I attended Adelaide’s Vegan Festival a couple of weeks ago; a journey I’ve been meaning to take for a while now. It’s a priceless opportunity to listen to experts in the world of veganism speak, and sample amazing new foods and products in the process. Yet, after listening to so many empowering speakers, what does all of this mean for me in the context of travel? There are many lessons we learn in our lifetime, and I guess that’s the beauty of living – we’re learning every day on our journeys. Some of my biggest lessons in life have always stemmed from my travels to far-flung places.
Adelaide isn’t exactly far-flung for me (only a full day’s drive or quick flight from Melbourne). Those speakers who also took the journey to Adelaide's Vegan Festival to deliver their wisdom allowed me to explore new, inspirational knowledge and new perspectives across different facets of veganism. Here are my top three insights which I have translated into the context of travel.
Clare Mann – Vegan Psychologist
A fundamental lesson I learned while studying Biology at university is our ability to ‘fight’ or ‘fly’ from a particular threat. It’s a basic survival mechanism for all animals (that includes humans). Sometimes, the word vegan can send people ‘flying’ away from a conversation. Or, they choose to stay put, and ‘fight’ me out point-after-point. Clare Mann touched on our innate ‘fight or flight’ response to situations, which has helped me out immensely during my vegan travels. When we innately fly or fight a conversation, we lose our ability to reason with one another - biology takes over. Veganism has taught me to engage people in what they perceive to be a hard conversation and Clare believes engagement requires a ‘lean-in’.
When I travelled through Sumatra last year, we travelled to North Sumatra where local Batak people are traditionally renouned for eating almost anything that walks. Amazingly, we dined at a local home on a vegan meal home-cooked by our meat-loving hosts and they were fascinated, even gob-smacked, by my tour group’s ethic to eating plants; eating compassionately. A generous spread of traditional meals were transformed, proudly by our hosts, into a vegan feast, just as tasty and fulfilling, and shared by all. There are ways we can engage locals in a conversation about being vegan and language or culture doesn’t need to be a barrier, either. I find that sharing a meal brings us all together in a reciprocal union, despite our nationalities and values. So, what better way than to start with a welcoming home-cooked meal? In Sumatra, that also meant sitting on the floor and eating from a banana leaf plate using right-hand fingers, then leaving a very small amount of leftover to observe local custom.
David Coles – Life Guide
David Coles has a blunt and honest approach to the state of our world, the future of all animals, and saying it like it is. David encouraged his audience to stop seeing 'what we want to see' and feeling ‘what we want to feel'. He called for speaking the truth and not budging, while keeping fear at bay. Fear is not the guide, here. I remember the weeks leading into my trip to Syria, Jordan and Egypt in 2011. When work colleagues asked where I was travelling to and I responded, I was almost always met with a confused 'Oh', quickly chased by the question: 'Why are you going, there?' My only reply at the time? 'Why not?'
At the time, Syria was a safe place to travel, yet perceived as a country centred in what Western politicians labelled the region as 'the axis of evil'. ‘How could a country be evil?’ I questioned. When I travelled there, I was immediately embraced by locals. Sometimes, I was an oddity in my long cargo pants and floppy hat, but that was OK. At every dusty corner, cobblestoned side-street and even at the local, historic, Umayyad Mosque, I experienced nothing but smiles, brave conversation then showered in generosity with food at local restaurants. Sipping mint tea in the scorching heat, I couldn't fathom any experiences any less 'evil' than this journey. Upon landing back into Melbourne weeks later, I strived to share my positive experiences and travel stories in a desperate bid to dispel the myths. If I could quote David again: "Once you face something, you understand it." Nothing is truer than when we travel to erase the distorted perceptions those close to us try to paint. If only Syria now was the Syria I was introduced to then, and it saddens and pains me immensely to witness the catastrophic state it has now become, not to mention the thousands of lives lost and displaced since the conflicts began.
Leilani Münter – Environmental Activist, Race Car Champion
Leilani Münter has leveraged her biology graduate status to become a race car champion in her electric powered race car. Through sport, Leilani brings valuable awareness to millions of viewers about the saddening plight of our oceans, reefs and waterways; devastating ramifications that will ultimately lead to the declining health and mortality of underwater populations worldwide. Earth is in a diabolical situation, and we are losing marine populations at an alarming rate. If 10% of the world's population supports an idea, Leilani explained, then a tipping point is created for the rest to follow suit. Being vegan for me means mostly being a catalyst to change by maintaining a questioning mind and being accountable during what's left of my life on this vulnerable planet.
In my travels, I feel most at home when I experience wild animals in their natural habitat, with as little impact and interference as I can. While I took a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef on a trip to Queensland in 2001, we anchored with engines off so we wildlife seekers could snorkel. Snorkelling is one my most cherished ways to explore the ocean and I spent over two hours gliding on the ocean's surface while majestic turtles swam and flippered their way through the water below me with oblivious ease. I decided to shadow one turtle in particular, and she took me on a memorable sea voyage – a tour even – of her home that’s the Great Barrier Reef. We 'wandered' through dips and seabed hills, coral terrain and misty, bright blue water. Sadly, she led me to parts of bleached coral beds, now mere skeletons where parts of her home once was. I returned back to the boat with a sense of exhaustion, wonder and saddened awareness. While my fantastic voyage was a one-in-a-lifetime travel moment, I came away depressed by how we've brutalised our world through the choices we make. If my being vegan contributes to a tipping point, then my wish would be to help restore the damage we've done.
I had the pleasure of experiencing solo artist Georgy Rochow at the Adelaide Vegan Festival (who happened to make me an amazing matcha latte at a local café days before) and her lyrics resonated with me. If I could sing some of those lyrics from her set, we can't always 'give in to what the world wants'. What we can do is be the most thoughtful, compassionate and resilient travellers we can be. We can embrace our courage and bravery, and have those exacting conversations to expand our own knowledge as well as that of those new friends around us. Show respect with a positive and peaceful outlook, all snugly packed in our backpacks and our hearts. There are travel lessons we can teach, while we are simultaneously teaching ourselves. And, it's only then we can enact change to help solve the worldly problems that currently seem so daunting and unattainable.
Adelaide in South Australia hosts its Vegan Festival at Victoria Square, the city's CBD annually. For all the information from this year's Vegan Festival (and inspiration for you to attend next year), visit the Festival's official website.