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How do we address meat eating in small communities today where it is an integral part of life? Take for example, a small fishing village in Southern Belize. Much of the diet consists of seafood. And while vegan literature argues about all the unhealthy factors of eating meat, many of the natives that I know have lived past 90 years old. How do we address this? What do I say as a vegan when I visit my hometown in Belize? How do I tell them that what they are doing is wrong? Is it even wrong when it is in fact essential to their survival, to their culture? There are hardly any veg products in the village; no soy cheese, no soy burger ... in fact there are two small grocery stores with limited varieties of everything in the entire town. There are vegetables in the town stores, but not "veg products" which I used to refer to foods like soy cheese, veggie burgers etc. - I guess "processed veg products" would be a better term. I'm confused and have been feeling like being a vegan is a privilege. You'd have to basically make these things that are so readily available in American stores at home. I just read the book "Skinny Bitch" and while I was looking at their recipes in the back pages, I kept thinking, oh goodness! Hardly any of these would work in Belize!
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While "Skinny Bitch" is an amazing book, the recipes weigh heavily on meat and dairy substitutes. This is something that makes the transition from omnivore to vegan much more tolerable, but can make it difficult for people living in remote areas or those who look to veganism for health reasons. There are tons of websites that can help with all-vegetable recipes, such as my favorite www.vegweb.com. A lot of vegans try to stay away from the processed foods as much as possible, not that they aren't delicious and convenient, but it is definitely healthier to use them sparsely.
Yes. Being a vegan is a privilege because being selective about what you eat is a privilege. In much of the world food is scarce and it is essential to survival to eat what is available. That being said, it is certainly possible to be a vegan without eating processed soy foods.
Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't get to tell anybody what they are doing is "wrong." It is not for you or me or anyone else to dictate to others. It is not for you to persuade or convince or argue with someone until they "realize the error of their ways." I hope vegans who have this mentality will abandon it. All you can do in this world is what you believe to be true to yourself. Perhaps others may follow if you lead by example, but if they don't, they have every right to do what they want without judgment. Nobody has a moral high ground.
If the people of Belize or Japan or wherever have lived off fish for hundreds or thousands of years and live into their nineties, they're clearly doing something right regarding their personal health and the health of their communities and societies. It is undoubtedly a serious issue that overfishing is threatening our world, but responsible sustainable practices can simultaneously preserve ecosystems and their way of life.
I think that in this case, just be as empathetic as you can. Don't put the "blame" on them, just let them know in advance that you are vegan and try your best to bring your own food.
You pose a lot of questions in your post. Here is how I handled it. I raised my newborn son in a small town in the mountains in southern Mexico and neither of us eat meat, milk, eggs or cheese. I cooked every day (never tasted processed vegan food until we moved to the US). I gave my son vitamins (as all kids take) and I bought him soy milk powder at a large grocery store chain in the closest large city. There are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in southern Mexico because it is semi-tropical. I imagine that Belize is similar. I don't eat animal products because of my own convictions and I have never tried to tell anyone that they were wrong to eat animals or that they should not. When I was invited for dinner, I just ate the rice, beans and vegetable dishes. If someone insisted or was offended, I just explained that I don't eat meat. Everyone has heard of vegetarianism regardless of where they live. I don't think being a vegan or vegetarian is priveledged because I have been low income all of my life (there are dollar stores that sell very nice fresh produce for a dollar). Many poor people around the world don't eat meat because they can't afford it. Meat is for the priveleged. So if you are willing to cook your own food, I am sure that there are fruits and vegetables at the market in every village in Belize (there are many business minded folks who can't all sell fish and mariscos). Lastly, be yourself and live by your beliefs without judging others. These methods have worked for me.
Firstly, I wouldn't tell anyone that there way of life is wrong, no matter how strongly you feel. If people ask why you live the lifestyle you live, feel free to answer for yourself. An age-old way of life that has proven healthy in the past is just that, change is inevitable and unfortuneate for the fisherman, as more and more people start to eat less fish and the market has changed, they will adapt there lifestyle or gradually become extinct. Secondly, if your old town has vegetables and fruits and seeds and grains & legumes, you have all that you need! Good luck.
We each make choices. Embrace pluralism. If you're vegan, it's because being vegan is what's right for you. You don't need to make a value judgement about the way anyone else eats in any part of the world. The way people in Belize eat can be right for them just as eating vegan is right for us.
Is being vegan a privilege? - no. Is filling your grocery cart with processed vegan "food" a privilege? - yes. You can eat healthy, vegan or not, on whole foods in any culture. That said, should you try to "educate" the people you are visiting? In my opinion - no.
Hi, I'm an Ttalian vegan. Your question is really interesting. I think that I will never say, in a small village, they do wrong living on fish. Everything depends on what we can do and how we get it. But at the same time I don't think being vegan is only for "rich" people: apart some few case (like a small fishing village), when people ask me if it's expensive living on tofu and vegetable burgers I alway answer that I live on cereals and beans, which are the less expensive foods we have almost everywere in the world. We are not obliged to eat processed food. Sure, it's mucch easier!
There are some locations where eating a vegan diet may be difficult, mostly in extreme Northern areas where there is very little ability to grow food due to the freezing climate. It is not necessary to eat soymilk, veggie burgers or processed foods in order to be a vegan, in fact in most areas there are locally grown and produced foods that are readily available and can support a healthy, well balanced vegan diet, especially in warm climates.
Beans, rice, corn, locally grown fruits, coconut, nuts, seeds, vegetables, grains, wild plants, potatoes, and many other local plant foods.
I do not eat a processed diet at all, I do not buy 'vegan' products very often except for a treat on occasion. In fact the healthiest vegan diet is one in which you eat whole foods, not processed junk foods. Breakfast can be a simple plate of fruit depending on what grows locally and is easily accessible, bananas, apples, mangoes, pears, cherries, strawberries, peaches, papaya, oranges you can find locally grown fruit in most areas of the world, the variety depends on the location. My breakfasts always contains about 4-5 different fruits sliced, it's simple, fast and healthy.
If fruit is not in season or available in winter grains are generally easily accessible in most areas, especially rice and corn that can be used as a breakfast porridge or in lunch or dinner dishes.
Local wild greens make excellent salads or in soups. Beans, potatoes and corn are generally readily available in most areas around the world, even in Africa or in cold climates.
Americans are spoiled with a lot of processed foods but in reality, health wise, this is probably more detrimental than it is helpful in many cases. It is best to consume a whole foods diet and people in small communities can support locally grown agriculture and if they want to adopt a vegan diet it is definiately feasible. It may not include our modern processed convenience foods but small remote communities do have access to enough grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds to consume a healthy, vegan diet if desired.
When visiting your hometown, I suggest keeping your newfound knowledge to yourself. Is it worth upsetting and alienating your family and friends, telling them their culture and way of life is wrong when their is no alternative anyway? A vegan diet and lifestyle can be the healthiest choice, but it is not necessarily the best just because it excludes animal products. Fake meat, fake cheese and fake dairy products really aren't that great. Whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and seeds and some traditional soy products (tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce) are the best vegan diet. If your family and friends ask about why you don't want to eat meat or seafood while you are visiting, give them a brief answer. Elaborate for those who are interested. No one wants a lecture about their lifestyle. Keep it about you, not them. When I first went vegan years ago, I was so excited and enthusiastic, I wanted to tell the world about this revelation that I had discovered. I found out that many people really were not interested, at least not when I was being preachy or pushy. I suggest using this time to rediscover the cuisine of your hometown - the best vegetables and fruits and beans. When you start eating vegan, you realize all the delicous food you never ate before! Have fun!