sedated, had loads of texture, and tasted yum! I didn’t realize until I sat down to drink it that I hadn’t put anything other than 4-5 grapes and a few chunks of banana in for sweetness.

Try it and let me know what you thought!


Dragon Fruit and Banana Green Smoothie

Dragon Fruit and Banana Green Smoothie

**This recipe is nutritious and includes no sugar or sweeteners. It is mild and had lots of texture due to the dragon fruit and chia seeds**

This is a Quick, Sugar-Free, Raw, and Vegetarian Recipe!

Ingredients:

1/2 – 1 banana
1/4 dragon fruit
handful of grapes
small handfull spinach
1/2 Tbsp chia seed powered
1 glass (220ml) milk
ice cubes

Directions:

Put all of the ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until smooth. Serve fresh immediately.

Note: If you’d like to up the sugar content of this smoothie, just add 1 Tbsp of sugar or twice the amount of grapes and banana and that should set you straight!
Optional: simply substitute the milk for soy milk or almond milk to make this recipe vegan!

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Serving Size: 2 glasses
Flavour: Mild Banana
Color: Light Green
Texture: Crunchy!

 

This is the last installment in a 3-post series about my weight woes. To read the earlier posts, here are Part 1 (Journey from Childhood to College) and Part 2 (Journey from PCOD to Weight Watchers to Gymming Frustrations).

As a pretty isolated person who felt quite out of her element having moved to India for the first time in her life, I had a hard time adjusting to my surroundings. With little in the way of like-minded friends or the opportunity to meet twenty-somethings who weren’t busy wives and mothers, the gym was a temporary answer. Most of the friends I made that year came in the form of an eighteen-year-old college freshman, girls enjoying their engagement status or honeymooning phase, my early-thirties powerhouse gym trainer, and aunties my mom’s age who loved their gossip. Gym buddies are a lovely thing aren’t they? You meet a group of strangers when you decide to join the gym and become the coveted ‘regular’ which brings about solidarity. The same thing happened to me when I joined. I enjoyed their daily company, especially since I was heavily aware that I never meet such a diverse group of people in my daily life. The married women (especially those with lil ones) were taking an hour out of their busy schedules to come and work out, so the gym proved to be a good focal point around which friendships could be forged.  In fact, it was nice having people push and support your weight loss goals and compliment your efforts.

I got into the habit of keeping a detailed daily diary of the types of exercises I’d do, number of repetitions, and time taken to do them. It proved irreplaceable when I’d be in a particularly bad mood and feel inclined to stop because the weight wasn’t coming off as I wanted it to. Those disheartened moments would be replaced by surprise and self-praise upon reading that I’d done the elliptical for 45-60 minutes that very morning or done 300 bamboo stick rotations as well as a 30 minute step aerobics workout just hours beforehand. I worked up my stamina immensely in that year and I was proud of what I had achieved. As I mentioned in the last post, even though the scale remained rigidly immobile and I couldn’t lose any kilos that year, I looked and felt like a whole new person. My confidence soured higher after being in the dump for a while and at least I was holding my head up high regarding my workout regime.

My weight goals were clear from the beginning – don’t get stuck on losing weight, but rather get fit, build stamina, and gain energy. I was achieving all of that. I assumed the numerical weight loss would be an obvious side effect. However, I was also aware that the unchanging number was partly my own fault. One major factor that could have hindered me weight loss, aside from it being replaced by muscle mass, was the fact that my social life improved immensely (as did my happiness quotient) which meant I’d go out to eat (portion-controlled) greasy Indian snacks and gorge on popcorn at the movies a lot more than usual as a way of treating myself. We didn’t keep sodas (a big weakness of mine) or chips in the house, so the convenient location of my gym also meant that I could sneak in a celebratory fizzy drink once in a while.

So was friendship and small doses of happiness stopping me from losing weight? In all probability, yes. Was my PCOD condition to blame? Well, probably that too. Was the gym a good decision to get fit? Definitely, hands down.

When I finally got my acceptance letter to the University of Chicago, and moved there, my happy quotient shot higher as I got one step closer to making my PhD dreams come true. It was not long before I founds interesting personalities and fantastic friends who dissipated the lingering loneliness I’d been feeling since my last degree. (That’s not surprising, because the strongly charged atmosphere of being in a university setting tends to foster rather strong bonds and relationships…) I was getting my fix back after unknowingly being in withdrawal for ages 😀 With this silent craving satisfied, the lingering results of my gymming still in effect, and the ideas and hopes for my academic future free-flowing, I could care less about my ‘obese-ness.’ The worries rolled off my shoulders.

