The Grey Areas Between Veganism and Trekking
You can either be vegan or be a trekker. At least that’s what the absolutists want you to believe.
Just a few days ago, while I was leisurely scrolling through the discover section of my phone’s browser, I came across an article titled, ‘9 Bugs to Eat in a Survival Situation (And 4 You Want to Avoid)’. I instinctively copied the link and posted the article to the Whatsapp group of my local trekking club, hoping it would be of some use to the members should they ever find themselves lost in the middle of the jungle with no food or help.
Barely had it been 5 minutes since I shared the article, when the replies started rolling in, especially the ones which I’d been eagerly anticipating:
“But won’t you be giving up on your veganism in such a situation?” read one.
“Being a hardcore vegan, you were the last person I expected to share such stuff”, read another.
The rest of the replies more or less followed the same theme, with many others poking fun at me. With most of the ribbing remarks coming from close friends who are used to pulling each other's legs, I just let it slide and didn’t bother about responding to any of them. But it didn’t mean the topic left my mind altogether.
As I rode back home from swim practice that day, I started having the realization that trekking and wilderness survival are subjects where vegans are constantly put on the spot for and don’t know how to respond well. Well, now I’m glad that I do.
So lets get to the (mock) meat of the issue:
All diets — not just veganism — are diverse, nuanced, and situation dependent
If there’s one thing meat eaters are great at, it’s constantly badgering vegans about what they would do in a survival situation. Don’t take my word for it. Ask any vegan around and they’ll tell you.
The “what would you do if you were stranded on a desert Island?” is the most popular and one that almost all vegans had to answer at some point in their lives regardless of their adventurous inclinations.
“While most plant-based eaters find themselves faced with the hypothetical desert island dilemma, it may come as a relief to find out this scenario is unlikely to happen. The question itself is moot: why base your entire code of everyday ethics on a life or death situation? Many people have done things, and will do things they otherwise wouldn’t when their life is in the balance.”
I’ve already spoken at length about absolutism and its problems in this article which I published a while back. In the article, I spoke about how absolutism was a flawed way of looking at things while following veganism, especially when one is a away from home. The cognitive dissonance of meat eaters is revealed during such situations, where they are more than happy to make note of vegans being inconsistent with their beliefs, while they themselves make routine departures from their own belief systems.
“The cognitive dissonance of meat eaters is revealed during such situations, where they are more than happy to make note of vegans being inconsistent with their beliefs, while they themselves make routine departures from their own belief systems.”
I’ve seen friends who would never as much as look in the direction of a continental restaurant back home, taste and relish Western Cuisine during international travel.
I’ve seen people eat animals they wouldn’t dare to try back home, such as crabs, lobsters, and smaller sea creatures.
I’ve seen my Indian friends compromise and make do with English breakfasts and Pizza, stuff that wouldn’t even classify as a meal back home, on their tours and travels because they couldn’t find any Indian food on a particular day.
Everyone makes adjustments and compromises while travelling, let alone while hiking out in the wild. But somehow, its always vegans that are constantly questioned as to what they would do should they find themselves bereft of vegan options, whether while travelling or hiking. Never mind that non-vegans themselves stray from their own food habits while travelling and are always managing with whatever’s available locally.
A bit about trekking and survival
Whilst out in the wild, all bets are off, whether it’s your diet, your belief systems, or your personal inclinations. Other than your personal effects and your education, you don’t take anything else into the forest while hiking with a group of like-minded explorers.
There are compromises you make which act as a trade-off between your personal preferences and the chance to view some of the most stunning artefacts of the natural world. You don’t continue to follow your skincare regimen out in the wild. You don’t carry a makeup set and grooming kit. You know you’re there for wilderness exploration and survival and that is the only that matters to you right now. You don’t carry a shaving kit to shave your beard or trim your moustache, let alone an entire grooming kit, which would take up precious space in your bag. Women have more pressing concerns to deal with on a trek, like their menstrual issues, rather than braiding their hair or putting lipstick on.
