I’ve had this post inside of me for a while now, though yesterday I watched this video about the current status of the Great Barrier Reef that had me well shaken. I felt like I needed to speak up, as I cannot and will not divorce my love of travel from my love of food.
Strap in, friends – this might be a longer post, but I promise to be both informative and interesting. And though I may be all over the map (pun intended), I promise all the musings are moving towards a point!
I love food. Foodfoodfood. I love food. My feelings towards food have shape-shifted a lot over the course of my life, but one thing has remained pretty consistent: food is a major hobby of mine. Though sometimes a chore, I find the ritual of preparing breakfast or coming home from work and cooking dinner to be therapeutic. My loved ones have learned to not ask me what I’m making because that will just open the floodgates.
I had some major digestive issues when I moved back to the US from my four years in Korea. I’ve had the hardest time figuring out what it is that my body isn’t happy with, though I now have a decent idea what I should be avoiding. I expected my gut flora would need a little time to readjust, but there were periods where I couldn’t function because of how uncomfortable I was.
In Korea (and Asia in general) my diet was largely free from 3 major US/North American/Western staples:: dairy, wheat, and highly processed convenience foods. The long-and-short of it is that after nearly 18 months of guessing, elimination diets, and tests… I was told that there is nothing medically wrong with me. Cool.
I had tried cutting out wheat then dairy then sugar then alcohol then I tried to just photosynthesize for a little while… nothing worked…. until I found this one particular YouTube channel. I had been researching vegetarian Thanksgiving main dishes I could make to accommodate my newly vegetarian sister, and fell deep [ D E E P ] down the rabbit-hole that is the Hot For Food channel. The recipes were creative, the personalities matter-of-fact, and though they said it probably a million times during my marathon watching sesh, it took me a while to realize that all the recipes were actually vegan. “Not my cup of tea, but the recipes seem good,” so I kept watching. Daily. Then Twitter. Then Instagram. Then planning how to become best friends with the hosts (lol jk kinda).
I still ate meat, and though I was hooked on the HFF recipes, I could never go vegan. Not for me.
“I love travel too much.” I couldn’t give up meat and animal products forever because what if I traveled to a remote place for a homestay and part of their tradition was to kill one of their goats when visitors come? I would never want to put myself in the position where I would need to turn down a cultural exchange, and risk offending someone, just because my US privilege allowed me to safely cut out all animal byproducts (by ‘safely’ I mean nutritionally and calorifically <– yeah, just made that up). Does that make any sense?
Furthermore, (in my long-term fandom) I have learned from Anthony Bourdain, that there is an inextricable link between food/meals and culture, and I never want to categorically remove something from my life that would hinder my ability to immerse myself in new cultures or foreign traditions. Bourdain’s shows Parts Unknown and No Reservations are so wonderfully curiosity-inducing that I feel inspired to follow; to dig deeper into new places.
Enter Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food. I don’t like reading but I was so interested in the topic that I made this book my commute read. Seventy minutes each day, I sat on the T from Davis Square to Park Street and back, utterly enthralled with the concepts and realities of the novel. For 326 pages Megan Kimble spills the truth about the US food system in a gentle and eloquent manner. She taught me the alarming statistics about factory farming and water consumption and cow’s carbon emissions and so much more.
With so much information having been crammed into my skull in such a short amount of time, I felt like I was slowly losing my mind and completely unable to sort out what and how I should be eating.
S O M A N Y Q U E S T I O N S
- So I want to reduce my meat intake to cut my carbon footprint. But do I want to cut it out entirely?
- I know I feel best sans dairy and wheat and processed foods. But what if I can’t find suitable healthy VF options?
- I want to nix the dairy because it makes my gut feel icky and I think its generally kinda cruel. But do I have a strong enough will to follow through?
- I want to eat local because Megan made me see how my consumer dollar is very powerful. But how can I do it and keep within my current budget?
- Hot For Food showed me how easy and delicious it can be to eat a vegan diet – without shaming me for my current meat eating ways. But what if I travel and need to or (worse) want to eat meat?
- Anthony Bourdain inspired me to seek cultural exchange through obscure foods. But will I be missing out if I pull the plug on animal consumption?
B U T K 8,
H O W D O E S T H I S A F F E C T Y O U R
T R A V E L L I F E ?
Great question, glad you asked!
It affects it in a major way. I love Earth and I want to see as much of it as possible before we fnck it up entirely. I’ve read about species that won’t exist in 100 years because of the rising temperatures and how two cows produce the same carbon emissions as 1 car over the course of a year. If my cutting out meat and animal byproducts, in a meaningful way, means that I might be able to see the Great Barrier Reef ALIVE a few years down the line, then that is a sacrifice I’m ok making. Just like choosing to make coffee at home and keep a little budget ledger and living with four (lovely, yet relative stranger) roommates are all concessions I make to afford travel; if I love the earth as much as I claim, this is an action step I must take.
