“I know that people of color often dismiss veganism as a white person thing [but] this is culturally important for me.”
Alicia talks to culture writer Nadya Agrawal, founder of the South Asian-centered magazine Kajal, about what made her become vegan, connections between veganism and other social justice movements, and turmeric lattes.
Written and presented by Alicia Kennedy
Produced by Sareen Patel
ALICIA KENNEDY: This is “Meatless,” a podcast about eating. I’m Alicia Kennedy, a food and drink writer. I’ll be having conversations with chefs, writers, and more about how their personal and political beliefs determine whether or not they eat meat. This show will ask the question, how do identity, culture, economics, and history affect a diet?
In this episode, I’m talking to Nadya Agrawal, founder of the south Asian-centered art and opinion magazine Kajal. Her writing on race, politics, and culture has appeared in Quartz, Hazlitt,Teen Vogue, Vice, and other outlets. We talked about what made her go vegan after years of vegetarianism, veganism’s connection, or lack thereof, to other social justice movements, and turmeric lattes.
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ALICIA KENNEDY: So, can you tell me where you grew up in, what you ate then?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. Well, so I grew up kind of all over the U.S., because my parents were chasing software engineering jobs in like the early 90s. So I was born in Texas and I was there until I was five in Houston, and then we went all across the country like Atlanta, Georgia, and then Colorado and eventually we settled in California. So like from like seven onwards, I was in California, and eating was really, it wasn’t like a divisive issue in the house because I come from like a Hindu Indian background and so my, my dad was very, very strongly vegetarian and my mom was very flexible so, she just cooked vegetarian at home and then when we went out she very much encouraged me brother and me to like try meat, to eat meat, and then when I was eight years old I realized that meat was animals, and that’s when I stopped eating meat.
I decided at eight, vegetarian. And my brother continued eating whatever he wanted. The rule though is you could not eat beef in front of my mom. So that’s the only thing, that’s like a Hindu thing to like not eat beef and I’m pretty sure, like, my brother still eats beef. It’s just don’t do it in front of her. Yeah.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Do you think it was a lot easier to be vegetarian in that context?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh yeah. I mean like veggie Indian food is amazing. It’s really, really, it’s like, I guess I should say healthy, but that’s arguable in some ways because it’s very cream heavy, very like cheese heavy and stuff, or can be in restaurants, but when you eat at home it’s pretty plain. It’s like rice and beans effectively. And that was what I grew up on and my mom was really, really clever with her use of vegetables, so we made a lot of pizza from scratch. We had a lot of like, like pan-Asian dishes because she actually spent some time in Hong Kong growing up, and so we had a very, like, diverse eating experience at home. So it was never, like, boring to eat vegetarian.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. When did you first hear of veganism?
NADYA AGRAWAL: When I was about, like, 20 or so, like, I was on Tumblr, like browsing, and I had heard about like, veganism in like high school, but it didn’t really like compute as like a, like a viable course because it was still so heavily made fun of, and it was still such like an out-there concept. And then I found myself like beginning to really like relate to the posts about veganism, and like I was actually finally like learning about how like the dairy and the egg industries still feed into the kind of the same like, you know, animal destruction that I was trying to avoid by not eating meat. Like it was still as, it was so violent. And you know, with the case of dairy, it still feeds into the meat industry with veal. And I just, I couldn’t keep doing that and it kind of went hand-in-hand right, right when I discovered veganism for real, when I actually started like reading more on it, that’s when it really sunk in for me.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. And so how has it affected interpersonal relationships after that?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Well, so, I mean, pardon the very non-vegan expression, but I went cold turkey on going vegan. Like I learned about it, I had like a series of panic attacks about my effect on the world. And then I just like started to like not eat that food anymore. Like I just, like, I used to eat omelets every morning and then I stopped, and my family, like my extended family, like freaked out, like my parents are a little bit confused. They had also seen me like cut all my hair off recently and like, you know, get pixie cuts and like change things very radically in their minds. Like they were kind of like, not really sure what to say, but like my grandmother was convinced I was going to die. A lot of the members of my family were very, like, you know, they were very like, mean-spirited with like their, their jokes and then they might not think that, but it felt like a lot being like an individual experiencing all that by myself and having to kind of stand up for something I was still trying to like learn about.
