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UK is a Paradise for Vegans by Gina Madison, Vegan Views 75 (New Year 1997)

Hopefully every vegetarian or vegan in Britain spends a minute or two every day in thankfulness for living in this country. Even though there are undeniably a lot of problems, too, ranging from unemployment to pollution of water and air, the everyday difficulty of finding a suitable meal or acceptable footwear are not on top of those mentioned before.

Not so in other countries. During my travels I have met many vegetarians and vegans who had the greatest difficulty in living their beliefs. In some countries you can't find a job if you refuse to eat the food served there or you have to walk barefoot if you are not prepared to wear the skin of your animal friends.

All too often we forget how easy it is to be vegetarian/vegan in Europe, especially in the U.K. Shopping Guides abound and easily recognised trade marks clearly identify those products that are suitable for the compassionate shopper.

In most of the countries I have seen, being vegan still does mean being deprived. Not only of 'treats' like vegan ice cream or chocolate, but also of social and family acceptance. Only a few countries in the world are fortunate enough to have a network supported by societies and magazines. How lonely and isolated many vegans feel out there, we can only guess. Through travelling, I have been lucky enough to meet a few of those who did not know they were not the only ones. Vegans International does its share to help overcome these problems, too. By letting other vegans know what it is like in other countries, we can surely make a positive contribution to improve the conditions for our like-minded friends all over the world.

Asia, for example, is not as easy as it seems to live in or travel through as a vegan. There is usually a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, yet if you fancy anything else than that, you might be in for a disappointment. When it comes to eating out, you will be hard pressed to find anything else than white rice and vegetables; and even in that case I was never really sure that the waiter understood my request to hold the oyster sauce or any of its fishy shelfmates off the plate. Cosmetics are best to be brought along with you, since the local varieties are usually either not understandable or the American stock from 5 years ago.

Japan - what a nightmare. Not only that there are hardly any vegetarians or vegans to ask (after all, who can read the inscriptions on the packets?), but also the prices of those items that are obviously "safe" (fruits and vegetables) are so high that neither the traveller on a budget nor the minority of caring consumers can afford it.

Indonesia seemed a fairly safe place concerning food, yet the language barriers always left some doubts. To my delight, fruits were ever so cheap here and I hardly felt like I needed anything else with all those tropical, mouthwatering varieties.

India, especially in the South, is a pleasantly easy country to travel through. Due to a high proportion of vegetarians in this part of the country, vegans are well catered for. Language problems are less bothering since English is widely used among Indians themselves to converse with colleagues and friends from other communities. Even some toiletries can be bought without worries, like the famous "Vicco" toothpaste that is now on sale in the U.K.

The other Asian countries are more difficult when it comes to getting your message across; answers to your questions are better not to be trusted since the locals will always tell you whatever you want to hear (in pursuit of your tourist dollar), or, worse - pronounce a smiling and convinced YES to whatever you were asking.

Often the definitions of vegetarianism are different from country to country as well, as I have been told by a Muslim that an egg is not an animal product.

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Cross-reference: Travel