Jakarta. A woman walks in, her long black skirt swishing with her every movement. A spatter of tattoos stand against her pale skin and her lipstick is as red as the flower on the side of her head.
Meet 33-year-old Paula, better known on Instagram by her nickname "Pupu," a retro fashion designer. Besides her love for vintage wear, she also loves sharing her love for a plant-based lifestyle.
She posts daily about being a vegan on her Instagram feed, showing her 88,000 followers where she gets her vegan fare and what a vegan lifestyle entails.
A plant-based diet decreases intakes of meat, fish, dairy and increases intakes of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts and soy.
The vegan diet omits all animal products including honey – because it is made by bees, dairy, and meat.
The path people take to veganism isn’t always the same. Three common factors are: love and respect for animals, desire to help save the environment or medical reasons.
For Paula, it was the last of those three factors, having battled autoimmune allergies in the past 15 years.
An autoimmune disease is basically when your body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue that it has misidentified as a "threat," making your body more vulnerable to viruses.
Every time Paula suffered a relapse, her limbs would ache so much that she couldn’t even walk to the bathroom.
"Back then, even when I so much as laughed too much, if I got too excited, I would get a fever and the next day I would have to stay in bed for the whole day," Paula explains.
She only found out that she was allergic to more than 35 different kinds of foods – including egg, chicken, rice, corn, gluten – five years ago, when she paid a visit to doctors in Singapore.
"I didn’t want to go to any of the doctors here [in Indonesia] anymore, I was too traumatized. They just wanted me to take more drugs and have more injections and my immune system actually became worse because of that," Paula laments.
After she received the new diagnosis, Paula decided to become a pescatarian – omitting other meats except for fish and seafood – and the diet seemed to work. She only relapsed once in a year, which was already a major improvement.
However, since Paula committed herself to veganism one and half years ago, she's never been admitted to the hospital again.
Max Mandias, the co-founder of healthy restaurant Burgreens, said he decided to become a vegan because he wanted to feel healthier without any medical intervention.
When he was living in the Netherlands, Max suffered from depression, which led to a multitude of other problems including insomnia, sinusitis, constipation and obesity.
After researching about vegetarianism, Max decided to make the switch and abruptly adopted a raw vegan diet.
"I ate chicken the night before I decided to become a raw vegan. I switched the next day and was chomping on raw celery sticks," Max laughs.
A raw vegan diet is made up of food in its natural state, such as apples (you can eat it with a tahini dip if you're bored with just the fruit) or cucumbers (with hummus dip).
Other than using a blender to make smoothies, you don't use any other utensils to boil, pan-fry or bake anything when you're a raw vegan.
In the first month of becoming a raw vegan, Max started losing weight and all his ailments started disappearing. After three months, he had lost 16 kilograms just from changing his diet.
"After that, it became a life-calling for me. I felt a tremendous inner motivation to empower people, and to heal them through better nutrition," Max said.
It's Not a Diet, It's a Life Choice
Veganism is more than just detoxing your body by limiting the kind of food you eat.
"At first it was just about the food I ate. And then I started thinking about what household items I've been using, what skincare, what makeup, are they animal friendly? I become more conscious and more aware of the things I buy every day," Paula says.
As someone who loves fashion, Paula found it difficult to let go of her love for leather boots and bags. A lot of them were gifts from either her family or her husband, she felt like she was going to throw away her memories. After a while, she eventually sold everything to overcome her guilt.
"Once you know the truth, you can’t go back to living your life supporting cruelty [to animals]," Paula said. "Some people see veganism as a diet because they want to get healthier, but it is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a life choice."
To be a real vegan, you also need to be educated. Max, who decided to run a food and beverage business, signed up for a course for raw food chefs who specialize in healing at a pure raw certification program in Ubud, Bali.
After Ubud, he is currently pursuing a plant-based nutrition major in E-Cornell University.
"I read a lot of books and educate myself because there's new knowledge to be learnt every year. I also need references to open up people's mind about being a vegan," Max explains.
Indonesian Food: More Vegetarian-Friendly Than You Think
Contrary to what most people think, being a vegan is easy in Indonesia, as both Max and Paula can attest to.
"Some people tend to focus on what we can’t eat as a vegan. I always tell them there are so many things that we can eat here. Indonesian food is actually vegan friendly, it’s easy to make the switch," Paula says.
Local foods such as red rice, sweet potatoes, tempe and tofu are affordable and easily accessible.
"If you look at local dishes in the past, we were more plant-based than we were meat eaters," Max said.
"I don’t think it's expensive to be a vegan in Indonesia. You just have to change people's mindset. Most people in Indonesia think it's necessary to eat meat. You just have to know how to convince them that vegan foods can sustain your health," Max explains.
Max said tempe, for example, is 10 times cheaper than meat, but also 10 times more nutritious.
"Veganism is like a rocket. And this knowledge that I am giving is astronaut soup. If people aren’t ready to go out into space, why bother? I like to spend my energy and time on people who are ready to accept new information. Your time is limited, you don’t have to convince everybody," Max said.