My 3 Months Experiment as a Vegetarian Traveller

For most of my meat-eating life I have felt internally conflicted with my personal choice. Like many other fellow selective carnivores, there were massive double standards in my behaviour and beliefs. I’d actually go as far as to say that I didn’t know any worse offender than me with regards to this disconnect.

The concept of ‘Running of the Bulls’ makes me sick to my stomach, but I’ve been more than comfortable eating a burger from a factory farm.

I’d share my complete disgust and outrage when the image of a smug elephant poacher standing proudly above the carcass of one of nature’s beautiful, helpless creatures found its way onto my Facebook newsfeed…

…And then I’d go and eat a lamb, even brag about how good it tastes on the same feed – without even giving a thought to how it went from life, to lifeless on my plate. Not even the smallest attempt to research how modern day meat is produced was made by myself. I guess I wasn’t ready for the truth.

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And then there’s my love for dogs. Eating ‘man’s best friend’ is almost as taboo as a man actually eating his best friend. Even the most enthusiastic carnivores won’t eat dogs. Writing that last sentence makes me instantly think back to when I was 11 years old and something was seemingly missing at my Nana’s house while I ate my dinner. The family dog wasn’t under my feet as usual (like it had been all my life), looking up at me with its doe-eyes and putting her paws on my thigh to annoy me. Yes, she did this because she wanted what was on my plate. But I loved her as completely as you possibly could love a living thing – and I knew she loved me the same way. I knew it and I felt it.

My Nana put her arms around me and she didn’t need to say anything. I knew what was going down here. “Sherry” had gone to doggie heaven and I was about to learn one of life’s cruel lessons. I didn’t finish my dinner and I cried for weeks. I grieved for that animal so much that family members worried about how I’d function at school. I didn’t want to see my friends, talk to anyone, watch my favourite TV shows, kick a football, or do anything. I just wanted to curl up into a little ball and shut myself away from the horrible world.

Dramatic? Yes, very. I was eleven. But it was undoubtedly and painfully real. I loved that animal. I love all animals. Ugly ones, skinny ones, pretty ones, dangerous ones, fast ones, fat ones and smelly ones. I’m obsessed with them and I’ve always called myself an ‘animal lover.’ But I always felt like a bit of a phoney.

As I got older and more conscious of the person who I wanted to be and what I stood for – the voices in my head got louder. If I really loved animals – then why was I not at least making minimal effort to see how they are treat before they are made into meat? I confessed these thoughts to selective (veggie) friends and they called me out. Asked me to put my money where my mouth is and at least do my research into the truth before committing to anything.

I flirted with a few videos, but I didn’t want it to ruin my Pacific Islands journey. (However, I went veggie whenever possible as a tester). So I delayed my probing for when I returned to my base in Thailand. I wanted to know if that video was exceptional and even argued this case in a meat-eating favour. I suppose I wanted a way out of having to change my life.

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Papua New Guinea

While I’m on the subject of animals and Papua New Guinea. Have you ever seen this animal before? I mean the white and furry thing, not the bald one.

More to come on this creature in following weeks.

More to come on this creature in following week.

But I don’t have any reverence for suffering. So I promised myself to find out as concretely as possible – how is my meat being produced? How are animals treated? Is the killing ‘humane?’ Do my furry friends at least live a good life when they are alive?

I was completely horrified by my findings and felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I’ve always thought that animals look up to us in the same way as children do – to protect them. My conclusion was there is no such thing as a ‘humane’ killing with modern day methods, which supports torture and suffering beyond words for the sake of saving a couple of dollars. I also concluded that the lives of the animals were just as bad (if not worse) than the actual deaths.

Meat-eater, or vegetarian; we can all agree that if we’re going to eat them, we should kill them quickly and painlessly, right?

I was still selfishly torn. I’ve always been self-conscious about being a bit on the thin side, and I’d recently gotten into the best shape of my life – and I didn’t want to lose any weight. A voice in my head said: “Stand up for something that you believe in, or sit the fuck back down!” So I took on a three months vegetarian challenge on the road with a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.

