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goodbye vegetarian

I'm at that in between place where part of me wants to cry, the other part wants to scream.

So it all started when I had my first conversation on Monday with Placement Officer J about me being a vegetarian. After 15 minutes it was apparent that the Peace Corps does not appreciate vegetarians and that being one during your 27 months service is not a good thing. She kept asking me how I was going to explain why I was a vegetarian to people in my host country, which will be in Africa. I tried to explain myself. She then said that with the language barrier, I would not be able to be understood. I got the feeling that she was basically asking me to eat meat. She then tells me that another Placement Officer, P would call me later this week. And that I should meanwhile think about how I will approach this.

So Placement Officer P calls me and he basically says that "It would be hard to impossible to give you a placement as a math teacher in Africa with the stand that you are taking right now." Meaning it was now to the point of me not doing Peace Corps or at least having to go to a completely different continent. I was shocked. The reason he gives are ok ones......most of the time when a family offers me meat it is a sign of great honor and possibly their children will not be eating dinner because they spent all their money on the meat.......Since I am black they will allow me to enter into more culturally sensitive situations, which almost always include meat......If I say no to the meat completely it will damage/stop my chance of being accepted int the community, and this goes against the whole purpose of Peace Corps. So I mention that I am more than willing to eat fish again. But that doesn't help. He continues to mention that this will change my whole placement process. He tells me that they have a place in mind. Where vegetables and maize are accessible but, meat is still important. He tells me that all the countries in Africa see meat as a symbol of importance/honor etc. Etc. Etc. 20 minutes into the conversation I sell out. Yep, me the vegetarian, the no chicken/turkey/beef/pork since I was 12.....sells out. The Placement Officer and I come to an "agreement" that will allow him to place me.

I agree to taste the meat they offer as a sign of respect for their culture but not eat it as a meal.

And this is a BIG deal for me. I have definitely willingly compromised my beliefs. The only reason I can still respect myself after this is because I am doing it for the greater good which is Peace Corps to me. But I really never thought it would come to this. And I am not sure if I lied to him and if I will be willing to look something that was once alive in the face and put it in my mouth. But true to how easier life is when you sell out, the Placement papers will be arriving at my house Saturday or Monday.

Alas.

Comments

It might be easier than you think to be a vegetarian. My recruiter told me that I ought to start reintroducing meat into my diet, because I wouldn't want to offend anyone by being a vegetarian, but I never did it. And now that I'm in country, no one cares. My host mom in training clearly thought I was a little nuts, but never insisted that I eat any meat. (I've heard that other host parents weren't this accepting, though.) Omnivores don't necessary know how many food options there are for vegetarians. (You know, those people who say "you don't eat meat? What DO you eat?" like there's nothing else possible to eat.)

I see that it's apparently a big deal in where you will be placed, but you never know, placement officers and recruiters don't always know what they're talking about. (Mine were okay, but I've heard some weird stories from other volunteers about what they were told before the arrived in country.) I'm in Bulgaria, so it's a really different from where you'll be in Africa, of course.

Anyway, good luck. I'm sure you'll have an amazing experience, either way.
It's funny that you're in Bulgaria- I just commented on the same post in a different forum that I couldn't go to Eastern Europe because I was a vegetarian (I went to Africa). I guess my recruiter didn't know what he was talking about, though he did serve in Romania.
What?

In my group in Bulgaria, we had many vegetarians!!! In fact, it was quite easy for many to stay vegetarians and also become vegetarians in Bulgaria.

Yeah, I've seen a few omnivores look at my specially-requested food (usually veggie moussaka, or dolmas, something like that), then look at their plate, full of fatty meat in a pool of some mysterious cream, and ask if there are any vegetarian plates left over.

I've also met several vegetarian Bulgarians. So it's not completely unheard of.
Mysterious cream! LOL!

I remember us B8 trying to tell them to vary the vegetarian dishes. There is only so many times you can eat fried cheese!!

