On my last day in Lima, I had the pleasure of walking through one of the largest markets in the city – located in the heart of Barrio Chino. The scent was overwhelming, overpowering. The sight was worse. Our entrance was unplanned. I had ordered a drink about an hour earlier and was looking for a place to toss the trash. Cesar, our guide, briskly walked my friend Vincent and I into the darkened area where we were confronted with the unpleasant sensory overload of fresh meat.
Two months ago, my reaction might have been different. Growing up in a family of meat-eaters, I’ve rarely questioned my consumption. Three years ago, when I started to work at a kickboxing gym, I learned to regulate my diet in other ways – cutting out grains, sugar, alcohol. The “Paleo” or “Primal Blueprint” diet was effective for my first weight loss, and I became a proud advocae. The “caveman” diet consists of mainly vegetables, fruits, and protein, though the emphasis on protein intake has created a sort of rift in the fitness community between vegan/vegetarian advocates and primal/paleo fans.
As I got to know our study abroad crew, I was surprised at the number of vegetarians. I was even more surprised as I saw the lengths that my colleagues would go to to find a good, veggie meal in a city where veggie options are rare. Vincent was one of these friends. The few spots that do offer vegetarian options are often strictly vegetarian restaurants, a type of dining establishment I’ve never been to back in the states. To support my foodie+veggie friend, Vincent and I would often grab lunch or dinner at a local vegetarian spot. Over the course of my 6 weeks in Lima, I slowly began to cut meat out of certain meals – a huge first for me.
In one of our first outings in Miraflores, many students visited the Surquillo Market – where vendors sell vegetables, fruits, and meat all day. Some of the vegetarian visitors reported back that the experience had been discomforting, almost painful, as they were not accustomed to seeing the slaughter or bodies of animals displayed as blatantly as they were in the market. I’ll admit, my initial reaction to their comments was skeptical. I’ve visited a great diversity of markets in different parts of the world, and when I went shopping at the Surquillo Market myself, I found it was as I had expected. Nothing too surprising.
Flash-forward to my last day in Peru, as I walk through the meat section with Vincent, I am overwhelmed by the death around me. I am acutely aware of the cuts of meat, of the types of animals on display. I am acutely aware of how Vincent is faring, and by how he’s holding his breath – I’m guessing not so great.
I’m not saying that my experience in Peru converted me to a veggie lifestyle. However, through my repeated exposure to so many animal-rights and vegetarian colleagues, my consciousness around the issue has certainly been heightened. Vincent’s challenged me to No-Meat-Mondays. I’ll start with Mondays, who knows what will be next?