One Cause, A Billion Solutions - Meet Vikas Garg
If you thought pollution and organic living are the only movements that are really making people think hard about their everyday choices, you are missing out! There is a man who is determined to grow the global population of vegetarians and vegans to 1 Billion! An idea that simply originated from the cultural roots and growing years of the founder of abillionveg, Vikas Garg, he is ready to make a massive impact on how earth, its people, and its cattle treat each other! Now, how’s that possible, you might wonder. After all, we already have many non-profit organizations working for animals, people, and the planet itself. So, what’s he doing differently? Well, you’ll be surprised in ways you never thought. Ready to find out?
Tell us something about where you come from, your early days and what kind of food choices you grew up with.
I was born in Jaipur and spent the first few years in Mumbai. When I was five, my parents took me and my brother to NYC and what started as a year outside India ended up becoming permanent. The 80s and 90s were an interesting time in NYC. There was a lot of crime and drugs and the AIDS epidemic was at its peak. It wasn’t the friendly place it is today. But my parents showered us with love and my dad took it upon himself to teach me math when he saw how awful my school textbooks were. I ended up being selected for the toughest math and science high school in the country, and that really helped define my life as a teenager in Manhattan. I also noticed that in New York everyone seemed to live by the mantra “work hard, play hard”, and you know, there were definitely times growing up where I was a lot more obsessed with the play hard part!
My parents raised me a vegetarian since birth and always with a deep sense of love and respect for all living things - big and small. I grew up valuing what was on my plate and my parents made me believe that what goes into the body is as important as what goes into the mind. Unfortunately, when we were in the US, we didn’t notice how much our vegetarian diet had shifted from plant-based to dairy, so much so that there was a time when there was nothing better than a slice of pizza for lunch every day! But soon, we pulled the reins as we were reminded of sustainable living at home and ever since it’s been a joy ride.
Do you promote veganism? Are you a vegan yourself?
I’ve been really connected to animals and the animal rights movement since I was a kid but didn’t think too much about things like dairy or leather until I became a proud parent of a fur-baby in 2008. My dog changed my life forever. It was also around then that I started watching documentaries on animal farming and started making a conscious effort to “be more vegan”. It wasn’t easy at first but I realized what I thought was inconvenient was much worse for that animal and that’s when I made a 100% commitment to veganism.
Going through this journey helped me appreciate that all of us are on a journey. Many people think of being vegan as radical or a compromise, but for me, it’s been the most enlightening, inspiring, and motivating thing I’ve ever done for myself besides having a child.
How did abillionveg come to life? Can you explain to our readers about the app and what it offers?
There were two things that drove the idea of ABV:
First, I had this idea that we could elevate that frustrating experience all of us have when we want something plant-based. On speaking with restaurant owners and managers on not providing many such options, I found that they wanted to be helpful if they felt there was enough demand for it. So, the idea for creating a platform that institutionalized that kind of advocacy with businesses on a global scale, using a really powerful medium like reviews was what partly drove ABV.
And second, I always wanted to create a pair of beautiful men’s shoes because as a teenager I had a thing for them. And I wanted to to make them without any leather or other animal products. While that in itself was a challenge, it was possible. But I realized the harder part was getting people to care to buy them and businesses to care to stock them. And when I started to look at the space more broadly, I saw that there was a sea of people with creative product ideas that never take off because nobody has created a platform dedicated to helping creators find their first 1,000 or 10,000 orders.
So, that’s how I came up with the idea of ABV. We’re building a community of people around the world that believe reviews can drive businesses to be more sustainable. We’ve brought to life a platform that feels a bit like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Instagram, but it’s helping people discover and review vegan options, thereby, influencing businesses that have fewer options to make improvements.
In what ways do you believe a plant-based diet is beneficial for one's health? And how do you think being vegan helps the planet?
There’s science behind the statement “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Our internal happiness medicine - serotonin, mostly comes from our gut. So, when we feed our gut healthy, plant-based food, we get a boost. Conversely, the stuff that destroys our gut bacteria and causes a lot of digestive problems, comes from animals. All the antibiotics and other chemicals pumped into meat and fish to keep them fresh severely affect your body’s natural resistance and it all starts from the gut. Being vegan is also more than just being happy; it’s about mental health.
