Monday 13 March 2017

Vegan Success Stories: How Travel Made Me Vegan

vegan travel

At the end of 2015, I was helping my mum pluck pheasants for dinner whilst bragging about how I'd eaten kangaroo in Australia. I loved meat and I loved dairy even more (especially cheese). I wore leather boots and slathered on makeup products that were tested on animals. Other than having an undying love for foxes I didn't really give animals a second thought. But by the end of 2016, I'd been vegetarian for six months and vegan for three.

So what happened? How did I go vegan? Depending on your outlook, you can blame or thank travel. But how did travel make me vegan? Well, 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) and taught me so much more than my 'first class education' ever did. But it wasn't until I'd been travelling for four years that I started to think about veganism, and this is how:


how to go vegan

1. Vietnam or: the Difference Between a Pig and a Dog? (March 2016)

Vietnam was the first time I saw with my own eyes how livestock is treated: In Hanoi, I saw four pigs on the front of a motorbike, they were alive and tied together tightly:

why vegan

My initial thought was "wow that's so mean", followed by "but wait, they do mean stuff like this in the West all the time, you just never think about it". Later that day, I went to a market and saw lots of livestock held in tiny, dirty cages. Chickens, ducks fish, crabs, eels etc. They all looked miserable:

my vegan story

I wandered down one row and came face to face with a whole pig's head. The same stall also had snouts, hooves and tongues - which, incidentally, look like giant human tongues. In the west, or at least in the UK, you never really see meat that looks like the animal it once was. I had seen it in places like Spain, Thailand and Greece, but this time it felt much more visceral, no doubt following up from seeing the live pigs a few hours earlier:

travelling vegan

But the worst part, by a mile, was seeing a dead dog being sold as meat. It felt like something out of a horror movie to me, like I was seeing a baby being sold as meat. Also during our stay, we made a vlog of the Vietnamese cooking class we took part in with my ex-fiancée and since we were still omnivores back then... well, if you wanna see any motion picture proof of what it was like in Vietnam (I think there is already some confusion there under that smile on the thumbnail of the video):

But why did I feel this way about a dead dog but not about a dead pig? I love pigs! I know it sounds dumb, but I never really properly connected pigs with pork. It's actually not that dumb, it's a form of brainwashing (or 'social conditioning' to put it in a more PC way, says Hungarian bf Tamás):

vegan success stories

Like, I've seen dairy cows irl and they ain't laughing (but more on that in a minute). We are bombarded with advertising and social practices to make us forget the connection between what's on our plates and the living creatures and their living conditions. Social customs & practices underpin and reinforce advertising, even linguistical ones like the division of non-human animals into human-oriented categories that are taught at schools ('pet', 'livestock', 'vermin', 'wild', 'protected', 'pest', etc.), animal jokes or animal cartoons - ever seen the Simpsons' Itchy &Scratchy, the satire sketches of cartoons like Tom & Jerry where animal characters torture each other? That's what generations grew up on... back to Vietnam: though I didn't take a photo of the dead dog, I did take a photo of the beautiful fruit and vegetables right next to it:

vegan travel

As you can see, they're all different colours and shapes - there's such variety! And looking at these made me feel happy, whereas looking at the pork was kind of grossing me out, and the dog was traumatising me which really got me thinking about the differences between eating meat and eating vegetables. But before I'd had time to think about it properly, I was eating fish, beef, crab and (of course) pork 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.

how to go vegan

2. Cambodia or: the Seeds of Veganism (April 2016)

It wasn't until I was 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 and for the first time in months I'd had Marmite (best food ever).

my vegan story

Whilst doing a celebratory scroll through Facebook, I chanced upon this 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, GOT and Marmite), I clicked on it. It's an extremely well-written post - Lauren points out the facts, without making you feel personally attacked. It wasn't until I'd reached the end that I realised that 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 weren't true - in fact, the opposites were true. Here are some points that really made an impact on me:

  • Male chicks (can't produce eggs) are killed in disturbing ways on day 1: gassed, sucked through pipes, put on kill plates etc 
  • Most dairy cows don't make it to the age of 5 - even though cows can live to be 20 or older
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for around 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions
  • We are overfishing and could see fish-less oceans by 2048

There was so much more, it's such a great post and 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 vegan story wasn't over:

3. Thailand, or: Is Vegan Travel Possible? (April 2016)

From that point on, and with only one week left in South East Asia, I vowed to become vegan. It was rough and there were relapses of course. Many vegans have relapses in the beginning, it's perfectly normal (it's the same as coming off nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, etc... basically anything). Another not-so-heartfelt video we made around the same time about eating fried squid, mussels and fried fish...