I understand a lot of people will find this post preachy. I get it, I expect it and I accept it. Vegetarianism is right up there with religion, politics and abortion. It polarises people. It always has and it always will. If you’ve gotten this far though, and you don’t want to beat me to death with a chicken drumstick, I invite you to read on about how I actually coped with life on the road as a vegetarian traveller…

Thailand – Easy Peasy

Vegetarian festival in Bangkok...I just stuck to tofu.

Vegetarian festival in Thailand…I just stuck to tofu.

I had to wait for my new passport to arrive from Hong Kong (takes about a month), so I started the challenge when I had my own kitchen. Vegetarianism was cool! A friend recently told me in Australia that I was lazy when I admitted I didn’t cook a lot. I disagreed and told her that cooking just wasn’t a big priority in my life.

That suddenly changed! But I found cooking fun. I get it. It’s like an artist creating (and eating) his own masterpiece. I researched to the point of obsession about how to eat the healthiest vegetarian diet possible – it was closer to veganism actually. The only problem was when I went on a food tour with that migrationology chap and some other bloggers. I couldn’t eat anything and I was very miserable. But mostly, I cooked for myself (and enjoyed it) at home and came to the conclusion that vegetarianism wasn’t so hard after all…until I started to travel.

Japan – Vegetarian Paradise!

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I am of course not referring to Japan when I say it got harder when I travelled. Japan is extremely vegetarian-friendly – not to mention that I completely LOVED THE PANTS OFF THE PLACE! Japanese chefs even make tofu taste interesting. I was due to go to China during this month (which would have been a lot harder), but I had to change plans due to my passport taking too long to turn up. (Japan is on-entry visa, China is not).

Japan is a very health-conscious nation and even the ‘Seven Eleven’ stores were packed full of healthy vegetable and vegetarian protein snacks such as these bean bad-boys:

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Even my make do ‘on the go’ food was delicious and nutritious and filling. Down in the islands of Okinawa – the proclaimed ‘healthiest place on earth,’ the locals mainly thrived on a pescatarian diet (vegetarians who eat fish and shit loads of wholesome vegetables).

I ate at one place where a ninja served me vegetarian food and performed back flips and appeared through trap doors in Tokyo. (It’s called ‘Ninja Alaska’ and it’s an absolute must). I was very, very, very, veeeeery tempted to eat fish. But I didn’t. Yes, that includes sushi.

But it didn’t stay that way – it seemed that Thailand and Japan had lured me into a false sense of security…

South Korea – Almost impossible

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South Korea was the beginning of the end of my vegetarian party. Korean food is mainly focused on meat dishes. Not just that, but throw in a massive language barrier with the least accommodating people I have met so far since leaving home – and what you get is weeks of culinary misery.

I started to binge on crappy vegetarian foods such as pizza, and pizza – oh and some times pizza too. Yes, I’m not exaggerating. I probably ate more pizza in those few weeks than the ninja turtles after smoking a ton of Jamaican weed. I put a lot of shit in my body that week just to survive and go without hunger – but it was far from fun and I started to resent vegetarianism. I started to feel groggy and weak.

I did however find one positive during my time here; the ‘Happy Cow’ app for my iPhone. It shows you vegetarian-friendly restaurants in your vicinity and it even directs you to the place. It made my life a lot easier and I can’t stop raving about it since I found it. Excellent resource for the vegetarian traveller!

Philippines – Misery around so much happiness

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I loved the Philippines and I loved people of the Philippines. But the final month of my veggie challenge from a food point of view, was sad and frustrating. Many people have reassured me that I wasn’t missing out on anything special, but that’s not the point. I’ve travelled in countries with crap food (hello, Papua New Guinea and Tonga) but the traveller always finds enough calories to get by and can get over the poor taste and compensate with adventure. Limited choices of vegetarian food leads to surviving (instead of thriving) on a low calorie diet and what you get is a grumpy Man Vs Clock with constantly low blood sugar levels.

The day before my challenge ended – I went to a buffet after a long day of sightseeing and there wasn’t anything there for me…but rice. I was miserable and I felt like caving. Then I witnessed some yelping dogs get captured and thrown into a cage in a van with a blanket thrown over them – ready to be turned into dog meat. My desire to give in left instantly and I went to buy some peanuts and hate my life for the next two hours. The day after the challenge I allowed myself some prawns in my curry at my hotel. 