The inevitable stresses of learning culture, a breeding ground for tension and depression, did get to boiling point for me a few months later. Although it wasn’t my weight that directly got affected because of the emotional ups and downs I felt, my body was definitely telling a different story. Ironically, it was weird that my weight – which had always gone up steadily – never changed once for those months I was in Chicago, regardless of the tumultuous emotions wreaking havoc inside. As a long-time sufferer of depression, I was surprised to note how much my symptoms changed as I became more and more disenfranchised with my life and academia. I started developing reactions that I’d never had before, which weren’t limited to only the following: stress hives, social anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, and frequent mood swings. The only thing that didn’t ‘swing’ was my weight.

I sought professional help for my mental health and managed to get the majority of my physical symptoms and problems under control over a lengthy period of time. In the meantime, I finished my classes, started working, and reached the unofficial ABD (all but dissertation) status for my Masters degree. With the supportive help of friends and colleagues, I got through, but as they left Chicago, one by one, for newer horizons, I ended up reverting to my isolated self. My mental well-being suffered a downturn and I took the decision to put my health first and continue my degree from home. And what timing it was! Because it I ended up getting appendicitis, needing an appendectomy, and being on virtual bed rest for about 2 months soon after I got back! Coincidence, coincidence. Of course, my weight showed no signs of changing through all the chaos.

As I worked on gradually turning emotionally unstable to stable and some form of acceptance, I took it upon myself to revise my earlier wishes of simply ‘getting healthy’ and having a ‘balanced diet’ into much much more. My ‘obesity’ issues took a new turn…

With a personal journey that started with an earthquake and one Choco Pie, and led to uncontrollable weight gain and conflicting body image issues, what followed was a PCOD diagnosis and subsequent trials of diet and fitness regimes. After confronting continued mental health issues and a mind-numbing stagnation in my weight in the past few years, I have finally come to understand the triviality of weight labels like ‘obese’ and ‘overweight.’ I’ve come to realize that weight woes, and any insecurities you may have about your body image, have no influence and bearing on whether one can achieve health, happiness, and well-being through one’s life. Move beyond the physical, and be happy with the inner you!

Besides ‘physical fitness’ and ‘healthy diet,’ I now yearn to be ‘content with myself’ (weight and all) and strive for ‘mental fitness.’ I’m incessantly working towards these goals, as this is a journey that will take a lifetime. There is no guarantee that my depression and anxiety will not return (I’m nearly 100% sure I’ll have to deal with those feelings for the rest of my life), but nothing stops me from finding coping strategies that can lessen each painful blow. Whether it is maintaining a healthy diet, physical exercise, mental stability, or finding balance and harmony through meditation, I’m doing what I can to minimize the future hurdles that will undoubtedly come my way.

Thanks for reading everyone! May life’s challenges and struggles make you strong!

This is the second post of a 3-part series about my weight woes. Read Part 1 (Journey from Childhood to College) here and Part 3 (Journey from Physical Fitness to Mental Fitness) here. 

Imagine you are an obese and content Indian female, excited about starting your MSc in a field you want to carve a future in, with all of life’s possibilities in front of you. Then, imagine you go to see a gynecologist who scares the living daylights of a 21 year old you as she explains how your PCOD condition could lead to high chances of infertility and hinder your prospects of having any normal “happily married life.” This is why, the numerous women doctors dictate, I need to lose weight now!

**Insert head roll and long rant about different life priorities/choices, preconceived notions of marriage, and not to mention the ignorance about one’s gender and sexual identity.It is NOT a given that every person is interested in marriage, the opposite sex, or giving birth to babies – and each issue is mutually exclusive!** 

To be given such pointed threats by the doctors, that I might lose the ability to conceive and procreate if I leave the matter unattended to (regardless of my personal inclination to or not), was both horrifying yet exceeding infuriating. It seemed my weight worries migrated from being my own person’s concerns to that of a third party. I wasn’t dismissing my disease’s importance, but I also felt like my symptoms were not unique just to me, and it was glaringly not a life or death situation. The nutritionists weren’t much better as they weren’t taking my lifestyle and schedule into account when prescribing me a meal plan to follow. Studying as an international student abroad, these Indians gave me diets that’s clashed with what was available to buy and make in my surrounding. Needless to say, I never visited the same doctor twice.

Yeah I'm fat because of PCOS, and I'm working on that. I'm still beautiful and I have a great personality.

