In Conversation With Palak Mehta- the Founder And CEO of Vegan First
As a part of this week’s people of veganism feature, I am proud to introduce you to Palak Mehta, the Founder & CEO of India’s first digital and print publication for all things vegan and cruelty-free- ‘Vegan First‘. The portal is determined to be a voice for millions of defenseless animals, by providing vegans and vegan-curious individuals with easily accessible solutions. They cater to the curious and conscious community, extending their generous help in the form of myth-busting videos, plant-based recipes, alternatives, substitutes & suggestions recommended by doctors, vegan experts, tutorials, and guides.
If you live in India or are visiting, there is a comprehensive list of vegan-friendly restaurants in India, available on their website. That’s sure to come in handy when you decide to explore the lengths and breadths of the incredible country! Vegan First, along with the World Vegan Organization (WVO), is also organizing the first-of-its-kind Vegan India Conference (VIC), this year in July. To take part in the excitement, Raise Vegan will be present at the event scheduled from July 6th-7th, 2019. From workshops, talks, and panel discussions to plant-based menu and film screenings- VIC will be primarily focused on fostering the development of the vegan movement in India.
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As we inch closer to conference-day, I got a chance to interview Palak Mehta- the Founder & CEO of Vegan First and one of the organizers of the VIC. Here are excerpts from the chat.
As you’re coming up with India’s first vegan conference, VIC, I am curious to know the story behind the conceptualization of the event. What motivated you?
VF started as a mission-oriented company with the aim to create awareness and provide alternatives and support to those vegans and vegan-curious in India. We started out as a publication but have also turned into a solutions space gradually, helping to bridge the gap between aspiring plantrepreneurs, activists, institutions and industry professionals who are working towards a plant-based movement.
The conference was always in the back of our minds, and we were planning to do it – but our friends at the World Vegan Organisation (WVO) reached out to us at the right time to organize their 4th international annual conference in India this year. This fits perfectly into our agenda and we decided to launch the VIC as a yearly event which will create a dialogue between mentors, thought leaders, exporters, hospitality professionals, impact investors, supply chain professionals, lobbyists, and policymakers. We are confident that through the presentation of research papers, talks, plenary sessions, focused group workshops, and personal interactions, this conference will make notable contributions in the vegan movement in India and globally.
What is the highlight of the Vegan Conference?
This is the first time that globally-acclaimed industry experts like Seth Tibbot (Founder, Tofurky), Keegan Kuhn (Director, Cowspiracy and What The Health), Dr. Susianto Tseng (President, WVO) and Ken Spector (Principal, HappyCow), Zac Lovas (Founder, VegVoyages) along with Indian vegan-friendly companies like Hershey’s India and The Body Shop India, ministers like Smt. Maneka Gandhi and vegan celebrities are coming together on a single platform to address the pain points of the plant-based movement in India.
Apart from this, we would be launching the first vegan certification for products and services in Asia.
What challenges did you face while conceptualizing the event? How did you overcome them?
We are a lean team who often have to multitask and take on multiple roles and responsibilities ensuring that we do justice to all stakeholders. Juggling an industry which is unorganized in India, running a full-time vegan publication and being available for anybody who is trying to contribute towards the vegan movement keeps us on our toes! We have limited financial support, but we have been able to overcome it with the gracious support of volunteers, patrons, and activists in the community.
What changes do you see in response to such vegan events and food in particular?
In India this year I expect a few plant-based protein-shakes to hit the market along with the scalable introduction of vegan cheeses and creamers. This is definitely a very exciting time, and you will actually get to taste most of these products in the lunch buffet at the VIC.
According to research, there has also been a significant number of people ordering vegan food options online and an increase in flexitarians opting for plant-based milk.
Do you see a shift in preference, from meat to plant-based?
Honestly, we still have a lot to do when it comes to meat alternatives in India. Vegan mock meats in India are very limited and one of the most popular varieties is the local delicacy called ‘soya chaap‘, which isn’t nearly as closely in line with global trends and disruptions in cellular agriculture.
I do foresee lab-grown meats being introduced in India in the near future and there are already a few projects underway.
What is your perception about the spread of veganism in India? What developments do you look forward to seeing, with the cruelty-free movement in India, over the next several years?
I feel several millennials and zillennials are uncompromising, unapologetic and level-headed in terms of their choices and once given the right information, are willing to switch to a cruelty-free plant-powered lifestyle. Several have shifted to a vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons and this trend is stronger than ever before. A lot of noteworthy movements like the Animal Liberation March in India, One Earth Festival and college outreaches are an example of how the movement is growing. With the youth taking charge now, we are definitely going to see things grow by leaps and bounds.
If a compulsive non-vegetarian was curious about shifting to a cruelty-free diet and was to seek you out for one piece of advice, what would it be?
Rather than resisting animal products, my advice would always be to fall in love with plant-based alternatives and see how they make your body feel! The health benefits and energy levels you will gain will make you never want to go back.
Can you shed some light on the role Vegan First is playing in spreading awareness about veganism?
We publish Indian vegan news, alternatives, restaurant reviews and listings, and provide support to transitioning vegans online. Digitally, we have created the largest repository of Indian plant-based recipes, like vegan ghee, vegan malai kofta, meat-free biryani, vegan quiche and much more! Offline, we also organize tasting and networking events. VIC is one of our flagship events.
I started Vegan First almost 3 years ago. It’s been a solo journey but it has only been possible because of the core team and the community. Meenakshi has just joined on the editorial board a year ago and her conviction to contribute towards the movement is commendable.
Do you feel that in present times it is the responsibility of parents to raise children with empathetic values? Do you think what they eat or wear plays a significant role in teaching them compassion?
I know a lot of children under the age of ten who are vegans, and the clarity and conviction with which they talk about and practice the lifestyle will lay the foundation of the people they will become. But, this can only happen if parents walk the talk and practice veganism themselves. Most children learn these values through actions over words.
Any message for Raise Vegan readers?
Well, compassion begins with you – and it’s never too early or late to make the switch! By making just a few simple changes and adopting a vegan lifestyle, you can make a huge, positive impact on your own health and the health of our planet!
Have you been to a vegan conference? Share your experience with us in the comments below.