So that was really rough. And I was just like, had to convince everybody that I wasn’t going to die. Which is also a really hard thing to do. It’s kind of like equally like macabre and funny at the same time as you’re just like, this is a ridiculous thing. Like I’ve been vegetarian since I was eight. What makes you think like it’s all going to change? It’s not a far jump. And then like I was in a relationship at the time and he wasn’t like unsupportive actually, like his family was more supportive in some ways than my family was, like they took it on the chin. They were very excited to try new food and like make stuff when I was there. But like for the most part people were just really confused, and I think scared for me, which was continued for a couple years until they realized like, I’m still here, I haven’t died yet. Like I’ll be OK.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. You mentioned omelets, what other foods were like big changes from the vegetarian to vegan?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah, like I, so I definitely like eggs, like I just have never been able to find a good egg substitute that like is like yolky and like tastes like fried eggs and stuff like that. Like it shows it was so tricky because in a lot of ways like eggs were love, like crying, like so full of protein. So good. But then like also like there’s a lot of Indian food that I wasn’t able to like replicate, like a lot of the sweets I just like wasn’t able to figure out. Paneer, like in, which was like decadent, like that’s what made like a vegetarian Indian dish like decadent for me, it was like paneer. I wasn’t able to have that anymore. It’s a lot of things like that had to kind of find my way around which was a little bit heartbreaking, especially having to like navigate that by myself because I really, like the resources were just starting to come out about like veganizing other cuisines and I just, I was sort of on my own in that regard.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. Have you, have there been any cookbooks that have been super helpful to you or?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Not really cookbooks but like cooking blogs were really good, like Vegan Richa has been really great. So she cooks vegan Indian food specifically, and she also does like really fun twists on stuff like samosa sandwiches and things like that. And my parents actually, like a year later after I transitioned into being vegan, they also went vegan, and so my mom being like the domestic goddess that she is, was able to like whip up like cashew paneer and like make her own dahi, which is like yogurt from scratch, and stuff like that, and use it in like Indian dishes, like kadhi, which were like, you know, home favorites. So like she was able to really get in there and really like make it something. Whereas I was still like, you know, throwing back Oreos and like, I hadn’t really figured out like how to make it work for me. I was still trying to like just get by, get through college at that point.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right. What convinced your parents to go vegan?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Health, and also because like I had been talking their ear off for a year. Not, I mean it took me a while to stop evangelizing about veganism and realizing that that wasn’t the most productive course often. But like I was so repulsed by so much of the stuff I had been learning about how we treated animals. I’d come home and, you know, they’d be the most sympathetic ears for me, often was like me telling them about like, you know, all sorts of sad stuff like how like cheese is actually made, and like how lobsters are fished and things like that, and I think it got to them, but then also they just sort of realized like, “OK, so we can make this change and it’ll help us with our cholesterol,” because like, Indian-Americans are very prone to like heart disease. So they thought it was really going to help them with their blood and stuff like that, and then also like that I would sort of shut up a little bit. I think like in a very sweet way, like they thought that they could support me better, and I would stop telling them such horrible, gruesome things all the time.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. So you mentioned to me that the concept of ahimsa was important to you for explaining veganism. I wanted to ask how, how that was helpful.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. So this is kind of like an ass backwards thing because like, so I grew up in a Hindu, like a Hindu family, in the sense it was like culturally Hindu, and we did a lot of Hindu things, but we weren’t necessarily like deep in scripture, practicing, going to mandir every week, Hindus. But I, I learned about the concept of ahimsa, fully articulated, on these sort of vegan forums, like on vegan Tumblr and stuff like that, where people were just like talking about it as like a reasoning, or like as a mantra or like as something that — I should say mantra — or like, you know, just like as, like as sort of a catchall term for their feelings.
So ahimsa, it’s a Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist principle that means, like, “do no harm.” And, it really, really helped just crystallize everything for me, because I was like, “Oh, that seems like a very easy purpose in this life, it’s just to like, do no harm, minimize your harm.” Like, you know, there’s so much bad out in the world. Why not try to like be one source of good? And it was really helpful because not only did it like connect me better to like my own, you know, family’s culture and traditions, but it also was like a very easy way to explain to South Asians and people of, you know, of my family that this was like real, like, not that it was just like some, you know, new age hipster white concept, but that actually it had been sort of practiced in some regards for like thousands of years before us.
