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How Travel Made Me Vegan

One year ago I was helping my mum pluck pheasants and ducks for dinner, whilst bragging about how I'd eaten crocodile and kangaroo in Australia. I loved meat and loved dairy even more. I wore leather shoes and make-up products that were tested on animals. Other than having an undying love for dogs and foxes, I didn't really give animals a second thought. 

But one year later and after a three month 'trial-run' I am confident in announcing that I am 100% vegan. 

So what happened? Depending on your outlook, you can blame or thank TRAVEL. 

But how did travel make me vegan? 

I've been travelling the world ever since I graduated from university (in 2013). Travel has helped me work out what I want to do with my life (not work on someone else's dreams); has brought me even closer to my fiancรฉ (Tanbay) and taught me so much more than my 'first class education' ever did. But it was only this year that travel had me thinking about veganism, and this is how: 

Vietnam was the first time I ever saw how livestock is treated: In Hanoi we saw four (live) pigs tied up together and being driven on the front of a motorbike, it was kind of shocking, my initial thought was "wow that's so mean", followed by "but wait, don't they do mean stuff like that in the West all the time, you just never think about it".

Later that day we went to a market and saw lots of livestock held in tiny, dirty cages, but the worst part was the dead dog cut up for meat. It felt like something out of a horror movie to me, like I'd seen a human cut up for meat: but why did I feel this was about a dead dog but not about a dead pig?

But before I'd had time to think about it properly, I was eating pig, fish and crab for lunch. It was one of the most delicious lunches I've ever had and animal right's went right back to the back of my mind. 

A photo posted by Tanbay & Laura ✈๐Ÿ’“ (@travellingweasels) on

It wasn't until we were in Cambodia that animal rights came up again. I'd had a perfect day: I'd seen the sunrise at Angkor Wat, watched Game of Thrones anddd I'd had Marmite (best food ever) for the first time in months. 

Whilst doing a celebratory scroll through Facebook, I chanced upon a post: why I am vegan by Justin Plus Lauren:

Usually this would be something I'd scroll straight past with a roll of my eyes (whilst eating a bacon sandwich). But, due to my newfound zen-ness (thanks to Angkor Wat and Marmite), I clicked on it.

It's an extremely well written post - Lauren points out the facts, but without making you feel personally attacked. 

It wasn't until I'd reached the end that I realised - there was nothing I could say to justify my carnivorous ways. Things that had put me off being vegan in the past (it's not healthy, it's restrictive, animals don't suffer that much), just wasn't true - in fact the opposite was true. 

Here are some points that really made an impact on me:
  • Drinking milk actually promotes calcium loss from bones. (Hence why Western countries have higher rates of osteoporosis.)
  • Male chicks (can't produce eggs) are killed in disturbing ways: gassed, sucked through pipes, kill plates etc
  • Most dairy cows don't make it to the age of five - though cows can live to be 20 or older
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the exhaust from all transmission combined
  • We are overfishing and could see fish-less oceans by 2048! 
There was so much more, it's such a great post I really recommend reading it, it makes so much sense without attacking anyone and I am so thankful to Lauren for opening my eyes.

But whilst the seeds of veganism had been sowed, my 'journey' wasn't over:


From that point on, and with only a week left in SE Asia, I vowed to become vegan. 

In Bangkok I walked into a supermarket, and it was the first time I'd done so since deciding to become vegan.

It was horribly overwhelming. 

I was looking at the hundreds of meat and dairy products and feeling awful. For the first time I was looking at them as animals, not as food. I felt bad for the animals, but also bad for myself - what was I going to eat? Had I just severely restricted myself? 

And it became worse, steering away from the meat and dairy isles, I still couldn't eat most of the foods: biscuits, chocolates, pastries, even certain types of bread... Avoiding meat was one thing, but butter and milk seemed to be in everything!

