Being a vegan and rustling up a meal for a family might not be such a big feat, but imagine coming up with an elaborate menu for a wedding feast! It sure sounds daunting, what with the ingredients and people to cook a vegan cuisine not that easily available. But IT professional Santhosh Kumar from Avinashi near Coimbatore made it happen, and with élan.
He had an 18-member team cooking to serve 400 people breakfast, 2,000 people lunch and 600 people dinner. And why Santhosh conducted his wedding with flamboyance was to prove that veganism, in any form, did not necessarily have to be spartan. The whole event – from the invitation, trousseau, decoration and the food – was vegan.
A senior associate with an IT company in Coimbatore, Santhosh completed his B.Tech. IT from Coimbatore Institute of Technology. Although it has always been his wish to be a vegetarian, his social conditioning since childhood, that only non-vegetarian food made one strong, did not give him the freedom to change his preference. After great effort, he was finally able to change over to vegetarianism in 2009.
He continued to browse and read up on vegetarian balanced diets. It was during this time that he chanced upon the 'Vegans in India' group on Facebook and got to read their posts. Inspired by them, he started reading extensively on veganism.
He got to realise that while there were a large number of Indians who were vegetarians, a huge percentage of them were lacto-vegetarians, which meant that they consumed milk and milk products, and in large quantities too, in the form of curd, paneer, ice cream, and any form of dessert. Veganism went against all this. It also excluded clothing, jewellery, and footwear, which were made out of animals.
He turned vegan in 2013-14, and also stopped consuming the "five white poisons" – refined sugar, salt, white/refined rice, cow’s milk and white flour/maida. Since his parents and his younger brother did not prefer vegan food, it was left to Santhosh to search for vegan recipes. He taught his mother and sometimes also cooked the recipes himself.
An encounter with Dr R Saravanan, a homoeopath and vegan from Nagercoil, was a big plus in Santhosh’s life. The homoeopath educated him on good alternatives for milk and milk products, and also recipes using these ingredients. He started sourcing organic and vegan products from farmers and producers directly. Since he was living a vegan life, it was only a foregone conclusion that his wedding would be vegan too. He was confident that he could plan and execute the event without a hitch.
So, being a consummate vegan, did he also want his life partner to be one? "I wanted her to be vegetarian to begin with," he says. When he spotted B Meenakshi on a matrimonial site, her profile said that she was a vegetarian. A software engineer from Avinashi working in Chennai, Meenakshi was surprised to hear the passion with which Santhosh spoke about veganism.
"I knew it was unethical to eat meat, use silk and leather, but that was the first time I heard about milk and honey. There were certain verses from the Thirukkural he made me read, and anyone who reads that will never eat non-vegetarian food. I was convinced in his conviction and did not find a single reason not to support him. I was not very much interested in the way I got married, so when Santhosh suggested a vegan wedding, I happily agreed," she says.
But being the only daughter of a businessman father, it was difficult to persuade her parents to arrange a wedding without gold jewellery, silks and flowers. Though the menu was strictly vegan, the bride was not able to totally do away with what went as bridal finery. However, a minimalistic approach was ensured in decoration, use of flowers and jewellery, garlands were made of cloth, silk was largely replaced with linen and jute, and footwear was non-leather.
Santhosh too had to compromise certain things for his parents who had let him have his way with a vegan wedding. He had to agree to their wish of holding a wedding in a huge mandapam with a guest list of 3,000. But even with such a large number, he is happy today that he was able to show all his guests that a vegan wedding is a possibility.
His invitation had appealed to the guests to avoid silks, non-vegan gifts, flowers, leather, etc. It also had information about ethical eating and living.
"Since I have been a vegan since 2013 I knew where to source material for the breakfast, lunch and evening meals. With this knowledge and help from Dr Saravanan, I was able to decide the menu, arrange for the ingredients and cooks and support staff in two weeks. The whole wedding arrangements took me a little more than a month. I was able to source organic rice, 1,300 kg of organic vegetables, cold-pressed groundnut and coconut oil, and milk alternatives such as coconut milk and soy milk,” says Santhosh.
He says the guests were very appreciative of the food and did not realise that the ghee had come from coconut milk, and the raita and curd had come from soy milk. Since he was able to buy directly from the source, Santhosh could save a lot and the cost of food worked out to an average of Rs 80 per head.
Though there have been other vegan weddings in Chennai that have inspired Santhosh, they have mostly been on a low-scale. Santhosh’s wedding could well be a pioneering attempt in promoting veganism on a bigger scale in Tamil Nadu.