- By Stephanie Chok -
The time is ripe for VegVibe, a bi-monthly magazine covering “anything and everything that is vegetarian and vegan”. Launched as an online magazine in August 2009, the magazine ran as a monthly publication till its first print issue was launched a year later, in August 2010.
Helmed by husband and wife team, Gangasudhan, 34 (Managing Editor) and Halimah Illavarasi, 30 (Creative Director), VegVibe is filled with delicious recipes and nutritional advice, but its aspirations go beyond enticing meat-eaters to swop steaks for soy - the free (and “it will always be free”) publication wants to serve as a uniting platform for vegetarians, environmentalists and animal welfare advocates.
TOC catches up with multitasking greenie on a mission, Ganga, to find out more.
TOC: How would you describe VegVibe?
Ganga: VegVibe is a magazine that discusses aspects of vegetarianism, veganism, environmentalism, health & nutrition and animal welfare. The magazine aims to reach out to anyone and everyone – from the skeptic to the diehard, because we work to educate by providing justifiable fact rather than empty evangelism; we don’t need people to change but to think about their actions. We provide information that facilitates readers to reflect and trust them to make the best decisions – for the planet and the sentient beings on it.
TOC: When did the idea of starting VegVibe begin? Could you share some key turning points?
Ganga: Halimah and I turned vegetarian in May 2008 and when we wanted more information, we had to trawl the Internet and weed out the facts. Around January 2009, we realised that the local community really needed a point of reference to learn more. We decided to release a simple online magazine as a contribution (not as a business) and as we developed the material for our magazine, we noticed that environmentalists and animal activists were not as involved as they could be with the vegetarian community. We decided we should use our position to unite environmentalists, animal activists and vegetarians and try to facilitate efficiency in the overarching movement of doing good.
The response was incredible from the get-go and we were encouraged to move into print so that we could reach out to more people. Also, using a print medium, we found that we could attract advertising dollars as well and keep VegVibe sustainable. 
TOC: You speak of the desire to integrate environmentalists, people involved in animal rights and the health-conscious. Why is this integration important, and how does VegVibe intend to contribute to this?
Ganga: In today’s context, there is little difference between the various movements but they still continue to come up with initiatives separately - sometimes repeating the same approaches on overlapping areas. We hope to streamline the movements so we can have major initiatives that are efficient, focused and highly effective.
On a more tangible note, consolidation will lead to better funding since businesses would no longer have to ‘shop’ for the best group/organisation to support and can come in strongly at a single point of contact. 
TOC: What about the relationship between “green” (environmental) and “red” (social justice) issues?
Ganga: Perhaps, once we can consolidate the green movement, all of us would be better organised to lend more support to social justice initiatives? I think the world is too complicated for all of us to fight all the battles all the time, so we have decided to focus on something achievable within our lifetime.
Thinking about it further, it could very well be the stepping stone to inspire the social justice movement to emulate what VegVibe advocates – consolidation for better efficiency and results. Besides, once we can all take care of the non-human creatures on Earth together, I am convinced that it would pave the way for all of us to take care of one another!
TOC: Why did you become a vegetarian?
Ganga: We turned vegetarian on 2nd May 2008 (a day after our wedding anniversary) because we didn’t want to eat unhealthily any more. While we were not big meat eaters to begin with, we wanted to stop the processed food like nuggets, burgers, sausages and hotdogs that had become a routine part of our (busy) lives. So we decided that turning vegetarian would give us that demarcation and discipline. But as we learnt more about nutrition, we were convinced by the ethical arguments and became ethical vegetarians. Since January 2010, we moved towards a vegan lifestyle (a lifestyle that is cruelty-free) and do not consume or use anything that has led another creature to suffer in any way (or be inconvenienced even). We don’t believe that anyone can claim to be vegan in an urban environment (since almost everything is processed and manufactured and one cannot ascertain the raw ingredients).
TOC: Do you run VegVibe full-time?
Ganga: Not really. Both Halimah and I are trainers - she does culinary training, tutoring (she was a former teacher) and is doing her Masters in education at NIE, whilst I do language, correspondence and creative writing coaching/workshops. But it looks like I will take on VegVibe full-time and if we continue to grow, then it will be a matter of time before Halimah does it full-time as well.
TOC: Who does what in VegVibe - could you introduce your team? (Including some of the regular contributors)
Ganga: Basically it is a two-person operation with research and content directed by Halimah and both of us doing the writing; I do the editing, design and layout. We get the magazine printed in Johor Bahru and (painfully) handle the distribution ourselves. Some of the regular writers include, Luke Otter - a vegetarian food blogger, Bhavani Prakash - an inspiring environmentalist, Trina Tan - an eco-living activist, Janice Tan - a vegetarian food expert, and Eugene Tan - a green initiatives expert.
