Vegan influencer Chef Dave makes a big impact on social media with his creative, flavour-packed plant-based recipes

Four years ago, a video on animal cruelty at farms popped up on Chef Dave’s social media feed on his phone. It was a video of newly hatched male chicks being dispatched in a grinding machine, as it was not profitable to keep them alive due to low market prices at the time.

Dave, whose full name is Kalidevan Murugaya, decided to stop eating eggs immediately.

“I asked myself: How many eggs am I eating in a day? Why I am a part of this, which I don’t agree with? I eat eggs and I pay the industry to do this.”

Two weeks later, another video popped up. This time, it was a video on the atrocities in the dairy industry, in which cows are caged in a crowded space while female cows are artificially inseminated.

When the female cow delivers, its newborn calves are separated and fed a blended solution while the nutritious milk from its mother is extracted for human consumption. Newborn female calves are kept alive and when they come of age, the same artificial insemination process is repeated. Male calves are sent to the slaughterhouse for veal and their skin is processed into leather.

This changed Dave’s mind completely. He recalled an advertisement for fresh milk, in which cows were living free and running around on green pastures at beautiful farms in foreign countries. But the reality was shockingly far from it.

$!Dave creates dishes using local produce that are easy to source.

xposed to speciesism

As Dave have always stood up for social justice, he found his calling in the animal rights movement.

“Animal rights just (connects) with me. If this were to happen to cats and dogs, we would definitely fight for them. If a cat is bullied or treated badly, the public would be outraged. So, why are we not fighting for chickens, goats, cows, ducks or pigs?” he said, adding that the world has accustomed itself to accepting some animals as “pets” and others as “food”.

This was when he decided to learn about speciesism – prejudice or discrimination against animals based on species.

“Why are we paying money every single day for the industry to do all these cruel things to farm animals?”

The thought led to his “awakening”, and the journey towards embracing life as a vegan.

Switching to veganism

“I decided I wanted to be a vegan, but I was afraid to share my thoughts with anyone. At times, I even doubted myself, wondering what would happen if I started craving for meat. So, I learned to challenge myself. For a week, I ate vegan food. Then, I began to turn all my favourite foods to vegan (versions), replacing chicken in curries and experimenting with alternatives.

“Slowly, I started learning to eat well. I was ‘surviving’ and this triggered my passion for vegan cooking even more. Now, I feel like I cook with a purpose and (hopefully) each of my recipes will save many (animals) from being killed.

“The more people are inspired by my cooking and start cooking like me, the more it would help to free animals (from a brutal and premature death). This is my motivation, the symphony of a social justice movement, passion and fire in my heart and my love for cooking, fused together,” said Dave.

$!Dave’s popular vegan Nasi Kerabu.

Steep learning curve

One day, a friend suggested he post videos of his lifestyle on YouTube, but he had no clue on how to start. After undergoing a steep learning curve, Dave started to post videos in 2020. And the rest is history. Much to his surprise, the easy and simple recipes posted on his social media channels gained followers from all over the world.

Dave became immensely popular, receiving praise from all corners of the globe for his clever alternative ingredients, creative recipes, tips and presenting vegan versions of favorite Malaysian dishes without compromising taste.

For example, his vegan Nasi Kerabu is a big hit among locals, with some saying it tastes better than the original meat version.

All his recipes use local ingredients that are easily sourced and affordable for people from all walks of life.

“My content revolves around vegan food, vegan travel and a vegan lifestyle. In terms of vegan food, I share recipes and give alternatives. For example, an alternative to cow’s milk is almond, cashew or walnut milk.

“I will (provide information) on where to get ingredients and what you can get as alternatives or what alternative items to use in the cooking, such as vegetarian belacan.”

Dave shares tips on how a vegan could travel and find food options easily, debunking the myth that vegans cannot get meals while travelling. He also speaks passionately about the vegan lifestyle, which is about activities, clothing, personal care products and cosmetics that are not derived from animals or involve the suffering of other species.

$!Tauhu Goreng Kunyit is another protein-heavy dish.

Advocating veganism

According to Dave, veganism is not associated with any religion, and the core ideology of veganism is avoiding the exploitation of animals.

“We are basically brainwashed and made to believe that at every meal, we must have protein, at least one piece of chicken, or fish. But we can have tofu, dhall or chickpeas, which are all available in Malaysia, that are cheap and nutritious. The alternative source for animal protein are soy, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and tempeh.”

Vegans abstain from meat, dairy, honey and any animal-based products such as cheese and butter and also avoid using leather products such as shoes, bags, belts and leather furniture and car seats.

“My aim is not to convince people to become vegan, but to inspire those who are ready to (adopt this lifestyle), and show them it is possible.

“I am not telling others what diet they should follow. That decision should come from inside each of them, on their own. They should discover the reason or have a turning point in life to become a vegan.”

Dave’s social media channels serve as a guide and he provides information not just to vegans but vegetarians and those with health issues.

“I don’t want them to lose the flavour of Malaysia and I want them to continue enjoying Malaysian food.”

A new challenge

Starting on social media was not easy for Dave, who had previously worked at the Shangri-La Hotel and on the Disney Cruise Line.

“I would say from the beginning, I learned through trial and error. I realised I had to be consistent in producing videos. It went from zero to 30,000 subscribers within a year, with my live streaming sessions being the most engaging.”

In the second year, something special happened when Dave was stir-frying Mee Goreng Mamak on a live session. Usually, he would draw about 200 to 300 viewers. But on that episode, there were over 3,000 people watching.

“I could not believe it. But with that particular video, in just one night, my video reached one million views and drew 100,000 subscribers.”

Since then, Dave has focused on live sessions and his subscriber numbers have grown tremendously. Last year, he launched Project 365, challenging himself by posting one recipe per day for the whole year.

“The biggest challenge was keeping up with social media trends, which constantly changes... from short videos to long ones and then back to short videos again. But as a content creator, I keep updating myself with trends, knowledge and technology.

“When you have no knowledge in the area of editing, photography or videography and solely depend on your team, you are in your comfort zone and you stop learning,” said Dave, who learned from that mistake and mastered every aspect of making, editing and posting videos.

$!Vegan dishes are full of protein, negating the need for meat.

Revitalised during Ramadan

For every occasion, Dave comes up with traditional vegan recipes. For Ramadan, he has been posting plant-based recipes under “Sehijau Ramadan 2.0”, an improved version of the farm-to-table concept that he produced last year.

“The ingredients are sourced from the farm and the video also shows to the world the life of Malaysians living in their kampung.”

In these videos, a drama element was added, in which Dave plays the character of an adopted son of a Muslim parent, with messages on human values such as filial piety embedded.

“I want viewers to immerse themselves in the feeling of serenity, peace and calmness. We hope people appreciate our culture and food,” said Dave, who is making plans to diversify his content in different languages, such as Mandarin, to reach a wider audience.

Dave’s recipes can be viewed on
Instagram @chefdave-veganjourney and his YouTube channel Chef Dave Vegan Journey.

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