by Elisabeth Lambert
When people find out I am vegan (by diet only), their first response is usually something along the lines of, “Oh, it must be so easy to do that in Japan.” They could not be further from the truth.
In a country where the local language does not even have a word for ‘vegetarian,’ veganism is a concept many Japanese find difficult to comprehend. Simply saying I do not eat animal products in Japanese does not cover it. Fish is often not thought of as an animal product, and when explaining the concept to people, even restaurant staff, I have to be very specific.
An example of this occurred when eating at an Odaiba restaurant. The waitress insisted I choose a dish she suggested. “No beef, no chicken, no fish, no milk, no animal, right?” she asked me in English. “Right,” I replied, happy she understood the term ‘vegan.’ When she appeared ten minutes later with a bowl full of mentaiko (fish egg) pasta, all I could do was thank her and have a chuckle. Luckily, the meal included a buffet with plenty of salad, tofu and vegetable dishes.
Yes, dining out can be tricky, but this small difficulty is far outweighed by the benefits. Advantages include clear and glowing skin, more energy, a better immune system and more efficient digestive system, spending less money on food, less risk of certain health issues such as cancer and heart disease, and, most fantastically, weight loss and weight maintenance without having to slog it out at the gym or running track on a daily basis. My dietary and nutrition knowledge has increased too, which has been good for my culinary skills. People sometimes assume that by being vegan I have condemned myself to a life of lettuce and nuts. So it
is fantastic to surprise dinner guests with filling salads, pizzas, curries, stews, soups, breads, pastas, rich and sweet desserts, cakes and cookies (yes, you do not need eggs or milk to bake these delights!).
Best of all, becoming vegan, or at least vegetarian, is one of the most eco-forward actions a person can take. Reducing the number of animal products consumed in our daily life has a direct link to alleviating some of the biggest challenges our planet is facing, including the strain on our earth’s limited resources, global warming, famine, pollution and the extinction of animal species.
If going vegan or vegetarian seems too complicated, don’t discount it entirely. Aim to have a couple of animal product-free days a week or dine at some of Tokyo’s vegan friendly restaurants for inspiration.