Guys and gals still found me beautiful (or at least not ugly), I was happy doing what I wanted to, and the family and I had come to accept, to some extent, what was ‘Manjree’s weighty problems.’ Friends would be surprised to hear I was considered “obese” (unless they were just being super sweet) and the chubby arms bothered no one at grad school. Seeing so many girls who looked like me casually walk around wearing sleeveless clothes and short cocktail dresses, I definitely gained my nerve to start doing the same.

Again, memory might fail me, but all the right stars seemed to align around then. I found a fantastic GYN in India who didn’t feel the need to boss me around or shamelessly rebuke me. A cocktail of drugs twice a day to keep the PCOD in control was all she demanded before sending me off with her blessing to study further. Check. Upon arriving in England and visiting the GP there, I was told my “obese” status meant I could redeem a free pedometer, a Weight Watcher‘s trial for 12 weeks, and subsidized gym membership too. Some new health initiative by the NHS in my city. I decided to seize the opportunity and give it a try… nothing to lose. Check Check Check.

Although I didn’t walk or exercise much due to the grueling demands of a 12month intensive practicum-based degree, Weight Watchers turned out to be a dream come true. I lost 7kgs that Fall and felt great. I’d never ‘lost’ any weight before, per se, so I never knew how it felt to fit into something a size smaller than I normally wore. (Of course I never bought the smaller size wardrobe because of a sixth sense that I might never fit into them again!) Despite my schedule, I managed to be creative with the diet and I was finally starting to get comfortable with this new world of cooking (something I finally got interested in towards the end of undergrad). It was soups and stews galore I tell you!

Despite a pretty serious addition and craving for chocolate 24/7 as a direct result of joining Weight Watchers (is this another false memory spurred by the Japanese Choco Pie incident?), going to WW meetings gave me a sense of solidarity in the struggles to be rid of hard-to-lose fats. When I didn’t renew my membership post free sessions, and I started getting busier and busier, I slowly gained back those kilos I’d lost, but smoothly over many months. I didn’t regret it or feel upset or shameful. I took it in stride, as I take most of my weight fluctuations, and life continued.

It’s been 5 years since I returned from my MSc and the best word that can describe my battle with my weight is – FLUCTUATING! As the weighing scale has proved time and time again, my weight has been up, down, sideways, and upside down over time. I guess it’s mirrored the confusion and various directions my life has taken these past few years…

For one, I’ve traveled a lot and lived with different family members for 1 to 2 months at a time (not to mention the multitude of weddings and celebrations I’d attend for 2-5 days at a time). Uprooting myself and making a home somewhere new, for short bursts, affected my lifestyle, diet, and also my weight. To live with extended family, even temporarily, is always a sort of weird adoption isn’t it….Whether it was to take GRE classes, do research at a specific library for an article I was trying to publish, taking a month-long cooking course, attending conferences abroad, or staying put while I attempted a month-long silent fast, I had to get used to the diet and cooking methods of that particular household. Some household styles (like using ghee in everything!) resulted in me gaining weight, while other household styles (like being forced to have soup and salad twice daily) resulted in weight loss. Regardless of which direction my weight went during my stays, the changes were always noticeable and time-consuming to adapt to, and later on, to recover from.

But the non-stability hasn’t bothered me as much as you’d expect. To be obsessed with one’s weight, I find, is a huge vortex of pain and suffering. So I’ve been avoiding that route like a plague! Although I’ve always had relatively low self-esteem (and understandably) because of media and society’s portrayal of ‘slim is beautiful’ and ‘fat is lazy’ I have been lucky enough to not have that propaganda overtake my life. (Other serious problems and thoughts have led to depression and self-harming behavior in my time, but my obesity never ranked anywhere in the top reasons for these thoughts.)

Instead, my earnest wish to simply ‘get healthy’ and have a ‘balanced diet’ – as opposed to ‘lose weight’ – has proven to be both an exciting discovery and non-cumbersome. In fact, it was my desire to be healthy and fit (coupled with the pleasant lull of nagging family members who consistently complained about my weight problems) that led me to join the gym for a year (despite all my travels), before I left for Chicago. Although I did my best to follow the gym trainer’s advice and exercised diligently, I ended up frustratingly stable on the weighing scale. I say frustratingly, but that’s not quite how I felt on the matter. Whilst I may not have lost kilograms, I was toner, fitter, lost inches, felt more confident in my own skin, and was replacing plenty of them fat cells for muscle (thanks to my love of weight lifting over cardio).

Nevertheless, my numerical weight and “obese” status remained unchanged….

…Stay tuned as my weight journey continues in Part 3 (Journey from Physical Fitness to Mental Fitness)! Stay balanced and stable! 😀