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Latin America Shawn Dispatch

Soy Vegetariano

One of the most difficult obstacles I have encountered on the Odyssey World Trek has been trying to maintain a vegetarian diet. The Latin diet is very meat-based, and even the simplest dishes like rice and beans usually have some sort of beef or chicken broth in them. Most of the larger cities and tourist hangouts have had vegetarian restaurants, or at least more access to vegetables, beans and grains, so it certainly has not been impossible.

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Two girls outside one of the two vegetarian restaurants Shawn frequents in Lima
But sometimes, like when Kavitha, Monica and I were taking the slow boat from Panama to Columbia, it has been very hard to find vegetarian food. Both Kavitha and I, who are the strict vegetarians on the team, have had to sacrifice our principles and eat things we wouldn't normally eat in our vegetarian-friendly home of San Francisco.

There are as many reasons for being vegetarian as there are vegetarians. Most of these reasons fall into one of four categories: health, compassion, religion, and environment. Of course some people just don't like meat, which is probably the best reason of all not to eat it.

My reasons are a combination of all these. I think that not eating meat is healthy if you eat a good variety of legumes, grains, and most importantly, vegetables. Meat is high in fat, difficult to digest and industrial meat, especially, is oozing with toxins such as pesticides and hormones. I also believe that the modern methods of farming animals are extremely harsh and cruel. Most livestock are given inadequate space to move, are kept in unsanitary conditions and, of course, are eventually packed into trucks or trains and sent to processing plants where they can wait for days to be butchered. Although I am personally not a part of any religious denomination, some religions prohibit eating meat, and most of them have some restrictions on what kind of meat can be eaten and when. Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Friday, Jews are not supposed to eat any pork, and most denominations of Hindus and Buddhists do not eat any meat at all.

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A menu inside one of the vegetarian restaurants Shawn likes in Lima
I was delighted to discover two vegetarian restaurants within blocks of my hotel in Lima. Lima is the capital and largest city of Peru, and like most large cities, is home to a variety of different cultures and religions. Govinda, which is my favorite of the two restaurants, is run by Hare Krishnas, a sect of Hinduism, which is the predominant religion of India. It was an interesting experience to step off the streets of a bustling Latin American city into this cozy oasis of Indian culture, complete with raga music, intricate tapestries, and beautiful paintings of Hindu deities. My waitress was a sixteen-year-old named Elba, who was more than delighted to tell me all about Hinduism and what it is like to be a Hare Krishna in Latin America.

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An image inside Govida
She said that there are probably less than 2,000 Krishnas in Peru, but that they are a very strong and close family, which has many spiritual gatherings and three temples in the Lima area. She gave me a tour of the restaurant, explaining to me a bit about the pictures on the walls and telling me about different projects that they are working on. Besides making really good vegetarian food, they have a special ashram (Hindu temple) outside of the city, where they go on retreats and have ceremonies. The buildings called "truly" are cone-shaped adobe structures, which are replicas of pre-Inca structures. It is called Ecotruly Ashram, and it has a very ecological focus. The food is cooked in traditional mud ovens or in solar ovens, and they grow organic vegetables all year. They also have composting toilets and windmills that generate electricity.

I asked Elba what it was like to be Hindu in an overwhelmingly Christian country. She told me that she has not had any problems with discrimination. She goes to a regular public school, but most of her friends are Krishna because she does not have very much in common with Catholics. She said that many people see the Krishna movement as a fanatical cult because it is so different than the way of life that they are used to, but that they are not fanatics, just ordinary people who have different beliefs and lifestyles. With nose rings, pink robes, shaved heads and a polytheistic religion, they certainly do stand out in this conservative Latin American country, but they seem quite content to be different. I am delighted that they have made their place in this society, and have this restaurant, where no one bats an eye when I say "soy vegetariano".


Abeja - School's Out! Field Trip to the Ruins
Abeja - Spirits in a Material World
Kavitha - Development or Detriment?: Government "Improvement" Programs in Quispillaccta
Kevin - Treating Myself Like Royalty
Monica - Here Llama, Llama...
Monica - Shape of...a Puma Head! Form Incan City!
Making a Difference - Constant Threat at Big Mountain
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