TOP 5: Ways To Be A Respectful Vegetarian Abroad

  • print
  • make this is a favorite!

    2 other people called this a favorite

Being a vegetarian abroad can be challenging. You’ll not only face practical concerns, like how to find good vegetarian meal options in some places, but also daunting cultural challenges. People may not understand why you don’t eat meat, or be insulted that you won’t sample local delicacies, or find your special dietary needs difficult to accommodate. So how can you stay true to your values without disrespecting local culture or alienating yourself?

Here are five solutions to five common problems that vegetarians encounter abroad:

1. Communicate early

The problem: You’ve just landed in Spain after an exhausting 10-hour flight, and you’re absolutely starving. Your new host mother promptly sits you down at the kitchen table and sets a mountain of steaming hamburguesas in front of you. “Um, no thanks,” you stammer. “I’m a vegetarian. No como carne.”

The solution: You can prevent awkward situations like this with clear, early communication. If you’re planning a home stay, be sure to communicate your dietary restrictions to your program provider very clearly, and when you meet your host family, go out of your way to thank them for accommodating your needs. If friends invite you to their home for dinner, let them know you’re a vegetarian before you accept their offer.

2. Find a culturally relevant explanation

The problem: You’re in Uganda, and your friends are again insisting that you try the grilled goat. “It’s so tasty!” they say, pushing it toward you. “Just have a bite!” You’ve already told them many times that you don’t eat meat, and you’re getting tired of explaining yourself.

The solution: Vegetarianism seems like a simple concept, but for people who have grown up with fewer food options and who aren’t used to picking and choosing what they eat, it can be difficult to understand. As you learn more about local values, see if you can find a way to frame your vegetarian lifestyle within their cultural context. For example, if you find that Ugandans place an emphasis on family loyalty and trust, explain that your vegetarianism is a family value, something you would not want to disrespect. That might be easier for them to grasp.

3. Offer to cook

The problem: Your Bolivian host family knows you’re a vegetarian, but isn’t accustomed to cooking vegetarian foods. You can barely stomach the same bean and potato soup every night (supplemented by your secret stash of peanut butter and crackers), but you continue to force it down because you don’t want to offend your hosts.

The solution: Suggest a joint cooking night with your family—they prepare one of their usual meat dishes, you prepare a vegetarian offering, and you all eat together. That way, they can eat what they’re used to while also trying something new. If possible, try to incorporate local food options into your dish. Bolivia, for example, is home to the world's most protein-abundant grain, quinoa, as well as gargantuan avocados. Your family may find that vegetarian dishes with these local ingredients are tastier than they realized, and may even incorporate them into their regular diet.

4. Embrace cultural traditions

The problem: You find out that your German friends just spent the weekend at the Bad Dürkheim Sausage Festival... and they didn’t invite you. You feel left out, and when you act hurt, they look at you in utter confusion. “But you don’t eat sausage!” they say. “We didn’t think you’d want to come!”

The solution: You need to accept that sometimes you’ll be left out of hallmark cultural experiences: You’ll have to pass on eating roasted guinea pig in Ecuador, and you’ll have to hang back as your friends rush to doner kebab vendors in Istanbul. But make it clear that you don’t intend to let your dietary restrictions get in the way of engaging with local culture and traditions. Don’t decline invitations to events that revolve around meat (just pack your trusty jar of peanut butter), and don’t openly judge your friends as they indulge in their knackwurst and frankfurters.

5. Be flexible

The problem: You’re in rural Madagascar, and the village has slaughtered a zebu to honor your arrival. You are handed a plate of freshly grilled beef as the entire village looks on.

The solution: Some scenarios call for weighing your commitment to vegetarianism against your desire to be a courteous, respectful guest. It’s also important to do your research and evaluate whether your reason for being a vegetarian still holds up abroad. If it’s because of the way animals are fed and treated in the United States, find out if your host country engages in similar practices. You might find that local animals, like the zebu, are bred naturally, raised on a healthy diet, live freely, and die humanely.

It is possible to stay true to your values without locals accusing you of being rude, detached, or completely nuts. All it takes is clear communication, a flexible mindset, and a willingness to engage with the culture around you. And of course, don't forget the peanut butter.