Unless you’re undertaking month long expeditions inside a single mountain range, you do none of these fancy civilization things. You’re very well aware that all of them come under the ambit of “civilization” and that’s exactly where they need to be left behind.
You know that when you divert your mind to such silly inconsequential civilization-based dispositions, you take away precious mental resources intrinsic to survival and exigencies in the wild. There’s a reason many of us get confused for homeless people, and there’s so many memes of those floating around on the web, isn’t there!
Amongst all the homeless hiker memes, this one from Boots Mc Farland is the most popular:
I’d rather devote precious mental resources to not missing out on crucial pieces of survival equipment rather than focussing on deodorants and razors so as to not appear homeless when I finally make it back to civilization. The same goes with food. Putting vegans on the spot while hiking inside a forest isn’t going to solve anything.
Here’s your answer
Yes, I will eat bugs if the expedition turns into a survival situation.
Isn’t this what you’ve been dying to hear all the while? Are you happy now?
I’ll even join you in hunting down a couple of rabbits if it comes to that. I’ll do whatever I need to do to survive just like any other ordinary human being. While asking us these survival based questions, people tend to forget that meat eaters have preferences too. While hunting down rabbits or smaller marsupials in a survival situation, a meat eater is departing from his/her traditional food habits as much as a vegan is. Its going to be as gross to the meat eater — who otherwise subsists on a diet of chicken, fish, and lamb— to eat something out of the ordinary such as hare or jungle fowl. But somehow, its always vegans who are prodded on what they would do should they be faced with the predicament to dig into a morsel of wild animal flesh in a survival situation.
“While hunting down rabbits or smaller marsupials in a survival situation, a meat eater is departing from his/her traditional food habits as much as a vegan is. Its going to be as gross to the meat eater — who otherwise subsists on a diet of chicken, fish, and lamb — to eat something out of the ordinary such as hare or jungle fowl.”
Ironically, no one cares to ask meat eaters what they’d do if they were stranded on a desert island with no food to eat. Its only when carnists apply their own logic to themselves, do they realize the stupidity of their statements. Only when looked at from a practical point of view, do we see the reality of these statements, which are nothing but a farce.
Let’s flip the script and see what carnists would do if they were stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat.
Veganism isn’t a blanket Gospel for life. It is nuanced and situation dependent as much as carnism is. It is a product of civilization just like traditional meat eating. Even if a meat eater did eat chicken in a survival situation, they are going to be eating it in its worst possible form, without any salt, spices, or seasoning. Yet no one asks carnists about what they would do if they were forced to eat meat straight off the bone, bland and tasteless, in a survival situation.
The other grey areas with veganism and hiking:
- Insects are always getting into your eyes and getting squished by your hands during night treks, where they are attracted to the headlamp on your forehead.
- Insects keep falling into your dinner for the very same reason as above; using your headlight to see what you’re eating in the darkness of the forest.
- You’re unintentionally squishing a lot of insects as you hike upon the forest floor.
- You keep running into spiderwebs and other kinds of insect dwellings, pushing them out of the way to clear your path of sight just out of pure reflex.
- You place your hands on an ant infested branch as you hike and only come to know of it when they start biting. In a frantic rush to get them off, you wriggle them off where they fall on the forest floor only to be squished by trekkers following you from behind. Same thing if you upset a honeybee or wasp hive.
- You are quick to kill insects that bite you when you’re resting, lest they bite again.
I can keep going with this list. The point? If you’re an absolutist vegan, trekking can never be vegan for you. Heck, even city living cannot be vegan as you unintentionally squish bugs while walking the city streets everyday.
You’ll constantly run into ethical dilemmas regarding each and every single aspect of absolutist veganism, that you’ll ultimately give it up altogether out of sheer frustration.
Instead, you could just save your sanity and make vegan living a breeze, even if you’re a trekker, by not subscribing to the all-or-nothing version of veganism.
Note: I use both the terms ‘Hiking’ and ‘Trekking’ liberally to be inclusive towards the cultural differences in the usage of both terms. I know that both terms are functionally different. But to be exact, I am referring to multi-day treks with camping involved.