Before I moved overseas, I had stopped eating meat and poultry, although seafood was still a part of my diet. In common terms, I was a pescatarian. After living in Nepal for nearly two years, I was still occasionally enjoying and cooking certain dishes made with salmon, fish or prawns.
It wasn’t till we went on a trip to Vietnam where we were served a fresh-caught crab that I realized how bad I felt to eat something that still had its eyes on and that had died boiled alive just to end up on my plate. For a couple of more years I was still eating salmon and prawns but something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t call myself an animal lover or an activist if I was still choosing to eat some animals while leaving others off my plate. I became a strict vegetarian.
It took another year for me to make the transition into veganism. If I'm honest, fear was the main obstacle. I didn't want to be left out of social activities nor to have people question the reasons behind it and, above all, I didn’t want to stop eating yummy desserts. (It was so hard knowing that I couldn’t have vanilla milkshakes anymore!)
After watching documentaries and enrolling in a 21-day plant-based wellness program, I decided the time was right. I made sure I was in touch with a nutritionist, that I was eating the right amounts of protein, veggies and fruits, and drinking enough water as well as exercising, meditating, and resting. The first week was challenging for sure, but I just fell in love with the recipes and the philosophy behind it. I felt like I had finally “arrived.” My body started responding too and I loved how well I felt.
These past two years have been a blissful journey, one full of compassion, health and new flavors. It hasn’t been all easy and that’s why I thought I’d share my experience on the challenges I’ve found, as well as the opportunities while going vegan overseas (which have been many).
1. Availability – Depending on where you live, specific products like tempeh, nutritional yeast, egg replacer, yogurt, mayonnaise, agar agar, etc. are difficult to find. Consider stocking up on them before you get to your new destination or until you find specialty groceries.
2. Reliability – If and when you spot a place that sells your vegan staples, it might be months before you might see them again. Think about getting several ones when you find them and to provide your contact info to the grocer so that they inform you when a new shipment has arrived.
3. Socializing - Whether you go to someone’s house, a party or a restaurant, it is difficult to find enough options that suit your needs. If you’re going to a restaurant, check the menu online beforehand. If you’ve been invited to a friend’s house, bring a filling dish to share, and if you’re going to a party, consider eating something nutritious at home so that you don’t get hungry in case there aren’t any vegan friendly foods.
4. Affordability - In Nepal we didn’t find many suitable vegan options. Some of them (like nut milks) had to be ordered directly from an artisan or found exclusively at the farmers market. In Jordan we find various kinds of vegan cheese, nut milks, seeds, cake mixes and the like in most supermarkets. However, we find it challenging having to pay exorbitant prices for these goods. Be sure you research your options in advance and see if it makes sense to pack a few of your favorite goodies in the suitcase or bring some of the ingredients so that you can make your own staples.
5. Complexity - Some recipes require very specific ingredients. Some others can be very involved. If you don’t have the energy, time, or ingredients or if cooking isn’t your thing, you can simplify by buying some items that are already made. Think hummus, nut butters, tofu, etc. and just prepare the rest of the ingredients that require less time. Did you know you can make your own nut milk from nut butters? Simply add water! This was a very smart idea that my friend Lizzie from Sisu Holistic Health shared on instagram.
1 . Discovering new flavors, ethnic foods, exotic ingredients and mixtures opens up the world for us when we’re living overseas. By becoming vegan outside your comfort zone, you get exposed to so many wonderful staples. Some of my favorite ones are grains and legumes like dahl (lentils) and freekeh (green durum wheat), and spice blends like masala and sumac. A beautiful addition to any salad is pomegranate molasses, and to homemade pancakes is date syrup. It was thanks to living overseas that I came across these amazing goodies and I have now incorporated them into my diet.
2. Cooking your own healthy foods (like homemade nutella, fruity protein bites, smooth cashew cream cheese, decadent desserts, creamy coconut yogurt, rich nut milks, cinnamon infused granola, etc.) and using creativity as tools to curate a collection of your favorite recipes will keep you mo-ti-va-ted! It is also a great way to try good recipes that you can bring to your friends house. I love this simple banana bread recipe. I pair it with a delicious coconut whipped cream on the side and top it off with toasted slivered almonds. So good!
3. Indulging in guilt-free / cruelty-free foods. This has been a big one for me. As of late, I have been making a healthy-ish dessert every weekend. I am amazed by how good I feel afterwards (if I practice portion control) and how delicious most of them taste. If I don’t have the time or the patience to make something very elaborate, I contact Nour, a talented local baker that makes delicious vegan chocolate truffles, pecan pies, trifle cakes, etc. These are great opportunities available when you decide to go vegan while living overseas. Bonus: When you bake at home, you save money as you’ll be left with ingredients that can be easily used in other vegan recipes.
4. Promoting appreciation for vegan food through yummy dishes and encouraging people to try the vegan diet as an appealing alternative to standard processed foods that use animal products. At the same time, when you buy vegan products while living overseas, you’re sending a message to the local businesses that there’s a demand for vegan goods. Additionally, you’re encouraging your omnivore friends to make your recipes at their home.
5. Connecting with likeminded people. It is true that it can be isolating not knowing other vegans in town. It happened to me the first year I came to Jordan. Being proactive, joining groups on social media and not being shy about reaching out to other people have helped. Also, since there aren’t many vegans that I know, I have also started listening to Our Hen House podcast, which helps me connect to a bigger community, while keeping me updated to the news and most recent developments in animal welfare worldwide.
Here are some resources that can help you with the transition if you’re thinking about going vegan while living overseas.
♥ Recipe Sites
♥ People to Follow on YouTube
Probiotics to make your own yogurt
Earth Balance (it will be ok if not refrigerated for a couple of days. Have done it half a dozen times without any incidents)
Vegan vegetable bouillon
Almond butter or your favorite nut butter
I hope you find this article useful. If you have also gone vegan while living overseas, I would love to hear how you did it. Please share your experience as it could also help other fellow vegans.
Thank you for being here! Namaste.