6 Challenges of Being a Vegetarian in Egypt


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Growing up in Egypt, people have become accustomed to a certain level or rigidity in what is socially acceptable and what is not. Even making the decision to abstain from meat, a decision that should not affect anyone but yourself, has become a decision that invites questions. If you’ve taken the plunge and decided to become a vegetarian, get ready for some intense debates.

1. Kiss Being Healthy Goodbye

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If you think vegetarianism means eating salads and tofu, that’s all well and good. But assuming you don’t make a substantial amount of money, or that you don’t have a job or the energy to make food at home, then you’re stuck with street food, which means taameya, mahshi and koshary. While these are all delicious meals, they are not healthy foods, even if you fry your taameya in olive oil.

2. Not Everyone Cares

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It isn’t fair to expect everyone to be interested in your newfound dietary decisions. Therefore, you will be forced to part ways with some places. Whether it’s Chili’s or Abou Shakra, some restaurants will simply not be able to accommodate you. That’s okay though, there are other restaurants that will, so next time your friends are going to El Brince, maybe meet them afterwards and read a book in the meantime or something.

3. Wanted: Justifications

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If you (foolishly) decide to announce to everyone you know that you are now a vegetarian, then expect questions -lots of them. It is difficult being under the spotlight of interrogation and expected to have concrete reasoning behind your decision, which is fine; you probably should know why you’re doing it before you do it. Whether it’s for health reasons or animal rights, you will have to become well read on a number of topics if you want to survive conversations with your aunt who is trying very hard to understand.

4. Please Inform The Hosts

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If you feel very strongly about your vegetarianism, remember that being invited over to someone’s house will probably mean there won’t be alternatives to beef and chicken. It is unfair to expect people to spontaneously accommodate you, plus it’s a cultural thing to want to serve the best food in the house for your guests, so naturally people will skip on the veggies. So next time you’re going to go over for dinner, or even getting on a plane, let whoever is hosting you know that you are a vegetarian. If you don’t know how to broach the subject to a dinner party host, simply ask them if you should bring a vegetarian option.

5. Plants Have Feelings Too

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If this is a way of life you are adopting indefinitely, eventually everyone is going to find out. This introduces a new character to the story: the one guy who read a spurious study on Facebook about how “apparently plants know when they’re being plucked, and they don’t like it.” It is important to realize that this person is merely trying to get a rise out of you. Facts are not important in this debate; they just want you to admit you are wrong. May I suggest responding with: “Oh really? I didn’t know” and then perhaps (for dramatic effect) plucking a flower and laughing maniacally. I guarantee the questions will stop.

6. You Threaten My Way of Life

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Perhaps the biggest problem vegetarians in Egypt face is that they were raised in a society that has valued beef and chicken. Meat is food and everything else is for show, so to tell someone you are a vegetarian is to challenge the way they were raised. People feel threatened when their way of life is challenged, when they are pushed to question their actions. You’ll hear things like “So what do you eat? Lettuce?” because food is not food without meat. Perhaps at this point just smile and say “Yes, I eat lettuce.” It’ll save everyone a lot of time.

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