The Hardest Part of The Challenge

And then came the hardest part of the vegetarian challenge. It had actually ended but I wanted to stay veggie. My Filipina friend invited me for dinner with her parents in their house in Oslob before swimming with whale sharks (cool travel experience 101!) Her adorable mother looked up at me and told me she had made some food for me and that she hoped it was enough. I looked down at the chicken and and I froze…

If I said no, I was scared that I would offend her. I was so nervous. Thankfully I charmed my way out of it by making a self-deprecating joke about me being fussy and not liking the taste of chicken (big, fat lie), but told her I would love some fish from the table in front of me. I didn’t really want to eat fish, but like I had been for the last two months – I was famished, low on energy and dying for some food. And I didn’t want to upset someone who was being so hospitable, warm and genuine.

Something deep inside of me – reasonable or unreasonable, picky or ethical, selfish or compassionate – didn’t want to eat the meat. I’d crossed a mental threshold, but it came with a price. The feeling of guilt and worry that I had upset my host.

Thankfully, there was not a bad feeling in the air while I munched on the array of lovely fresh vegetables and greens available, the lovely old lady looked up at me and gave me the strangest compliment I have ever received in my life. She looked at me deep in the eyes, put her hand on my shoulder and said; “Anthony, you are like a goat. A handsome goat.”

Then she high-fived me and we all burst out into raptures of laughter. True story!

A Handsome Goat

Resources that made me go veggie and helped me cope with being a veggie:

Don’t panic, carnivores. You can relax – I’m not trying to convert you. This little section is just for people who are on the fence like I was and are a little curious/wanting to experiment…

Documentaries:

‘Forks over knives’ - More of a focus on the health side of vegetarianism. Doctor McDougall reveals how our governments will never tell us the truth about what’s bad for you, because the politicians in power are subsidised and controlled by the meat and dairy industry.

‘Earthlings’ – narrated by my man-crush, Joaquin Phoenix. More of a focus on the ethical side of vegetarianism. Pretty much the best put together and most effective documentary I have ever seen in my life.

Books:

‘The Kind Diet,’ by Alicia Silverstone. Yes, that blonde bird from that American movie about girls in a US high school that makes you want to blow your brains out. Alicia shows she’s more than just a bimbo and comes across as quite intellectual in this book where she discusses ‘superfoods’ and how to make the transition to veggie life slowly, or as quickly as you like. Some great recipes in here, but I feel it’s catered way too much to people who want to be thin. No thanks, Alicia!

‘Charlotte’s Web’ Apparently the book that made Christian Bale go vegetarian. If it’s good enough for Batman…

It’s a quick read, and it’s totally a children’s book. Some sweet metaphors in the book about the importance of friendship to evoke those feel-good feelings.

‘Eating Animals,’ by Jonathan Safran Foer - The book itself is not as provocative as the title leads you to believe. I felt very envious of the writer’s ability to speak about this tough subject from both sides of the coin in such an eloquent and objective manner. Very interesting book. Almost impossible to put down and resistance to the thought-provoking questions really is futile.

Dishonourable mention – ‘The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair’ – Fictional book about an East European immigrant who works in a corrupt slaughterhouse in the US. Everyone raves about it. It bored me to tears and I couldn’t finish it. I felt there was an undertone message of; ‘be a socialist!’

This Facebook fan page that requests CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses. They ask the question; if they have nothing to hide; why can’t we watch?

Veggiefocus.com – This vegetarian cooking site shows us that veggie life doesn’t have to be boring!

And finally…this short PETA interview with Moby. I’ve got mixed opinions about PETA. But what I like about Moby here is his none-aggressive and intelligent approach to not eating meat. I don’t think anyone can really get their message across to other people by attacking them and making them feel guilty by villianising their actions. Moby approaches this delicate subject with a lot of class. He has a great haircut too.

The best and worst things about this challenge…

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The best things about going veggie:

. Activism – To do nothing is often to do something. I’ve become annoyed at myself over the years for being angry about something, but not actually doing anything to change the very thing that upsets me. My hijacking of meat might not change the world overnight, but it felt good to not be contributing to something I didn’t really agree with.

. Feeling less of a hypocrite and a stronger sense of identity - Vegetarianism simply made me feel more like myself. A happier version of myself :)

. Feeling a stronger connection with animals – The bond, it just felt more real. George Bernard Shaw put it better; “Animals are my friends – and I don’t eat my friends.”

