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Cultural Respect: Food Ethics and the Conscious Traveler

Food + Drink Culture
by Christine DeSadeleer Jun 22, 2009
Can we be conscious travelers when we impose our own ethics on other people?

Here at BNT and the Matador Network, we often discuss what it means to be a conscious traveler.

As a traveler in the 21st century, respect for other cultures and our environment demands that we question how our choices will affect both people and place.

On that note, I recently came across a New York article entitled Conscious Carnivore that discussed whether or not eating meat can ever be a truly conscious, peaceful choice.

I personally debated this question in a big way at the end of what I term my “vegan era,” considering my ethics had kept me partaking in this lifestyle even as my health and body was crumbling before my eyes. Note: I am not saying veganism or vegetarianism is bad for everyone, just that they didn’t work for my body.

But more than that, reading through this article made me think about my travels during my vegan period.

I can also now see he had a point in that I should accepting of the culture and food that was available.

When I traveled to Africa several years ago, I demanded to have my food completely vegan due to my belief system (and truthfully, as I look back now, also because of my ego).

I also did the same thing in Germany, where my exasperated Grandfather ranted about my requirements to my Mom in German since I couldn’t understand, and also because we hardly know each other.

Although I could easily let his reaction roll off my back because he really and truly is an angry man, I can also now see he had a point in that I should accepting of the culture and food that was available.

Was I being a conscious traveler by staying true to my ethical needs above what was readily available? Or was I a completely unconscious, demanding American tourist, who made people of other cultures that had never seen such a request, fulfill my demands?

Keeping The Peace Or Maintaining Health?

And yet when I last traveled, though no longer vegan, I wanted to “keep the peace.” So I ate quite a bit of wheat and dairy even though I had learned by body was highly allergic to both.

Interestingly enough, the aforementioned vegan trip had actually kept my body healthy and in better shape than when I had left home, which I know isn’t true for most travelers.

But this time around, my health suffered quite a bit.

Upon my return home, I had to go on thyroid medication (full disclosure – I believe my low thyroid function had been a part of my body for a long time).

I also had to seriously change my diet for a few months due to elevated liver enzymes (never underestimate the power of eating foods that you are allergic to).

And very soon, I will embark on a trip around the US. While I now eat meat, I will be eating gluten-free and dairy-free because I’m allergic to both foods. I also try and only eat free-range and humanely-raised meat, and wild fish. I know I need to follow this diet in order to maintain my health, because it can quickly slide into a scary place if I don’t.

Of course, it is certainly different to request only certain foods in America as compared to say rural Ladakh. But part of me still debates whether or not it is fair to demand certain foods in places they are not readily available or accepted. Will it be that bad if I consume these foods once and a while out of respect for the place I’ve landed?

Because once again, I might be putting my personal needs above those who are providing their own culture to me.

Do you think maintaining personal ethics around food and health can be a part of conscious travel? Share your thoughts below.

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