Food: Traveling as a (former?) Vegetarian

This is a post by Jenny.

I became a vegetarian in December of 2000, shortly after watching “Meet Your Meat” in high school health class. Shortly thereafter I converted into a pescetarian – a vegetarian who eats fish – but always stuck with the term vegetarian since it’s easier to understand. David became a “flexible vegetarian” in 2005. My reasons for being a vegetarian for the next 12 years included that meat is kind of gross (picture raw, bloody meat), it is  often filled with unnatural hormones, the treatment of the animals questionable, and is generally bad for the environment.

However, whenever we travel, we commit to following the local diet because we don’t want to miss out on local cuisine because we won’t eat meat. This winter when we set out for 2 months in Asia, we knew that would be an easy place to maintain our vegetarianism, but still decided we would eat meat/whatever was popular locally. We ate a lot of fish and a good amount of chicken.. During our time in Portugal, Italy, and Spain, it has been a lot harder to skip out on the pork and beef – think chorizo, proscuitto, jamon iberico…Europe seems to be a continent of meat lovers (though perhaps the Italians less so than the Portuguese or Spanish).

While eating with my relatives in Portugal, most of the time we didn’t know what it was, we just knew it was delicious.

Usually I get annoyed when people ask about my vegetarian status – always feeling like they are asking me to defend myself or convert them – so I’m not sure why I’m writing a blog entry for the world to read. I think the point is that for us, it’s important to try not to miss out on anything delicious while we travel – because in case you missed the message, food and eating are the top reasons to travel (and hike)!

Will we become full time meat eaters when we get back to the states? I can’t say for certain, but I doubt it. I’m guessing I’ll never go back to regularly eating beef or pork, but might occasionally have chicken or turkey. All meat will probably have an acceptable place on my plate if it falls into the “ethnic” category – super delicious and made up in some special way that is exotic and rare for me to have. I still regret to this day not eating my Portuguese grandmother’s fish, chorizo, sopa, and various other homecooked meals in the last years of her life due to my insistence on being vegetarian.

What about you – do you change the way you eat while you travel?

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8 thoughts on “Food: Traveling as a (former?) Vegetarian

  1. Being able to eat meat when I travel is one of the reason I remain flexitarian. I understand how frustrating it can be to have to explain your dietary choices to people. Especially if you are doing what is right for you in exploring other places.

    And pescatarians that call themselves vegetarians is why I often have people trying to feed me fish (I’d almost prefer meat to fish to be honest). My own mother when discussing my mostly vegetarianism will often make statements like “at least you eat fish”, no mom, I don’t.

    I’m glad you are enjoying your travels. I want to hear all about them when you come back 🙂

  2. Yes, I eat everything when I travel for the same reasons:) then get back to normal after vaca- it sure has been a delicious summer and I don’t regret the 5lbs! September will be a different story!

  3. Well for me I rarely eat meat in U.S. due to what we tend to feed the animals in the state vs in Europe. While traveling to the Azores and Brasil visiting family you can’t help but eat meat and I was able to enjoy it while there since they graze naturally and no processing inbetween. Yes will change my eating habits while traveling to enjoy traditions and customs, back home with family same (can’t help it we are Portuguese), at my own home will not eat as much and will have chicken or fish. Enjoy the food while you travel – not the same once you return…

    1. Thanks for the comment Melissa! I know that the food just won’t be the same once we get home – trying to eat up as much deliciousness as possible! Even with taking cooking classes and cooking stuff at home, the ingredients just won’t be the same!

  4. I remember a few meals in Italy when the only vegetable we had was the parsley accent on the plate. But, man, it was yummy meat. I definitely dont eat that much red meat (or pork) here at home. One of the most unique plates was venison tartarre. Yum!

  5. I am a pretty strict vegan and I have traveled to quite some places, though rarely for just tourism. I have been to Cambodia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Colombia, India and a whole lot of Europe yet I still remained as vegan as possible when in those places.

    However, being vegan, to me, has nothing to do with it being gross or whatever. It has to do with my commitment to non-violence and that I apply this principle towards animals. The main thing that keeps me doing it is that animals have the capacity to feel suffering and I should not be consciously engaging in activities that promote unnecessary suffering. The only real argument for eating meat is that it is tasty and convenient, but this is not enough to make me go back on my ethics of non-violence.

    Also, there are a ton of veg-friendly restaurants all over the world (see http://www.happycow.net) and finding veg places in different cities is also amazing and something I would miss if I was just doing the “local” cuisine. My two favorite restaurants in the world are Mai Kaidee in Bangkok and Max Pett in Munich and I would not have found those if I wasn’t trying to stick to veganism.

    Basically, I understand that eating local and doing what is going on in other cultures makes things easier, but it can’t replace the conviction I have towards non-violence. This is the same as if I were in a country where they had slavery, violence towards women, etc. I would still not partake in those activities even if my travels brought me there.

    Being vegan abroad can be tough but every country seems to have vegetables, unique spices, nuts, beans, whathaveyou to make it worthwhile to seek out how to stay vegan in a new environment. Anyways, those are my 2 cents. Compassion over cruelty :).

    1. Thanks for the insight, Ravi. Your advice carries a lot of weight especially since you travel even more than we do! I’ll have to try out happycow.net.

      I can’t believe we missed Mai Kaidee in Bangkok. I saw Vicky the other day and she kept going on about how good that place is! =)

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