And like it, it also really works with like, I mean vegetarianism in Hinduism has a lot to do with casteism, and like that’s like a very complicated subject to get into because it has, it’s very, very political. But ahimsa kind of like in some ways elevates it, and it makes it more divine, and I don’t know, that kind of just really fit in with me and it kind of reaffirmed my faith, when it had been like waxing and, yeah, it just, it just worked for some reason. I remember like talking to my grandmother in mentioning ahimsa and she’s just like nodding like, “OK, now I get it, like, I’m not going to do it, but I understand what you’re talking about now.”
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. So veganism does have a really white reputation. Like have, how is that kind of either complicated or like, I don’t know, how has that been a part of your veganism?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. I mean, so it’s funny because I’m actually like an international development student, like I got my graduate degree in that, and you learn pretty quickly that like 98 or like a huge percentage of the world lives under $2 a day. Most of them live under like a dollar a day, which means that they’re not eating meat and milk and all these fancy things that come from animals, but they’re actually eating like rice and beans typically. So like most of the world is sort of, they’re vegan, whether they think about it that way or not, like they are already living this kind of like more minimalist lifestyle. And they’re doing what they can afford, and it’s nutritious, and to a certain extent, like malnutrition is obviously a big deal still, but it does allow them to have a more balanced diet and it’s feasible.
So like it’s very weird, and most of the world isn’t white, right? So like it’s very strange to think about veganism, which has been around in many forms for ages, being a white vegan thing, and I think it’s because, as white people tend to do, is monopolize the conversation and like it becomes this thing about privilege. It becomes about Whole Foods. It becomes about like, you know, handpicked, artisanal, organic, whatever, when really for me for a long time it’s been rice and beans, which is like something you can, you can get Goya rice and beans for like less than a dollar, $2 at the grocery store. So it’s very frustrating and a lot of ways, but then I also do come from privilege myself, so it would be unfair for me to like blame it all on white people.
But I do try in some ways to, like, bridge the gaps and try to like, you know, platform more vegans of color when I can. And also to like raise my own voice, because I know that people of color often dismiss veganism as a white person thing as well. It’s like a reactionary effect, because it’s very easy to be like, well, because you know, it makes a lot of sense when white people are telling you what to do and how to live your life to be like, “Uh-uh, I’m not doing that,” and to almost spite them for it. And I can understand that reaction. It’s just, it’s sad because it’s like this is culturally important for me. This connects back to a lot of things for me that had nothing to do with white people and are actually, like, things I need to connect back to, to fight the scourge of like of, of, you know, white supremacy.
So like, it’s, I dunno, I’m not really, I haven’t really been able to articulate this as effectively as I’d like to people. Like, I know there are a lot of people who still see it as like a white person thing, but I do like how there’s a differentiation arising now between white vegans, and vegans of color. And that’s, people are starting to realize that more when they talk about it.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right. And so your veganism, it, or it was born of kind of an animal rights perspective? Do you see it now as having more of an ecological bent to it, or a more political bent? You mention, like, how it can be part of your battle against white supremacy.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. Well, so it definitely started off as an animal rights thing, and then it grew into, you know, a concern for human rights and environmental rights. Like I said, I studied international development, like one of the things that you learn is how much, like, ancestral land is being snapped up by major corporations in order to, like, farm animals and how that’s really, it’s really, if you are a student of international development, it’s really incompatible with your beliefs to also be supporting those corporations by purchasing meat products or animal products. Like why would I be advocating on behalf of like indigenous populations if I’m also being like, “Yeah, for sure like bulldoze the Amazon rainforest order to like raise cows,” like that makes no sense.
So in a lot of ways those connect together, and also I’m from California, and there’s a very strong connection between like, you know, the migrant labor movement and, like, the way that slaughterhouse workers are treated. Like I used to take PCH to get to LA from, from the Bay Area, and you go through like slaughterhouse territory, you go through like cattle farming, and like it stinks. It’s just disgusting. And I think that’s when you kinda realize the enormity of what this industry is. It’s just like, it’s just horrendous. You can’t even drive without smelling blood and feces and, and just like, you know, cows, and it was horrible. So like I think when you realize those things, it’s really easy to connect together and it does have an ecological tilt now. I mean it’s really, I don’t, I can’t see it as just like a small picture thing. It very much affects everything, and it very much plays into my politics.
