My Plant-Based Life

03 December 2017

Africa

I was born in the Rift Valley, in Kenya over 50 years ago at home. My plant-based life started when I was 18 years old in the UK. This is my story.

Being raised and living in Africa for the first eight years of my life was amazing. I wished it could have lasted longer. I lived in Kenya and Uganda. Uganda was paradise—a wonderful country full of many riches. As a toddler, I spent my time outside half naked, in the countryside, and I used to love mud. I would eat mud by myself until my parents filled the mud holes with chillies. I was content being on my own, enjoying the wonderful quiet outdoors of Kenya and Uganda.

rajiv 3 years old in Nakuru, Kenya
About 6 months old in Nakuru, Keyna, playing in the garden of the house I was born

1972 changed everything

We were forced to leave Uganda in 1972. That was the end of one life and the start of another. So many things were strange and new for us. My biggest loose was of playing in the hot outdoors and the vast open spaces I was used to.

Giving up meat

Until the age of 18, I ate meat a few times a week. I just accepted that you had to eat it. All that changed after I had eaten a kebab and was sick the following day. I stopped eating meat that day and fish after a year. This was easy for me, most of my diet was vegetarian food. I no longer enjoyed meat or fish. I would not call my diet healthy—this is the person who would drink a litre bottle of coke after school!

London and the health food store

At 18 I moved to London. This is where the seeds to my journey into plant-based foods were sown. I was not academic or interested in school or college. The only subjects I had fun with and was good at were, cookery, woodwork, metalwork, and photography. And I enjoyed taking things apart and figuring out how they worked. My teachers had no hope in me. This dictated my career. I ended up working in shops—two; a sports store (no fun, but good money) and my cousin’s fruit shop–lots of fun, not great wages.

After two years working for my cousin, I bought his shop with my uncle. After a year we incorporated a health food store because a large company close by was shutting down and we would lose many customers. By this time I knew lots about fruit and vegetables. One of my roles included going to New Covent Garden market to buy fresh produce Monday to Friday for the shop. Healthy foods were new for me and I’m talking about the early eighties. The variety available today in both physical product and information is huge. Business improved and the demand for health foods increased year by year. After a few years I left because I wanted to increase the organic food range and my uncle was not interested. I met a vegan customer while at the shop for the first time in my life. There were not that many, I had great fun to talk with them.

My eating habits had improved, I was still eating ‘junk’ food until I left the shop. I was cooking more and eating out less. The problem, which still exists today, is that if you buy something from a health food store, many people believe it is good for you. It’s not and would take me until I became a vegan to realise this. My milk consumption had decreased—this was because I no longer enjoyed the taste, same for eggs. Yogurt was okay.  

Life in Brittany

After a few years of toying with different ideas and wholesaling fruit and veg, and tired of life in London after 16 years, I moved to France with my French girlfriend. We sold Indian food products and utensils in the markets. I made Indian vegetarian food for some of the markets we did.

Life in France was different. We lived in a tiny village about 45km from Rennes, next to a huge forest (forêt Paimpont). The forest of legends about King Arthur. That forest was enchanted and in the summer I would be in there often on my mountain bicycle. Life was a lot slower—lunch used to be slow and about interesting conversation. In the markets the food made a great hit with a few people. I had great conversation with many people in the markets about food and life. My cooking skills had improved and one of the best moments of my life happened one summer. I did a mini workshop with a group of ladies (my girlfriend’s relatives and mum). We made a simple dhal and kheer (rice pudding). Almost all conducted in French. In the evening we all (about 15 of us) sat under the huge cherry tree in the garden in a large circle and had dhal and kheer, until the one lamp next to the church went off at 10pm.

At one of these markets I met a French vegan family. A nice surprise and it was wonderful to talk with them. One thing I enjoyed about life in France is that no one judged you. Everyone had a point of view and we could discuss it and still disagree amicably. I barely ate any dairy now and no eggs. I had found a wonderful range of soya yogurts. My dairy consumption continued to decrease more. After living in France for over two years, my time there had come to and end. I headed back to the UK and Leicester. This was where my family had come to when we were forced to leave Uganda in 1972, Leicester was home. I had spent little time with my parents since moving to London. 

Leicester, a change in career and being vegan

It took a month for me to decide and try to be a vegan for one month. An experiment to satisfy my curious mind. Would I still be alive? I am not keen on the unhealthy fried and sweet Indian food I had to eat upon returning to Leicester. A vegan diet cuts out a great deal! :) Everyone would ask me what I ate—’food’ would be my response. For the first decade that would be a recurring question. A month turned into a few months. I missed nothing—it was easy. I had a brilliant excuse to avoid certain foods; win-win for me.