Finding out my Doctor back in the UK is useless – I have for a long time suffered a really uncomfortable pain in my lower stomach. The Doc told me it was just stress. I used to tell him well I’m pretty fucking happy right now so how could that be so…during this challenge I cut out milk and my pain just disappeared. Milk was the cause! Haven’t felt the pain since I stopped drinking it.

The worst things about going veggie:

Eating alone – Sharing food generates good feeling and creates social bonds. I often found myself opting out of get-togethers because I didn’t want to be a nuisance to others. :( 

Attracting argumentative idiots – Occasionally when some people found out I didn’t eat meat, they liked to point out an inconsistency in my lifestyle, or tried to find a flaw in an argument that I had never made. I actually tried to stay away from the subject as much as possible, but I guess some people are just too insecure.

Feeling Like Robin does when he’s around Batman when in the presence of vegans – Those kids are hardcore. I hung out with an Israeli girl in Kyoto who was a raw food vegan. She looked kind of pissed off and miserable with her lack of options, but stayed true to herself all the way and I really admired her strength.

Ruining Travel – As stated above, if I had poor options – I suffered and felt low in energy.

Vegetarianism isn’t convenient – It’s anything but.

Vegetarian travel is hard – I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but this is my honest opinion.

So what now?

I’ve experienced the highs and lows of vegetarianism. It’s not difficult at all when I have my own base, but it makes travel a right pain in the arse. Even though it makes life more difficult for me – I’m going to stay veggie and make it work. The inner peace it has given me is utterly priceless. When I travel, especially in remote places – I will consider eating fish as I believe it’s the less (suffering) of three evils. I just want my diet to be as cruelty-free as possible, depending on my environment and current not-so-conventional lifestyle. That’s about it for now. :)

 

 

 

 

26 Responses

  1. Sofia von Porat

    First off, congratulations! :D

    I feel really inspired (and understood) reading this article, and trust me I know how difficult it can be having to deal with argumentative idiots who think they know better …

    All I can say is that while it does take some time to get used to, living this lifestyle will get easier over time as I’m sure you’ve already noticed.

    Also, thanks for the shout out! ;)

    Sofia.
    Sofia von Porat recently posted..How I Overcame My Hatred Of Running – 5 LessonsMy Profile

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  2. Serendip

    You really ought to travel to India which is (still) far and away the best place to be if you are a vegetarian.

    Lovely read :)

    Reply
  3. Jeremy

    I think you’d like to know that you’ve rubbed off on me (no I’m not talking about that time in Cebu). I’ve decided to cut back my meat consumption and last night I went to a buffet and steered clear of all meats. I actually felt much better after eating too, physically, not spiritually.
    Jeremy recently posted..The Most Interesting City in The Philippines: Baguio!My Profile

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  4. Adam Finan

    Nice post Anthony.. I was at Yoga earlier and the teacher gave me the speil about vegetarianism and why I should convert to further my practice.. Little did he know I was going to ‘Three Little Pigs’ restaurant for dinner after the class… Needless to say the selection of veggies on the menu were zero and the pig was tasty..

    Much respect to those who do it. I think if you feel lighter and better then why not!.. For now I am a meat-eater!
    Adam Finan recently posted..An introduction to Alan WattsMy Profile

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    • Anthony Middleton

      Hey Adam,

      I’m sure he feels the same way about these animals as you do about the tigers in Tiger Kingdom. Hats off to him for highlighting the connection between peaceful practice and none violence. I don’t agree in trying to force people into stop eating meat as humans will just become defensive and not listen – which just kills the cause.

      For now, I am a veggie. I just really worry about when I go to very adventurous/poor places when I travel – my options won’t be as good as they are now. We’ll see! Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  5. Sophie

    That’s funny, I had the opposite vegetarian experience for South Korea and Japan. I found that there was no veggies to eat (or not for my budget) in Japan. As for South Korea, since there’s a lot of Buddhist I guess, there was always vegetarian options on the menu. Except in the BBQ places… I just learned how to say meat (koki or something like that) and it was fine and very tasty.

    For Happy Cow, it made me discover awesome restaurants in Vietnam but led me to an empty field and a Police Station in South Korea!

