THE CONCEPT OF tourism has always fascinated me: experiencing highlights in different destinations while bypassing the less savoury or mundane views that all places have. Yet I have a suspicion that while you may see beautiful things and meet lovely people (who are most likely paid to be nice to you), you’re generally missing experiencing the real essence of what makes a country or destination great. And that something can only be gained by staying for a meaningful amount of time in one place.
Over the past few years a close friend has extolled the virtues of being vegetarian (and more recently, a raw vegan), together with the experiences he’s had. Luckily for me he didn’t go on about his experiences or make me sit through hours of recipes and supporting medical literature; rather, he just dropped the occasional comment, not unlike the friend who occasionally changes their Facebook photo to one taken on a white sandy beach in Vanuatu. Subtle, but enough to pique your curiosity.
What’s the above got to do with tourism? Well, my initial foray into the vegan world was brought on by the same circumstances that make destination tourism so desirable: brought on by too many hours at work, too much wine and bad food, and a body that’s no longer 20 years old. An odd skin condition had come and gone for several years, and as most males do, rather than go to a dermatologist I came up with a random and radical plan to self medicate – three months as a vegan, with the additional bonuses of being wheat, gluten, and alcohol free. My wife Erin said I was an idiot, but she also said that she’d support me as she always does, so off I went on a new lifestyle journey.
The easiest and most enjoyable vacations are the ones that are well planned, with contingencies for unforeseen difficulties. So with this in mind, I’d highly recommend doing a little research and planning before radically changing your dietary lifestyle. So that’s what I did? Well… yeah… nah.
Like an 18-year-old on his first OE, I charged off without a care in my new crusade to be a healthier, and hopefully happier person. For the most part I actually found the initial journey fairly easy. Like any tourist in a foreign land at first I struggled to know what to eat, but luckily, being based in a major city, it wasn’t too difficult finding specialty health stores and vegan-friendly cafés. Erin embraced the new diet and actually enjoyed finding new and interesting recipes to try. The alcohol free bit went mostly well, although there were a few glasses of home brew consumed on a trip to visit some friends around the two-month mark.
The effects of my new diet were almost immediately noticeable – my weight dropped by a few kilos in the first two weeks and in total by around eight kilos over the three months. Interestingly, I noticed that it was mostly fat that I’d lost and I still looked fairly athletic despite not going to the gym over that time, and Erin had similar results. I found the more fresh raw food I ate the more of it I wanted; that’s not to say I didn’t still crave the odd greasy fish and chip meal but I certainly didn’t miss feeling the way I’d felt in the past after consuming such junk.
By and large, I didn’t actually have too many issues attending social events and BBQs, although I was on the receiving end of some good-natured ribbing over my radical lifestyle choices. After three months my journey into the vegan world drew to a close and I reintroduced some non-vegan food back into my diet. But just like returning from a week on a beach on some tropical isle, the reality of a non-vegan diet is, well, a little bit sad.
One of the odder things we found while eating a totally vegan diet is that…well…ah…your poo doesn’t smell. That’s right, if you find a vegan who thinks their shit doesn’t stink, well… they’re actually right. But that’s just an added bonus on top of the real benefits that are evident in skin firmness, hair and nail growth, not to mention energy levels and a great by-product called increased libido.
Will we travel back to vegan land anytime soon? At first we were glad to be home in the land of ‘normal’ food and easy (lazy) eating, but fairly quickly, we found ourselves eating mainly raw vegan breakfasts and dinners. The purchase of Ani Phyo’s vegan recipe book Raw Food Kitchen filled a much needed flavour and diversity gap in our diet, not to mention clueing us in to great ‘cheat’ foods that gave us healthy sweets we could have as treats.
These days, utilising the principle founded by Italian Vilfredo Perato in the early 1900s, we eat about 80 percent raw vegan food, and 20 percent non-vegan. No, we’re not vegan, but that doesn’t stop us enjoying the taste and health benefits of a mostly vegan diet. Like travelling tourists, we’ll never get the full benefit of committing to a totally vegan lifestyle, but then we are by and large still enjoying the benefits, and that is something.
So, am I getting enough out of my vegan tourist lifestyle? Will I ever move to vegan land permanently? At this stage I don’t know. I was never a vegetarian for moral reasons, so I don’t have that motivator, although my awareness of animal farming practices has certainly increased, and it’s becoming a consideration for me. There are other foods that don’t fit a raw vegan diet such as organic Haloumi cheese that I’m just not ready to give up, and I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong: the thought of being 100 percent vegan is just to much, and they can’t sustain it.
This is where I advocate (putting the moral question aside) that the 80/20 vegan tourist is a great place to begin: all the benefits and enjoyment of a visitor with a few of the comforts of home. So take a vacation in vegan land, you might just enjoy it so much you decide to stay! Who knows, maybe I will, one day… BRUCE SHERMAN