Luckily, this overwhelming shopping experience was counter-balanced by one of the best meals I've ever had in my life - at May Veggie Home

May Veggie Home (despite its slightly misleading name) is a 100% vegan restaurant in Bangkok. I tried a tofu dish there and it was incredible. Now I've always hated tofu, but it turns out I've just never had it cooked in a nice way. I suddently realised that instead of focussing on the foods I'd be giving up, I could focussing on all the new foods coming into my life: starting with tofu. 

And it wasn't just tofu. As a meat-eater of course I could eat beans, lentils, fruits, nuts, vegetables, soy - but I never did. 

For the three months I was in Asia, I had a buffet type breakfast everyday. Although I could choose anything I wanted, I always filled up on eggs and bacon and never tried anything else - ironically I was restricted by too much choice. 

Another fear that May Veggie cleared up for me was travel foods - isn't eating foods a big part of travelling the world? How would I have an authentic experience without being able to try the local dishes? At May Veggie my meal was Thai and vegan. Sure I'd never try Guinea Pig in Peru or Balut in the Philippines, but there would be exciting alternatives to discover (and I'd be less likely to get food poisoning). 


Although we managed to grab a vegan sandwich in the airport in Rome, that was the only day that month that we were vegan. My new found veganism went completely out of the window and I wasn't even a vegetarian. 

In Italy we were staying with friends, as guests, and as we had been meat-loving guests before, I didn't feel like we could roll up and say I was suddenly a vegan, especially as it was still so new for me.

I justified it to myself that I was having a proper goodbye to meat and dairy; that I'd spend the month researching what I would eat for the rest of my life; and decided that Italian's (who love their food) were probably kind to their livestock... 

(This isn't actually true, Italians have some very mean livestock practices, for example their cruel buffalo mozzarella farms.)

But I was a good guest, ate a lot of meat, dairy and eggs; felt bad and researched being vegan.

Right at the end of our stay I watched the trailer for Earthlings:

Just the trailer made me feel so awful, I immediately stopped eating meat, which coincided with the end of our stay. 

When we were in Hungary we rented an airbnb for a month, and without being guests of friends/hotels it was easy to control what we ate. 

We found it easy to stay vegetarian, but couldn't get going with being vegan. We tried a few dairy alternatives - tofu and soy - but didn't like it, couldn't find chickpeas and thus gave up quickly. 

We were doing pretty well without meat, until on one drunken evening nothing was available apart from a meat kebab. 

So the next day I made myself watch earthlings, and caught it all on camera, so you can see the moment I stopped eating meat forever:

Watching Earthlings isn't nice, or pretty, I cried my face off (as you can see) and was so depressed afterwards for three days thinking about all the damage I'd done eating meat. The sounds of the animals being tortured, the images of the cow getting its throat slit or the chicks getting their beaks cut off... 

It's so easy to eat meat and not think about where it has come from (like I did for years), but we have a responsibility to know where our food comes from. 

But what about organic farming and the farmers who give their livestock a good life? Humane slaughter is an oxymoron, every animal that is killed suffers and is scared. 

When it came to being vegan though, earthlings didn't really convince us, we were firmly vegetarians forever, but weren't ready to take the leap yet. 


Then came Slovenia. We visited a 'cow friendly' , organic, milking place. We'd been told that this place was one of the good ones: the cows had a massage machine, they were milked when they liked. 

But when we arrived all I saw was:

The cows were stood ankle deep in their own excrement
There was no room for them to sit down
They weren't out under the sun
A couple of cows had injuries - including one with an eyeball coming out of its socket which would have given Glenn's eyeball some competition
But the worst was seeing a new born calf, dead, lying feet from its poor mother. You can argue that cows don't have feelings until the cows come home (pun intended), but watch a cow staring at its dead baby and you tell me it doesn't have feelings. 

The UK
Though we managed to conquer Italy the second time round (Venice) by being vegan, we were admittedly only there for two days.

The next big challenge was, surprisingly, the UK.

