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How Goa Became India's Most Vegan-Friendly State!

How Goa Became India's Most Vegan-Friendly State!


Traditionally known for its fresh catch and tipple, Goa wins an award for planting itself firmly in the vegan scene with myriad offerings, and entrepreneurs are only too happy to invest

A file photo of visitors to Ashwem Beach in Morjim. The ease of doing business and relatively low rents in the state are drawing hospitality entrepreneurs in droves.  Pic/Getty Images
A file photo of visitors to Ashwem Beach in Morjim. The ease of doing business and relatively low rents in the state are drawing hospitality entrepreneurs in droves. Pic/Getty Images

Most of us associate Goa with beaches, parties, adventure, and seafood. Surprisingly, now comes the news that it has also debuted as the most vegan-friendly state in the country. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conferred the title on the beach state last week, with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant being felicitated for "providing an environment in which vegan-friendly establishments can thrive, making the world a better place for humans and other animals". Interestingly, the mid-day meals that the state's government-run schools offer, are entirely plant-based.

The surge in restaurants offering animal-free options and the burgeoning of health food stores are behind Goa getting on the list. Dr Kiran Ahuja, vegan outreach coordinator for PETA, says the global interest in vegan living has never been higher, and India is picking up the cues. "As a vegan advocacy organisation, our eyes are peeled for new vegan and vegan-friendly businesses, organisations and events, all year long. Vegan eateries are, in fact, popping up all over the country. We explore which places have active vegan communities and animal-friendly fashion stops before shortlisting the leading cities or states." As part of the process, PETA's campaign teams research vegan establishments and speak with owners to ensure they are 100 per cent committed towards providing quality vegan food and lifestyle options to consumers. "We travel to many cities throughout the year, meeting vegan volunteers and sampling the vegan goods and services the city has to offer."

The spacious outdoor section at Gratitude Café in Anjuna, which also houses a yoga centre

Jeetender Rawat is the founder of Gratitude Café at Anjuna. Originally from Mumbai, Rawat worked in Canada before making Goa his home in 2018. His airy, laid-back and plant-filled space was launched on Christmas last year. After operating for three months, he had to shut down the restaurant due to the pandemic. "It's been a week since we have been back in business," he says. Rawat, who turned vegan 11 years ago, attributes the Goan glamour to its people. "In north Goa, we have people from all over the world and a significant chunk of them are hipsters, known for their alternative lifestyle. Food is a very important aspect of this way of living. From a hippie perspective, they like a good party, but they also know how to eat healthy. So, when I set up base here, I wanted to offer them an experience through food."

His establishment houses a small boutique and yoga space. Its proximity to an ashtanga yoga centre makes it a preferred location for health conscious folk, gappers and backpackers. He says most of those who have chosen to settle in Goa, are well-travelled and have sought refuge here for its bohemian spirit. The ease of doing business and relatively low rents are drawing hospitality entrepreneurs here in droves. "But you need deeper pockets to set up a vegan business since sourcing cruelty-free ingredients can be expensive," he shares.

(Second from left) Founder Jeetender Rawat with his team. He launched the restaurant in December last year
(Second from left) Founder Jeetender Rawat with his team. He launched the restaurant in December last year

Before the pandemic, most of Rawat's guests were foreigners, but post reopening, he is seeing footfall from curious Indians eager to try new culinary experiences.

Despite the cost of investment, Goa's vegan scene is booming. While Vagator's Bean Me Up offers a wide variety of Western-style dishes and pizzas from a traditional wood-fired oven, Shantaram Raw in Arambol boasts a rooftop deck where diners can enjoy smoothies and juices. Cafe La Boheme on Agonda Beach Road dishes up tapas, crepes, and salads.

Dr KiraDr Kiran Ahuja and Ashish Damanian Ahuja and Ashish Damania
Dr Kiran Ahuja and Ashish Damania

The demand has inspired non-vegan restaurants to broaden their culinary offerings. Yazu: Pan Asian Beach Club, located inside the Marquis Beach Resort, Dando in Candolim, offers an array of vegan items alongside seafood. "Vegetarians/vegans are often used to non-vegetarians frowning at them, telling them that they are missing out on a whole lot of flavours, which is why we decided to invest in vegan dishes. In fact, now we see non-vegans ordering them," says Ranbir Nagpal, partner at Yazu.
For vegan fashion, there's No Nasties in Assagao, which is a cruelty-free, vegan clothing store. "While the vegan movement is focused on food, it's actually a lifestyle for many that includes clothes and accessories. Our clothing is devoid of leather, silk, fur, wool, shell and bone buttons. We use organic [and fairtrade] cotton with coconut shell buttons," says founder Apurva Kothari, who launched the company in 2011.

Ahuja says technically, there are no hurdles if an establishment wants to go vegan considering vegetarian foods already abound in India, and vegan food is simply vegetarian food sans dairy or other animal derived ingredients. "India has more vegetarians than the rest of the world combined. We also enjoy an abundance of plants, and our farmers and entrepreneurs can take full advantage of the growing trend. Moreover, there are numerous vegan or mock 'meat' and 'dairy' options available that can be used to prepare everything from Hyderabadi biryani to 'fish' curry or even milkshakes, but without harming animals."

Apurva Kothari put aside a successful career in technology to start No Nasties, an ethical clothing line, in 2011
Apurva Kothari put aside a successful career in technology to start No Nasties, an ethical clothing line, in 2011

In India, a survey by e-commerce platform CashKaro showed a 100 per increase in orders for vegan products in 2018. The survey included more than 5,000 people across 10 cities and revealed that 68 per cent of the respondents weren't vegetarian prior to going vegan.

Ashish Damania, deputy general manager (business publication division for digital) at a publication, is one of them. He switched to a vegan diet in June last year. For him, health-driven reasons were important, followed by concern for the environment. "I come from a Parsi family and was a hardcore meat eater." Damania admits he has had a fairly pleasant experience accessing vegan options in Mumbai, Gujarat and Delhi. "When you go to a place, vegetarian options are plenty. And if you have the patience to sit down and communicate well to the steward, getting vegan food is not all that difficult." Funnily, he says, the ultimate challenge is trying to find a vegan dish at a Parsi function. "Even their vegetarian is not vegan. So, I do take the extra initiative to communicate my eating preferences to my hosts, so that I can have something on my plate." Damania is also part of UFCI (United for Compassion International), a vegan activist group that works to prevent cruelty to animals.

Apurva Kothari
Apurva Kothari

Ahuja foresees the fringe movement gaining further strength due to the pandemic. "As the world battles a deadly disease that likely came from a live-animal meat market, vegan foods are becoming the preferred choice."

Increase in orders for vegan products in 2018 according to a survey by CashKaro in 10 cities

Gluten-free waffles at Gratitude Cafe
Gluten-free waffles at Gratitude Cafe

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