I remember the last time I ate meat. It was towards the end of a four-week trip to India six years ago, and I was floating on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala in the south. It’s a tradition to eat a meal of grilled fish on these trips, and the catch would come straight from the waters we were floating on. I remember the trip vividly because my writing mind was switched on at the time. ‘In order to document this houseboat trip in a blog post once I returned home’, I told myself. ‘I need to eat a meal of this grilled fish. It’s what you do when you’re travelling here; floating on these houseboats.’ By the time I returned home, my thoughts were troubled by this.
Aside from eating that one and only fish-based meal on that trip, I had been eating vegetarian during the six months prior. By the time I reached home, the thinking switched into vegan mode. I could no longer eat any more animal products any more, even if it meant ‘jeopardising’ the cultural tone of a travel blog post. The reason why this travel experience shook me was because I couldn’t quite understand why travellers can’t travel to a different country without eating what’s ‘traditional’ or part of the ‘culture’.
Food is a major aspect of how a person expresses his or her way of life. Yet, the truth of the matter is that vegetables are a staple wherever you travel. What you focus on is thus where the issue in perception exists. Culture is heavily engrained in our minds and hearts, and what I’ve learned in my travels is that someone else’s culture is not mine to reject. I completely understand the culture I was born into, along with the traditions and trappings that define that culture. How I choose to perceive and express my culture illustrates that we all have ability to choose a more compassionate, healthy and environmentally-friendly way to live; to be vegan. Expressing culture is therefore incredibly possible when it comes to food.
Yes, I don’t always understand another person’s culture in another country and it’s the travel that allows me to understand that culture. It is then only up to the citizen of another country to choose which way to express it. What we can do, as travellers, is to help create more of a demand for the foods that can help us to understand a culture, and ask for vegan versions. Better still; choose vegan tour companies that operate in the areas we want to travel through.
There was an article on the Culture Trip website this week, documenting Portugal as the only country in the world where it’s now illegal for eating spots and restaurants to not offer a vegan option. According to the article, this law passed in March 2017 as the result of a petition headed by the Portuguese Vegetarian Society. This is a compelling case in point – it is possible to express culture through vegan food and this is an example for the opportunity when more countries – more cultures – can do the same.
There is room for change, and change lies within all of us who want to change. The traditions we hold dearly in our culture can then perpetuate our desire to decide. To decide whether we stay in auto-pilot mode and keep repeating what’s been done for generations? Or, to decide to wake up to what needs to change for the benefit of ourselves, and the lives and wellbeing of the rest of the animals who call this world home, too.
It’s a brand New Year! If you’re not already vegan and want to give it a try in 2018, you can join Veganuary during January. Sign up for free and you’ll have access to support and resources you may need.