My 3 Months Experiment as a Vegetarian Traveller
For most of my meat-eating life I have (secretly) felt internally conflicted with my personal choice to eat meat. Like many other fellow carnists, there were massive double standards in my behaviour and beliefs.
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.
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 meat eaters 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 while I ate. Yes, she did this because she wanted what was on my plate. But I undoubtedly 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 on this emotional day 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 cruelest 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 seemingly horrible, brutal world.
Dramatic? Yes, very. I was eleven. Give me a break! Wasn’t most things melodramatic back then?! 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 lately I have felt like a bit of a phoney, in all honesty.
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 treated before they are made into meat on my plate? 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 type of video was exceptional and even argued this case in meat-eating favour. I suppose I wanted a way out of having to change my life.
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 in the black t-shirt.
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 and feathered friends at least live a good life when they are alive? Most importantly – could I kill an animal myself for food?
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. Eating animals (or not) 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 for three months…
Thailand – Easy Peasy
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 and so I transitioned to vegetarianism – 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 – Hard, But Possible
Japan was challenging, but the helpful nature of the Japanese made it doable. 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:
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 thrive on a mainly plant-based diet.
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, very 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
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 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 – Miserable
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 incredibly 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 less than desirable food, however 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 honestly 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 had ended I allowed myself some seafood in my curry at my hotel, but it just didn’t feel right – something inside me had changed, although it was hard to put into words./p>
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. 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 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, but perfectly tactical lie), however, I 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.
However, something deep inside of me – reasonable or unreasonable, picky or ethical, selfish or compassionate – didn’t want to eat the meat or fish. 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 instead, 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!
Resources that made me go veggie and helped me cope with being a veggie:
This little section is just for people who are on the fence like I was and are a little curious/wanting to experiment…
- ‘Forks over knives’ – More of a focus on the health side of vegetarianism. Doctor Campbell 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. It isn’t without flaws though yet it seems to be the bible of vegetarians/vegans.
- ‘Earthlings’ – narrated by the brilliant Joaquin Phoenix. More of a focus on the ethical side. Pretty much the best put together and most effective documentary I have ever seen in my life. Powerful. Brutal. Awakening.
- ‘The Kind Diet’ by Alicia Silverstone. 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 allegedly 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. Almost impossible to put down and resistance to the thought-provoking questions really is futile. (Even though he has sold out and went back to promoting ‘happy’ exploitation now).
- ‘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?
- And finally…this short PETA interview with Moby. I’ve got mixed opinions about PETA. But what I like about Moby here is his intelligent approach to not eating meat. Moby approaches this delicate subject with a lot of class. He has a great haircut too.
The best and worst things about this challenge…
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.”
Confirming that 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 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. Even though it makes life more difficult for me – I’m going to try and 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 maybe consider eating fish as I believe it’s the less (suffering) of three evils. But I don’t want to. 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.
Edit: Since writing this post, I no longer consider vegetarianism to be an animal-friendly ideology and I am now vegan. Everything that I wrote at the time of this article felt right at the time of publishing. I may have differing views now, but I don’t want to edit anything here in the post, as it was true for this particular time of my life, and is an interesting flashback on the journey towards investigating my relationship with animals and my eventual conclusion that we should just leave them the f**k alone if we claim to be peaceful, animal-loving people. 🙂
Canadian Animal Right’s Activist Erin Janus does a stellar job explaining why dairy is indeed scary in this brilliant video below: