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How Traveling Molded Me into a Vegetarian

How Traveling Molded Me into a Vegetarian

Vegetarian

I’ve touched on it a few times in the blog, but I’m vegetarian! Surprise! I’ve been a happy pescetarian for almost two years now-as soon as I got back from China. And obviously, being a vegetarian is a choice I made about my lifestyle that affects my day-to-day routine. How could it not?

Ceviche in Cancun, Mexico

But why?

One of the most common questions I get as a vegetarian-actually I would say THE most common question I get-is the why. What could possibly inspire you to stop eating meat? How is that a choice one makes? But, bacon? Why why why???

Well, to be fair, I never liked the idea of eating meat.

I have a socially active conscious that made me avoid consuming absolutely anything about the nightmarish meat industry. I didn’t want to think about animals being tortured. I just wanted bacon. And honestly, I didn’t even see how it was possible for me to get enough proteins and not eat meat. Or just eat in general. Everything had meat. And I was a picky eater.

So, I actively ignored the torture animals are subject to. Out of sight out of mind, am I right?

scorpions on a stick

Then I Started Living in China

A trend started happening in China when I was traveling and living abroad. I started eating, well, different and slightly weirder stuff. Fried scorpions on a stick. Eyeballs. Blood. Stinky tofu. Oysters off the shell. Chicken feet. I tried a lot of new stuff in China.

The thing was, most of these delicacies tasted good. Fried scorpion? It was crunchy and buttery just like popcorn. Chicken feet? The phrase tastes like chicken has never rang truer.

But I was also confronted with some different moral questions.

People in China sometimes eat dogs. Not commonly. But I did go to a market where they sell dead dog meat.

Internally I was flinching. Who could eat a dog?

But also, they are just animals. It was imperialistic and beyond hypocritical of me, a meat eater, to judge another culture for eating animals.

A Good Friend of Mine Was Pescetarian

Another of my study abroad peers was a dedicated pescetarian. Which she kept up in China.

It’s hard to be vegetarian in China. China adds meat to dishes like it’s salt.

Cuisine is heavily influenced by meat because of Chinese history. The famine that claimed the lives of millions of people in China also shifted the way the culture thinks about meat. Now, it’s a sign of prosperity and modernity to add meat to dishes. It’s almost impossible not to find meat in China.

But my friend did it. And I had to determine why it was so important to her to not eat meat.

The Environmental Impact of Eating Meat

I don’t want to go to into the weeds of different environmental impacts of having a plant based diet. But animals poop a lot adding a bunch of methane to the air. Livestock releases 100m tonnes of methane. Most of us know that carbon dioxide is seriously bad for the environment. Methane is 25 times more strong than carbon dioxide!

The livestock sector alone accounts for between 8% – 18% of global emissions.

But that’s not all.

Places like Brazil are shifting to livestock and ranching for their economy. In doing so, they’re chopping down the rainforest.

Besides the biodiversity of life being lost there, these trees act as buffers for the air, producing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide. When these old trees are cut down, all that carbon dioxide is released creating a type of carbon bomb.

Okay science lesson over. But I truly believe global warming is the biggest issue of our time. Everything else we’re worrying about doesn’t matter if we don’t have a planet.

Once I found out about the horrible effects eating meat had on the environment, I put a lot more thought into shaking up my diet.

Then I Found Out About Blue Zones

Have you ever heard of blue zones?

Dan Buettner’s study of blue zones is the epitome of how traveling can grant us insights into our own lifestyles.

Blue zones are areas of the world where people routinely live over 100. And not lying in bed all day 100. Active, social lives 100.

Beyond convincing me to become a vegetarian, it’s also a goal of mine to visit all the blue zones!

So, where are they?

Ikaria, Greece. Okinawa, Japan. Ogliastra Region, Sardinia. Loma Linda, California. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

And why do people here, in different areas of the world, have lives full of longevity?

That was the question Dan Buettner set out to answer. So, he studied these people’s lifestyles.

There’s a lot more to longevity than diet. But diet does play a huge role. And one of Buettner’s main findings was that these communities rarely ate meat. When they did eat meat, it was more often fish and seafood. Their diets instead focused on legumes and beans.

