I made my first full-on commitment to vegetarianism while living in Singapore, mostly as a roundabout show of support against the killing of sharks for their fins. In case you didn’t know, shark fin soup is a big deal in Chinese culture and with a large Chinese population living in Singapore, there still exists a significant problem with the consumption of this popular dish.
On a random weeknight I happened upon a documentary on shark fin soup, and after watching rows and rows of drying shark fins pan out across my TV screen, after seeing sharks having their fins chopped off then being tossed back into the ocean to suffer a slow and terrible death, I somehow came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be part of causing any animal to suffer. That same night, I vowed to not partake of meat and I have been a vegetarian ever since.
It’s a choice I’m very happy to have made as it’s helped me to feel I am taking a stand for something (and has had a positive effect on my health as well), and I’ve never regretted it. However, if I’m being fully honest, being a vegetarian in Singapore is hard work:
- No sauté for me.
One of the street foods Singapore is famous for is their delicious sauté which is basically chunks of meat impaled on a stick and roasted to juicy perfection. These are the main fare of nearly any hawker center and something I used to enjoy by the mouthful. Now I just poke at my noodles and hungrily watch my friends devour stick after stick like the meat-loving barbarians they are.
- Where are my eggs?
In an attempt to avoid wasting away completely with too little protein in my diet, I’ve kept eggs as a part of my daily fare. On one condition though: they must be free range. Yes, I know studies show that happy chickens don’t really lay tastier eggs, but knowing they come from happy chickens makes me happier. The problem? Finding them. My local Fairprice and Giant don’t carry them so I hunt them down at one of those super exclusive (and expensive) expat grocery stores. I try not to feel guilty about paying five bucks for half a dozen.
- To eat or not to eat.
Eating out has definitely become more of an…adventure. If you live in Asia you’ll know that most food is cooked using something that comes from an animal, whether it be the fat the noodles are fried in, the chicken broth the dumplings are boiled in, or the bacon glaze drizzled across the occasional salad. Meat is everywhere! The good side to this is that I can no longer spend twenty minutes trying to decide what I want to eat from a five page menu because nearly every vegetarian menu is comprised of three or four dishes at most.
- A little too much of the good stuff.
Of course, not every single vegetarian meal is low on fat. Indian food is a big deal in Singapore and tends to be the cuisine I radiate towards the most as it features a lot of delicious vegetarian options. But just because it’s vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s healthy. All those oily, spicy, doughy dishes are delicious, but too many of them and you’ll be preparing yourself for a heart attack. I’ve got to remind myself to only give in to my Indian food craving once a week (which is really, really tough)!
- All by myself.
Probably the toughest part about being a vegetarian in Singapore is that it can at times be very lonely. 90% of the people I know partake of meat and, although I respect their choice to eat or not eat meat, it can be incredibly frustrating at time. Not so much because they can eat meat and I can’t, but because it is hard for me to comprehend people not taking into account the harm they are doing to the environment and other living creatures by supporting the meat industry. At times like these I just have to remind myself to breath and carry on being Zen. Who knows, maybe one day my vegetarianism will rub off on some of my friends!
Fellow vegetarians unite! What are some of the challenges you face as a vegetarian, wherever you happen to live? Feel free to share!