* Many thanks to our vegetarian globetrotting interns, Amy Glynn and Shaina Shealy, for helping us to compile this list.

 

Comments

Posted on 11/18/2009 by

Jenny Sherman

Good article. I especially think #5 is important as I found that to be my success to integrating in to non-vegetarian cultures. Realize that eating meat in many third world and developing countries doesn't involve the hormone injections or tortuous lifestyle that it does in the U.S. This was my primary reason for being a vegetarian, and once I slowly integrated the lean meats into my diet, sharing meals with local became a lot more enjoyable.

Posted on 11/18/2009 by

Akshali Gandhi

Akshali  Gandhi

Thank you so much for this! I am looking to study abroad and I was worried about being veg.

Posted on 11/18/2009 by

Rosemary Johnson

Rosemary Johnson

Very interesting article. I've often thought of writing about experiences of being vegetarian abroad. My worst experiences have been in France, where they seriously believe that their cooking is 'the best' and in the United States, where I was up against signs in diners to the effect 'Of course we serve vegetarians - the cow in your burger." The best places for vegetarian food are the UK, where every cafe, restaurant and pub will have a veggie option, and Italy where it is normal to eat pasta or pizza with just cheese and tomato. I suspect that veggie food would be easy to find in India too, although I've never visited. Vegetarian food in Eastern Europe has proved a challenge, but not so bad as I expected.

Posted on 11/20/2009 by

Lin Chen

Lin Chen

I am a pescetarian and lived in Taiwan over the summer, where the majority of my family live. Food is a huge element of Taiwanese culture. We eat A LOT :) I found myself having to remind my relatives over and over [and over again] that I don't eat meat. Being a vegetarian in Taiwan, or rather Asia, is rare unless you are a Buddhist monk. The three basic meats--chicken, pork, beef--are staple foods in almost every Taiwanese dish. After living with my aunt for four weeks, one day she cooked jijiao (chicken feet) and asked if I wanted to eat it. Another day, my aunt and uncle took me to Burger King for a quick bite. I reminded them that I don't eat meat. So, we trekked over to Starbucks next door. All their sandwiches had meat in it. my aunt pointed to a bacon and cheese crossiant and goes "oh, you should get that, it looks good!" And then at the night market later, they both ask me if I want to eat fried chicken.. Aaahhhhhh!!!!!!

Posted on 11/24/2009 by

Elizabeth Dilts

Elizabeth Dilts

I've had similar experiences with Lin Chen while living in China. One very close friend is a 27-year (life long) vegetarian. We went to a cafe chain started in Beijing as a New York style cafe around Beijing University Foreign Language School. My friend ordered three things off the vegetarian menu and each was served with a small, sad sliver of barbecued chicken, as if the chef couldn't imagine someone wouldn't want meat. Though my Buddhist friend is able to maintain a completely vegan diet (1 1/2 years and running), he rarely eats out. He is forced, by total lack of options, to cook most of the time.

Posted on 11/24/2009 by

Lauren Quinn

Lauren Quinn

I was vegan for four years, during which time I traveled to nearly 20 countries, and I can you from experience that these are tips to live by. I'd also recommend leaving home with a stash of emergency food: Cliff Bars and Primal Strips (seitan "beef" jerky) are life savers! And, of course, being gracious is always important.

Posted on 11/30/2009 by

Erin Northington

Erin Northington

I just traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam. It was hard to find non-meat dishes, but very possible. There are websites that feature best vegetarian restaurants all over the world, so find a few near your hostel and print it out!

Posted on 11/30/2009 by

Michelle Saltis

Michelle Saltis

These tips are very useful! I have been veggie for years, and it is very possible to find great vegetarian dishes all over the world. I do agree with number one, that it is very important to communicate early! I stayed with a family in France, and told them before hand that I was a veggie so it worked out ok. But they did cook a dinner one night with meat in it, and I tried it anyways to be polite, so flexibility is also a definite key. I also agree with Erin, I have definitely used lonely planet as my travel guides and they mention good vegetarian places, so doing some research is very beneficial.

Post a Comment

-->
Advertisements

Or login with Facebook:

Forgot your password? We can help you change it! Click Here

Not registered? Click here to create an account.