And yes, Bulgaria has so many food options. Romania, I'm not so sure about. I only went there once and I got sick on the food because well it was at the annual Halloween party. Alcohol and greasy food do not mix well.
It is not a big problem to be a vegetarian here. The food supply is much greater than in africa.
i wouldn't worry about it too much. once you're on the ground, the office will have no idea what you're up to

you can simply say that you have some medical condition that makes it impossible for you to eat meat. the people will think that's weird at first, but afterwards they will probably stick up for you when people offer you meat.....

that said, try to not get posted to namibia or some other desert place - i hear they eat a lot of meat in those parts, because veggies don't grow so well
I was in Zambia where there were a couple of vegetarians, and I myself did not eat meat when I was first placed. I did end up eating meat once I got there, but I knew at least one person who completed service without eating meat. (She may have eaten fish, but I'm not sure.) A big reason I decided to eat meat because I saw other people who didn't and they were never really getting the nutrition they needed, which honestly, even for PCV's with a (comparatively) huge budget, I found it tough to get balanced meals (or some semblance there of). Also, yes there was the cultural divide- I couldn't deal with refusing food while others were going hungry. I knew that someone else would eat it, sure, but it just felt wrong to me. And yeah, Zambians thought it was absolutely nuts to not eat meat. But that will happen regardless- I tried lots of different foods when I was there but some delicacies, like termites, I just had to draw the line - so it's not like you are never going to refuse to eat anything they offer you.

To other people it was more important to them that they not eat meat then that they might elicit weird looks or not eat healthy. You just have to figure out where you stand on this. I suspect that it will depend largely on where you are placed and how you feel at the time.... I will echo what others have said - they won't bother you about it once you get there (unless you radically offend your host family).
I'm a vegetarian and will be heading to guatemala soon. Personally, the reasons I don't eat meat have much more to do with the practices of the meat industry in this country and less to do with the ethicality of consuming animals. Therefore, given the limited amount of meat in the guatemala diet I'm fine with eating it occasionally when offered. I had a friend who lived in honduras for three months with a family and didn't eat meat, they just gave him extra of everything else. I can't comment on africa or your specific situation, but I would echo what others here have posted; just see how it goes, the PC folks are probably just preparing your for the worst case scenario. Good luck!
i agree with this comment. i'm not completely against eating animals, i'm just disgusted with factory farms and inhumane treatment of animals.

my plan is to cook myself and eat what i want and if someone cooks something for me i'll eat because it's less complicated.

but i don't see any problem with someone telling someone of another country that they don't eat certain things. frankly, i think it's kind of lame for the PC to try to make vegetarians feel like they're imposing on other cultures or being rude and whatnot.

i'm totally down with being culturally sensitive but isn't it a two way street to some degree? i wouldn't expect a hindu to eat meat because it's not culturally appropriate to turn down food that is offered to you.

i've never been a pc volunteer so i don't know what's up. but from travelling i've felt that not eating meat gets me weird looks in certain places but ultimately you're a foreigner anyway so people just chalk it up to that and don't make a case out of it.

i think the thing people are worried about it you staying with some family and being a pain in the ass because you make them cook a certain way or something. that's my guess.
wow i didn't really proof this post at all. please ignore typos and whatnot - i'm not an idiot - i swear!
I think that the concession that you made is an important one. They're not lying when they say that it's not culturally appropriate to turn down food that is offered to you. I'm sure that's as true in Africa as it is in Latin America, where I've studied and traveled.

PC has told me several times that I'm perfectly welcome to try to keep any type of diet that I'd like, but that I should recognize how difficult it might be, both in terms of food availability and cultural norms.

When it comes down to it (and it may), will you choose to eat meat to integrate into your community, or ET and come home? That's what PC wants to know. They want to know that if you were faced with that situation, your desire to serve is stronger than your desire to keep vegism.
Also, I just wanted to add that if you do have to occasionally eat meat while you're in PC, that doesn't mean that you're not a vegitarian. Vegitarianism isn't like sobriety, where if you fall off the wagon you have to start over, hehe.

Just take things on a meal-by-meal basis. It sounds like from other volunteers experiences that it's very possible to maintain at least a mostly vegi diet, even in Africa, with work and strategy. Those times where you do eat meat aren't goingto make you a bad person, even to by the vegitarians.