Like I think that it’s very important that, you know, we’re mindful of how we affect this world while we’re here. I think it’s extremely selfish to live excessively, to like, you know, to, to purchase products that are contributing to greenhouse gases and, and like, you know, that are purchased without regard for human rights, like I care about migrant farm laborers, I care about slaughterhouse workers who are often inmates or immigrants who suffer from PTSD in the aftermath. Like that’s not, that’s not sustainable behavior. I don’t want to contribute to that. So yeah, it started with animals and ended at humans and it keeps coming full circle for me.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right, right, right. So do you think that veganism is good at communicating with other social justice?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh no. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I think that people want to strike really easy parallels between the Holocaust and slavery and native genocide and be like, oh, it’s like what we do to the animals, and it’s like, I’m not going to deny that there are definitely parallels and violence, like we, you know, we treat people as badly as we treat animals and neither of those are OK. We treat people, I mean, terribly. So I really wish there was more communication and dialogue and an understanding that, you know, you can’t just like waltz into a conversation about politics and be like, “Well, you know, we’re treating pigs this way too.” It’s just like that’s not, doesn’t help.
And like I said before, I’ve stopped evangelizing on veganism. Like I don’t go everywhere, like shoving flyers in people’s faces, I just realized that that’s not helpful. I try very much to like live my life productively, and people tend to be curious and they tend to be convinced or not convinced or whatever it is just by like talking to me. And I think that that really could help the movement as a whole, is if we just throw our weight behind important issues, like if veganism, if vegans cared, right? They cared about people, they cared about animals, that they cared about the environment, as a community we’d be throwing our weight behind major issues like, you know, anti-xenophobia, anti-racism, feminist issues like that. We should be showing up to marches. If you want to show up with your signs and be like vegans for black lives, fine. Just show up.
Like, it’s just, I think we could do a lot more good just by showing up in numbers for other causes that align with our politics, because they all should align with our politics. I don’t see how veganism is incompatible. It’s complementary to all my other isms. So like I just, I wish that we did that more as a community than, you know, filling up Chrissy Teigen’s mentions and like screaming about how she likes bacon or some, whatever happened on Twitter the other day.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. Yeah, no, that was a recent thing. Also the guy who runs the vegan account, like he has @vegan on Twitter, he recently compared the separation of families to what we do to animals. Yeah.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh, lovely. Because that helps who exactly?
ALICIA KENNEDY: That helps not the animals. It doesn’t help the people…
NADYA AGRAWAL: Like, why would you co-opt a conversation like that? Like how does that help anybody if people are upset about one issue, does it make sense to be like, well, we do it here too. It’s like, that’s stupid. That makes no sense, that’s so irritating.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah. Do you, like, a lot of veganism tends to be kind of consumer and consumption based. Do you try and, is your, does that kind of get in the way sometimes, do you think of the spread?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Do you mean like, buy this, don’t buy this, that kind of stuff?
ALICIA KENNEDY: Exactly. Or like, you know, buy, you know, that you’re doing something good for the world by buying ice cream, just because it’s vegan.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh yeah. I’m, I’m not here for like corporate outreach or whatever that’s called, where they try to make themselves look really good.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Yeah.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah, I mean I’m very much like a homesteader in a lot of ways. I make a lot of stuff from scratch because that’s like the easiest way in my mind to like kind of bridge that gap. I’m also like not a capitalist. I try not to spend my money. Like I know I vote with my dollars, I try to be really conservative about that. But yeah, I’m not really here for that. If anything it’s like my veganism has really pushed me to be a lot more, like, conscious of my ecological decisions. Like I don’t actually buy clothes from fast fashion companies anymore, like I buy almost everything secondhand or from ethical companies or from like, you know, home, by people who design at home and like, you know, I can track where their products are made.
Like it’s just, if anything it’s taught me to be like a lot more aware of how I consume, not usually willing to go out there and just spend money because it’s like a vegan product or because it’s like non-GMO or whatever it is. Like vegan products tend to still have palm oil in them, you know, like they’re not through and through as ethical as they should be. So that’s not really going to cut it for me, often.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Absolutely. So a lot of your work is about culture and I don’t know if food ever really comes into it for you. Do you ever feel that your work intersects with your veganism or…?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Well, so like on Kajal we do focus on, we have like some food articles and they tend to be a lot about like reclaiming space, like, you know, using ancestral recipes or like going back to the source in terms of like finding, you know, like ingredients that are actually from the source, not just like bought in supermarkets or paid for on Amazon or wherever it is. So like there’s definitely a consciousness around, like, not ceding territory to white supremacy and, and very much like claiming the space back. In terms of like intersecting my veganism often, and I kind of hate to say this, but I often keep my veganism out of the conversation. I find that people tend to dismiss me pretty early if I include it, and I think it’s because they think it’s a white thing or it’s a white performative thing, and it really isn’t for me.