TOC: What are some of the challenges you faced in the beginning?
Ganga: No real challenges since it is driven by passion and we have no competition. Businesses appreciate our publication because it offers a very targeted medium for advertising, whilst our style is inoffensive and readers can choose the information they want to accept or reject. We have been blessed by a host of people who are ever-willing to help us in terms of content, presence, ideas and even sponsorship.
TOC: What are the rewards of running/publishing VegVibe?
Ganga: Satisfaction in how we are helping people and the community at large. We have been reaching people who would be typically turned off by the word ‘vegetarianism’ and that has been a great achievement. It is great to see each issue being read by strangers, pointing to and discussing the things they see in our pages.
TOC: Were there particular stories that received the most feedback/responses?
Ganga: Mostly, the recipes receive a good response because (I think) there are no real recipes customised for Singaporeans easily available. Other than this, stories on animal welfare get emotional responses (since it would naturally be close to the heart for some) and our opinion pieces get others sharing their own similar experiences. In essence, we believe we are achieving our goal of having something for everyone, so we do believe that at least one article will strike a chord with at least 75% of our readers.
TOC: Have you received feedback from non-vegetarians? If so, could you share some?
Ganga: Since we are not trying to convince anyone, the best measure of non-vegetarians’ reception of VegVibe will be the criticisms! We have observed that much of the material put forth on vegetarianism receives attacks, condemnation and disgust - and we have intentionally created content that will not provoke this sort of reaction. Non-vegetarians are never told they are wrong and they are never judged by VegVibe - we wholeheartedly accept that everyone has a good reason for their choices (be it vegetarian or meat-consumption). We provide solid information so that readers can always reflect on their choices. If after considering the facts, they do not feel the need to make any changes to their lifestyle, it is perfectly fine. In that regard, rational non-vegetarians never have anything bad to say. In the past year, the number of (crazy) confrontational meat-eaters who have wanted to pick a fight for the sake of it has been less than 3.
TOC: There seems to be a growing surge of interest in vegetarianism and environmental issues in general. Have you seen this interest translate into concrete action and changes in the way we live?
Ganga: Definitely! Not only a shift towards vegetarianism and awareness of the need for individual action in ensuring the environment doesn’t fall apart, but also the recognition that vegetarianism and environmentalism are intertwined. The tangible consequence has been that a publication like VegVibe doesn’t even have to try. By just presenting the solid facts without exaggeration, people automatically understand the need to do something at the individual level and they just start doing the necessary in their respective lives.
TOC: What is your opinion of current mainstream media portrayals of vegetarians and vegetarianism?
Ganga: It is no longer the portrayal of 'an alternative lifestyle' but that of proactive practices. It has changed and instead of the 'different' angle, it is now the 'better living' angle.
TOC: What are some stubborn stereotypes of vegetarians and why do you think they persist?
Ganga: The 'lack of nutrition' misconception remains the stubborn dirt that fades and never gets removed completely, and also the part that gets dirty again the quickest. It is probably because the generation that saw meat as an essential part of daily consumption (especially war-time folk) is still around. The problem with this misconception is that it is easy to 'prove' – if we look at the typical supermarket, it is hard to find a one-to-one replacement or alternative for the protein-filled meat products that line the shelves. Stuff like quinoa is hard to find (and even harder to explain and describe) and it becomes an academic exercise to dismiss a vegetarian diet as lacking in nutrition.
This is changing though and by the time our generation reaches old age, this misconception will become outdated, just like the argument that 'vegetarian food is boring' is today no longer be a valid point.
TOC: What are some of your favourite eating spots in Singapore?
TOC: What is your long-term vision for VegVibe?
Ganga: We are still growing and with each passing day we meet a different person who can offer us yet another opportunity. It is possible that we may become a think-tank, contributing to the knowledge and expertise on the topics of vegetarianism, veganism, environmentalism, health & nutrition and animal welfare, as well as organising initiatives and facilitating collaboration among the stakeholders. We might also move into providing for the community as several manufacturers overseas have approached us to help distribute their products in the local market. But whatever it is, VegVibe will continue to exist in perpetuity since it does not cost us much and we enjoy preparing each issue. We also believe that each issue makes an impact on at least one person - and that is justification enough for us.
 You can learn more by watching the welcome address Ganga gave during VegVibe’s launch event at http://vimeo.com/14882074
 The paper that Ganga presented at the World Vegetarian Congress 2010 on this issue - We Are More Alike Than You Think - is available online here
A bi-monthly magazine, VegVibe will be released every odd month. Print copies will be available at partner locations comprising green and animal-welfare organisations, as well as organic stores and vegetarian eating establishments - a list is updated here.