“I’m A Vegetarian Surrounded By Meat Eaters.”

As a vegetarian, I learned to adapt and eat healthily in a country where fried meat is a staple.

vegetarian and meat eaters, Lost and Found in the Land of Mañana, Wildhearted Living in an Imperfect World Chrissy Gruningerillustration credit: shutterstock

When I first arrived in Tamarindo Costa Rica,, I became a vegetarian again, (after being 99% vegan in California), because it was just too difficult to find certain foods. As I settled into my new life I wanted to return to a fully compassionate and more mindful eating practice so my first step was to find ways to be vegan that did not break the bank. Yes, there were more vegan options at Automercado, but the expense was what was killing my budget. Not something I could do on a regular basis!

And I so love making healthy versions of baked goods. Mini mango muffins are one of my favorites. I used to post pictures on Facebook with text that said something like: “Mango muffins at Casa Chrissy today! Stop by and pick up a few!” However, I stopped doing that when I found out that people thought I was selling weed-filled muffins.

Seriously. I really want to make this clear… food can be magic without it containing weed.

I love feeding people. I find it nourishes my spirit to prepare compassionate meals for others, but here in Costa Rica, there are three problems I came up against trying to share food with people here:

  1. People will flake on you;
  2. They are wary of vegan food; and
  3. They think you’re putting weed into it (and are disappointed when you’re not).

Moving from Tamarindo to the larger town of Quepos, I’ve found that it’s much easier to be mostly vegan and I’m now again what I would call a vegetarian with vegan tendencies. Out of respect for vegans, I don’t want to say I’m full-on vegan as there are times when I have very few choices and will eat something with eggs or cheese. But it’s rare.

What’s probably more difficult than the limited food choices, however, is the stigma that vegetarianism has here. First, most of the ticos just don’t get it (except for vegetarian ones!). They think that you’ll still eat anything but cows. So fish, pigs, chickens, etc…all okay. Countless times I’ve ordered a casado (their typical lunch), specifically requested vegetarian, and received chicken on the plate.

Second, it’s still not widely accepted by the gringos here either. You’d think they’d have a more open mind, having had the fortitude to do something different and move to a foreign country. But no – many of them are as close-minded as the Ticos about people who are vegetarian and brazenly make jokes at my expense.

I’m often told: “We didn’t invite you because we didn’t think there’d be any food options for you.” And they’re probably right. But there’s always something – even if it’s just rice and beans.

There was one time that my tico team member and I were traveling and staying at a hotel where they had a vegetarian tofu dish. It was encrusted in macadamia nuts. I offered some of it to him to try.

Because tofu is pretty much an unknown food item here, he was open to the idea and liked it – so much so that he finished it off for me. He had no idea of the stigma associated with tofu and wouldn’t you know it, it’s something he said he’d have again. Had I offered it to a gringo who was well aware of the stigma, their reaction would probably have been different and they probably wouldn’t have even tried it.

It’s sad how much people miss out on because of silly preconceptions.

Another time I made kale chips for a tico friend who was visiting. He looked at them strangely at first (dark, green and a vegetable – how could these possibly taste good?), but then realized once he tried them that they were actually very good. Since then, I’ve made them for others – both gringos and ticos – and while I received the same disgusted look, all were surprisingly happy when they tentatively bit into the chip.

Little by little. Poco a poco…we will move away from the pork rinds and to healthier and more compassionate foods.

I was eating lunch with a friend one day when she started to question my desire to be vegan, especially in a country like Costa Rica which is not exactly vegan friendly. She said, “You’re only one person – what difference does it make?”

The truth is. it makes a big difference to me. It makes a difference to how I feel about myself and my place in the world. It makes a difference when I share my compassionate meals with others, and they enjoy them, feel fulfilled, and talk to others about how delicious my vegan food was. They may not become vegan or vegetarian but by sharing my beliefs with others in a mindful way, it allows their minds to become more open. It creates a positive ripple effect. It allows stereotypes of bad or not nourishing vegan food to be diminished.

It provides an opportunity to teach others that there is more than one way to live one’s life.

And that makes all the difference…

“Lost and Found in the Land of Mañana, Wildhearted Living in an Imperfect World” is the tenth book from author and multi-passionate entrepreneur Chrissy Gruninger, who empowers individuals to create more harmony in their lives and supports professionals in creating more harmony in the world.

Chrissy is a yoga teacher, happiness mentor and received her Graduate Degree in Integrative Health and Sustainability from Sonoma State University in 2008. She is a multi-passionate entrepreneur and creator of the Sanguine Stories Podcast. You can find out more about her work and download a free chapter of the book at ChrissyGruninger.com. Chrissy currently lives in Costa Rica.  Lost and Found in the Land of Manana is available now in both ebook and print on Amazon.ca.