Vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian… forget the labels, we must all embrace sustainable eating in the future

I love food and during my Year Abroad I have been lucky enough to experience some incredible culinary moments: trout on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Llama steaks in the Yungas cloud forest, ceviche in local Peruvian markets… Just as language and the Arts are cultural portals for discovering a new country and its people; local cuisine brings us together with the intimacy and the humanity of sharing food, with dishes that transcend our lifetimes and transport us to bygone times.

Gemma and me in Las Yungas

I spent five wonderful months with my host family in La Paz, Bolivia. My host father, Madecadel, grew up on a ranch in the tropical Eastern province of Beni and his passion for cooking was a joy to watch (and taste!) My point is that, personally, I wouldn’t for one moment wish to have declined those meals, and nor shall I do so in the future whenever and wherever those opportunities might present themselves.

However, returning to reality and we must immerse ourselves in the bustling streets of La Paz (indeed, take any major city you like across the world). Street food is ubiquitous across the planet and happily sampled by many tourists and locals alike. In my case, I was readily prepared to try Anticucho, Tucumanas, Salteñas… the list goes on! However, the gusto with which I wolfed down my Anticucho (grilled cow’s heart!) was similar to that with which I have previously eaten a kebab — rather embarrassed and (more often than not) rather drunk! In my opinion, these were hardly cultural experiences… As an individual and as a society, fast food must surely be the prime example of unsustainable eating and poor animal welfare standards.

Let me stop myself right there!

For fear of sounding high and mighty, I admit that I continued to eat whatever I fancied through out my time in South America. Indeed, on returning home to Norfolk in February, in my excitement to see as many of my closest friends and family as possible, any ambitions towards sustainable eating were sidelined. Furthermore, on arriving in France under less than ideal circumstances, the months of March and April were occupied with a search for a reasonable accommodation, a job, and most importantly of all, making friends!

Okay, enough of the excuses, what about now? Well, here in France I have been faced with similar conundrums (after all, if any one country prides itself on its gastronomy, it’s France!) On the whole, I have made the same judgement calls as I did in Bolivia. My Uncle lives in the region with his beautiful family, and every meal he cooks is an absolute treat. Not so much street food, the great dilemma in France is, of course, the viennoiseries… utterly irresistible, it would take much stronger person than me to decline a pain au raisin or croissant on the odd occasion!!

Well, hold on, who even is this guy?!

I have greatly reduced my dairy consumption by changing to soya and oat milk; I no longer buy butter or cheese (no small sacrifice here in France!) and I eat vegan/vegetarian for either lunch or supper every day.

You’ve literally changed the minimum possible — flexitarianism’s a joke!

Maybe, but I don’t mind — that’s my point (and his). The important thing is to do your little bit towards sustainable living and sustainable eating. In my opinion, the problem with labels like ‘vegan’ is that it compartmentalises people when, with an issue as immense and imposing as Climate Change, it is vital that we stand together as citizens of the world. Whether it’s recycling or using public transport or adapting our diets, for me these are no longer binary choices but responsibilities to make and maintain according to our individual means. I know that I’ve got one hell of a way to go towards a more sustainable lifestyle, but that’s fine. I’ll do my bit and, without passing judgement or labelling ourselves, all together we can hold our heads high as we embrace a sustainable future.

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