market in Busan, South Korea... probably the least vegan-friendly country in the world... but if you have access to a kitchen...
Once upon a time, for over 5 years actually, I was a vegan. No, this will not be the petty 'and it was so damn hard so I quit' story. I used to go to animal rights demos and events, I didn't wear leather or any other animal stuff, freaked out when people mentioned zoos and I analysed every food label.

Yet, it was fun and not difficult at all. Not eating animal foods quickly becomes a habit you don't have to think about.

spices in Cusco, Peru... who needs Macchu Picchu?
And this is the problem: when you travel outside your comfort zone, there are no habits to rely on and finding food can be a major challenge.

When I started travelling outside rich, western countries, I quickly realised that I would have very limited food choices. The trouble is, I love trying new food. For me, it's one of the most enjoyable things about travel. So I decided to go back to being an omnivore (I hate when people say they are vegetarian and follow up with 'I only eat meat/fish once a week'). I wrote a long post about it back then.
I still think veganism is awesome and eat purely vegan food 5 days out of seven, and don't eat meat more than maybe once a month now that I'm back to Europe.

I don't want to morally wiggle my way out of this. Eating animals and animal product harms everyone and everything and choosing to eat them is an egoistic decision purely based on pleasure. The pleasure part for me is not to eat a corpse, but to participate and socialise in the culture I'm in. I personally chose that this is more important to me than the life of an animal (and I don't eat enough animal products for it to make an impact to my health or the environment).

I started talking about international travel with Amanda of Hungry Vegan Traveler about this, and this is what I think there are three different varieties of travel when it comes to vegetarian/vegan food:

1) In rich, western countries, it's no problem at all.

People have written books about how easy vegan travel is, but the thing that angers me about it is that they only really see North America, Europe and Australia as places to travel. In the richer countries of western Europe, it's no problem getting a vegan meal. A big part of this is that most people speak decent English and you can make yourself understood in restaurants.

But people tend to exaggerate how easy it is. To be very honest, where I'm from in rural Western Germany, this is a struggle, too, as it is in France, Austria and Switzerland, and I speak fluent German, English and decent French.

But if you go to rural Portugal, Eastern Europe or even rural parts of Ireland, you'll be lucky to find anything that's even vegetarian. Belfast is the second biggest city of Ireland, and there's not even a vegetarian restaurant here. There are vegetarian option in any place, but I've never seen the term 'vegan' - and I've done a lot of dining in Belfast.
Hoi An, Vietnam, in the rain
2) Some countries that are neither rich nor western naturally have a vegan-friendly diet (for the poor, not the tourists)

India is the prime example, but traditional Mexican and a lot of Central American food is high in veg and beans too, which means you can enjoy a balanced, vegan or vegetarian diet for little money (I don't see eggs and cheese as part of 'healthy', anyway). In many poor countries in Africa and Asia especially, animal products are a luxury, and dairy in particular is not traditionally consumed.


However, it's a pretty unlikely that you will eat like a poor inhabitant of that country during your trip - for example, very little animal products are eaten by the population of Morocco, but all the restaurants and market places are for the rich who can afford them and thus serve mostly non-vegetarian food. Also, if you travel in a country that does not have a great infrastructure, you have to count on not everything always being available. This happened to me A LOT in places with a big market culture, like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Morrocco and Turkey, but even in Argentina and Chile - you order the vegetarian/vegan option and will be informed that it's not available, would you like some chicken instead? How many days can you live off plain rice and fruit?

3) In some countries, turning a blind eye helps...


I know... there was a time when I wanted to kill people who suggested I pick the meat out of a soup, too. Thailand, Vietnam and Japan are my personal prime examples for this one (and there's no way you could see Japan as 'undeveloped'). In many cultures, the traditional flavouring is be meat/fish based. In Japan, very little meat is eaten and vegetable dishes are plentyful and amazing. Yet, almost everything is flavoured with dashi... fish stock. Asking people to cook without it is like asking them not to use any oil/water in the cooking process. Even if there is no language barrier, this is a massive problem akin to asking for gluten-free food in a traditional bakery (hey, I come from a place with a bakery culture). The same goes for fish sauce in much of South East Asia. Turkey has plenty of spectacular vegetarian food, but next to no vegan dishes. If you can live with fish stock/sauce or butter/yoghurt/cheese, it's much easier. The same goes for bread: in East Asia and Latin America, most breads will include either milk or dairy, so really your only 'on the go' option is fruit.


village veg stall in rural Japan - just take what you want and leave the money in the box!
THE JOKER: Of course, if you have access to a kitchen all the time and want to spend some time every day on preparing food for snacks on the go, you can eat vegan anywhere in the world. Sadly, this rules out much spontaneity and makes long-term travel very difficult.

THE FUCK UP: South America. Traditional Andean food is amazing and if you are ok with eating some cheese, there are many vegetarian options that are out of this world (because of the local produce - tomatoes, peppers, avocados and potatoes taste like completely different vegetables there!). But mostly South America can be divided into three parts: the really poor parts where you will get lots of crap meat with everything, Brazil with awesome sea food and BBQ (very little dairy and eggs), and wine & steak land (Chile, Uruguay and Argentina).

My point is not that you CAN'T NOT find SOMETHING that's vegan. That can be ok if you travel 2-3 weeks and are not much into food, but after that, it gets both boring and unhealthy.

Would you be interested in posts of experiences regarding finding vegan food in South America, North Africa and Asia?







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