Food is a central aspect of culture. 

It brings people together and is often a part of travel that students look forward to. Different regions have their own authentic dishes to represent who they are, which presents endless possibilities for students to partake in local cuisine when studying abroad.

However, some students who travel abroad from the University of Richmond have found it difficult to fully embrace the culture of their respective countries because they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Students are encouraged to explore new places and eat dishes that are unique to each country, but these options are often limited for vegetarians and vegans.

Elle Kermes, WC ‘18, was a vegan for three and a half years before traveling abroad to Prague, Czech Republic.

“Health reasons were one of the key driving factors for my initial interest in veganism, but then environmentalism was the reason I stuck it with it for so long,” she said.

Yet Kermes was afraid that she would miss out while abroad, so she chose to abandon her dietary restrictions.

“I knew that a lot of cultures centered around their food, and I wanted to fully participate and fully get the experience of being abroad.”

The transition away from veganism was tough on her stomach, though, and she often got sick from consuming dairy due to a lactose allergy.

“I threw up in every country I went to, but not because of alcohol,” she said.

Elle has not fully returned to veganism since coming back to the U.S., but she still limits her meat intake.

Chiara Solitario, WC ‘18, studied abroad through a program that included six-week stays in various countries around the world, rather than one university in a specific foreign country. Her program involved home stays, and she decided to that she did not want to put a burden on her host families to accommodate her special diet during her time with them.

After seven years of being a vegetarian, Solitario slowly incorporated different types of meat into her diet to prepare for her travels abroad.

“I sometimes felt gross after eating something really fatty," she said. "In South Africa, my family really enjoyed eating lamb. We were eating lamb every other night and they enjoyed it. I knew it was who they were, but my stomach could not handle it."

Although some students struggle with the challenges of maintaining their eating habits abroad, vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming increasingly common around the globe. According to WorldAtlas.com, in India, 38 percent of the population is vegetarian. In England, the figure is 9 percent, and in the U.S., 3.2 percent identify as vegetarian.

Despite the challenges presented by studying abroad, not all students abandoned their vegetarian or vegan diets. Adriana Barranco, WC ‘18, chose to become a vegetarian a few months before spending a summer in Cape Town, South Africa.

“At first I was interested because I really liked animals, but there are a lot more implications than that,” Barranco said.

Barranco started to realize that vegetarianism was not just about animals, but about health as well. Upon her arrival in Cape Town, she found it easier to be a vegetarian there than in the U.S., and she was impressed by the variety of options available to her.

Nidhi Sharma, WC ‘18, has been a vegetarian her entire life. While studying abroad in London, she remained one. She found it difficult at first because many of the places she went lacked vegetarian options. It was a challenge for her to find fruits and vegetables because they were scarce in stores. 

For Sharma, the solution to staying a vegetarian was eating a lot of pasta, as she did not care for the traditional cuisine in London.

“English food as a whole is really gross," Sharma said. "It tastes like everyone made it with their left hands and not their right hands.”

Contact contributor Sarah Raymond at sarah.raymond@richmond.edu.

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