So, I try to keep food out of it, and I often let people, like, take the reins when it comes to food conversations on the site. Mostly because like I, I’m really aware of how often like vegans can jump into a conversation and monopolize it, and I don’t want to do that.
ALICIA KENNEDY: You’re working on a novel, though. Does food appear in your novel?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh no. Yeah, yeah. I’m working on — oh no. I don’t want to talk about my novel.
ALICIA KENNEDY: OK, OK, of course that’s dangerous.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Because otherwise I jinx it a little bit.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I know, I know.
NADYA AGRAWAL: I’m writing a novel.
ALICIA KENNEDY: You kind of talked about this, but how political of an act is cooking for you if it’s, you know, at home and you’re trying to reclaim space and, and, and be less capitalist? Like what is, what does it both look like for you cooking at home, and how does it relate to your politics?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. So cooking at home is, is particularly interesting right now because I recently moved in with my boyfriend, and so he, I hope he, I hope he forgives me for, like, outing him like this, but he doesn’t really have very much experience in the kitchen. At the beginning of our relationship, I had to kind of teach him how to cut an onion. He’s much better now, but so like, food and like, cooking at home is really interesting for us because it’s often like, it speaks a lot to our relationship at the moment in terms of like who’s going to cook tonight? And it’s like almost like a gender role play that keeps happening rather than like, you know, political in any other regard. It’s more like, OK, who’s doing the labor of cooking tonight and who’s going to do the labor of making sure we have the groceries we need and who’s going to be aware of what inventory we have, and stuff like that. So that’s been really like the kind of a tiny little battle that’s been like waging out in our war, in our kitchen.
But besides that, like I really have recently learned that I enjoy entertaining people, which is something I never had the space to do before. I’ve always had very like crotchety roommates and not enough room or very flaky friends. And so for the first time I’ve actually been able to like invite people over and cook for them. We recently made like pizza for scrap, from scratch, for a couple of friends of ours and it was all vegan pizza, and we didn’t even need to like advertise that, it was just so good. It’s like that was really nice, and like it was vegan pizza and vegan cookies and people were just having a good time and that was extremely nice because I was looking all south Asian group of people, and we were talking about a lot of really heavy things, and it’s kind of amazing to talk about that over food that, you know, Kirun and I had made with our own hands and I don’t know, maybe like, I know people have discovered this like over and over again for like hundreds of years. There’s something so special about that. And I keep trying to do that.
Like even outside of my kitchen, like food is obviously a place where people connect and like, Kajal, like the writers of Kajal, we try to meet up at least once a month and we usually go to like an ethnic restaurant, like the next one up is Bunna, and where we just like sit around and we eat and we talk, and it’s been really lovely to like bring that into my home for the first time. But yeah, I guess like, it’s almost like in some ways it’s a depoliticized space for me, but obviously it makes it more political to take politics out of it, somehow. So it’s nice. It feels very neutral. I wish we had more counter space though. I feel like that’s like the most political part of the whole kitchen is like, like fighting over the counter space.
ALICIA KENNEDY: So where are you, where do you go shopping? Do you go to the farmers’ market? Are you…?
NADYA AGRAWAL: I wish. The farmers’ market’s like, it’s kind of tricky to like track some down sometimes, and also be awake that early in the morning. I just go to Key Foods on the corner, like it’s not, I mean it’s like my neighborhood grocery store. Sometimes I’ll make pilgrimages out to like Trader Joe’s to like get, you know, nutritional yeast and stuff like that, if I am feeling fancy, but for the most part, like I make a lot of rice and dal at homes, I don’t really need to go very far for that, and I make a lot of tacos and pizza and things like that. So it’s pretty easy. But, oh, also Indian grocery stores, I go to a lot of those, like you know Patel Brothers up in Queens, and like Kaluystans in Curry Hill, are pretty much like my go-tos if I need like to restock on spices and stuff.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Right. What are your favorite spices?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Oh, OK. So it’s bad because I kind of learned how to cook Indian food sort of before I learned how to cook other food in some ways, or like that’s what I got confident doing, so I end up adding turmeric, cumin, and like cayenne pepper to like everything, which just makes everything taste like a curry, which is not that ideal, but it does make everything taste a little bit better. Because probably, I like, I like turmeric a lot. I add it to a lot of things, for color, for taste. I really like that chalky taste for some reason. It’s, it’s actually really bad now, because my friends make fun of me at the, at this point, like anything has turmeric and it, they’ll buy it for me or they’ll point you towards it, and I’m like, “Guys, like, I can eat other spices, OK?” I’ve never really come around to like turmeric lattes though, that’s the only thing.
