Oberlin Blogs

A meaty discussion

December 27, 2009

Alice Ollstein ’10

One aspect of the upcoming Nicaragua delegation all four of us had to grapple with is whether or not to eat meat on the trip. We all keep a vegetarian diet at Oberlin (something easy to do in the mostly-vegetarian co-ops), but I know from the last trip that we will be offered meat by our hosts in San Juan de Limay, and it could be seen as rude or hurtful to refuse it. I had all of us read this article I found about trying to stay vegetarian while abroad, and all the uncomfortable situations it could bring about. I don't agree with everything the piece says (especially the part about travelers pushing locals to incorporate more vegetarian dishes in their usual diet), but it does raise some good issues and make some good suggestions.

After a lot of reflecting, both on the previous trip and since, I've decided that while I'm a dedicated vegetarian, and will keep vegetarian while we're traveling on our own, I'm going to eat meat in Limay when it's served to me by my hosts. It's more important to me to be a good, gracious guest and connect with my hosts, who usually have a diet of rice and beans but serve meat on special occasions (like our visit!). Out with the families I remember only having meat maybe two or three times. It's mostly rice and beans (and tortillas and cheese). But even though they're almost entirely vegetarian by default, they view actually BEING vegetarian by choice as crazy.

I believe we will have enough barriers to overcome already in connecting with people we meet (language, culture, economic class, education, etc.) that I don't want food to become another barrier, another thing that separates me from others. Instead, I want to look at food as what brings me closer to my hosts and helps me connect with them, which is what food should always be--something that brings people together.

Also, my main reason for vegetarianism is concern for the environment (factory farming contributes to climate change more than all transportation combined) and concern for the quality of life of animals raised for meat. These concerns are basically eliminated in the Nicaraguan campo, as everything is done in the most natural, sustainable way possible, and animals live a visibly free and happy life before they become food.

On this trip we represent not just OSCA, but Oberlin and even the U.S. in general. Many of these families have never met someone from the U.S. before, so we want to make sure to leave the best impression possible. I believe that eating meat, like using an outhouse or cooking with firewood, is a hardship we must cheerfully endure in order to bond with our hosts. I even ate pork on the last trip even though that doubly violates my Jewish-vegetarian beliefs.

Also, I'm lucky that I have a strong stomach and wasn't bothered by eating meat after years of vegetarianism. I know that's a big concern for some.

Anyway, those are my rambling thoughts on the issue. I'm glad we're all being forced to think about what we eat and why, which everyone should always meditate on but few do.

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