I am a baby vegan (2 years old) and traveller (4 months old) and I did not quite pick the most vegan-friendly countries to start my travels with. The decision to get out there unfortunately brought its obligatory compromises with it.
I would like to openly share my personal experiences with you, because it is what it is. And there is no use hiding from the truth.
I might get some bad feedback; but it’s better if some of you feel less alone after reading this. I am a human being, and I’m not perfect. Honesty is one of the most important things in life (and then there is pie), so these are my confessions.
There is such thing as politeness; and food connects people like no other.
I have been travelling in countries I did not know the language of, and silently sharing food was sometimes the only form of communication that I had for days. People will look at you, try to talk to you and when they realize you don’t understand, you will see them grabbing for anything they can find to offer. They are figuring out a way to show that they are your friends. It is impossible to avoid getting offered a cookie containing milk once in a while. Accepting it is a sign of appreciation for the person, especially if there is a language barrier between you. So if you are planning to stubbornly refuse, it is better to stay home.
We all know the stories of travellers having to eat spiders, rats, dogs…well, in general you will almost certainly be forced to eat something you really do not want to eat. Unless you don’t want to have anything to do with the local culture…but again, in that case you’d better stay home.
I felt bad about myself the first time I accepted pancakes made by my pseudo-mother in Kazan. With all her love, her eyes hopefully begged me: “Oh, you don’t eat eggs? But you are going to try at least one, aren’t you?” This was my first egg since I switched to veganism, and it felt extremely weird. I was so sorry, I felt like a traitor. But…who did I betray? I clearly made a personal choice by putting the happiness of this person higher in the ranking than my own beliefs. I did not want to eat chicken menstruation, but that situation forced me to do so.
I don’t want to be a bitter person who has no idea what grey looks like, because the “black or white” mentality is the main reason we are still at war today. So, as part of the cultural exchange, I have learned I need to make some compromises once in a while. It is beautiful to be able to hold firm in your beliefs, but it’s also good to know that -just sometimes- refusing things is not sustainable at all.
While travelling, you encounter settlements that have nothing to do with the whole industry destroying our planet at all. They are living in harmony with nature and have never known otherwise. There are ways to avoid getting non-vegan food offered, but you need to be informed before someone traps your polite heart in a motion of good will.
On the road, it is important to carry food to share. This way, if someone offers you a cookie, you can refuse by directly offering your own goodies. If someone offers you a coffee in the Transiberian train for example: even though you really feel like one, refuse and ask for water instead because they destroy the perfection of that black liquid gold with milk and a ton of sugar. Sourly I drank a cup and my train friends smiled widely having me in their select group of people munching the time away.
On the Siberian farm I truly enjoyed the moment when one of the guys went out to buy one Snickers. He carefully cut it into pieces of 1 cm, so everyone in the room could have a bite. Sitting by a crackling fire, we all adored the small piece of peanuts and chocolate melting in our mouths, knowing that this guilty pleasure was not to leave the room.
Throughout Russia I could strategically exclude meat with my acts of politeness, but the first night that I arrived in Mongolia, they really got me good. On the way to his house, my host was proudly explaining to me how much effort his mother had put into a vegan meal especially for me. Everyone in the family would eat what I was eating! But the excitement vanished as soon as it had come. I got a bowl of noodle soup in front of me with tiny pieces of meat floating all over it. It smelled like a dead horse and my stomach turned. The entire family was looking at me, hoping that I would love their creation. I felt obliged to eat it and even pretended to like it. It was truly horrible.
I want to say that I hugged a toilet that night, but the hole in the ground did not really allow me to. I carefully explained to them that I enjoyed the meal very much, but I preferred to cook for myself in the future. After two vegan years, I felt the effects of the meat instantly. I was sick, cranky and carried a deep anger for days. I could truly feel the distressed soul of the animal inside of me.
This is inevitable if you go off-road. I remember myself being dragged into a Ger to take shelter from the cold in the Gobi desert and having to sip a glass of yak-milk while they were staring at me. Ethically there is nothing wrong with freshly squeezed milk from the way they live, but the taste was not so pleasant.
There is so much stuff I am wearing right now that is not as vegan as I would like it to be. BUT, this is the road, this is Siberia, this is the Mongolian Steppe, and this is survival.
I needed to wear wool to keep me warm in order to cross the mountains by horse. I could have bought vegan-friendly travel gear, but since I left on a very low budget, I needed to make do with the stuff I had, which was: no coat and second hand clothes. The goal is not consuming more in order to follow the ‘rules’, but to try to live as sustainable as possible by making the right choices.
I did not refuse the chicken bone earring someone made for me, and yes, I am wearing it right now. I see it as up cycling, since the girl who gave it to me made it with a bone she had found. The comments have been numerous, but I really know exactly what I am doing. If it would have been a human bone, I would wear it as well.
At home, I had easy access to everything that allowed me to maintain my vegan lifestyle without any problems. In this context, I would not be wearing the historical vest nor secretly share cookies with strangers. At home, I had everything under control by speaking the language and knowing the climate.
The scarce areas I have been travelling to in this hardcore winter weather forced me to be flexible and see everything from a different perspective. What I am trying to say is, that the compromises you need to make are very hard sometimes, but never overrule the bigger picture. You will have to do disgusting things once in a while.
For any meat-eater who likes to point fingers and break down what I am trying to discuss, I laugh very much in your faces for all the times you accidentally had a vegan meal. We all have our priorities, so live and let live, and maybe one day you will open your eyes, just like I did.
Stumble, fall and rise up.
These are not my trusted surroundings, and all beginnings are difficult.