If you're active in Singapore's vegan community, you might have seen this familiar face at outreach events or meetings. Lisha is an outspoken and driven volunteer of Animal Allies and the Vegetarian Society Singapore. She's also a vegan breaking vegan stereotypes - she doesn't enjoy vegetables. Why did a veggie hater turn vegan? Here's her story.
1) What inspired you to turn vegan?
It was just like any other day - filled with browsing facebook and bingewatching youtube videos. On this day, the buffet of youtube videos comprised mainly of buzzfeed recipe videos, from ingenious nutella hacks to chicken buffalo dips to deep fried ramen recipes.. and then I saw "Foodies Kill Their Food For The First Time". I kept scrolling, but then I thought to myself "Why am I avoiding the video of how my food is made if I don't think there is anything wrong with it?". In fact, I had intentionally seeked out these videos as a meat eater because I wanted to know exactly how my "food"- (Free range chicken etc) was slaughtered. It was also just so I could tell my vegetarian cousin that I knew exactly how my "meat" was made and I was absolutely alright with it. However, with this buzzfeed video, I had an unexpected reaction.. tears started to well up in my eyes. I don't know exactly why it was different in this one. Maybe it was because they tried to befriend and stroke the chickens, and after gaining their trust, they turned their chicken friends upside down and slit their neck. It was then I realized, that even though we are omnivores, there is no need to eat meat. We can thrive on a plant based diet, and I've met many vegans who are far healthier than the average person.
2) What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Most people who know me would guess that my biggest challenge would be being a vegan even though I hate vegetables. Changing food choices was not as difficult as dealing with the cultural shift and change in worldview. Suddenly, the meaning of being an "Animal Lover" to me meant not eating them too. I know right, it seems so obvious now. Before being vegan I used to call myself an "Animal Lover" too, and I would eat mainly free-range, hormone free, "humanely" raised and slaughtered animal products. So now with this new perspective, how am I supposed to feel or react when someone tells me they love animals whilst still having a chicken wing in their hand? How was I supposed to deal with a pregnant friend going into motherhood cracking jokes about me not consuming dairy after I informed her about the horrible process of how they have to separate the calf from the mother? If not anyone else, at least a mother to be could empathize with the plight of female dairy cows? Dealing with these situations and questions posed the biggest challenge. How I dealt with (and am dealing) with this, is basically to understand the psychological and cognitive influences that are involved in the justification and support of people eating meat and other animal products. A great book that discusses this in detail is "Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows" by Dr Melanie Joy.
3) How do you act on your beliefs?
During my first year being a vegan I hosted a few documentary screenings at Eight Treasures Vegetarian and I was very involved with Vegetarian Society Singapore and Animal Allies. With changing work commitments, i've found other ways of being an activist such as posting online, emailing companies to encourage them to introduce more vegan options and also helping my mom with the vegan cheese business.
Lisha is an NTU researcher who assists in making handmade cheeses for her mother in her free time.
4) Favourite food to make and/or favourite place to eat out?
I guess it really depends who I go out with. I frequent nomVnom and love their extensive range of burgers there. When it comes to family gatherings, my family loves Eight Treasures Vegetarian. Aside from the great service and delectable cuisine, they are also one of the only few vegetarian places that serve alcohol - which is a must for my family.
Chinese dishes from Eight Treasures Vegetarian.
5) What is the most important thing that you will recommend for new vegans?
Definitely join a community to meet like-minded individuals. When you're a vegan, not necessarily just a new one, it can be very draining dealing with the day to day questions and challenges from friends and family who don't understand your lifestyle and mindset. Vegan groups on Facebook such as "Vegans in Singapore" and others outside of Facebook such as Animal Allies Singapore, Vegetarian Society Singapore and The Singapore Vegetarian Meetup Group can provide a wealth of social support and helpful information to make transitioning to a vegan lifestyle easier. From a psychology point of view, it helps when one has people around them who validate their views and beliefs. Finding and maintaining a sense of belonging with other vegans you may not know requires a bit of effort and confidence, but reaping the benefits of reaffirmation, comfort and happiness makes it well worth it.
6) Do you think it’s difficult and expensive to be Vegan in Singapore?
It is becoming increasingly easy to be a vegan in Singapore these days. There are vegetarian eateries popping up in every corner. As for expense, I think it really depends on what kind of vegan you are and where you shop. If you're mostly wholefoods plant based your expense can be lower. If you like special imported vegan food like the latest mock meats or cheese, then you can expect to pay more for it. However, if you try getting these items on clearance, which they often have in Cold Storage and Marketplace, you can save some money as well.