While veganism is fast becoming a well understood and accepted lifestyle around the world, it is one still often shrouded with mystery in Asia. With the month of November celebrated globally as World Vegan Month, what better than to kick it off with an interview with renown vegan activist, Davina Goh. In this episode, Marissa and Davina discuss the misconceptions around the lifestyle, the concerns with vegan nutrition as well as Davina’s own personal stories to answer all the questions you may have on veganism.
Bubbly and witty, Davina is one of a few personalities in the region advocating a plant-based lifestyle. Known as “Davina Da Vegan”, she spreads awareness about the vegan lifestyle by sharing her own recipes, green living and cafe scouting trips on her popular social media channels.
What is veganism?
Is being vegan in Asia as difficult as it is made out to be?
Where do vegans get their nutrients from?
All these pressing questions and more as Davina gives us the ins and outs of being a vegan in Asia.
Vegan, vegetarian, ethical, plant-based — what’s the difference?
Do vegans consume eggs and milk? And what is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian? Without prior knowledge, these terms may be confusing. So to break it down, here are the definitions that will help you build distinctions between each.
Vegetarian — a person who doesn’t consume any meat from poultry to red meat and fish, but eats eggs or dairy products.
Plant-based diet — a diet made up of plants that is free from animal products. A person with a plant-based diet does not consume any meat, fish, eggs, dairy or other animal bi-products and usually has minimal processed foods.
People often choose to eat a plant-based diet for health reasons.
Vegan — a lifestyle choice that involves both diet and lifestyle ethics. A vegan abstains from eating anything from all animal sources. This means no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey and other bi-products such as gelatin.
As veganism is a lifestyle that excludes exploitation and cruelty to animals in any way, they also eliminate animal products from other parts of their lives. We’re talking no leather, wool, suede, silk, beeswax and products tested on animals, where possible and practical.
Davina’s Vegan Story
The year 2000 when Davina started college was also the year she began eliminating meat from her diet. With parents resistant to her vegetarian choices, she compromised by excluding meat when she was alone and in control of what she ate, but not always when she was with her family and in other social situations.
It was only in 2012 when Davina made her full transition into vegetarianism. Looking back she appreciates those 12 years as it gave her time to educate herself with books and documentaries.
Today, Davina leads a vegan lifestyle and consumes a plant-based diet. All throughout her journey of learning, it has been the affinity she has towards nature and animals stemming from a young age, that laid the foundations and her reasons for going vegan.
Where Do Vegans Get Their Nutrients From?
Protein is in practically everything — even lettuce has protein! The emphasis on the consumption of protein for vegans is overrated as plant-based sources of proteins are plentiful.
Eat these: legumes, beans, soy-products like tempeh, tofu, natto, edamame, chia-seeds and nuts.
Did you know: Our locally loved tempeh is one of the highest and most bio-available forms of protein that is not meat-based. It is also a complete protein! Next time you’re in the market, look for a freshly-made block of tempeh, it’ll set you back by RM2 (USD0.50) at most.
While milk may be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of calcium, vegans have plenty of dairy-free calcium options that the body is readily able to absorb.
Eat these: leafy greens (such as bok choy and Chinese cabbage), blackstrap molasses, hijiki (a type of seaweed) and tofu.
Did you know: Studies have shown that countries with the highest intake of dairy also have some of the highest levels of osteoporosis. Animal proteins from dairy tend to leach calcium from the bones, so the idea that milk can strengthen your bones is a misconception.
The Effect Of A Plant-Based Diet On Your Body
With a new lifestyle change and the elimination of certain elements from your diet, it is normal for your body to go experience changes. Depending on personal body types, some may experience tiredness and fatigue as they adapt, while others may instantly feel more energised.
The Impact Of Davina’s Plant-Based Diet:
She felt instantly recharged. Even just transitioning to a vegetarian before she completely cut out dairy and eggs from her diet, Davina felt superhuman. She had so much energy that she says she didn’t know what to do with it! She could wake up after 7 hours of sleep and go for a run before starting her work day — something she could never bring herself to do when she was eating meat.
She stopped getting sick. Before going vegan, Davina thought it was normal to get sick — something many others are led to believe as well. From falling ill 4-5 times a year, she would only get sick once every 6 months, if ever, after becoming a vegetarian
Hormonal balance. Her skin cleared up and her menstruation cycle became regular. In today’s day and age, you might not know when hormones are injected in animal products. These can unsuspectingly interfere with our bodily functions and sometimes lead to illness.
Davina’s Go-To Vegan Favourites
Easiest Fool-Proof Dish
Fried rice. There is no hard and fast recipe for fried rice — it’s just leftover rice, and whatever vegetables you have in the fridge! Use up your leftovers and flavour with some seasoning and chilli and you have a winning dish.
Davina loves to add tofu, tempeh, green beans, corn, carrots, bell peppers, and some green leafy vegetable on the side. Easy!
Why not give this twist on fried rice a go — Raw Vegan Jicama ‘Nasi’ Briyani!
Let’s Talk Desserts
Who said vegans can’t love their ice cream (and eat it too!). Ice cream, chocolate, delicious energy balls — the list goes on. Davina’s secret holy-grail ingredient? Cashews.
Cashews are a staple to make almost any vegan dessert. With it’s creamy texture and neutral flavour, when soaked they can be transformed into ice cream, cakes, you name it. And to clarify, while your regular sugar-filled milk chocolate bars are out of the picture, dark chocolate free of dairy is totally fine (and full of antioxidants!).
Craving a delicious yet nutritious treat? These Raw Vegan Chocolate Truffles will do the trick!
Can’t Give Up Cheese?
You’re in luck! With nutritional yeast, which is an inactive yeast packed with B vitamins and an unusually cheesy aroma, you can have your cheesy substitute while still being vegan!
Blend dry cashews with nutritional yeast and garlic powder, and there you have it — parmesan cheese, ready to sprinkle over pasta, salads or even on roasted vegetables.
Davina’s Top Tips For Vegans In Asia
In the 12 years Davina spent experimenting and transitioning into veganism, she gained invaluable knowledge that she could use to support herself in terms of nutrition and mindset when she fully became vegan.
Do your research from credible sources — read books, watch documentaries, and learn from trusted experts to make sure you are equipped with all the correct information on maintaining a healthy, nourished body.
The modern myth goes, “I couldn’t afford to be vegan, it’s too expensive.” As with any diet especially those concerned with health, the food you buy can be expensive — but it doesn’t have to be!
Skip the supermarket, shop in your local market. Not only will everything be fresher and seasonal, but it will also be cheaper! With a huge variety of local fruits and vegetables, you can easily get all your nutrients sorted from what you buy in the market.
As people are still familiarising themselves with veganism in Asia, let’s be real. There are going to instances where you’re invited to events or social situations where there will be nothing to eat. Let people know you’re vegan so something can be prepared for you, and if that’s not an option, pack your own snacks!
Nuts are a snack staple and great to have on-the-go.
So now that you know vegans eat more than salads, why not get involved in World Vegan Month by incorporating a more plant-based diet into your life? Not only will it create a more conscious habit of eating, but it can be beneficial to your overall health and well-being as well as reduce your impact on the environment and on farmed animals.
Have you ever had any questions you’ve wanted answered about the vegan lifestyle, especially for those living in Asia? Or do you have any tips for those trying to transition into being a vegan? Leave your comments down below!