The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Traveler

The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Traveler

pink pangea foreign correspondent“Does this soup have chicken broth in it?” This is a key question if you’re a vegetarian and looking for some soup. What you think is vegetarian quickly becomes inedible when you learn that a chicken broth has been used.

I posed this question to the chef at the campground/hostel I stayed at while in Munich for Oktoberfest. That exchange made me consider how my experience traveling is affected by my choice to forgo meat. Before making the life changing decision to go on a three-month trip around Europe with my boyfriend Matt, I made the even more life changing decision to become vegetarian. I hadn’t really eaten much meat for about half a decade. I finally educated myself on the topic a bit more and committed to an identity I had been putting off fully embracing.

Because of my decision to eat a certain way, I can’t try all of the foods that represent a particular country but I see it as a test of my convictions, which are much more complicated than simply not liking the taste of meat.

As of writing this post, I have been a vegetarian for about four and a half months. Matt and I decided to take our trip around Europe about four months ago. My vegetarian “infancy” was easily managed at home but then immediately challenged when I journeyed abroad. The obstacles that I meet on my trip simply make my commitment to a vegetarian way of life even stronger.

Language becomes so important when you’re a vegetarian. Words help me hold to my convictions of what I should be nourishing my body with. At home I thoroughly read ingredient lists. Try doing that in a foreign language. It’s not a possibility for me to look up a word while I’m searching the grocery aisles because I don’t carry a smart phone when I travel.

If you want to purchase vegetarian processed or pre-made foods while abroad, consider bringing a means of looking up words, kindly asking an employee, or using your language skills. Knowing French and German has come in handy for me. When I don’t understand the language I stick to unprocessed foods so that I can ensure that I don’t accidentally ingest a meat product. I suppose that cutting out processed foods makes me eat a bit healthier as well so that’s a plus.

The combination of being vegetarian traveler and grappling with a foreign language is much more than just searching for food at grocery stores. Language also becomes an issue when ordering at restaurants. When we’re in a country where I don’t know the language, I will simply attempt to get an English menu (which is easier in places that have lots of tourists – like Amsterdam) or we will ask the wait staff for help. A lot of people speak English in Europe’s major cities where I have traveled thus far.

The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Traveler

The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Traveler

Additionally, I haven’t come across one person yet who isn’t accommodating to my food preferences. It helps that I’m not a picky eater either. I’ll probably just take the first thing that they mention. You can still enjoy the restaurants, farmers’ markets, and café scenes while being vegetarian. Sometimes there aren’t many options but I find this to be true even in my home in New Hampshire.

Asking people about vegetarian dishes also requires a certain amount of faith. When I ask someone if a soup is really vegetarian, I must believe that they are telling me the truth. This trust becomes magnified with a language barrier. During Oktoberfest when I asked about the soup, I was assured that the soup was vegetarian even though “chicken broth” was lost in translation.

I bought the soup because I decided to have faith that their definition of vegetarian matched mine. (I occasionally think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Tula’s family thought that a vegetarian could still eat lamb.) Plus, I was cold and wet from a long walk back from Oktoberfest after there was a tram accident on the line that stopped near our hostel and I wanted soup.

Asking people about vegetarian dishes also requires a certain amount of faith. When I ask someone if a soup is really vegetarian, I must believe that they are telling me the truth.

Not everyone fully comprehends what eating vegetarian means but I believe that people will have care with my food and will try their best to provide a product that matches my expectations. A language barrier can be challenging at restaurants but it helps to have a bit of faith that you’ll be given what you ask for.

Being a vegetarian and a globetrotter has made me so much more conscious of my beliefs especially when faced with traditional foods that center on meat. For some reason I was highly conscious of that at Oktoberfest where there seemed to be endless booths with meat or fish and not as many vegetarian options. (I will say though that they have awesome, reasonably priced chocolate covered fruits that I ate lots of.)

chocolate at oktoberfest

 

When I travel, I really want to soak up the culture that I happen to find myself in. Because of my decision to eat a certain way, I can’t try all of the foods that represent a particular country but I see it as a test of my convictions, which are much more complicated than simply not liking the taste of meat. Sometimes I get anxious of how people in other cultures will judge me when I ask for vegetarian options but that may be just because I’m fairly new at this whole vegetarian thing. I’m so used to being the person who will try any food and now I don’t give myself that option.

Traveling as a new vegetarian has taught me a lot about reconciling my beliefs with another culture’s. I think that my experience at Oktoberfest is a perfect example of that. I went to the festival, saw the sites, and ate vegetarian food. I wasn’t left out because I didn’t sample the meat options.

Traveling as a vegetarian validates my beliefs even more as it shows me that I can still have a satisfying food experience wherever I travel. Plus, it gives me an excuse to eat tons of chocolate covered fruit at Oktoberfest because it was obviously the healthiest vegetarian food option I came across.

The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Backpacker

The Challenges and Realizations of a Vegetarian Traveler

About Monique Wilkins

Monique WilkinsA graduate of Georgetown University and Syracuse University, Monique Wilkins is working on the formation of her non-student identity starting with the backpacking adventure of her dreams. Monique is also an explorer of literature, food, and photography. Follow her on Twitter at @RavenousWander.

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