Vegetarian in Southeast Asia
Disclaimer: This article isn't meant to shame or judge anyone. It's really just a reflection of my own personal journey. These experiences are shaping who I am and the behaviours I exhibit, while simultaneously challenging me to accept the things I clearly cannot change. I am not trying to convert you or make you feel bad for not coming to the realization that I did almost two years ago. But, it would be really sweet if you did.
When I was around 14 years old, I told my mother that I wanted to become a vegetarian. I don't necessarily remember how I came to that realization, but I know it had something to do with the fact that I have always been an avid animal lover. So, my 14-year old self obviously saw some hypocrisy in proclaiming this love in the midst of me downing a piece of animal flesh. However, I was met with hesitation and a "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"-esq type of response, "Okay, but you still eat meat". I gave it up, since my mother was the one doing all the cooking and lunch preparations.
When I left home, I quickly came to the realization that my mother had spoiled me. I was often too lazy to put any real thought or care into what I was preparing for myself. To top it off, I started eating out A LOT and most of those choices were fast food. Ah, and then came the influence of social media. Everywhere you would look; the detoxes, juicing, organic, and vegan craze was infiltrating the online world and reaching out to me. It wasn't hard for me to see that the years of unhealthy eating had finally caught up to me (physically, emotionally, mentally). I was no longer a 20-something that felt invincible to the reality of fast, ready-made meals.
Over the years, I came into contact with people who re-introduced me to the concept of vegetarianism. I started reading countless articles and testimonials on the benefits of switching to an organic, plant-based lifestyle. To be honest, I knew that some of this was just the next "trend" or "fad" and the inauthenticity of this made me hesitant to fully commit. What did reach into my soul was the emotional side of the story. It was watching those youtube videos where they uncover the horrors of the meat industry and factory farming. You know, the ones where animals are being tortured and then slaughtered in the most inhumane way possible. This had been my motivation as a young girl and it seemed like it had come full circle. It was then that I decided to give up pork. I limited my intake of beef too. I wasn't ready to give up poultry just yet though.
Then came our trip to Southeast Asia, starting off with Vietnam. Richard and I were exploring the vibrant city of Hanoi and eventually found ourselves in a non-touristy area. To this day, it was here that I faced one of my biggest challenges in this part of the world. We came across several restaurants that were serving Thịt Chó (dog meat). I quickly noticed several small dogs stuffed in cages. They were all howling and crying out. I became really emotional, as I battled with what I could do to save them from their fate. The truth is, as much as I wanted to, I couldn't really do much of anything. Every year, millions of dogs are killed for their meat in this part of the world. Although this is something I already knew occurred in some parts of Vietnam, I still wasn't prepared. These images will likely haunt my mind forever, although I did sincerely try my hardest to "let it go". I normally consider myself to be open minded to diverse cultures and unfamiliar customs, however, this was a heartbreakingly tough experience. The connection I feel with dogs is indescribable, but I do understand that others may not share my views.
On another day in Hanoi, Richard and I ventured off to the French Quarter to explore a local food market. We ended up going down a narrow passage of what can only be described as an official outdoor slaughterhouse. Ducks and chickens were crammed by the dozens into tiny cages, while others were being hacked to death on the tables. We both continued to look down and walk towards the exit until we found freedom that these animals would never experience. I wasn't raised on a farm where I had witnessed this sort of thing before. I realize it wasn't something unique to Vietnamese culture or Southeast Asia alone, but it was the first time in my life where I was slapped in the face with these images. Not on some computer screen, but right there in front of me.
I took these situations as a chance to reflect on our own traditions back home and the disturbing treatment of animals. Something we consistently close our eyes, minds, and hearts to so that we can keep eating for our own pleasure. I realized that the only difference was my perception of any difference. I couldn't consume dogs, or cats, or others that I had deemed "unacceptable" because of some socialized reasons that I conveniently forgot to apply to all animals. How could I chastise a group of people for simply choosing a different set of animals to include in the "acceptable" group? It was then that I could no longer hide from the truth . . . I was the worst type of hypocrite. Sure, I had watched those countless videos. Tears would stroll down my face. But then I would just simply close my computer screen, forget about it, and continue to consume against my better judgement. I continued to do it because it was what I had always done. It was the path of least resistance. Quite simply put, I was lazy. Too lazy to live an authentic life. Something I had already realized when I was just a teenager. I recently came across this article that talked about the concept of "Akrasia". It's a philosophical term that describes the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will. So, there I was: Akrasia in Asia.
I decided that it was finally time to make a change. I started to transition out of eating meat and depend on plant-based ingredients. Selfishly, I felt better; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unselfishly, I was no longer a part of an industry that had wreaked havoc on my soul for so long. To be completely honest though, it hasn't been that difficult when we're travelling through places like Bali, which has a super abundance of really tasty vegetarian and vegan options.
Now, I know what many vegans reading this will say: since I'm aware of the horrific meat production industry, am I also aware of the dark realities associated with the dairy industry? Yes, I am. I've watched all those undercover videos and read all those painfully honest articles about babies being ripped from their mothers in order to reserve the milk for production and consumption by humans. All I can say is, I'm trying. I am slowly, but surely transitioning. I'm not perfect and I don't make the right choices every single time, but at the very least, I am finally aware and acting. Just know that, I support you, I commend you, and I understand you. I'm just sorry it took me so long.
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