People embrace veganism for a variety of reasons. Potlucks, tea parties and meetings are being organised in the city to create awareness

Would you like to attend a tea party? A tea party with a difference. And we'd rather you did not dream of chicken puffs and mutton cutlets...instead think grilled tofu, hummus and soy milk payasam, for this is a vegan tea party.

Vegan potluck and tea parties are popular across the globe, where vegans get together for a meal and each one brings a dish to be shared. In Chennai, the first such potluck took place in early 2011 and attracted 25 participants. It was organised by Chennai Vegan Drinks, a group promoting veganism. Niranjan Amarnath, PETA activist, who heads the group, says, “Vegan Drinks started in New York. They now have groups all over the world which meet up at a pub or a bar. We started Chennai Vegan Drinks in 2011.”

The idea behind potluck meals is to bring vegans from across the city together so they get to know one another and spread awareness. “Initially, there were very few vegans in Chennai. They needed guidance regarding what to eat and where to get it from. This group helped them with information and how to go about things,” says Niranjan. At the meetings, a host of topics are discussed right from cosmetic stores at malls that retail cruelty-free products to discussing food options free of meat and dairy with restaurant chefs.

They also try to introduce new varieties of vegan dishes. Mock meat made of wheat gluten or seitan, peanut curd, white pumpkin curd, cashew curd, vegan mysore pak, vegan chocolate cakes… Apparently there’s a company based out of Mumbai that even makes a vegan variety of pomfret, prawn, duck and chicken. For those just relinquishing the meat world, this should be some consolation.

Niranjan smiles, “I was a hardcore non-vegetarian. But I gave up all dairy products because of cruelty to animals. When I turned vegan five years ago, it was tough to cope with the new diet as the options were very few. Now there’s quite a range of ingredients and snacks available in organic stores such as Auroville. Ashvita café and Holistic store vegan cakes. Café Coffee Day has a few vegan shakes and Flower Drum serves vegan-friendly food.”

So far the group has organised three potlucks. The first one took place at the IIT Alumni Club, the second at the Blue Cross Shelter and the third at a volunteer’s residence. “We plan to have such get-togethers as often as possible. But the only problem is space. Some members have suggested parks and the beach, but since we have to carry food and accompaniments we prefer a big indoor space,” says Niranjan.

So, are more people taking to veganism? “Our Chennai Vegan Drinks Facebook page has about 770 likes. Our meets attract 60-year-olds as well as school kids. It’s interesting to note the different reasons for embracing veganism — some take to it after seeing the cruelty meted out to animals, some for spiritual reasons, some for health reasons and yet others just as an experiment.”

Niranjan and members of Chennai Vegan Drinks believe that a vegan meal has fewer calories than a regular meal and it’s healthier too since it cuts out butter and ghee. And where do they get their proteins from? Well, there’s a long list that replaces regular milk with brown rice milk, soy milk, pea protein, wheat and hemp protein, of course there are pulses such as dal and sprouts and there is always cashew butter, almond or peanut butter to slather your breads with and kombucha and kefir tea to drink.

People often have misconceptions about vegans not being strong or lacking stamina. “That’s not true. For instance, you have a very muscular Vignesh Kartik who is a trainer at a gym in the city, and Praveen, an avid cyclist. These activities require a lot of energy and their diet gives them just that,” explains Niranjan.

For those interested, the next potluck meet is in the offing. It’s open to all — vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and meat-eaters who are willing to try veganism. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/chennaivegandrinks