It is the single most effective way for people to do their part in tackling climate change. It impacts the amount of land and water consumed by animals, the GHG’s animals emit, along with the food that is fed to animals instead of the one billion hungry and malnourished people on earth. If you believe in karma, or perhaps in heaven, ask yourself if those 100 billion land animals and 2.5 trillion fish killed every year fit into the equation.
People have this perception that vegans don't always get enough nutrition. Is that true and if yes, how do you supplement for the rest?
There are a lot of perceptions. For instance, is the phytoestrogen in soy harmful? Is there anything wrong with GMOs? Personally, I don’t take any supplements and I feel great. The reality is that everyone processes nutrients differently. If the question is whether humans need meat for protein and nutrition, the answer is - no. Look no further than your grandparents for answers. One of our investors recently told us that his grandfather in Malaysia while growing up would get an egg on his birthday and maybe meat about three-four times a year. So, this massive wave of meat consumption is really a generational phenomenon more than the need to nourish the body.
What habits did you have to change to adopt a vegan lifestyle? And, what according to you, is the most positive result of a vegan diet?
Being vegetarian meant I couldn’t eat 95% of the things on restaurant menus and I had to change the way I shopped, especially leather, wool, and silk. When you think about it, that really limits your options in many ways. But it has had its positives too.
The most positive one has been building a business around my passion for veganism. After 15 years in the finance industry where most companies I worked with didn’t have any principles besides maximizing profits, it has been wonderful meeting the new generation of really talented young people who want to work with us because of our mission and values.
What does your vegan diet in a day look like?
During the week I’m all about being super healthy because I’m mostly sitting at my desk. So, I indulge in tons of fruits, healthy salads, followed by great dinners where I’m super flexible but try to keep them fresh, unprocessed, and light. On weekends, my wife and I love to cook something together. I, sometimes, bake bread on Saturday mornings or an elaborate Indian meal for friends, and on Sunday evenings, we usually have pasta.
In what other areas of your life do you practice veganism or sustainable living?
The zero-waste and plastic movement have really inspired me. I’ve been buying vintage clothes for 20 years, but now it’s much more driven by sustainability. And I always ask myself before buying anything, “do I really need this?” Usually, the answer is no and walking out empty-handed feels like I won a huge prize.
Veganism is about a lot more than just food. It’s a philosophy on better living. It permeates into a lot of purchasing decisions. I believe it’s very simple to say no to things that are tested on animals and made from animal products. And that’s what I stand for.
What's your go-to vegan meal which people should definitely try?
There are so many! One of my favorite dishes of all time is the Indian chickpea stew called Channa Masala. I love making recipes from Minimalist Baker, they’re super easy, single bowl, and can be made from stuff you already have in your kitchen!
What are your aspirations and future plans for abillionveg?
We’re grateful for all of the amazing people around the world signing up for the app. We just want to continue building something that makes it easier for more people to do the right thing.
Any words of advice for an aspiring entrepreneur from your experience?
If you really believe in something, go for it. Your only regret will be not having tried.
Share some of your favorite vegan/vegetarian places to eat in Singapore.
I don’t have favorite restaurants but have a lot of favorite vegan dishes and they’re often at restaurants you’d never think of as having good plant-based options. For example, the Mapo Tofu at Si Wei Mao Cai on Mosque Street in Chinatown can be made vegan and is amazing! For Indian food, I love Kebabs & Curries on the rooftop of Mustafa Centre. Pizza is a toss between Publico and Blue Label Pizza but both have phenomenal options and pizza crusts to die for! The restaurant that my wife and friends go to most often is the Din Tai Fung at Paragon Mall. This DTF location has a special menu that features a few extra options like fried water chestnut tofu and their regular menu has an amazing selection of greens and dumplings! I think their lemongrass juice is one of the best I’ve ever had.
Looking for vegan options in your area? Try the abillionveg app today!