Cows + Garbage = Veganism in India

On Thursday, Saskia and I scoot to Koot Rd. with Richard and Immanuel. Richard hails from Scotland and stands 6’2, with light blonde hair. Immanuel, a long-term volunteer from Spain, has dark hair, a wide smile and a large, stud-style nose ring.

We go to Sunrise, an Indian restaurant Sadhana volunteers frequent, and wait until all the Korean’s filter out and there’s a free table. When we finally get a seat, it takes several minutes to get our waiter’s attention. They don’t serve dosa or perota until after 6, so we wait until our desired food’s ready.

“Sometimes I just have to fart so badly after eating all that vegan food,” Saskia says.

“Well just go ahead,” I say.

“I feel self-conscious, you know? What if it’s a loud one?”

Immanuel lets loose decently loud fart. Saskia laughs and a little fart falls out.

“Ooooh hoo!”

“Sometimes, if they are quiet, they can be really smelly.”

“Silent but deadly,” I say.

“Then just get up and walk away,” Richard says. “I think the loud ones are actually safer.”

The food comes. It’s my first time eating dosa, which is a large crêpe. It’s lovely, but I thought I was ordering it stuffed with potato and sauce. It comes plain. Alas for miscommunication.

Afterwards we take our motorbikes to the Auroville town hall, where we sit in the air-conditioned theater. They are showing a Spanish movie about the Chilean freedom movement, called, “Revolution.” It’s a full-blown night out.


The eco-film on Friday, “Peaceable Kingdom,” was about factory farming and animal abuse in the states. The main characters of the movie were the founders of Farm Sanctuary, an organization that rescues abused farm animals and provides a safe and caring environment for them to recover and live the course of their lives.

The movie, while informative, was aggressive and the music choices were at times overwhelming and seemingly inappropriate. Apparently it was the tamer of most vegan movies.

While I understand that it’s important to get people’s attention and to spread the word about animal cruelty as widely as possible, it seems that such intense tactics might isolate more people. That got me thinking about activist theater, and what makes some more successful than others; for example, why Rachel Corrie was such an important and effective show.

A large part of life at Sadhana revolves around veganism and animal activism. Many discussions, movies, and literature about veganism circulate around volunteers. While not all of us are vegans, many are considering it since coming to Sadhana. In this, they are running a largely successful effort to spread veganism and information about why it’s important to everyone who visits.

I must admit, when I first looked into volunteering at Sadhana, the veganism thing was a turn off. I have long felt that most vegans were aggressive, like some zealous religious faction, exclusive, and I found the whole concept difficult to understand. I came here thinking that this would be a vegan phase in my life, but not a chosen lifestyle. After all, how can a Wisconsin girl say no to a piece of artisanal cheese?

I’ll admit something that surprises me: I don’t miss it. I don’t know if it’s the heat, or the food here, or the fact that I see a lot of cows munching garbage and can’t imagine that I’d want to consume their milk. Indians cook with oil, not butter, so that much is easy.

I like my coffee black now, I see that it’s possible to eat vegan and still eat bread, cinnamon roles, pasta…many delicious food items. At any rate, I never thought I would seriously consider veganism. I considered myself too much of a “foodie,” and furthermore, I like to support local farmers and small business.

More and more I can see that the organics movement, particularly in the states, is being co-opted by big business, and isn’t so much about the animal’s lifestyle as the organic food they are fed. I am starting to feel like feeling entitled to take something from any animal seems unjust. I am wondering why we view horses, cats and dogs differently from cows, goats, and sheep.

The transformation inside my mind creates confusion and surprises me on a daily basis. I guess I really wonder, am I strong enough to be a vegan? How badly would I miss cheese and butter, living in the states?

I know some things for certain: I absolutely cannot eat meat or eggs, milk or butter, unless I know where it’s coming from, and it’s local and organic.

If I become a vegan, I will really need to learn how to cook. For the survival of my food passion, and also to continue to socialize with people who are not vegan – so as not to severely limit my social circle. I would need to be able to prepare meals when I go home, bring enough food for others and myself to potlucks. It wouldn’t be easy.

Ultimately, I think I would fall into the “mostly vegan” category. I might need to eat the occasional piece of cheese, or indulge in something I crave when I go out to eat. I think that’s doable/realistic and fits into my moral and ethical position on food and animals.


Saturday we go to Nikki’s beach house for the afternoon. Getting there with all the groceries we need for lunch and cinnamon roles somehow takes us two hours, and when we finally we arrive, everyone just chills out.

Nikki, a petite native Indian, has lived, on and off, at Sadhana for three years. She wears camouflage shorts and a bright pink tank top. Her boyfriend Nick has also called Sadhana home for nearly the same length of time. Nikki house-sits in Auroville, and this gives them both the escape they need for the sake of sanity.

We get a foot bath in the pond outside the house, with an Indian “fish massage,” where they eat all the dead skin from your feet and legs. We just chat about food, family, life and love for awhile and slowly put a late lunch together.

The meal turns out lovely. We eat garlic bread toasted in the oven with big chunks of diced garlic, oil and basil. The pesto pasta has roasted eggplant and green pepper, and for dessert we each get out own big cinnamon roll.

Jeff, Tommasina and I stroll out to the motorbike and try to start it up. The engine normally turns over immediately, but this time it doesn’t. Jeff attempts to kick-start it several more times before admitting that we’re out of gas.

It’s twilight, and the prospect of walking the motorbike some unknown distance in search of petrol doesn’t make any of us happy.

Suddenly a short, stout woman with flowing gray hair and pink crocs appears. We ask her the nearest place to get petrol.

“The nearest place to get good, quality petrol is Auroville,” she says.

“Yes but we have no petrol to get there,” we say.

“Ahhhhhhhh. Well, you can have some of my petrol,” she says. “Shami, can you give these kids some of my petrol?” speaking to a small Indian man who is fixing the horn on her motorcycle.

“Yes yes,” Shami says.

“How does it work? What do you need to give them petrol?” she asks.

“I just need a bottle,” he says.

Tommasina downs her Kombucha and hands him the bottle. He walks over to her petrol tank and opens a cap at the bottom. The golden liquid quickly fills the small bottle.

“Imagine that! It’s my own bike and I didn’t know you could do that,” the woman says.

Shami fills up the bottle to a half-liter, but the woman insists on giving us a whole liter.

“How much is a liter?” Jeff asks.

“Here? It’s free,” the woman grins. She’s got small pointy teeth that spread into a witchy-grin.

“Can we pay you?”

“Oh no, no. Happy to help. It’s not safe walking the scooter out there on the highway with all the horses and buggies and traffic.”

“Are you sure?”

“Stop asking me or I’ll think about it too hard and maybe reconsider,” the woman says, grinning again.

“How long have you lived here?” Tommasina asks.

“Five years…and imagine that, it’s my own bike and I didn’t know you could drain the petrol out like that.”

We put in the liter of her gas and get the bike going. She laughs watching the three of us pile on.

On the way home, Tommasina says, “That was crazy, right? It was like she was a good witch of some sort.”

“Where did she come from? It seems like she just apparated there in our moment of need,” I say.

“With pink crocs, talking about horses and buggies.”

We get home safe and sound. After all that fuss, we find out that we accidentally took the wrong bike. Somehow, the key to the scooter we borrowed also worked on another, similar scooter. As it turns out, one key could easily start another scooter if you don’t lock the wheel. In the end, we gave one of our fellow Sadhana volunteers a free two liters of gas and called it a day.


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