As a nation who loves Baked Beans, hummus, Marmite and porridge (not all at once), and as a nation where I can read all the ingredients/ communicate perfectly in restaurants, I thought being a vegan in the UK would be a walk in the park. 

But it wasn't - a large part of the home comforts I get from going back to the UK twice a year revolve around food. 

My mum and her partner John very nicely tried to cater to our vegan ways. My mum and I were pescatarians until I was 11, and she is amazing at cooking lentils, beans, nuts and vegetables. 

But she also has great taste in cheese and makes the best chocolate cookies.. so it wasn't long before we went back to our non-vegan ways - we were still vegetarians but veganism still wasn't sticking. 

Then I went to the doctor to try and get rid of my acne. I'd tried all the usual creams and face-washes, all the over-the-counter products.  The doctors had given me antibiotics that did nothing and they wanted to try me on accutane. I didn't want to try accutane though, it's really severe and a big side-effect of it is depression. 

I decided to try going without dairy for three months to see if it made any difference to my skin (and with the added advantage that I'd be back on the vegan track). 

Germany was, surprisingly, the easiest country to be vegan in so far. I know, I know Germany and meat go hand in hand - aren't they the country with the meat vending machines? Well yes they are, but Berlin is the vegan capital of the world and because most Germans are very eco-friendly and animal friendly it's actually super easy to find animal friendly products.

Of course it helped a bit that like in England, I could read all the ingredients (I know German). 

Being able to cater for myself for the whole month helped too (the first two weeks thanks to staying at my fiance's family and the second two because of house sitting) made sure that I could eat fully vegan and it went really well. I discovered some new recipes and didn't feel restricted.

And another miracle happened: my skin cleared up! Although the acne didn't completely disappear, it improved by about 70% within a month and my skin no longer felt tight or greasy. 

Back to Italy
We headed back to Italy to house sit, but for the first week we were guests of the people we'd been guests of back in June. 

It was a lot harder to steer clear of dairy here. Firstly we were guests, and I felt like a really bad guest not being able to eat certain things. Secondly this was Italy and Italy like to put cheese on everything. I know a handful of Italian words (and how to say 'without cheese please'), but it's nothing compared to my English and German.

Once the house sat began and it was just us, it was a lot easier to be fully vegan again. 

I still had that final hurdle to get over: whilst Earthlings had put me off meat for life, having better skin wasn't enough to stop me from the odd cheat day (especially when it came to my all time favourite, cheese). Then along came Erin:

I didn't need much of a push, but watching this 5 minute video was all I needed to convince me never to eat dairy again. Did you know about the pus in milk? 

The point that hit me the most was this: eating dairy is much crueler than eating meat. If you eat meat, the animals will die in a horrible way (humane meat=oxymoron) and be eaten, but then it's over, no more suffering. 

If you eat dairy or eggs, the animals are tortured for years on end, before still being killed in a horrible way and eaten - most dairy cows end up as beef. 


Like most things, my 'journey' to veganism wasn't very straight forward - I had lots of ups and downs but essentially this is how it happened:

  1. Seeing how livestock is really treated in Vietnam and reading the blog JustinPlusLauren made me strongly want to become a vegan 
  2. Watching Earthlings put me off meat for life
  3. Understanding that eating dairy is even crueler than eating meat thanks to YouTuber Erin Janus and seeing 'organic' cows in Slovenia put me off dairy for life
  4. Essentially there are now hundreds of reasons I'm vegan: for the animals, for my own health and for the environment.

Maybe 'travel made me vegan' is a bit of a stretch, maybe 'spending too much time on the internet made me vegan' would be more accurate, but hey, that wouldn't be such a catchy title right? 

Finally, what about if I was stuck on a desert island? If there was no other choice, would I eat meat then?

In the unlikely event that this would happen (and there were no coconuts or plants or anything), sure I'd probably kill and eat a pig - I'd probably kill and eat you... But I think this is a more important question:

If you were in a supermarket and had thousands and thousands of options, if you had plenty of choice - would you still eat cruel foods?

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