Fruits. Grains. Nuts. Dal. Paneer.

Fruits. Grains. Nuts. Dal. Paneer.
Originally posted 11/15/2016

I'm often asked by people why I'm vegetarian. Surprisingly, this is not just by meat-eating individuals, but people with my own background.

As a child, vegetarianism wasn't actually a choice. Despite growing up in Toronto in a modern, atomic family, the Indian roots of our diet remained strong. My parents are vegetarian, as were their parents, and so on. So naturally they fed us what they knew; delicious Indian vegetarian food. And not just Indian- Italian, Chinese, Korean, Greek, contemporary American... you name it.

People who are not familiar with South Asian vegetarianism often ask out of curiosity, and I don't mind explaining. I also love to introduce them to the food I love, since they generally have no knowledge of the unhealthier, more sumptuous dishes allowed by the diet. Discussion gets a little more difficult, however, when South Asians, especially formerly vegetarian ones, are not able to understand why I have stayed vegetarian. After all, I'm not really Indian. I'm Canadian. Right?

Vegetarianism is a strangely political thing in India. It signals religion, upbringing, caste, and subsequently value system. Many directly Indian expats I know who are more modern in their thinking eschew vegetarianism as an 'f you' to the conservative aspects of the culture. Others view non-vegetarianism as a way to seem westernized and cool. Either way, my vegetarianism perplexes them. Why should I be be vegetarian if I've been raised Canadian? If I'm not religious? If I am liberal enough to drink a glass of whiskey every so often?

Yes, I am Canadian. But I have also roots, albeit weak, in India, and feel affection for the culture. And those weak roots are sort of at the centre of my choice - because, as an adult, it is now a choice. It is a choice to remain vegetarian in country that doesn't widely support a meat-less diet. And it is all I really have that ties me back to my parents' culture. I did not grow up with a strong Indian influence in Toronto. The bulk of my friends in University were not of Indian origin. I have had more interaction with members of the Indian diasapora in the United States but, like me, their culture is hybrid. So, the diet is a part of those sadly weakening roots. Indians grown in India are afforded the luxury of being non-vegetarian because the culture is all around them. For me, it's one of the few things I have left to remind me of my Indian identity.

That's all it is. It isn't necessarily the virtue signalling that is sometimes assumed, which is why I explain only when pushed. It is a quiet but emotional decision that lives alongside the inconvenience it would now be to acclimatize myself to meat. :P

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