Finding the green in Nicaragua: Part 2
Being vegetarian in a meat lover's world.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 19:00
POR FAVOR: One of the very few restaurants in Nicaragua offering vegetarian food. (Photo: Karla Martinez)
The first thing I get when I say I'm going out of the country is, "well, are you going to eat meat while you're there? It's their culture!" Not that I've been to many places, but having two of three be considered developing countries makes the question somewhat relevant. I will not be living the high style luxury of my chef dad's home cooking.
However, my first experience staying vegetarian in a meat-based culture was easy. My first trip was Ecuador for three weeks, where I was reluctant to let go of being a hardcore Veg. It turns out I needn't have worried — no one made me try "cuy" (see guinea pig) or any other thing I didn't want to, and my host family for those two days fed me some amazing cultural food that didn't have any meat.
Here in Nicaragua, I get laughed at. To my face. By everyone.
It's far from the norm to meet a vegetarian here. Meat is so engrained in their culture and served every day with lunch that when you say you don't eat it, they look at you like you are crazy and don't know how you are still living, let alone walking around fully functional. The Nicaraguan friends I have made here are astonished that I have spent the last eight years not having had at least a piece of chicken or something along those lines. To me, it's normal. No, I do not have the urge to purchase a Big Mac. Nor have I ever, to be perfectly honest.
This specific cultural difference has probably been one of the most apparent to me. It's easy to see how they integrate meat into their everyday lives: there is a Tip Top (the Nicaraguan version of KFC) every 3 kilometers and signs for it everywhere else. Living with a host family, I pay a stipend to eat lunch here with another exchange student. However when we get lunch, I get the same meal minus the protein. I miss my tofu.
So the question remains, should I have folded and tried to become part of the Nicaraguan culture by eating meat? To be honest, I haven't found that eating meat would have changed my experience dramatically. My roommate/partner in crime/other exchange student in the house hasn't found it to add any depth to her experience here. And although it is definitely more difficult to find food for me to eat, and I've run out of vitamins and need to go buy more, having the challenge to teach Nicaraguans about my home and my culture is just as big as learning theirs, and I think everyone can appreciate an even exchange.
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