It was a cold and rainy night in the Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was tucked into a wood paneled booth in the serendipitously named Bishop Restaurant. In front of me was a plate of fish and chips, a side of mushy peas and a hot cuppa tea. I took a deep breath and a tentative first bite. While the texture left something to be desired, I carefully chewed and swallowed the small mouthful before bursting into a proud smile! Why, you might ask, was I going through such a production just to eat some fish & chips? Well, this would be my first bite of fish, or any meat, in over 15 years. After being a vegetarian for more than half my life, I decided to try becoming an omnivore.
What was the reason for this drastic turn of events? Truthfully, it had a lot to do with travel. While preparing for my move to Europe, I dreamed of experiencing diverse cultures, participating in regional traditions and meeting local people. I couldn’t imagine missing out on sharing a special holiday meal, or haggling over prices at small markets, or tasting a regional speciality. I realized that much of an area’s culture and history is link to it’s cuisine. I wanted to be able to immerse myself in a culture while travelling without the constraints of a strict vegetarian diet.
Is it possible to travel while being a vegetarian? Absolutely! Is it possible to experience a culture and even a regional cuisine without eating meat? Yes, to a large extent. This isn’t an argument in favour or against a vegetarian lifestyle, it is a story of my own search for cultural connection. For months I’d been coming to the realization that my reasons for being vegetarian no longer resonated with me. I’d always fiercely believed that a vegetarian lifestyle was the superior choice morally, environmentally, and physically. However, with time, I start to realize the convictions I once held so firmly no longer stood up to scrutiny. I decided I didn’t want my choices to be limited by a diet that no longer held meaning for me.
My views on eating meat changed significantly during my time working on a sustainable farm in France. There I saw firsthand what sustainable food production can mean for both the animal and the quality of the food we eat. I realized that for me choosing to eat animals that are grown in humane conditions using organic practices actually aligns better with my environmental, health and animal rights beliefs than being a vegetarian did. I still believe that meat produced from factory farms is ethically wrong and environmentally unsustainable, but the truth is I always ate dairy and eggs which routinely came from factory farms. I still believe a vegan diet can be beneficial to overall health and wellness, but the truth is my vegetarian diet contained a lot of junk. I still believe that the way in which we raise and slaughter animals should be respectful but the biological truth is that we are an omnivorous species.
It has been three years since that first bite of fish. I’ve come to realized that the heart of my decision to eat meat is also the essence of this blog – a desire for connection through food. I knew I wanted to be able to eat like a local while travelling the world. Eating fish & chips might not have been a particularly life changing experience but what it represented was. In the months since, I’ve eaten paella with an ocean view in Barcelona, roti canai and stewed chicken for breakfast in Malaysia, schnitzel in the shadow of a gothic cathedral in Berlin, pork on a skewer from a busy market in Bangkok and many more regional dishes. I believe that all dietary choices are extremely personal and each one of us has the right to make our own decisions. For me, tasting traditionally made dishes and locally sourced foods has been a valuable part of my travel experience and one that I am glad I did not miss.