Funny Things That Happen To A Vegan In A Punjabi Family!
I am Punjabi Anonymous, and I have been vegan for six years now. When I was asked to share my experience of being vegan in a Punjabi family, I was delighted at the prospect. Everybody knows the USP of Punjabi cuisine—butter chicken and butter naan with extra butter! Now, imagine the pain of a Punjabi mother whose kid refuses to eat the chicken dish she took an entire day to prepare ‘JUST BECAUSE’ he is a vegan. The result is another dish—full of mommy’s concern, garnished with serious melodrama.
But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Let me take you through a few amusing things I experienced daily being the only vegan in a Punjabi family:
1. Butter Naan With Extra Butter!
This concept of eating butter-smeared naan with some more butter on top isn’t limited to when we, Punjabis, are eating out; it’s a daily practice, a tradition. At home, the mother open-heartedly smears chapattis with a lot of Ghee (clarified butter), which, somehow, does not classify as an animal product for them.
Those who try to explain that they can’t eat a ghee-smeared chapatti for ghee is a milk product, and hence an animal byproduct, have to bear the emotional brunt of dialogues like ‘Beta, aise kaise chalega?’ and ‘Kamzor hote ja rahe ho, Tum!’ (How will you survive? and You’re losing weight with time!’)
2. The Never-Ending Jokes
The only things my siblings and me have in common in a restaurant are our DNA and beer. The siblings and cousins, are generally more appreciative of your life choices but they won’t give up the opportunity to crack a ‘chicken joke’ or two; to which I often behave like the cat from the Grumpy Cat memes:
(A bowl full of chicken in front of me.)
Brother: Are you sure you are not tempted enough to eat this?
Brother, mockingly: Oh, right, you are a vegan! (Picks up the bowl and polishes off the food.)
(My cousin calls)
Cousin: Come home, I have made brilliant mutton kheema.
Me: I am vegan, remember?
Cousin: But I have made mutton KHEEMA!
Me: Uh..Ummm… (Silence followed by giggles from the other end, I don't want to explain to them why even the thought of it makes me sick so I make my cat face to give the message)
3. To The Dark Side
These well-intentioned cousins and siblings, who have the most influence on you, even try to pull you the dark side at times:
Sister: I know you want to eat it (swaying a piece of tandoori chicken under my nose). I know you like the smell of it, and you are tempted!
What I want to say: If I'm still tempted, would I have even quit it?
Wht I actually say: No!
(Everybody at the dining table laughs at the same joke for the hundredth time!)
4. In A Bad Light
A family that loves their daily meat and milk, takes all your vegan food choices personally. Usually the challenge lies not in overcoming the temptation to consume non-vegan products, but in surviving the constant not-true-anymore nutrition related advice doled out by mummyji and daddyji on a daily basis. They are concerned our food choices will lead to extreme malnutrition and probable starvation. Which by the law of relativity will make them out to be callous parents. If you are a Punjabi or have close friends who are Punjabi you have already visualized this scene and can’t stop laughing!
5. The Classic Experience
By far the most amusing experience has been when I was once having lunch at my maternal uncle’s house, and on refusing to drink lassi, here’s what ensued.
Uncle: Punjabis are from the land of lassi and chicken, and hence must not refuse the two. Lassi flows through our veins, plus, it’s essential for our digestion.
Me: Sigh! I think I will stick with my glass of water.
The dining table was a sanctuary of silence after that; the only sound probably being the gushing sound of ''lassi' flowing through my uncle’s veins. (and sometimes digestive tract)
Though my mom and dad try to be as supportive as they can of my food and cloth choices, sometimes their Punjabi conscience takes over, and they sit me down for what they claim is a heart-to-heart chat! But of course it’s a big-time brainwash session. So, once I came home from work, and found my mom and dad sitting at the dining table.
Dad: Son, come and sit with us.
Me, (quick in sensing the eerie atmosphere): Is everything, alright?
Mom: Yes, we just need to talk to you about something.
Me: What is it?
Mom: We think you need to start drinking milk at least, and have Paneer (a fresh cheese), too.
Me: We are not having this conversation again, are we? And they are animal products, so I won’t.
Dad (laughs out loud): No, they aren’t.
Me: They are! Milk comes from ANIMALS!
Dad: You need to be a little flexible. Arrey Tofu samajh ke kha le puttar!
(I roll my eyes and let out a long sigh)
(Scene1): The surprised look
Whenever I go for dinner at the house of a relative who does not know about me being vegan, this is kind of how they react upon finding out:
(Scene 2) : What are you making?
My family members are just reluctant to accept that tofu or other soy products can taste as good as milk or meat products.
(Me making tofu.)
Brother: “Mmm, smells nice! What are you making?”
Me, pleased: “Tofu. You want to try?”
Brother, with a sheepish smile: “Ummm, I think, I’ll pass!”
On a sidenote, I actually served them a tofu dish without discussing the ingredients much and they couldn't stop licking their fingers!
To be honest, besides a few moments of genuine hilarity it’s only a matter of time till even your Punjabi family accepts your way of life. It is the initial time of conversion that is a bit challenging, after which, your CAN’Ts change to WON’Ts, and selective eating becomes a habit. And since there is not much you can say or do that will totally convince your family of the abundant life, environmental and health benefits of veganism (trust me, I have tried every possible way to convince them!), you just have to throw your anchor deep and cruise through.
The only way to keep loving your overenthusiastic Punjabi family is to walk placidly amidst all the shava-shava, the balle-balle, and retain your faith.
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