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Eating Vegetarian/Vegan as an Expat

13 July, 2011 17:53  Erin Erin

un panier de légumes frais. © thieury - FotoliaEating abroad can be a challenge as the names of the dishes, way they are served, and ingredients can be entirely different from those you are familiar with. Even a slice of pizza in New York City is vastly different from a piece of pizza pie in Italy. Trying to stick to a vegetarian, or especially a vegan, lifestyle can make these already challenging conditions seem impossible.

Vegetarianism & Veganism

Once considered wildly deviant, vegetarianism has gone through stages of popularity and even become fashionable in some societies. The reasons an individual chooses to eat vegetarian range from health conscious considerations, protest of the meat industry, concern about food safety, disinterest in eating animals, or a way to conserve the world's scarce food resources.

Vegetarianism is the practice of following plant-based diets (fruits, vegetables, etc.), with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat (red meat, poultry, and seafood). The practice can be confusing as there are many different varieties, and people tend to create their own rules from personal preferences.

Types of Vegetarianism

Ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products
Lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but not eggs
Ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products
Semi-vegetarian diet may consist largely of vegetarian foods, but includes meats on an infrequent basis, like a pescetarian diet which includes fish but no meat; pollotarianism, which includes poultry; pollo-pescatarian, which includes poultry and fish. This type of diet is contested by vegetarian groups who state that vegetarianism excludes all animal flesh.
Fruitarianism permits only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant.
Buddhist vegetarianism (also known as su vegetarianism) excludes all animal products as well as vegetables in the allium family (which have the characteristic aroma of onion and garlic): onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, or shallots.
Jain vegetarianism includes dairy but excludes eggs and honey, as well as root vegetables.
Macrobiotic diets consist mostly of whole grains and beans
Vegan diet excludes all animal products, such as eggs, dairy, and honey.

The diet is often further defined by the individual, with two people who eat "vegetarian" often having entirely different restrictions.

The practice of eating a restricted diet can be incredibly difficult as many foods contain unfamiliar animal ingredients. Cake, chocolate, chips, gum, marshmallows and many dishes appear veggie-friendly, but actually contain an animal element. The presence of animal fats or broths are particularly prevalent in some cultures. The popular fast food chain, McDonalds, faced a huge scandal and subsequent lawsuit when it was discovered that their fries were cooked in animal fat and they had declared them safe for vegetarians.

10 Tips to Eating Vegetarian/Vegan Abroad

  1. Learn to say "I don't eat meat" in the language of the country you are traveling/living in. Be aware that even if you use the word "vegetarian" or "vegan" it may not always mean that the dish is actually vegan. The people you meet in your host country may have a different understanding of the word altogether. Some cultures think vegetarians just avoid red meat or think fish is ok. It may not be clear that you also do not want meat oil, fish oil, oyster sauce, dried shrimp, etc. This is particularly difficult with soups. Saying you are allergic may help deliver your message.
  2. Learn to write "I don't eat meat" in the native language. This can be particularly useful in countries where it is hard to be understood, like in China.
  3. Research before you go so you know some places you will be comfortable eating. This can also help you identify the best places to dine. EasyExpat's guides for expatriates have all a "Pubs, Cafes and Restaurants" section under Entertainment, with many offering individual vegetarian tips.
  4. Know the staples. Find out what makes up the local cuisine and if anything you don't want to eat is commonly used (like beef fat for frying vegetables). Many places have started to substitute soy and other alternative products so feel free to ask.
  5. Try local fruits. Mango, fig, pineapple, pomegranate and coconut are best fresh from the market or straight off the tree. Eating the local fruits can also make your trip being more culturally authentic.
  6. Enjoy raw veganism defined as fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. It is often said "If you haven't picked it, peeled it, cut it or boiled it yourself, don't eat it." Know that thicker skinned fruits and veggies are best and make sure you peel them yourself. It is also a good idea to possibly pick up a knife when you get to the host country so you can instantly peel and eat without having to worry about using someone else's possibly tainted utensils.
  7. Learn to love rice. Rice is a staple for over one and half billion people worldwide and you are likely to encounter it often when you travel. Tasty, nutritional, and totally vegetarian. Find local toppings and sauces like soy sauce, peanut sauce, chutneys, seaweed flakes, fresh fruit and steamed veggies, and tofu.
  8. Order appetizers. It may be hard to find a main course without meat, but there are usually appetizers that are completely meat free. You can sometimes ask for an appetizer to be expanded into a full meal. An added bonus is that they are usually cheaper !
  9. Connect with like-Minded People. Find other vegans or vegetarians in your area. They will have tips, recipes, and recommendations. You can find friends in your neighbors, co-workers, or on EasyExpat's forums.
  10. Carry a Food Stash. Come prepared! Starving is not fun, and having at least a bite to eat will help you from making rash decisions.

Veggie Bloggers

Bloggers are an exceptional resource for recipes, tips when traveling, and insight into their area.

What's For Dinner? - Hungry? Feeling Tired? Exhausted from a Long Day at Work? Still Want Something Delicious for Dinner but Don't Want to, or Have No Time to Cook? From vegetarian to French, from Indian to Russian - you will find a great variety of recipes which you can easily make at home.

Aelle Around the World - Serial expat since 2005, aelle blogs about living in California, Malaysia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Korea. A young vegan woman around the planet, traveling on a budget, world affairs and her international and adventurous life. Bilingual blog in French and English.

VegBlogs - VegBlogs fetches the latest vegan blog posts from around the web to help you find stories and podcasts that interest you!

This Dish Is Veg - Offers vegan, vegetarian, animal rights, and eco-friendly news and opinion pieces.

Do you know of a vegetarian/vegan blog? Are you an expat who has had experience trying to adjust your diet abroad? Add your blog to the BlogExpat directory!


Bon Appetit!


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Being a Vegetarian [Reply]

Before my kids I was a vegetarian for about 5 years, but as soon as I got pregnant my body seemed to need it. Any body know why? Now I crave meat each day. Did my body actually change?

  eva hamori     13 Jul 2011, 18:15