Welcome to episode #15 of Living Meatless Tales featuring Featuring Stefan van de Wetering, owner and founder of Samsara Vegan Travels. Be inspired as you are taken on an adventure of transformation and understanding as our guest shares his experience of making the switch to a vegan lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same.
Stefan has made it his mission to educate as many people as possible about living a compassionate life by doing the least amount of harm as possible. He has committed his life to being a voice for the animals by sharing his love of food and travel and serving the community in a variety of ways. This is a selfless effort and one that deserves great admiration.
Be inspired as we learn more about Stefan’s going vegan story:
“ In my pre-vegan life I was not very much concerned with the fate of other living beings, whether it were humans or animals. Not that I was cruel or anything, but thinking about the fate of others, especially those not close to me, was not a daily consideration. I wasn’t concerned with the fate of the world, my environmental impact or saving energy. Basically my motto was ‘Na mij de zondvloed’ (in Dutch), in English this translates to ‘After me the flood’, which means that I did not really care what happened to the world after I was gone.
I don’t have, and will not have, any children, so my genes end with me, and that’s fine. Now that I’m writing this I realize that it does sound kind if cruel, but I considered myself more impassive or uncaring than cruel.
I guess that all (gradually) changed when I started to discover meditation and, through that, the Buddhist philosophy. The backbone of Buddhism is compassion and loving-kindness, so being kind to all living beings. Not just the ones close to you, but all sentient beings, as we are all connected.
I have learned from Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh the principle of inter-being, which means that all beings are connected and influence each other in one way or another.
What I do also influences other beings on this plane…
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I had to change my way of living. I’ve been very lucky growing up in a Western society, which has given me all the opportunities that I ever wanted. However, I began to realize that there are many people on this planet who are not that lucky and could (potentially) use my support.
About six years ago I began to gradually change the way I looked at things.
I did not become vegan overnight, but my first step towards becoming vegan was to stop eating ‘factory’ meat. My idea was that I no longer wanted to be responsible for the the misery of animals and contribute to putting them in tiny cages for the duration of their short lives, to ultimately end up on my plate just because I had a craving for their flesh.
I decided that if I was going to eat flesh, it would be the meat an animal that had enjoyed a life of freedom. So, from then on I chose to only consume wild game meat.
In practice, that meant that I only ate meat once or twice after that because, first of all real game meat is extremely expensive and, after looking into the game meat industry I found out that that is also a big scam, as is nearly everything in the food industry.
Around this time there were also various meat scandals in the news, from animals being ingested with illegal growth hormones and antibiotics, meat that was not really the meat they claimed it was and unsold meat that was refrozen, cleaned and sold again in the supermarkets.
I was disgusted so I decided to give up meat completely.
What was left for me to eat was fish. They aren’t put in tiny cages and stuffed with hormones, right? I held up that image for a while until I realized that this belief was also false.
Maybe my ignorance was fuelled by the fact that I really loved eating fish. I mean, what else could I eat on my sandwiches, I had already given up on meat. But after I learned that fish are brutalized before they are slaughtered (basically suffocated) I also stopped eating fish.
My transition to becoming fully vegan took a bit longer still. I was eventually introduced to a fully vegan lifestyle by my wife, who is a health coach and nutritionist.
For her, this was a new found profession where she really started learning more about nutrition and investigating the things that were going on in the food industry.
My wife would then pass this information on to me and educate me about the realities of what was going on. However, I now realize that took offence to this information and had trouble believing the things she told me. It seemed unbelievably cruel to be true. Such as,I couldn’t wrap my head around what was taking place in the milk industry. Baby calves being torn away from their mother’s minutes after being born? We live in a country where cow’s milk is one of the most consumed foods in the world, if this industry practice were true, why didn’t I know about it?
As it turns out, I now know, there are bigger forces at play that keep the general public ignorant, and I guess I myself was quite happy with that.
After seeing these images and knowing what she knew, my wife’s transition to veganism was quite sudden. I was quite happy to go along, but not always without a fight. I was doing it mainly for her and did not always understand the harm in using products that had ‘one drop of milk’, a ‘speck of pigs hair’ or, potentially, a ‘sniff of fish flavour’ in them. I mean, they were just using the remains of already dead animals, weren’t they? How little did I know…
My real transition to being vegan I made at the worst possible time, while traveling through Asia.
A few years ago my wife and I had decided we wanted to travel around the world, and we started off in Asia. For my wife, there was no doubt that she was going vegan all the way, no matter how hard the struggle. And a struggle it was, not just because it was already hard to find actual vegan food in some places, but to complicate things even more, we are both kind of a germaphobes.