ALICIA KENNEDY: I was going to ask, yeah.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah. I think like, I never grew up with like haldi doodh, which is like the first iteration, the original iteration of turmeric lattes, which is just like milk with turmeric in it. I never really had that growing up, so I didn’t have this like, you know, major like heartrending connection to this, like appropriative food. But like yeah, turmeric lattes I think in the wrong hands are disastrous and I’ve had them from the wrong hands too many times.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Why do you think that is?
NADYA AGRAWAL: I mean you add white people to like things that are not theirs, right? Like white people can’t do chai. Like I, you go out in New York, you want a chai latte, they put like, they dunk like one of those, like, Trader Joe’s cartons into it. And I was talking to this brown guy a little while ago, and I was like, “What do you think, like, the spicing is in this?” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s allspice, white people are putting allspice in their tea and calling it chai,” but that’s not what chai is. Like, allspice is disgusting. I don’t know why it even exists. So, yeah, I think that’s probably what it is.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Do you think there’s a lot more appropriation of, of like Indian spices and flavors in vegan food, especially because it’s moved into this wellness space, which is I think we will get turmeric lattes from?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah, probably, definitely. I mean, I think sometimes, I, like, I’m a little bit annoyed at like white vegan ease with turmeric. How they kind of add it to everything, and how it’s like added for color very often. Like you almost like can’t have like a vegan, like a tofu scramble without having turmeric and cumin in it. And sometimes that frustrates me, but like, I don’t know, at this point I’m kind of just like, I’m just glad people are spicing their food.
ALICIA KENNEDY: And then black salt too. Do you have black salt too?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Yeah, kala namak? Yeah. That is very often misused, I realize, because it has a very strong taste. So it’s, I’m not very good at using it because I’m aware of that and I’m almost like willing to like go to, like be able to enjoy my food. But it’s interesting to see it pop up on like vegan menus, for sure.
ALICIA KENNEDY: What do you think veganism needs to do to become a more friendly space to everyone?
NADYA AGRAWAL: Needs better PR for sure. Like I appreciate the fact that we’ve, like, panned PETA for a long time now. I like, I’m glad that like as a community we have like risen up and been like, “This is trash.” It took us a long time though. I want more like grassroots vegan stuff to happen. I want more of us to get involved in the community, or different committees that we live in.
Like, I want more education programs. I want more of us to get our hands dirty when it comes to like our community nutrition, like, especially in Brooklyn, like we live, there’s so many food deserts here. Like, I would love to see an army of vegans go into these food deserts and like hand out, you know, fresh food, like fruit and vegetables and like, you know, pass along information about like how to cook healthy food with it. Like, it doesn’t have to have a specifically vegan tilt, like, you know, you go to like restaurants or stores that are like, that are vegan, but they don’t advertise themselves as that and they’re just good food and you can start bringing people together and changing people’s minds.
And I think that like in some ways we can take a lot of cues from that. We can just run with it and we don’t have to keep, like, inserting ourselves. So it doesn’t have to be like an egotistical project. I think that in some ways when vegans remove cultural discussions from what we’re talking about, it becomes an egotistical thing. It becomes “No, I’m right and you’re wrong,” rather than, “Let me see where you’re coming from.” And as a person who like still, like I’m like five years on, like I’ve been a vegan for five years, I will still cheat on things. Like, I go to Indian weddings for my cousins and I will have gulab jamun.
Like, there needs to be nuance in our conversations when it comes to culture, when it comes to people’s socioeconomic backgrounds, when it comes to like lack of information and knowledge. And I want us to be more involved on those fronts. And that’s how we be more inclusive, it’s just by like, you know, directing our kindness outwards too, not just in words to ourselves. I don’t think that’s a hard thing to do at all, you know.
ALICIA KENNEDY: Thank you, Nadya.
NADYA AGRAWAL: Thanks.
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