Sebastien Kardinal talks about making an informed vegan choice

Vegan activist and influential cook, Sebastien Kardinal loves Indian food, especially pani puri

Updated - December 05, 2019 01:36 pm IST

Published - December 05, 2019 01:07 pm IST

Trial and success  Sebastien Kardinal

Trial and success Sebastien Kardinal

Sebastien Kardinal was 14 years old when he decided to give up meat. His decision was not influenced by a sudden wave of compassion. His simply gave up meat and fish because he didn’t enjoy eating them. “I was probably the only vegetarian in Paris at the time,” says Sebastien, a prominent activist and culinary expert leading the international surge towards veganism.

Sebastien was in Hyderabad at Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre to speak about vegan way of life to a select audience. He conducted a food demo and spoke extensively about why Indian food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. “Healthy only if people follow the traditional food customs, maintain balance and keep junk and packaged food out of their daily food routine,” he pointed out.

Sebastien wears many hats and being an epicurean is just one of them. When he isn’t discussing food choices, he is an actor, project manager, journalist and webmaster. But he is best known as one of the most published French authors on vegan cuisine.

Vegetarian since 1986, then vegan since 2007, Sabastien started very early as a chef and his specialisation lies in revisiting French and international gastronomic specialities, then crafting vegan versions. Everything about vegan food and vegan version was mostly fuelled by his need to eat vegan food.

Recalling his journey he says, “I met a vegetarian and she said she eats fish. She called it a different type of vegetarian. I turned to the dictionary to learn more about ‘fish-eating vegetarian’. I couldn’t find a version.”

His quest to find out about different kinds of vegetarians didn’t end. “Before the advent of social media all we had was Google. So I searched for ‘kinds of vegetarian people in France’, and ‘why they become vegetarian.’ My search made me stumble upon these ‘weird’ people — ‘vegan.’ This was 15 years ago. The more I read, the more I was convinced that it is not good for health. What about calcium, protein? I often wondered.”

Sebastien was also uncomfortable with the way vegans propagated veganism. The pressure to adopt a new food habit wasn’t welcoming. He doesn’t mince words when he says he was put off with veganism in the beginning. “I am a vegetarian, I don’t eat animal meat any more, so what could possibly be wrong with my diet? I was convinced I am fine as a vegetarian but there was a seed of doubt in my mind about my food. I eat cheese and eggs. I am not taking anyone’s life, I told myself. However, I read more to understand the food I was consuming. That is when I realised why despite not eating meat I wasn’t able to lose weight,” says Sebastien. “I used to buy 200 grams of cheese and eat it immediately as I never liked the idea of storing cheese in the refrigerator,” he laughs.

As a result Sebastien’s cholesterol was high and his doctor suggested he make dietary changes or take medication for the rest of his life.

Vegan awakening

That’s when he felt the need to stop dairy products and eggs. His food awakening also came from his own research to understand the food chain.

“The more I read about how dairy products are derived, the more convinced I was convinced to stop eating them. During this time I met my wife. She was a practising vegan and I learnt more about vegan food from her. I also learned to cook and experiment from her. As I did so, I understood how easy it was to do away with animal meat and dairy products. The secret lies in substituting,” he adds.

As an author the vegan recipes for his books come from his own kitchen and the reason people love it, he says, because they are all doable. “I don’t just show them how to replace, I also give easy options and easy quick fixes. I adopted vegan food habit for my selfish need and I realised how it benefited me. The moment I saw the benefits there was no looking back at eggs and dairy products,” he assures.

However, Sebastien says being a vegan is not all about food habits, it is a lifestyle and it means becoming conscious of not using anything that can harm animals. Including boycotting the zoo and circus and giving up leather goods.

“We need to be conscious at every step. I began with reading labels and ingredients in food packets. That is why I love Indian food. Skip the ghee and paneer and the traditional sweets made of milk products. The balance of carbs, plant and seed proteins and fibre comes in a healthy combination in a traditional Indian meal. Indian snacks and street food are mostly vegan. I love pani puri and I am enjoying all kinds here in India,” says Sebastien.

As a chef, Sebastien says he looks for appropriate meat replacements and likes to work from scratch on every dish. He says, “If you knows to cook, you won’t find it tedious to shift to vegan food habits by replacing ingredients to make your food look appealing and tasty.”

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