How to Communicate Vegetariarism in China…
…and in your host family
Being vegetarian in China is not that easy sometimes, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. As I already wrote in an earlier blog, you always have the possibility to go to a vegetarian restaurant, like Crystal Lotus in Qingdao.
While students, who are living in apartments can cook for themselves and normally don’t have too much explaining to do for their roommates (being a veggie in western countries is not that exciting and unusual anymore I hope), students who are living in a host family might encounter some problems. Not eating meat AND seafood/fish is not common in China. Families with a Buddhist background might understand you better, but they are comparably scarce. But still, there is no need to be afraid if you bring a little patience and stick to some advice I am about to give. 😉 So here it is, a mini-guideline about things you should pay a little attention to when you come to China and want people to accept you (r vegetariarism):
1) Don’t expect your family to understand about animal rights or anything like that. It is a concept which is more or less not existent in China and Chinese will have their difficulties to understand you. Easiest way might be to say that you just like animals very much and that’s why you don’t want to eat them.
2) Also don’t try to explain your views with harsh comparisons. It might be ok in Europe if you asked a hard-core omni if he would want to eat his own dog, but you won’t be making friends with your host family with comparisons like this. It only gives people the feeling to be ‘bad’/have lower morals than you and you wouldn’t want that.
3) Many host families know that there are vegetarians in western countries. And your host family will know from your homestay application form. They will try to understand and even cook special meals for you. Just don’t be disappointed if there is at least the same amount of meat dished as there are veggies on the table. They might want to offer you meat dishes now and then. Again, don’t be disappointed they just mean well and are worried about your nutrition. 😉
4) Your host family might be afraid to not know what to cook for you. While breakfast it normally not really a problem, dinner might be. Assure them that you eat eggs (if you do) and are fine with carbohydrates (meaning rice and noodles) and vegetables. Tell them what vegetables you like (e.g. broccoli, mushrooms or aubergine…) and demonstrate how full you are after dinner (rub your belly ;-)). They will be happy that you are happy and also will be a little closer to understand that not eating meat doesn’t mean to go hungry all the time.
5) You might be asked quite often what you actually eat at home, so best have a few examples ready of what you normally cook or even show them pictures. (Hello intercultural exchange: Yes, we do really eat that…no, it really tastes great ;-))
6) It will help a lot if you can lower your principles a little and eat dishes where meat and vegetables are mixed. You can pick the meat out and just eat the green stuff. It will in general make your life a lot easier.
7) Tofu!!! It’s like one of the best inventions ever – and it’s Chinese. Some people might have forgotten, but Chinese cuisine can offer the biggest variety of vegetarian dishes in the world!