Occasionally I am asked how difficult it is to be a vegan on Guam. Answer: it’s very easy.
I have been a vegan for seven (eight?) years, about four on Guam. My life is busy with work and family like anyone else’s. I understand the practicalities and realities of life. But veganism can be exquisitely simple.
At the same time, this isn’t about restriction, asceticism, or discipline. You wouldn’t praise someone for being disciplined if they didn’t eat ants or feces. It’s simply a change in my way of viewing the world. I don’t look at a living animal and want to kill and eat it. I don’t look at raw meat and think of food or eating. I don’t consider myself as having given up carnal pleasures by being vegan.
If you can stir-fry some tofu and vegetables and make some rice, or toss up a salad with a nice tahini-based dressing, you have an easy, quick, relatively inexpensive dinner. If you can drive through Taco Bell and order a bean burrito or two, no cheese, add guacamole, you have a satisfying and fast emergency meal. If you can grab hummus and carrots from the grocery store, or corn chips and salsa, or apples and peanut butter, or a few bananas, you have a good basic snack. If you can make it to a farmer’s market once a week, especially down south, you have a good array of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Various places on Guam — including many of the grocery stores, but also places like Simply Food or Healthy Hearts — carry more specialized items, like vegan ice cream, vegan cheese, vegan hot dogs or lunch meat. Various restaurants cater to vegans with specific menu items, like the mongo bean burger at Ron’s Diner in Mangilao, or the grilled tofu sandwich at Port of Mocha (hold the dressing and cheese). But many Asian restaurants will also normally have vegan dishes (ask to leave out the fish paste and any egg). It’s not difficult for me to eat out.
I’m not much of a cook, and I’m not a particularly fancy or fastidious person regarding meals, but if you invest time you could easily make more complex dishes vegan, such as lasagna. Just add “vegan” to your Google recipe searches. I often hear how expensive some more processed vegan items are. I have to wonder if the complainers have seen the price of milk, meat, and eggs lately! Typical simple vegan meals are not expensive. Pasta and sauce is almost nothing. Most vegetables are very cheap.
I personally don’t like to compose multi-layered rich dishes very often. I definitely believe it is better to eat simply most of the time and focus on whole foods. I don’t always live up to that, but I try.
The primary issues for vegans are getting sufficient fruits and vegetables, sufficient fiber, and sufficient protein and carbohydrates, as well as drinking sufficient fluids, and avoiding junk food, and of course those issues aren’t unique to vegans at all. Protein for vegans primarily comes from beans and nuts but is also found in many vegetables. I focus on fruits and vegetables pretty well most days, so I am also happy with my fiber intake. I’ve actually had much better fiber intake and digestion since becoming a vegan.
I have definitely noticed I’ve become more sensitive to salt or vinegar in the past few years and not wanted to use as much.
My recommendations for those of you interested in vegetarianism or veganism:
(1) Keep it simple and don’t spend a lot. Focus on basic, easy, nutritious meals and whole, clean foods: rice and beans, rice and veggies, tofu and veggies, salad with tahini dressing, etc. Even just a simple PB&J. You may want to eat smaller meals more often, such as five times a day, to guard your blood sugar levels. Especially in the mid-afternoon, apples with peanut butter or a vegan protein drink can be a life-saver.
(2) Befriend tofu and seitan if you haven’t already. They’re very satisfying for vegans. Focus on satisfying your nutritional needs.
(3) Plan ahead and always bring snacks with protein and carbs. I often wish I had a nice snack to tide me over.
(4) Stay focused on the ethical components. You have to believe and commit. Don’t be afraid, and don’t give time to every so-called expert with a website. I just noticed Dr. Garth Davis, a vegan, asking his followers on Facebook if eating oysters was vegan. Really, if you don’t want to be a vegan, just don’t be a vegan. Look up the definition. Even the American Dietetic Association, which is fairly conservative, has an official statement that an exclusively vegan (or simply vegetarian) diet, appropriately planned, can fulfill all nutritional needs for people at any stage of the life cycle. No need for red meat, or dairy milk, for anyone. If you knew how I dislike hearing that someone must eat red meat for health reasons, or drink dairy milk. Those are actually two horrible foods. I understand if people like or have deluded themselves into thinking they like the taste, but don’t pretend they are healthy, especially red meat.
(5) Do your research. Kimberly Snyder, Natalia Rose, and others have good advice and good recipes out there. There is lots of advice on eating out or eating at fast food places while vegan or vegetarian. I have no fancy vegan recipes because I don’t cook very intensely, but there are many people who love that sort of thing and share their ideas online.
(6) Don’t be intimidated by the opinions of anyone else. Take the time to live your own journey into veganism as compassion leads you. You must be aware and conscious and able to make your own decisions. Avoid epistemic closure, the hive mind, spite and hatred. Be open and flexible and loving. Act out of love for others and for all our ecosystem. Don’t act from that place of fear and hurt and hatred and sadness. Be brave and live the better world into existence. Act from a place of true ethical conviction.
Act out of political conviction. What is the food or the way of life involved with your food that makes sense for your political being and standing in the world? What is the cultural and the political consciousness behind your life choices?
Veganism is a political stance. Animal rights (anti-cruelty, anti-vivisection, etc.). The Sexual Politics of Meat. Sistah Vegan. Veganism is a political movement to end oppression. It’s not just about animals, either, but the whole system of capitalist and classist oppression in our current food ways. For example, the ancient Chamorros weren’t eating pork, or beef, or chicken, or Spam. They were hunter-gatherers: seafood (albeit from a much cleaner ocean), probably some fanihi (a small bat), and taro, breadfruit, coconuts, and other plants. And somehow they managed to flourish as a navigational, warrior, storytelling, matrifocal people for thousands of years. With no red meat (unless you count the possible small amounts of fanihi), and definitely no dairy milk. In fact, higher meat consumption and Westernization are linked. And linked with heart disease, obesity, and other diseases, in Pacific peoples. Decolonize Your Diet is also a great book.
But you could read any number of books. The question really is who you are. Are you prepared to stand up for a belief against an entire society? Make no mistake, we live in a carnivorous culture. A culture that is hierarchical, patriarchal, antagonistic, violent. Death, blood sacrifices, are how we view animals. They must die so we can enjoy barbecue. Don’t you see that is also our viewpoint toward less privileged peoples? Their pain does not matter, in a sweatshop or elsewhere.