There are a plethora of reasons why someone may not be eating meat or other animal products. They range from environmental or health reasons to ethical ones. No matter what your reason may be, no one wants to be forced to change their dietary habits when traveling or working abroad.
For many people, there are also many reasons not to restrict what you can eat. Removing animal products from your diet in a large city in the West like New York, Chicago, London, or Toronto has grown exponentially easier. Even in smaller cities and in some rural areas, the movement to cut consumption is catching on.
Despite the global growth of these trends, there is a tendency for Westerners to worry when traveling. Many people worry that language barriers will stop them from expressing that they don't consume animal products, that foreign cuisines simply won't be amenable to their needs, and that they will need to cook every meal. As a result, many decide that it would simply be easier to break commitments, eat less, or not travel at all.
Obviously, none of these options are ideal, and not eating properly for just a short period can have horrible impacts on your health in the long term. No one should ever feel limited in where they can live simply based on their diet. Of course, there may be locations where fulfilling restrictions is more or less difficult, and consequently places that you are better off limiting time, or skipping to spend more time in other destinations.
By many vegans in the West, China and East Asia on the whole are described as being quite difficult to keep your diet while traveling in. It is of course impossible to quantify how easy it is to not eat meat, but there might be truths in this belief. However, it is clearly not impossible. This article will help you get around in China without needing a single animal product for nutrients. That way, your travel and career options will never feel limited to the large Western cities listed earlier!
We can start by dismissing the myth that no one in Asia is vegetarian or vegan, or that the cuisines there simply aren't amenable to dietary changes. Most cuisines globally have historically been primarily plant based, and only since the Industrial Revolution have most cultures increased their dependency on meat as a primary source of nourishment.
Moreover, the cuisines that are offered even in just one country like China vary greatly from region to region. The food of Yunnan is worlds different from what one may encounter in Sichuan. Additionally, many parts of China have historically developed strong meatless cultures for demographic reasons like religion. Additionally, many regional Chinese cuisines don't have a particularly strong presence of dairy.
Even though the myth of East Asia being completely inaccessible to vegans is not true, there are of course caveats to this. It will normally be easier to access completely vegan dining while living in a city. If you are comfortable in the kitchen, it will be infinitely easier to tailor your diet at many meals, and you may need to learn some phrases or find a friend that speaks the local language well.
For when you go out to eat, make sure to find some key phrases and write them down on a phone or a slip of paper that you can keep with you. That way, if you end up somewhere and need to make sure that your food is free of certain products, you won't be out of luck. This guide should include some of those phrases. https://ltl-school.com/vegetarian-vegan-china/ Some restaurants may also feature pictures on menus, which should help facilitate this process. Downloading the Happy Cow app may help you with restaurants as well. Happy Cow helps find nearby restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options.
If you are teaching at a school, then it will be a good idea to get into contact with that school as soon as possible. It's likely that you will eat meals from the school kitchen, so if that will be problem for you, you can minimize distress by planning ahead by email or phone, or by having a meeting with someone early in your travel.
Lastly, if your stay is long enough, make sure to pickup some cookware. You can get a lot of value out of learning to cook a few recipes that are cheap, tasty, and fill your needs. Many cities-big or small- will grant you access to markets where you can buy any necessary ingredients. If you don't have space at the end of your journey, feel free to sell the cookware to a friend or donate it! No need to get something you have to keep for the rest of your life or throw anything out.
About the author: Fletcher Calcagno
Fletcher Calcagno is an undergraduate at George Washington University. He is a vegetarian and aspiring vegan, so he thought that this guide would be helpful for people like him who are passionate about the life choice, but also want to travel! In his free time he enjoys debating world affairs at GW's Parliamentary Debate Society.
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