Then there was the bus ride from Siem Reap to Bangkok, a bus ride that's rough in general, but is confusing as well when you're trying to go vegan but then are given lunch by the bus company and it turns out to be beef and rice. (I ended up eating around the beef and giving that to my neighbour and then being hungry - no complaints, tho, I only experienced that that one day, masses of people in the Global South impoverished by the Global North - us - experience that every day, #westernwhitemiddleclassprivilege). Then, 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 really sorry for the animals. But no way near as sorry as I felt 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. Up until that point I'd always hated tofu, but it turns out I'd never had it cooked in a nice way. I suddenly realised that instead of focussing on the foods I'd be giving up, I could focus on all the new foods coming into my life: starting with tofu.

travelling vegan

And it wasn't just tofu. As a meat-eater, I could eat beans, lentils, fruits, nuts, vegetables, soy - but of course, I rarely (if ever) did. For the three months I was in South East Asia, I had a buffet-type breakfast every day. Although I could have chosen anything I wanted, I always filled up on bacon and eggs and never tried anything else - ironically as a meat-eater I was restricted by availability and habit.

Nowadays, as a travelling vegan, I always find something different at those buffet-type breakfasts, because the vegan options vary depending on where you are. You can have eggs and bacon anywhere on the planet - it's always the same, trust me, but working out what you can eat at the buffet breakfast and finding something new every time, for me, is more exciting. Be it hummus in Dubai, or Marmite in Cambodia, winter berries in Sweden or falafel in Canada.

Another fear that May Veggie cleared up for me was FOMO - 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).

4. Italy or: Two Steps Backwards on My Vegan Story (May 2016)

vegan lifestyle blogs

Although I managed to grab a vegan sandwich at the airport in Rome, that was the only day that month that I was vegan. I mean, come on, mozzarella? (oh and yeah we were also into national stereotyping back then as you can see from the title):

My new found veganism went completely out of the window and I wasn't even a vegetarian. In Italy, I was staying with friends, as a guest, and as I had been a meat-loving guest when I stayed with them before, I didn't feel like I could roll up and say I was suddenly a vegan, especially as it was still so new for me. I justified it to myself by saying 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... (Incidentally, 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... and right at the end of my stay, I watched the trailer for Earthlings:

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

5. Hungary or: Vegetarian Fo Lyf (June 2016)

Then I went to Budapest where I rented an Airbnb for a month, and as I wasn't a guest it was easy to control what I ate. I found it very easy to stay vegetarian, but couldn't get going with being vegan. I couldn't find chickpeas, I tried soy milk but hated it and, worst of all, I ate some tofu raw thinking it would be like cheese - it really wasn't. Don't ever do that. Pleeaasse. Anyway, I gave up pretty quickly and decided to be a vegetarian first. [Read more: best and worst countries for travelling vegan] And I was doing pretty well without meat and fish until one drunken evening nothing was available apart from a meat kebab (thanks Pizza King). 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 for three days I was so depressed 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 and the chicks getting their beaks cut off... sure, it's so easy to eat meat and not think about where it's come from (like I did for years) and it's not really our faults. The meat and dairy industries are composed of multi-billion pound oligarchies that pump a lot of money into marketing and making us forget where our food comes from. Animals are seen as commodities and objects where a narrative is created of their 'lesser intellectual abilities' and are deprived of the ability to consent ('human supremacy').

Case in point: many slaughterhouses and dairy farms won't let you go in and check them out, but picking fruits and vegetables are seen as a fun family activity (picking strawberries, pumpkins etc). On a similar note, when it comes to organic farming and farms where the animals supposedly have a good life, I'm always wary (see below), and find it's easier to avoid it - there is no happy form of exploitation.

If you're reading this post chances are you're already thinking about veganism in some shape or form. If you want a milder version than Earthlings that gives you all the facts in a nicely packaged way without all the blood & gore try Carnage: Swallowing the Past. Whereas Earthlings goes for visceral, Carnage - a sci-fi mockumentary of a possible future where most of the world has gone vegan -, goes for humour (and so taking the p*ss out of vegans themselves a bit as well) but still presents animal rights activists fairly:

But, if like me, you needed a kick in the face, opt for Earthlings. Earthlings made me a vegetarian for life. But when it came to being vegan, it didn't really convince me, it's very much focused on using animals for sport, medical testing, leather and meat rather than dairy and eggs. I still wasn't ready to take the leap.

6. Slovenia or: 'Cow-friendly' Organic Farming (July 2016)

vegan success stories

Then I went to Slovenia. I visited a 'cow friendly', organic, milking place. I'd been told that this place was one of the good ones: the cows had a massage machine and were milked when they liked. I couldn't wait to see it and be able to eat cheese in peace, knowing that the cows were happy. But when I arrived all I saw was:

  • The cows stood ankle deep in their own excrement
  • With no room for them to sit down
  • They weren't out in a field, they were in a barn
  • A couple of cows had injuries - including one with an eyeball coming out of its socket looking like Glen from the Walking Dead.