I do understand that the US food system is much more permissive of bad-behavior – which is why I’m so glad that lists like 8 Foods We Eat in the US That Are Banned in Other Countries exist. Additives are a big portion of my digestive distress – I’m sure of it.
T H E G A M E P L A N
I’ve been heavily conflicted over the past few months, but I have finally formulated an indefinite-length game plan. I’m open to adjusting as new information surfaces and my opinions change, but here we go:
- I’m transitioning being “vegan at home.” This means I won’t have any animal-based food products in my home. This trickles into makeup too – it’s super easy to go cruelty-free, so why the hell not?
- Though I will actively avoid dairy if it is clearly in a dish, in the short term, I’m going to remain flexible if someone else is preparing my foods. I first want to get a handle on my own pantry and can/cannot eat list before I ask anyone else to consider my food choices when including me in a group meal.
- I’ll be as plant-based as possible on my trips. I do intend on trying local delicacies when I travel – even if it means that there is something I wouldn’t eat at home. There are some places that while they do eat meat, do not factory farm/mass-produce livestock.
- Just because I don’t trust my own government to protect me from the horrors of the US food industry, does not mean that I assume all governments and countries have the same abhorrent methods.
B o t t o m L i n e = I don’t want my (personal) consumer dollar to go towards cruel and environmentally precarious practices. I understand I cannot control others’ purchasing habits, and do not seek to. I’ll remain flexible when others are cooking for me, but will choose the vegetarian/vegan options whenever possible while dining out. I don’t hope to alienate, but I do hope that I can influence others to at least be aware of their own consumption.
I come from a place of privilege; where in my home country, I can make a decision to change my diet in whatever direction I choose – and my local grocery store will have products to support me. I understand that while I can do that at home, I may need to flex to fit other cultural norms (just like is mentioned in here regarding needing to dress appropriately for conservative cultures- similar concept).
I understand my opinions may not be popular; but they are just that: my opinions. I’m going to try to make more informed, educated choices. My overall goal is to be mindful of how my food gets to my plate and how that affects the environment, and could potentially affect my ability to travel and see the natural wonders I want to see — before they disappear.
If you’re visiting Boston and looking for some rad veg-friendly options, check out this painstakingly curated map I made earlier this summer.
I get that not everyone is as deeply invested in learning about the link between food and then environment and then environment and travel. So I’ll end the post here… however all the sources and influences I’ve mentioned above are all cited below with a little more information about who they are and the impact they’ve had on my decisions.
- Are there any travel-related planet-bettering initiatives near and dear to you?
- Are there any steps you take to reduce your carbon footprint on the day-to-day?
- How about while travelling?
- Please share any environmental statistics or information below!
- I rarely ask anything of my audience, but it seems that whenever the term “vegan” is dropped, tensions in conversations rise: keep any and all comments kind or informative; and remember that with the exception of a few verified facts thrown in, all ramblings are my opinions.
It was no mistake that all sources were not cited in the body of the post, as they can be like learning black-holes (that I would prefer you only disappear until after finishing my piece). So if I still have your attention, let me rave a little:
He’s got a great book and no-bullshit personality (ok, edging on abrasive, but whatever I dig), and he travels. What more could I ask for?! I find his search inspirational and the idea of searching out the most interesting things eaten around the world is just plain cool. Many of the things he eats became staples in people’s diets because they needed a new food source and had to get creative…. or because they use the entire animal (not just what looks pretty).
Hot For Food
Without getting too gushy, Lauren Toyota has had a pretty profound impact on my opinions about what I eat. I’ve always been curious about recipe crafting, so trying to make food work without animal products was a welcome challenge. After making several of the HFF recipes, I realized just how easy it could be to just nix the meat’n’stuff. I’ve enjoyed literally everything I’ve ever made from their site. No matter how good the product, I would never have stuck around if it was for the personalities of Lauren and her partner John Diemer. Seriously though, I feel like everyone has different ways they want to learn and be taught, and L&J do it in a way that is easy for me to connect to – I hate fluff and bullshit. And if I’m being completely honest it was this video, that really let me feel comfortable with the conclusions I set forth above (not that I feel like she was giving me an “out” – but she was so open-minded that I almost felt (and yes, just let me fangirl for a second) that I wouldn’t be shunned. The accepting attitude is what makes her (them!) watch-worthy. As recommended in the vid, I fully intend on making Omnivore’s Dilema my next read.
Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food
This book by Megan Kimble is very eye-opening. I like to scare myself sometimes, so I knew going into the book that I would probably learn a lot – and I did. Two passages in particular really stuck with me:
“Every day [cows] consume a hundred pounds of feed and thirty five gallons of water. In turn, every day, [cows] release thirty pounds of waste. Somewhere in there, [they] also produce eight gallons of milk.”
“…I wonder if we cannot all know where all of our food comes from, not if we want to order tacos from a cart and travel to Mexico.”
I cannot recommend this book enough if you come from a county with a highly industrialized food system.