Rhea Bindra in her Lexus four wheeler that has been customised to be vegan friendly Image Credit: Clint Egbert/XPRESS

Dubai: Rhea Bindra has just bought herself a new car. However, the Dh165,000 Lexus NX 200 T four-wheeler is no ordinary vehicle.

It comes fitted with ‘vegan leather’ interiors. The inner panelling is from recycled wood and the lamps are LED (not the Xenon ones you find in most cars). The steering wheel comes with a mix of original and artificial leather – but Rhea paid an extra Dh30,000 to have it redone in artificial leather.

Her new acquisition is keeping in line with a lifestyle decision she took a year ago – to go vegan.

“I am averse to animal cruelty and have decided not to consume or use by-products of animals. Now I am off meat, leather, eggs, dairy products, honey, fur, silk, wool or cosmetics and soaps that use animal fat,” said the 27-year-old Dubai resident.

“One has to think vegan to be vegan and use vegan products only. The good news is that there are a number of options in the market today,” said Rhea.

Rhea was a vegetarian since she was 15. However, it was a rally against animal cruelty in the UK a year ago that made her embrace veganism.

(Vegans are different from vegetarians in that while the latter tend to consume dairy products and eggs, a vegan avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and often inedible animal-based products such as leather, wool and silk).

“For a population of seven billion people in the world, 50-60 billion animals and 2.1 trillion marine life are killed every year for their meat, dairy and factory farming. These exclude animals killed in labs for testing or those killed for sports. If this is not sad enough, cows are artificially impregnated to produce milk to meet world consumption,” said Rhea.

Veganism begins at home

Thanks to Rhea, her parents and sister have also become vegans. “We are Punjabis and meat eaters originally. Going vegan has been a huge lifestyle change. Luckily the UAE is a vegan-friendly place and there are many things you can pick up off the shelves,” her mother, Preeti, said.

“It’s not hard to replicate Indian food with a vegan cuisine. Similarly, it’s easy to prepare Thai dishes in vegan style – one only has replace the fish sauce with a vegetarian one and creams with a coconut-based one. Italian food is also easy to prepare the vegan way.

"The pasta can be eggless and prepared using vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, paprika and basil. Milk can be replaced with almond, rice or soya milk. Yoghurt also can be made from coconut,” said Preeti.

Rhea’s colleague, Viktoria Carmona, 30, a Hungarian expat is also a vegan convert. “My one-year-old daughter has not eaten meat so far. My husband is making a slow change and is a pescatarian for now (a person who eats fish but not meat).”

She said: “All major supermarkets and hypermarkets sell vegan products. Look out for markings which read V on them to indicate they are vegan.

"Go Go guide is another place where you get interesting vegan items like vegan meat, burger fillings and sausages. The ‘meat’ particularly is completely organic and is a combination of beans, mushrooms, a number of herbs and spices to give it a texture similar to a meat burger.”

Vegan friendly

Rhea said she was pleasantly surprised when a restaurant in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) decided to include a number of vegan dishes in its menu after she requested them.

Anum Mazhar, 25, who runs Hub 7 restaurant in JLT, said her restaurant has 50 per cent vegetarian dishes, of which most are vegan friendly. “When Rhea visited them with her family last year, there was hardly any dish on the menu that she could eat.

Later I sat down with my chefs and introduced vegan dishes in our Japanese and Filipino menu. We are redoing our Indian and Pakistani cuisines to keep them free of dairy and animal by-products,” said Mazhar.

According to Rhea, only consuming non-animal products does not make you a true vegan. Your clothes, shoes and make-up – the whole get-up – has to be vegan too. “A year ago when I looked at my closet there were many clothes that were made from animal products. I had fur coats, leather jackets, silk blouses, among others. My make-up contained fish scales and pig fat. I got rid of all of them,” she said.

“I now use Charlotte Tilbury, Urban Decay, Kat Von D for make-up. Stella McCartney’s collections too have vegan offerings. Sephora outlet sells vegan products. Basically I have started researching for products which do not have even a tiny per cent of animal by-products in them.”

Viktoria adds using vegan make-up need not be an expensive affair. “There are a number of products which are under Dh35. For example, the NYX concealer wand, the ph Matchmaker lip gloss and Milani’s Bella eyes gel powder eyeshadow are some reasonably priced products.”

Sundeep Sen, who runs Czar, an online shoe store has just customised a vegan shoe for Rhea. “It is made of velvet from cotton – not silk. The inner sole is of rexine (artificial leather). It is old thinking that if something is vegan, it is not of good quality. But thanks to people like Rhea that concept is changing,” he said.