Friday, June 1, 2012

Ethical Travel Eating

I recently got into a debate with a vegan friend of mine over travel hospitality and dietary restrictions.

His stance was that a host should know about your dietary restrictions ahead of time and plan accordingly to accommodate you and your needs. He also believes it is easy to find foods suitable to eat everywhere and continue to stick to whatever restrictions you normally keep at home.

My stance is that as a guest, you should eat whatever you are offered unless you are allergic/intolerant to it and it would kill you or make you ill. In other words, however you eat at home is a privilege and you should not impose your privilege on your host.

For the record, I'm not talking about visiting your aunt in the States - where you come from a similar culture and socio-economic status. I'm talking about visiting developing/impoverished nations.

Now his stance might be tainted by the fact he has not visited any developing/impoverished nations (as far as I know, I could be wrong, maybe he can correct me?) while I have. I have visited places where foods of all sorts were limited in general, so it was essentially impossible to be picky. I also believe that you can't always call ahead and tell people what you want to eat. For example, I would have missed out on a rich cultural experience in Morocco had I refused to eat the lunch I was spontaneously offered by a family. I think it would have been insulting to them to refuse to eat with them. When people do not have much to offer, and go out of their way to share with you, well I just can't see myself saying, "sorry, I don't eat ______, gotta run!"

Barring that, maybe never visit a country where it's hard to find the foods you want to eat? Sounds ridiculous. It also sounds like a great way to never immerse yourself in a culture!

What do you do when you travel? How do you handle travel with dangerous food allergies or religious/ethical dietary restrictions?

(Note, I'm not interested in debating why people eat or don't eat what they do, just how they deal with it on the road.)


Vacay Girl said...

I was kind of put in a situation in Mexico. A friend invited me to eat at his home with his roommate and himself. He told me that he was making ceviche. Now I have had ceviche once before and didn't like it. He thought maybe I would like his. I helped him prepare it and sat down and ate with him and his roomy. And guess what, I still didn't like it. But I thought the gesture was kind and I didn't want to offend so I sucked down my dislike for ceviche and ate it anyway. I knew no matter if it was made by him or an infamous chef at a 5 star restaurant, I wouldn't like it but again I didn't want to be rude. I didn't wolf tons of it down but I did eat.

Should I have felt bad for knowingly eating something that I didn't like? Or was I wasting their food? I don't know but I do know that I didn't hurt my friend's or his roommate's feelings and that's kind of all that mattered to me.

K Bron J said...

I don't think it was a waste. I think sometimes we just have to eat to live and it doesn't matter if you really love it or not. Food is also communal and emotional, so I agree that your friend's feelings were probably more important.