La Vegetariana, Part 1: The Struggle

I am writing this post to introduce the yuppie trend, irrational decision, and by some an alleged mental illness: Vegetarianism (and things only get worse for veganism). As a Veggie in the United States, I was always stunned by the negativity that follows the label of a mere dietary decision. I am sure there are many reasons for this ‘anger’ towards plant-based eating, from morality and ethics to simply being a pain in the a**. But now, I live in the Dominican Republic where vegetarianism is truly a struggle. Will I be able to adapt or will I be the only one suffering on this beautiful island?

My reason for being a vegetarian is ethicality. When I was eating meat, I felt bad for doing so. I couldn’t look at an animal like a cow or chicken without feeling guilty. Vegetarianism to me is basically freedom from the guilt. Most people tell me that’s a dumb reason…and maybe that’s true. Here in Santo Domingo, I assumed that living in a metropolitan area would make things easy. On the contrary, I am way more of an outlier than in the United States. However, as much as I am here to learn about the culture and society and even absorb some of it myself, I am not willing to give up my ethical decision (which is really more personal than activist). That being said, plant-based folk do not fear! I am starting La Vegetariana: A Not-So-Basic Guide for Traveling Vegetarians, which can hopefully translate to a broader Latin-American and Caribbean guide to food culture.

Tip #1: Don’t eat raw vegetables*. Yes, I’m looking at you. Whether you’re a meat eater who loves their greens or a vegan with the diet of a bunny rabbit, the local microbial culture (pun intended, if you get me) doesn’t discriminate. The asterisk is important. *you can eat them if you are at a reputable establishment. Proper disinfection of produce is a MUST…unless being glued to the toilet for the duration of your stay sounds like an attractive option to you.

Thick-peeled produce are OKAY. These include oranges (and similar citrus fruits), avocado, banana, and watermelon. Chain grocery stores also have pre-cut produce that ARE disinfected. I tried it and I only have good reviews.

Tip #2: Locate the cafés. Café food usually is either plant-based or is easily changed to fit your preferences. You’re also not going out of your way to go to a specifically vegetarian place, so you have the opportunity to enjoy the local culture. A classic coffee chain around here is Café Santo Domingo, with reasonable prices and strong espresso.

Tip #3: Find the local food, figure out what is in it, and then make your adjustments. Arepas are a favorite here. OKAY FINE. Maybe Venezuelan food is not entirely local, but it is definitely a move towards the goal of finding vegetarian Latin-American food. Attached is a picture of my pride and joy, my custom-made arepa that cost a total of 200 pesos or 4 American dollars. Please indulge in the crispy cornmeal arepa filled with black beans, fried plantain, and avocado. I will dream about this for weeks to come.

This is just the beginning of this food guide. I do hope to stick to more entertaining, comedic content on this blog but sometimes informative pieces are truly necessary. Maybe someone out there who is afraid to push their geographical boundaries can realize that even in the most meat-reliant places, truly anything is possible!

Stay tuned for more La Vegetariana adventures!

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