Friday, September 20, 2013

Vegetarianism in Bolivia

"We made this specially for you, it has less meat in it"

A couple of weeks before I flew out to Bolivia I met George, the head of International Service in Bolivia, at my York training day. I had the opportunity to ask questions to prepare for my placement. I asked George how easy it would be to be a vegetarian for 3 months in Bolivia. He laughed in response. He explained that they don't really have vegetarians in Bolivia. It began to sink in that this was going to be a challenge!

I get asked quite a lot in England why I became a vegetarian, here it is more unusual so I seem to get asked a few times each day. I initially became a vegetarian at the age of 7 as I enjoyed looking after animals on a farm, and I was shocked to find out that I was also eating those animals. At a later stage, when I was 11, I began to look more rationally at whether I should continue to be a vegetarian and decided to continue because of the environmental benefits of being a vegetarian. Hopefully explaining this here might save me a couple of times of being asked (it's worth a try).

Volunteers Ross and Lauren tucking into
Llama steak sandwiches
When I arrived at the airport I met Lauren and Miriam who are both also vegetarians. I was reassured to know that I wouldn't be the only vegetarian volunteer at Up Close. When we arrived in Miami Airport for our stopover, Lauren went and bought a meat burger at Wendys. Fairly soon after we arrived, Miriam started to eat the local speciality - Roasted Chicken (Pollo a la Leña). The team of vegetarian Up Close volunteers dropped from three to one pretty rapidly!

During our second weekend in Bolivia we visited Lake Titicaca with all the volunteers and stayed on Isla de Luna in homestays. The families lived traditional, rural lifestyles. They grow or catch everything they need to sustain the community on the Island. They're not big on vegetarian options, so catching and eating fish with the family was the only option I had to eat protein on the island.  However, I felt reassured knowing that the fishing on the island is extremely sustainable. The families rely on being able to catch and eat fish so they farm the fish and keep track of their numbers ensuring they're all at healthy levels.

In August I visited the Salt Flats with the other volunteers. When booking tours we specifically asked if they would cook for vegetarians.  They offered to cook special meals for me with: avocadoes, soya meat, beans and vegetables. I ended up with 3 days of omelettes! Luckily the spectacular views more than made up for it, however, when I got home to Jupapina I found that I had caught Salmonella from eating so many eggs transported around in a 4x4 in the sun! Not the best souvenir.

Guinea pig, a local delicacy 
Guinea pig is a speciality in Jupapina, so one weekend we all ventured to the drive of a house in Jupapina which becomes a guinea pig restaurant on weekends. Alice and I were the token vegetarians so we just watched and passed on the opportunity to eat guinea pig. We felt pretty smug when the others started to feel a bit queasy afterwards!

I volunteer at Centro Infantil two or three times a week. Trying to explain that I'm a vegetarian to the Tías (educators) and the children in my class with my limited Spanish is a constant challenge!  I can't explain the environmental reasons for me living a vegetarian lifestyle, so I end up saying that I don't eat meat because I love animals ("Mi amor animales") which gets a few raised eyebrows from the Tías.

When I first arrived at the centre I used to discretely sneak the meat from my plate onto the children's plates. However with lots of smiles and patience the Tías got on board with me being vegetarian. Last week one of the parents brought handmade Empanadas for all the Tías and volunteers. I was given one made especially for me as I am a vegetarian - it had less meat in it!

I'm trying not to explain my reasons for being vegetarian to the children too much as they're all at an impressionable age. I don't want to convert the entire class to vegetarianism as that would not go down well with the Tías or parents!

Yesterday I was given a plate of vegetables and salad with no meat. Success! It's a breakthrough, I feel like my vegetarianism is finally being accepted in Mallasa. It's just a shame it's only a few weeks before we leave. 

I can't explain how excited I am to eat vegetarian curries and bake cakes when I get home! Being a vegetarian in Bolivia has definitely produced some unique challenges, however having to explain it everywhere I go has been a great opportunity to practise my Spanish. Plus I've definitely lost a few pounds, so I'll be tucking into a few extra cakes and treats when I get home!

 Written by: Emma Haslam
Edited by Naomi Martin 

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