The Cultural Conundrum

Eating a 100% plant-based diet can be difficult. Whether you have a nut allergy, live in a remote area where vegan foods are hard to come by, or perhaps you simply don’t know how to fulfill your nutritional requirements just yet- there are many factors to take into account when taking on a sustainable, plant-based lifestyle. While I have been fortunate enough to not face any of these barriers (yet, fingers crossed!) there is one problem that continues to surface for me, and I’m sure for many of you who’ve already adopted this lifestyle this issue has too. 

The obstacle I’m referring to is something I like to call The Cultural Conundrum. Essentially, I use this term to describe the moral dilemma one may face when in a position where they have to decide what is more important – respecting the traditions and cuisine of a local culture OR sticking to your own dietary beliefs. 

I’ll give you an example. A few years ago, I spent a month volunteering with an organization on a very remote island in Cambodia. When I say remote, I mean the closest grocery store or medical facility was a 3-hour boat ride away, there was no wifi, no running water, and we only had access to electricity for 2 hours per day. All of our meals were provided to us by the island locals who graciously cooked them for us every day. 

At the time, I was a vegetarian, and unfortunately 90% of the meals that were prepared for us consisted of meat. Not meat from mass production facilities purchased at a grocery store- meat these people hunted for, caught and gifted us as a thank you for our work toward improving their community. 

Now I had packed a ridiculous amount of snacks, dried fruits, granola, etc. in anticipation of this. However, the work was hard, the climate was extreme and the days were long. Even if I had packed enough snacks for the entire month, my nutritional requirements would not have been met. More importantly though, I felt it was disrespectful to not eat the meals being served to me. I watched the women spend hours each day preparing this food for us, and learned that food was such an integral part of Cambodian culture, that shared meals were a token of gratitude and respect. 

So, I personally decided to eat the meals both with and without meat. I’d be lying if I said this was an easy decision, but I felt it was the best one given the circumstances. I also took into consideration that this was a temporary alteration in my dietary beliefs, and that opting to respect their cultural beliefs wasn’t going to change my personal beliefs in the long run. And it didn’t! But this experience did make me more open-minded overall and it’s something I wanted to share with you all. 

Now I don’t want you to think that the choice I made is the one you should- I would never tell anyone to go against their own beliefs. But I do think it’s important to recognize that life isn’t always black or white. The plant-based culture has adopted this stigma of guilt that when we ‘fail’ we aren’t doing enough. I know I have felt the pressure of not being the ‘perfect vegan’ many times, and it sucks. But we aren’t perfect, and other people’s beliefs do matter- even if they don’t align with yours. So if you’re ever faced with a situation similar to mine, my advice is to do what feels right. Because every situation is unique and someone will always have something to say about the choices you make. This world is full of pressures and status quo’s and yeah sure, in an ideal world we would all be vegan. But we aren’t there yet, so please don’t let the potential judgement of others make you feel as if you’re not doing your best! You’re a rockstar babe. Act with good intentions and all else will fall into place. 

Thanks for reading <3

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