I decided to give a career in food a break and went in a strange direction. I fixed Apple computers and built websites. Like I said I love tinkering. This lasted for about eight years. It was never fulfilling enough for me and eventually I returned to what I love the most; food, yoga and massage.

A vegan diet made me look at the back of food packets because one day to my horror, I found out that Rice Crispies contained milk powder! I had taken it for granted that Rice Crispies meant just that. No, no it does not. And when I looked at the list of ingredients, it made me think about all the other ingredients. Why are they needed at all? This was my light bulb moment for eating healthy. I would look at everything I bought and question the ingredients.  

This would lead me to cooking more, eating out less, and reducing the amount of processed foods I bought. I now rarely eat out, I’m not into fake meats, pretend cheese, etc. Why do I want to be reminded of something I find disgusting and don’t enjoy the taste of. I don’t even eat mushrooms because they are not vegan according to me.

rajiv doing mayurasana—peacock pose I’m practicing Mayurasana, peacock pose at home

Yoga entered my life during this time and this led to teaching yoga because I enjoyed it so much. I did a Thai Yoga massage course because I love massage and it was a way to combine Yoga and massage. If I was not vegan, I’m not sure I would have had as much interest in Yoga or Thai Yoga massage. Compared to the life I used to have in London, it is at slow pace—like it was in Africa and France.

Planet-based

It’s been easy for me to transition to a plant-based life, and  I was unknowingly a part-time vegan for most of my life. For many people it’s not that easy and my advice is straightforward. Start slow, give up a few things and take it from there. Most of all enjoy it, and welcome. There is so much help available compared to when I started. I’m also happy to give you advice.

The environment animals and our planet

I have now become so much more aware of the damage we are causing to both the environment and animals. My life has become even simpler because of this. There is still so much more for me to do. There are three things I think that can have a great impact on the planet: dairy, plastic pollution and food wastage. 

It’s so easy today to give up dairy—there are many plant-based alternatives and you would help animals, cows, that should not have to endure the life they do. It’s barbaric and think about this: milk is only needed during infancy, after which every species stops consuming it, except for humans. Cows are driven to produce milk. They would only produce it if they are rearing calf’s.

Plastic pollution is causing havoc on the land and in the oceans. It’s very sad. Stop using plastic bags, recycle them, reuse them, and reduce the amount of plastic you throw away. Consider buying alternatives of products made with plastic, cups, water bottles, cutlery. Encourage take away food businesses to switch to plant-based alternatives. It’s so easy—I’ve done it for my business.

Food wastage occurs everyday and at a rate that is unnecessary and shameful. Here in the UK food wastage in 2015 was £13bn (7.3m tonnes), an average of £470 per household. That food waste generated 19m tonnes of greenhouse gases. We are all responsible for this and need to do something—from the food industry to individuals. For the individual; do you really need that two for one deal, or buy one get one free?

None of these things require you to wait for legislation, politicians or organisations to do something. You as an individual can make a difference today.

I’ve been on this Earth for over 50 years and for over 20 years I’ve been plant-based. I’m active, feel good and I have a great life. Don’t believe all the rubbish you hear about how you cannot survive on a plant-based diet. If you eat lots of processed foods, don’t sleep enough and don’t do a little physical activity, then you might run into problems.

What my plant-based day looks like

I wake up early between 6am and 7:30am,  no need to use an alarm. I wash my face and mouth with cold water and then drink a little water. For about an hour I do some Hanna Somatics and Yoga. The Yoga comprises of pranayama, meditation and a few asanas.

I fast for about 12 hours, so I won’t eat anything until lunch time. If I’m hungry, I’ll have something at about 11am—it depends. Lunch is the main meal of the day, frequently a curry. In the afternoon I’ll have fruit or cake. In the evening, around 6pm I’ll have a small meal. The food I cook varies, but to get an idea take a look at the recipes in the Baked not Fried section. Sometimes I might even have porridge. Generally I dislike eating late after 8pm I tend not to eat anything if possible.

I try to get to bed by 10pm. There are no phones, tv, computers, etc. in the room. The bedroom is for three things, sleep, reading and sex.

Do I wish my plant-based life had started sooner? Yes, but I’m grateful for the journey and I’m content that I did. One of the best things I have done.

me today Me today over half a century later