So finding a restaurant that had vegan food was not good enough. First of all, it had to be a restaurant that would not serve meat at all, we were horrified thinking about cross-contamination in the kitchen. We were afraid of getting salmonella on the food, because the cook used the same chopping board and knife for both cutting raw chicken and then the vegetables.
But it also had to be a decent looking restaurant, with clean tables and facilities. So quite often, after hours of fruitless searching in the scorching heat, being very hungry and cranky, we would end up in a local supermarket to eat something NOW!
But the fun didn’t end there of course.
Try figuring out what’s in a package of food if you don’t understand the language. My wife tried so save me more than once from eating something that was not vegan, but sometimes I could not take it any more and just had to eat something because I was literally falling over. I didn’t want to know what was in the ‘flavouring’, I just wanted food in my stomach.
More often than we wanted (which is almost never) we ended up at one of the well-known burger joints, just ordering fries. And then buying fruit to enjoy as a side dish. For my wife, the health coach and nutritionist, eating like this was a horrifying experience, because she knew exactly the kind of foods we should’ve been eating but we weren’t able to find it.
As we continued our travels we realized that in some countries, finding good food vegan food to eat was easier than in others. We soon developed a strategy and became more versed at what kind of foods were available and where to find them. For example, for breakfast we would stock up on oats, muesli and soy milk so at least we would have one meal covered.
But I do remember that I complained a lot, being vegan did take the fun out of a lot of things for me. However, wife continued to remind me that being vegan is a choice and nobody is putting a gun to my head, I could stop anytime I wanted. But I was not willing to do that. Maybe at that point my biggest motivator was my wife and how much she believed in the vegan lifestyle and wanted it her life.
Over time I began to realize that my ‘reward’ for being vegan was that I was saving many animals from being tortured and slaughtered because of my actions. And of course, as I was learning from my wife, there are many health benefits of not eating meat, such as no longer ingesting and all nasties that are in it such as antibiotics and growth hormones. Clearly that is an added bonus, who in his right mind would say no to those benefits, just because he ‘wants’ to eat meat. Or because it’s ‘tradition’ to do so.
We survived all the traveling and are more vegan than ever. Now being back in my ‘own’ world, in the Western part of Europe, being vegan is not hard at all. Supermarkets are very well stocked with vegetables, all packages of processed food, which I try to eat as little as possible, have all ingredients, such as milk, clearly marked.
What remains challenging, is identifying the non-vegan ingredients that food industry does not want us to find, hidden in food such as ‘flavouring’. Luckily my wife knows all about them and can spot them from a mile away.
More and more substitutes are coming on the market for those who have difficulty giving up meat and cheese. But I’m not one of those people, I don’t feel like I need to substitute anything, there’s nothing I feel I’m missing in my meals. However, I do buy the occasional package of vegan cheese or shawarma but that’s just an occasional treat.
The hardest part about being vegan is not being a vegan myself, it’s being with the other people in my life who think I am mad for making this choice. They avoid talking to me about food because they don’t want to end up in a discussion about veganism.
I find it especially hard to deal with intelligent people who don’t seem to understand the cruelty they contribute to by eating meat. And not just animal cruelty, but also the effect it has on global warming and climate change and the people who work in the industry.
Now, instead of accusing people of being cruel by not being vegan, I have decided to support those who have already chosen to commit to the cause.
After the struggles I had while traveling I decided to give up my job as fire safety engineer and start organizing tours, specifically for vegans. That is when Samsara Vegan Travels was born. I am now using all my travel experience to help vegans enjoy an exciting and interesting holiday, without having to worry about getting a decent vegan meal three times a day. And apart from that, they get to travel around the world with vegan companions, so there’s no need to justify themselves for being vegan.
To me, being vegan is a fact of life and not necessarily a topic to be discussed all the time, it just is what it is. My wife and I try to make a positive contribution by visiting carefully selected ethical sanctuaries and rescue centres, and help out as volunteers as much as we can.
Veganism has given my life a new meaning and a new goal.”
Thank you Stefan, for sharing your story and inspiring others to make the switch to a compassionate vegan lifestyle. The vegan travel opportunities you offer to your clients, I am sure, is a refreshing and blessed experience they will cherish forever.
If you want to learn more about Stefan and Samsara vegan Travels, please visit his website at: https://samsaravegantravels.com.
To read more Living Meatless Tales stories click here.
Until next time,
Rachel Joy Olsen, BSc., MBA
Author, Health & Wellness Coach
Read my, “From Frog Killer To Compassionate Vegan” story.