December 16th 2016
Of course I have been campaigning against cruelty for a long time.
From Washington after the programmes in America, I was flying to South Africa. I reached Cape Town and they had arranged a chef to make specific food for me and that chef was Vegan. He was Vegan but I did not know at that time that he would also have fish which wasn’t quite vegan for me! (laughter). He was preparing good food and I enjoyed the food and then I asked him, “Why don’t you start a restaurant? If this food can be made and if you can serve such food, why don’t you start a restaurant?”. He was happy with the idea. I said I would help him. That’s when we blocked the web ID AhimsaVegan.com. Later on before I left, I told him to bring me a proper proposal of how he would like to do it. At that time, the idea was to do this on a moving bus, catering on wheels in Cape Town so you can move this bus to various locations and sell vegan food. It would be just 10 items on the menu and nothing too complicated. He came back with an idea and said, “I would like to add seafood to the menu!” (Laughter!). I didn’t take it forward!
That is when I came back to India and told Sumit about Ahimsa Vegan. Sumit had already started Madhuban Restaurant in Katra at that time. I asked him “Why don’t you look at having vegan food at the price of fast food?” He said, “It was impractical because the cost cannot be the same”. I said to him “ There will be a way of making the cost very close if not equal”. Meanwhile, if I remember right it was in Nashville or somewhere in the USA, that I went to a vegan restaurant called ‘The Plant‘. The average cost for a meal there was over $100. That is just a starter, main course and a dessert. I told Sumit, that if this is the kind of cost for a vegan meal out then it will be difficult for people come. Maybe you will get customers but everybody cannot afford this kind of price. Unless the vegan concept reaches the grass roots, it is not worthwhile. It is not good enough.
The Ahimsa project then started and Sumit and his team spent a lot of money researching it. If I am right, the last count was about 3.5million INRs they spent researching how to do it and then they hired some consultants and the consultants said “This won’t work!”. So I said let me meet them. I told them the concept I had in mind, something very close to Chipotle and similar kinds of fast food joints. Where you have a variety; a great salad bar and pita bread and then you serve it on a fast food basis so everyone can choose their meal and combination. That I thought would work because people want exclusivity, everybody could have their different tastes satisfied so it should work. Then the consultants said yes this idea could work. I said ‘Ok, roll it out!” So that is where it all began.
I later became very busy. I was not following the project up. The Vegan Café started in Shirdi and we inaugurated it in June 2016. Now I feel that if you look back after 5 years you will see lots of Ahimsa Vegan Cafe outlets in the world. This is my feeling because now we are on the track.
Every new venture endures start-up challenges and obstacles, everything will not be picture perfect in the beginning. Then you will make it. Nothing can be perfect, especially when it is something new and you want to make it unique.
I was explaining to Vijay only this morning that this café is a statement you have made to the world that you are taking this step. It is a sign of conviction. So what exactly is this conviction? It is not just to make profit. Yes, you must make profit otherwise you cannot start anything new but more than profit this project supports nature. For instance, if one person stops eating meat then 70 animals are saved every year. That is one aspect, if 70 animals are not cultivated or produced for meat then that much water and grain will be saved. More than half the world’s manufacturing produce is used for animal farming. It has a huge impact on water table depletion, climate change, global warming, everything is related to the farming of animals even deforestation. The effect is much wider than one would think initially. So you are making a huge statement by opening the café; just look at the effect, layer by layer of great effect! This is equal to hours of preaching! I do not like to preach things, which nobody can follow. You can create something or talk about something that nobody understands and people may think “Oh, this is great stuff!” I would like to be practical and I would like you to be practical. Give great food and make a statement with this food.
I was in Katra at Madhuban Restaurant. They have made great vegan food equivalents comparable to various (non-vegetarian) meals. They are fully vegan using, for instance, soya or other meat alternatives. Somebody said that if food like this can be provided then there is no need for meat. The taste of meat is what people are holding on to now, so if we are able to provide something alternative, which is equivalent to meat, this will help. We are globally addicted to taste and this is one of the bindings of life. We are addicted to taste and we feel that this is important. It is also the wrong notion that is cultivated into people that protein only comes from meat. This is a wrong concept.
There is a lot to do with this concept. It is not just about selling food. It is about creating a culture. Veganism is a culture, it is not about food – it is about a lifestyle. We should be very proud about what we do. We should be able to go out onto the rooftops and shout out about it and tell the world that we are proud to be vegans! This is something that is not just ethical. It is spiritual. When you are not being violent to the world outside, it has to start on the inside. You eat all sorts of stuff and then you preach non-violence outside, it just won’t work because your very cell is against it. Every cell has absorbed the violent aspect of your food. If your food, emotion, knowledge, if all these things are violent then how are we going to deliver to the world something that is non-violent, so it starts from here.
You are what you eat. You are what you think. You are what you speak.
So all these expressions are very important. That is why I said it is a culture. This culture has to continue. Grace will happen for sure because this is very close to nature. When you do good work, nature helps you and it is 90% selfless. I still say you must make profit, because there must be many, many more vegan cafes available to the public as an alternative to the public’s acquired habits – not chosen habits. It is probably not chosen habits all the time, it is acquired habits because society is created in this manner. These acquired habits have to change, and if you do not give an alternative it cannot change. So it is the current culture.
I wish this project great success and I put my weight behind it, my strength behind and I have no qualms in endorsing it because it is noble and ethical. It is the need of the times. You must give an alternative to people so that people can easily, without any excuse, change over to something ethical.
Great job Vijay! Neeshal, all of you, Mita, Jayshree, Rajshree, Anuradha as well!!
Anuradha is an establishment not a person. She has, with my limited acquaintance (I think we have met only twice), apart from being the Head of PETA, done a lot of work on the vegan front. There is a lot of work to do in the days to come. Apart from what you suggested, it’s a good idea that once a month you have a music event, have a buffet at a standard price to eat as much as you like, and you have music and she will sing. Good idea.
This is just a phase. You should reach people. You should be in a position later to cater to airlines, cater to various star hotels. There will be various hotels who will be receptive yes? So, there can be numerous ways, not just catering to events. Ahimsa Vegan can be a regular supplier like a bakery making goods for other shops. They don’t have to store it in the shop, they can deliver to other shops.
When I read the VeganFirst article that you (Anuradha) had posted, it listed that there are many Vegan restaurants in London, so I said Ahimsa Vegan products should be in all these restaurants. You supply to all the restaurants things which are unique to you and you can probably get their unique products here too, so that way you help each other. Create a dialogue between the vegan community, think big, think out of the box. Anuradha has done so many things. For e.g. you can create spreads and packaged products. These can be Ahimsa Vegan branded and can be sold to supermarkets. So don’t stop at selling across the table.
Thank you for coming (Anuradha). (Applause)
[It was very tough for me to take 2 days off because I commit 10 days (every year) to Ganeshananda Giriji‘s trust, but this was essential and I thought it was my responsibility to be here in that manner. I do not know what communication you had had with the team, but when Vijay asked me to come, I said, “Yes, I will come”. I like to connect to the heart of the matter, technical stuff is not my job, so I am glad I am here and thank you for bringing me here.]
Transcribed by Jayshree Mene