I want to live to 100 guys. At least. And I want the Earth to still be around and gorgeous and beautiful with polar bears. Becoming vegetarian became more and more an obvious change that I needed to make.

It weighed heavily on my mind. But I was afraid to make such a major change. How was the best way to do this then?

Taking the Leap

I decided that the easiest way to stop eating meat was to make the idea a type of challenge in my mind. I think there were a few factors that made my change of diet a success and relatively pain-free process.

First, I set a deadline. I wouldn’t become vegetarian until I left for DC. That meant I got to enjoy tons of food in China. It also meant that when I got home I could go eat all the foods I’d been craving before changing my diet. Getting your mind ready and primed to be a vegetarian is important. Deciding I wanted to make the change and then planning exactly when I would do it gave me time to prepare and not feel guilty for going ham (pun intended) for a few weeks.

Secondly, I became vegetarian while interning in a city full of veggie options. Making the switch is a lot easier when you’re in a city friendly to vegetarians. Any restaurant I went to with my friends had delicious veggie options. Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s with fake meat options made it easy to shop for veggie friendly recipes.

Third, I had vegetarian friends. Community helps! You need someone to talk to about meat cravings who has gone through the process. I was lucky to meet one of my now best friends in the world who is also pescetarian. She recommended yummy fake meats to me. My sister is also vegetarian and I could rant to her about things bothering me. Trust me, it makes a difference.

Fourth, I made this a challenge in my head. I would try to be a vegetarian for a year and then reevaluate. If I liked it, I would continue. If I didn’t, I could eat meat again. This challenge made the first few months of change bearable. When I didn’t know what to cook or wanted a hot dog, I just mentally noted that I would be able to eat meat again. Just not now.

Two Years Later…

Notice how I said I made a challenge in my head to be vegetarian for a year? That obviously changed. After two months, gone were the meat cravings.

Beyond all my reasons for becoming vegetarian, I never anticipated liking being one.

But I realized that all the meat dishes I liked could be easily replicated with tofu or eggplant or some other veggie option that usually tasted better anyway. And I started eating a shit ton of food I probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

Now, meat disgusts me. I physically feel ill looking at it. I kind of wonder why anyone would eat it in the first place.

Musings for another time.

So How Did Travel Convince You to Become a Vegetarian Again?

Travel taught me that I could eat a lot of different things. That I didn’t need to be a picky eater. That other food was not just okay but freaking delicious.

Traveling also introduced me to new perspectives and phenomenal new people who inspired me and demonstrated how easy it was to be vegetarian. Becoming vegetarian always seemed so daunting and scary. But traveling made it a lot more realistic and doable.

In a roundabout way, Dan Buettner’s comparative studies from all around the world of a plant-based diet changed my perspective on the health benefits. As did my own travels to beautiful national parks that I don’t want to see permanently wiped out by global warming.

Traveling made me feel like I was a global citizen. Someone who is actively responsible for our world’s fate and owe something to the people living here.

I couldn’t see beautiful wonderful areas of the Earth and give them the middle finger by contributing to global warming further. Especially when a perfectly doable change in lifestyle would help alleviate the issue.

So, what exactly is the takeaway from this post? What am I trying to convince you to do?

Obviously, I think that being a vegetarian is wonderful and that we should all try it. But on a grander scale, go find out for yourself. Meet people who challenge your beliefs. Meet people who live completely different lives from yourself. Constantly re-evaluate your own beliefs and opinions. Always seek to learn. Experience the world for yourself with an open mind and try experimenting. You never know what unexpected take-aways you might find.

Your Turn:

Are you a vegetarian? What inspired you to become one and how did you go about making the change? Have you ever thought about going vegetarian but something has held you back? Or have you traveled and been forced to reevaluate and change something in your lifestyle?? Let me know in the comments!

About the author

I got my first taste of long-term travel when I took a gap year before beginning college. I lived and worked in Australia in one of the most transformative years of my life. Like many others, I caught the wanderlust bug and now I'm always busy adding to my bucketlist. Besides traveling, I'm into hiking and photography. I'm currently finishing up my senior year in college and planning my next big adventure!