By Lucia Rivera, VRG Intern
Vegan advocacy comes in many forms for Dilip Barman, a twenty-year vegan himself. For over 20 years Barman has worked with the Triangle Vegetarian Society, based in North Carolina. “I’ve been a vegan advocate for a long time. What interested me in vegan activism, was just helping to get the word out. But the nice thing about veganism is it’s appealing on so many levels. It’s, as you know, good for the environment, the best thing you can do for the environment,” Barman said.
One of the biggest projects Barman helps lead as president of the Triangle Vegetarian Society is the largest vegan Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. “During the pandemic, I’m ramping up for our big event. We host the country’s biggest vegetarian Thanksgiving. So we’re recrafting it for takeout. But normally, you know, we have Thanksgiving, which keeps me very busy in November and late October. We used to sell out the restaurant in less than two minutes,” Barman said.
In addition to the big Thanksgiving dinner and other potlucks, Dilip maintains a social media account and sends out a newsletter for the Triangle Vegetarian Society. The pandemic has also impacted the way that Dilip does vegan advocacy and education as a Food for Life instructor, as healthy eating plays an important role during a health crisis. “[At] Food for Life we’re evidence based and so we can’t promise that if you become vegan, or whole food plant-based, you won’t get COVID. But something like 94% of the fatalities, people who’ve died of COVID have had underlying conditions like diabetes, or heart disease or cancer, and obesity, and every single one of these can be largely prevented, managed, reversed perhaps with the whole plant-based diet,” Barman said. “We can’t promise you won’t get it. But if you are whole food plant-based, the chances of you dying from it or having terrible outcomes are greatly diminished. And so that’s one thing we’ve been doing to address COVID.”
Barman became a Food For Life instructor after the local instructor in his area retired and Barman’s wife suggested he apply. After submitting cooking videos and demonstrating he was qualified for the job, Dilip was accepted and now “loves” being a Food for Life instructor and teaching groups of around 15 about whole food plant-based eating. Being part of this program has helped him change his own perspective on veganism. “I was a vegan, [but] I wasn’t whole food plant-based and I wasn’t necessarily healthy. It’s funny, when I’d go grocery shopping, I’d always pick up a bag of potato chips, or corn chips or something. And my wife pointed out before I even became an instructor, this is just empty calories, this junk food, ‘why are you buying it?’ And I tell my students the same thing. So I stopped,” Barman said. “Two big impacts [from working with Food for Life] is that I do some cool activism in the schools and I started a healthy snack program, which has been really exciting. And it’s impacted K-4 directly and indirectly, fifth through eighth graders, and the nutrition education director of a school.”
As part of Food for Life, Dilip also is involved with the So Many Cooks in the Kitchen show, which is aired by the Plant Based Network. “It’s really neat, because I’m the orchestrator and it’s really fun just kind of organizing all of us. And so, Food for Life is one of the only groups that I’m super, super comfortable with. What I like about it is we’re all so good. We all have different ways of teaching and we’re all super knowledgeable, by definition, the way Physicians Committee selects us. I love it and I love the fact that we reach people all over the world. And I love that we’re putting together all these recipes. I love that we have a kids program.”
Beyond the So Many Cooks in the Kitchen kids program, Dilip works with children in other ways. However, he noted, educating kids on vegan diets differs from his work with adults. “You really have to be careful. when I go into the schools, and even in our kids class Physicians Committee has a Food for Life kids class. With kids, we don’t pass value. What I do in my classes is, I say, ‘I know something about nutrition, but I’m going to share with you ways that I know that are healthy eating, but always ask your parents what’s the best thing because I don’t know you as well as your parents,’” Barman said. He also runs the Healthy Snack Program, influenced by his work as a Food for Life instructor, which funds healthy eating in schools where there are often kids facing food insecurity.
Dilip also was Executive Producer for the documentary Code Blue, and regularly writes for local papers and magazines about vegan eating. He also is the North American Representative for the International Vegetarian Union. Although he balances his time through so many varying causes and programs, Dilip finds that it all comes down to teaching others. “One way [all my jobs intersect] is through my daughter, because she’s a sixth grader, and we homeschool. She’s my priority and where I spend most of my time. And she’s, in many ways, more ethical vegan than I am. She’s really neat. So I guess it all comes together really in teaching her and teaching other people. I love teaching.”
For those who are not yet vegan, but want to develop a healthier vegan diet, Barman expresses the need for good education. “If you’re not a vegan, I’d encourage people to find out about it. Read any number of books, read the VRG [Vegetarian Resource Group] Vegetarian Journal, which is an excellent vegan magazine, and join the Plant Based Network, watch So Many Cooks in the Kitchen. Take a Food for Life Class, there’s so much so much good information out there. So find out about it, and try to improve your diet. Understand that most doctors don’t know much about this, but take charge of your own health and eat more plants,” Barman said.
On the other hand, Barman expressed the importance of gentle vegan advocacy, and meeting people where they are. “If you are a vegan, try to be a better role model. I would encourage people, if you’re vegan, to also focus on being a healthy vegan and consider moving, you know, a little bit closer to whole food plant-based, which means eating foods with minimal processing, that looks more or less the way Mother Nature grew it,” Barman said. “Consider moving more towards a whole food plant-based diet, limiting your fat and maximizing your fiber. So that you’re a good role model, so you live for a long time, and so that you’re healthy.”
For more information about The Triangle Vegetarian Society, see: https://www.trianglevegsociety.org/