Being vegan in meat-loving Singapore can be ‘extremely alienating’

Nurul Azliah Aripin
Lifestyle Lead
Singaporean Nadiah Lim enjoying her vegan lunch at "Create Healthy Lifestyle" at Fortune Centre. 

“It can be extremely alienating,” says Nadiah Lim, 25, who just turned vegan three months ago.

A vegan doesn’t eat meat, eggs, dairy and all other animal by-products such as honey and ghee. Some of them abstain from wearing animal products too, such as leather. In Singapore, there are very few vegans, with food bloggers Ashley Chow (VeganAsh) and Luke Otter (HungryAngMoh) to name a few.

Turning vegan in meat-loving Singapore -- and during the Hari Raya season no less -- was the biggest hurdle for her so far, she told Yahoo Singapore, during a recent interview at vegetarian and vegan restaurant Create Healthy Lifestyle at Fortune Centre on Middle Road.

Every year, Nadiah's Muslim family gathers at her aunt's place to feast on festive dishes such as Rendang and Sambal Goreng, all of which contain meat. Even the vegetable dish, Sayur Lodeh, contains shrimp paste.

As a result, Nadiah couldn’t eat most of her aunt’s delicious food anymore.

“It was very upsetting for me and I think that was the hardest hurdle that I've gone through since becoming vegan. But ever since that, I feel more determined to be a vegan,” said the undergraduate, who is pursuing a psychology degree at Northumbria University in Newcastle. She returns to Singapore during the four-month summer holidays.

Her parents have been very supportive of her new lifestyle, and are slowly learning to get used to it. For example, they are mindful of her new diet when buying back food for her.

This year, Nadiah feasted on “veganised” Hari Raya dishes she prepared herself such as Tempeh Rendang and vegan Sayur Lodeh (no shrimp paste).

Many vegans choose this lifestyle because they are against animal cruelty. However, that wasn’t how it all started for Nadiah.

Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant Create Healthy Lifestyle at Fortune Centre. 

From vanity to animal cause

Before turning vegan, Nadiah was trying all sorts of diets to lose weight. She grew up overweight and was forced to join the Trim and Fit (TAF) club in secondary school.

The diets she chose never worked and some had led to more weight gain. The Atkins diet - a low carbohydrate diet programme - she once was on turned into a “disaster” because she ended up piling on more pounds, she said.

Eventually, she discovered a vegan diet online, which is widely perceived to be the “healthiest diet ever”, Nadiah said. Through her research, she learned more about the ethical reasons why people take on veganism.

“On the second or third day of being a vegan, I was watching a documentary called “Earthlings”. It’s about animal cruelty and abuse as well as factory farming that’s happening around the world,” Nadiah explained.

She feels most strongly for the cows that have been ill treated at dairy farms.

“They artificially inseminate the cows, because they have to be pregnant and give birth in order to produce milk. So they ‘rape’ the cows, and when their babies are born, they are taken away from them so that we can have their milk,” she said.

“It was so horrible, I felt really guilty,” said Nadiah, who sometimes tries to engage her parents in conversations on animal cruelty too. 

‘It’s a joy to be vegan’

“It’s a joy to be vegan,” she said.

These days, she eats a lot more than before, feels healthier, and is more creative with her food. She also finds out more about the origins of her food before consuming them.

“Every food that you eat has protein, even an apple. So long as you don’t restrict yourself and eat according to your body's needs.”

Does the vegan diet affect her energy levels?

“I can do whatever I want. I can exercise and I don’t feel tired easily. I’m not hungry in between meals. I don’t even crave for desserts anymore,” said Nadiah, who also does mixed martial arts.

Vegan snacks available at Fortune Centre. 

Nadiah enjoys going to the many restaurants available in Singapore that offer vegan options. She loves going to Japanese vegetarian restaurant Herbivore in Fortune Centre along Middle Road, and the various Indian food outlets in Little India, where she will buy her favourite vegan comfort food - Masala Dosa.

There are many other outlets she has yet to go to, like the vegan dessert place Brownice Ice Cream in East Coast.

Being vegan hasn’t stopped her from travelling either. Nadiah recently went to Morocco for a lone trip where she enjoyed eating local vegan delicacies such as Vegetarian Tagine and Vegetarian Cous Cous. Her travelling snacks consist of a bunch of fresh bananas and dates. 

5 tips for new vegans in Singapore

Nadiah's lunch consisted of vegan sushi rolls (beetroot, glass noodles, carrots and lettuce), beetroot juice, soup, brown rice with vegetables.

1.     Get a vegan partner or buddy

During her first month of turning vegan, her fiancé joined her as well so she won’t feel lonely. She said it helps when there’s support from your friends or loved ones.  

2.     Do your research

It’s important to research on vegan diets and find out what can or can’t be eaten.  Go to YouTube for videos, Nadiah recommends subscribing to channels Happy Healthy Vegan and High Carb Hannah.

3.     Always read the labels on food packaging

Nadiah always reads the ingredients written on food packaging to make sure the food doesn’t contain non-vegan products. She advises new vegans to be wary of terms like gelatin (make sure it’s vegetarian), non-dairy creamer (sometimes contains Casein, which is protein that comes from milk), ghee in Indian vegetarian foods and eggs in some mock meats. Don’t hesitate to ask the sellers a lot of questions, she said.

4.     Try slow transitioning

Go for slow transitioning if you find it difficult to turn vegan overnight, she said. Remove the meats you eat often and slowly give up all meat, eggs, dairy and animal by-products.

5. Coping with eating pressures in a social setting

Feeling alienated because you’re the only vegan in the group? It’s easier to deal with this when you have an ethical reason behind turning vegan and not just because you want to lose weight. When feeling pressured, remind yourself why you turn vegan – it’s a fight against animal cruelty.