If I'm not being too intrusive, can I ask what your real reasons are? (I'm from Nebraska, vegetarians are rare here) I originally assumed that it was ethical reasons, but then you make concessions for fish.
i made concessions for fish because it is easier for me to force myself to eat them. Mainly because images of blood and throat cutting come to me when I think about pork/chicken/goats/cows. However when I think of fish I don't feel the same. However, currently I don't eat either because I am not about so say which life is more important. But if forced to pick between doing PC and eating fish, it is an easy choice.

Oh I'm from nebraska too and I know lots of vegertarians. What city are you from?
I went to school in Omaha, but I live in Lincoln now.

I do know a few, but none that are too serious about it. For example, my vegetarian friend offered my large chunks of beef because her family slaughtered a steer.

I'll never understand her.
<Also a vegetarian, that eats fish. I'm not actually a vegetarian for any of the reasons people listed, so I'd just like to add that health is the reason for my diet, and many others. I am almost, but not quite(!) vegan, since I've never liked milk, or thought drinking milk was normal, so I drink soy milk, and use soy cheese, etc, etc, and the rest of my family does too because my mother has multiple sclerosis, and a dairy-free diet makes the symptoms of that less awful. Some scientists believe dairy products actually trigger MS. I don't know. That said, I'm off my soap box.
aw shit, my comment didn't show up at all, and I wrote two whole paragraphs.
(cries)
Hmm, my recruiter didn't seem to concerned with it. Neither has the PO, so far. I was asked the same question as you and I answered that I'd use the against-my-religion defense. Apparently, that's a hard reason to contest and an easy one to understand. I guess that means the first thing I'll be doing when I get there is lying to my home stay family. (Though, I'm kind of hoping they are blind and have a dog.)
Apparently, that's a hard reason to contest and an easy one to understand.

Although in certain countries, you should be careful using it. I've heard that in El Salvador, if you're not Christian, you're not worth talking to... and while it's not quite as bad in Costa Rica, Catholicism is the official religion, so it's expected that you're Christ-loving.

That's probably not the case in Africa, though I have heard people comment about their religions, and whether or not they should disclose it to their community members.

This all sems bizarre living in the US, where in my city at least, there's a different place of worship on every corner, but it's Big Stuff in some parts of the world.
Your PC officers are just practicing what is called "due dilligence". They are preparing you for the worst case scenario. Once you are in-country, you can explain how eating meat makes you sick, and as long as you are clear and consistent about it, you should be fine. Not eating meat is no bigger a social issue than not drinking alcohol. I managed to not drink alcohol for all of my PC tour, and while it did cost me some points with my co-workers at first, after a few of the obligatory after-work whisky-and-soda sessions they would explain to the bar owner that alcohol made me sick, and get me an orange soda instead. They didn't stop inviting me to the party.

And no, Im not an alcoholic or have any religious reasons - I just can't stand alcohol.
I completely understand. I am also a vegetarian, and I keep kosher on top of that. I know that the latter will end up having to be abandoned, but it is less obvious in practice. Eating meat would be pretty hard at first, but if it was really necessary, I could do it.

vegetarian in Africa

My host trainer was a successful vegetarian. I learned what he ate to stay healthy as a vegetarian. I never became a vegetarian, but have never felt the need to make an effort to include meat in my diet. The "meat" I preferred and found most available at my post was groundnuts, beans, and fish.

vegetarian in latin america

i know this is an old thread, but i was wondering if i could get in contact with someone who was a vegetarian in latin america. my placement officer requested that i find someone, as he seems to be a bit obsessed with the fact that i'm a vegetarian (even though i told him plainly that i would choose peace corps over vegetarianism).

Re: vegetarian in latin america

Sorry, but I don't know anyone who served in Latin America whose was a vegetarian. But if you have any questions about how it went for me in Tanzania as a vegetarian, I can answer those. Short version of the story it was relatively easy. I didn't have to eat any chunks of meats..... but I did have to eat sauces/veggies that had meat juice or tiny bits in it. But I eat around the large bits. And my host family and people living in my neighborhood were really understanding. I did however eat fish.
50th poster

August 2014

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