But the worst was seeing a newborn 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 watching a cow staring at its dead baby was heart-wrenching. The cow didn't take its eyes off the baby and was pinning for it. I saw first-hand that I wouldn't be able to trust 'organic' or 'cow-friendly' labels ever again. At that time I still believed that you can keep cows, chickens etc in a nice way - I vowed once I settled down I'd find a good dairy and egg farmer and only eat those, but it's been two years now, as a travelling vegan, and I no longer want dairy (yes, even cheese!!) so it's kind of a moo(t) point (sorry for the pun... this is not one of those animal jokes). It took a while to get to that stage though, and even with my new 'no milk unless I've seen the farm rule', it didn't take me long to break it:

7. The UK or: Vegan Relapsing + Skin Issues (August 2016)

Though I managed to conquer Italy (Venice) the second time around by being vegan, I was 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 pretty well 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 boyfriend John tried very nicely to cater to my vegan ways. My mum and I were pescetarians 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 I went back to my non-vegan ways - I was still a vegetarian 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). All that make-up I used to shove on my face to conform to the social standards of a 'perfect skin' (and all the dairy & sweets I used to shove into my face that made all the make-up and antibiotics a hopeless and pointless effort...)

8. Germany or: Vegan Success Stories (October 2016)

Germany was, surprisingly, the easiest country to be vegan in for me up at that point. I know traditionally Germany and meat go hand in hand - they are the country that has meat vending machines after all. But, Berlin is the vegan capital of Europe and because most Germans are very eco-friendly and animal-friendly it's actually super easy to find animal-friendly products. [Read more: things you surprisingly CAN eat as a vegan]. Of course, it helped a bit that like in England, I could read all the ingredients (because ich sprechen zie Deutsch)... that does not mean I did not f*ck up a few times, like in this video (that 'Berliner' is probs made with dairy and Nutella contains skim milk powder, so...):

For simplicity's sake, here's a list of ingredients that make a food non-vegan... it took us some time to learn all the ways the food industry is entangled with the meat-, dairy-, egg- and fishing industries:

a.) Dairy-derived ingredients:
  • milk itself (my current bf's Tamás's mum once said ‘but I used lactose-free milk so it’s vegan, right?' nope.... also: goat's milk, buffalo milk, ewe's milk, camel's or yak's milk, any kind of condensed milk or [skim] milk powder, etc... doesn't matter, as long as it's animal-derived and non-consensual),
  • cheese, cottage cheese;
  • butter;
  • buttermilk;
  • ghee (a type of clarified butter from India);
  • cream or sour cream;
  • yogurt or yoghurt;
  • kefir or kephir (a fermented milk drink from the North Caucasus);
  • whey (a type of milk protein)
  • casein or caseinate or sodium casinate (a milk protein used as a filler)
b.) Eggs (yes, both yolks, egg whites, also: egg powder)
c.) Honey and royal jelly (which is the stuff bees produce to feed their larvae and queens... think of it as 'bee's milk')
d.) Gelatine (which is derived from the by-products of the meat industry: bones, hides, skin and connective tissue).
e.) Fish-derived ingredients, like fish sauce (mostly in Asia).

But apart from tricky things like these, being able to cater to 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). This made sure that I could eat mostly vegan and it went really well. I discovered some new recipes and didn't feel restricted. [Side note: read more about how Why House Sitting Can Be The Best Solution for Vegan Travel] 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.

9. Back to Italy or: Final Vegan Touches (November 2016)

I headed back to Italy to house sit, but for the first week, I was a guest of the people I'd been guests of back in June. It was a lot harder to steer clear of dairy here. Firstly I was 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. 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? PUS. IN. MILK. Not to speak of bovinae mothers being raped cyclically and then torn from their newborn children and then attached to a machine that parasitically sucks away the breast milk that their bodies produced for their children some of whom have already been killed off? (for veal) Dairy is a feminist issue. (so is meat).

So the point that hit me the most was this: eating dairy is much crueller than eating meat. If you eat meat, the animals will die in a horrible way 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 - because dairy cows end up as beef and chickens end up as drumsticks. Nevertheless, I think vegetarianism is a great first step to becoming vegan, and certainly helped me make the transition. Initially, I found Italy a bit of a nightmare to be vegan in, but after spending three months there on five different corners (Venice, East Coast, Rome, Naples, Sicily), I was finally able to write this guide: How to be vegan in Italy and we made our first video of a vegan meal yey:

10. Wrap Up or: How Travel Made Me Vegan

Like most things, my vegan story 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 crueller 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 a travelling vegan: for the animals, for my own health and for the environment.

vegan travel

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 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 choices - would you still eat cruel foods?

how to go vegan

Incidentally, I've been stuck on desert islands, they have great vegan food [Read more: vegan Philippines.]

P.S.: If you're interested in an app designed for vegans & wanna support the vegan movement and us, veganvstravel as well, use this link plz to download Abillionveg. When registering, please use our referral code: TRAVELLINGWEASELS. If you wanna know why we think this is a great app, read here.

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