    Reply
    • Anthony Middleton

      haha no way!? Maybe we just went to complete different cities?

      happy Cow is such a great app for traveller veggies. And watch this space for an upcoming travel veggie app that will blow your mind ;)

      Reply
    • Anthony Middleton

      Michael,

      Yeah you’d do well to find someone who loves the taste of meat (and fish) more than me. I have no issues at all with the taste. I’m just more aware of the levels of cruelty beyond imagination so I’ve passed a mental threshold.

      Reply
  6. Crazy sexy fun traveler

    I am SO proud of you, Ant for the effort! I had some problems in the past few years and I only opted for fish or chicken if there was really nothing else available but I hate the conversations with those stupid people who know nothing about it and still want to argue. Now I converted to vegan (80 – 100% raw vegan) and to be honest it’s easier than when I was a vegetarian as now I look more into other options I didn’t see when being a vegetarian. Good luck in the future ;)
    Crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..55 reasons to date meMy Profile

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    • Anthony Middleton

      Crazy, Sexy – Thanks :) Interesting statement: “and to be honest it’s easier than when I was a vegetarian as now I look more into other options I didn’t see when being a vegetarian.”

      Care to elaborate? :)

      Reply
  7. bernie

    yeah good for you! Been vegetarian for years now! Found quite hard to get something good to eat when i was in the philippines a few years ago but still a great place! But i really like going to Thailand! lol

    Reply
    • Anthony Middleton

      Hey Bernie,

      Oh God I have been back to the Philippines since writing this and I can confirm it’s still a veeeeery unforgiving place for a veggie. Thailand’s easy!

      Reply
  8. amanda

    when you are in the states and canada, look for animal products with Animal Welfare Approved’s seal on them. its a third party certification that ensures the animals have been treated as well as possible, with access to fresh air and pasture, and that they meet a quick, humane death.

    Reply
  9. Olivia

    Congrats! It’s very challenging to eat vegetarian while traveling. I had a very hard time in South Korea. I packed peanut butter with me and ate that for an entire week. The craving for a warm meal was so intense! Japan was also very easy for me as well. I never ate so healthy and was so satisfied! I usually pack protein bars for my trips for those occasions where all there is to eat is rice ; ) Thank you for this post!

    Reply
  10. Kate

    I travel as a vegan. It’s makes travel quite a different experience as I essentially don’t eat in non-vegetarian restaurants. Has it’s pros and cons, with the pros being that I get lots of experience doing local food shopping and stay in apartments that tend to be in neighborhoods vs hotels in tourist zones.
    Kate recently posted..Loving Apartment Living in Playa Del Carmen, MexicoMy Profile

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    • Anthony Middleton

      Hey Kate,

      Wow – I have just finished a 6 month 100% vegan challenge here in Thailand. It must surely be insane hard when you travel? I love how you put a positive spin on it – hats off to you :)

      Reply
    • Anthony Middleton

      Hey Rejserkris,

      It surely does have its pros and cons when you consider my lifestyle. Try it out, mate! Baby steps. Try having “Meatless Monday’s” :)

      Reply
  11. Sally

    really excellent for you! Been veggie for decades now! Discovered quite difficult to get something excellent to eat when i was in the malaysia a few decades ago but still an excellent place! But i really like going to Thailand! Thanks
    Sally recently posted..The Best Places to Travel This SpringMy Profile

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    • Anthony Middleton

      Thank you, Sally. Yes vegetarian travel is country-dependent in terms of difficulty. Thailand is very forgiving for a veggie – which is why it makes a great base recently :)

      Reply
  12. Christina Bourgeois

    I aknowledge and admire your obvious intelligence in thinking deeply about the good you eat when most people (especially men) never give it a serious thought.

    Two very interesting documentaries that helped me make the switch were the canadian national film board’s documentary by Jason Young called “animals”, and dr. David SuZuki’s Nature of things episode called “the hollow men”. Both documentaries are level headed and thought provoking. Neither is pro omnivore or pro vegetarian. Animals looks at the ethical and emotional issues involved in raising and slaughtering your own meat and the hollow men examines the social, environmental and health impacts of factory farming. They are both a bit hard to find but so worth the effort.

    I’m not sure where you are at now with your vegetarianism but I wish you well and again, applaude you for refusing to stick your head in the sand.

    Happy eating! :)

    Reply

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