Bangkok

Veganism: A Comparison Between Thailand and America

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Bryanna Ulrick is a student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an ISA Photo Blogger. She is currently studying with ISA in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Rainy dinner, Chinatown, Bangkok.

Thailand: the land of smiles and flavors. In any given meal, a Thai tongue seeks to taste salty, savory, sweet, and sour all at the same time. Markets offer fresh fruit and vegetables (what a novelty compared to the GMO-ridden produce of the United States), as well as seafood that has been caught a couple hours earlier. American food is bland, dull and uninteresting in comparison (not that I eat “normal” pizza or cheeseburgers anyway). 

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A morning market at Som Lom.

However, Thai people also eat lots of meat- practically at every meal! Usually it is made up of chicken, cow, and mystery meat ;). But being in the city of Bangkok, I have yet to see any of these animals. Which begs the question: where do they come from?

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Pig Heads, Ban Tai Market.

Similarly as in America, Thai meat is produced in the countryside in large slaughterhouses that mistreat animals and cause environmental degradation and pollution. According to The Guardian, in June, Thai police found a tiger slaughterhouse used to raise tigers for their skins on the black market. The act of raising animals unjustly for human consumption is equal in both countries, although Thai people eat more seafood, leading to less of a demand for meat than in the US. 

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Chili crabs at the floating market in Amphawa.

According to Forbes, America is the second largest meat consumer in the world after Australia. Reducing our meat intake is the most environmentally conscious action we can take to reduce our carbon footprint. That, combined with how energized I feel when eating vegan, and how great I feel about not mistreating animals is why I have been vegan for a year and a half. Interestingly, under Buddhism one must not harm any living creature, yet Buddhists eat meat (so they must harm these animals which they eat). 

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Black Chickens, Ban Tai.

In regards to the ease of being a vegan, I would say that it is about equal in Thailand and the United States. It has been more difficult for me in Thailand because I cannot fluently speak Thai, and it is therefore difficult to communicate my dietary needs because all I can say is “jay”, or “vegan”, but often Thai people are not familiar with that word. It is not popular for people to not eat meat or animal products here; there is fish sauce in most stir fry and curry, and almost always milk in coffee. “Thai sweet” describes how drinks such as coffee and tea are served here; sugar and condensed milk with a little bit of liquid.

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Jay pad thai with tofu, one of my favorite dishes near our dorm, Green Park.

However, I have found a few places where I can eat “jay” and the workers remember me and make delicious vegan options! Above is from pasta lady, what we call a woman near our dorm Green Park who makes delicious noodles. Pad Thai with fresh peanuts and lime juice is hard to beat. Another favorite dish is papaya salad, a delicious raw salad which takes about five minutes to make by mashing up peanuts, green papaya, chili, lime, sugar, and a little MSG (usually also shrimp and fish sauce). 

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Chili curried red snapper and spicy green beans, Chinatown.

In America, being a vegan is much easier in some instances. Living in Los Angeles, I was constantly surrounded by healthy, vegan food options (ironically, most of what I ate was vegan Thai food). Even back home in Maryland during the summer, we grow corn and zucchini in our own garden. However, if one is living in a food desert in a city like Baltimore, then they will not be able to have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Ladies sell their fresh seafood at a local floating market, Amphawa.

But regardless, in most American cities one can purchase produce from a local supermarket or Walmart. I am greatly missing kombucha from back in the states, but have been enjoying the delicious desserts that make use of lots of sweet rice and coconut milk. Thailand offers many vegan desserts, while in America it is difficult to find enjoyable ones unless made at home or living in an urban place.

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Mango sticky rice and coconut pudding, both delicious vegan desserts, Chinatown.

The world awaits…discover it.

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