Singapore is s small city state in Southeast Asia, a region which is renowned for having lax animal welfare laws and a rise in meat consumption. But how does Singapore compare, with it’s throngs of expats? And what is it like to be a Vegan in the most expensive city in the world?
I speak to my vegan friend Georgie, with whom I once shared an entire wheel of brie, about her experiences. She has been living in Singapore for the last 2 years and spends her free time travelling and exploring the surrounding region.
Hey Georgie, so do you know many other vegans or veggies in Singapore?
I don’t think it is a common thing here, I don’t know any other vegans. Although a few of my friends now try to eat vegan food as much as they can so that’s really great! There are loads of vegetarians in Singapore. I’ve found that within the Indian culture a lot of people are vegetarian.
If people are Hindu they don’t eat animal products on the days they go to the temple to worship, which is great as that must cut down their meat consumption a lot!
Out of the western people I’ve met here I’d say half of them are vegetarian. With most the others all making a conscious effort to cut down on meat and dairy due to environmental and health factors. Not so many people care about animal welfare though.
Have you seen any animal welfare atrocities in the city?
I haven’t actually seen anything in Singapore but one of the first taxi rides I took here the driver excitedly told me that I can find real ivory in Chinatown. I was obviously appalled. I’ve since asked locals about that and they all have looked a little surprised since it is supposed to be illegal here.
Singapore is (and takes pride in) ‘being more civilised’ than the rest of SE Asia. Numerous locals have said this to me, these are not my words! I think that’s why I haven’t seen any of the typical food markets with turtles etc…
One thing I’ve noticed is that the students I teach never seem to name their pets. It’s just doggy or kitty. Which I think is weird! Some of the students have also talked about shark fin soup, so we talk about why that’s not a good idea to eat. I’m probably going to get into trouble somewhere done the line, I’m like Phoebe in friends, when she sings to the kids about where their food comes from. The odd thing is they don’t seem phased when I tell them!
It’s interesting you say that the kids aren’t phased, do you think people in Singapore generally have a better understanding of where meat comes than we have here in the UK?
I don’t think people like to think about where the food comes from. I know the few times I’ve eaten meat in the past, or the few times I’ve eaten vegetarian food in the last 2 years, I have had to not think about what I’m eating.
I think most people are suffering from cognitive dissonance, myself included at times. I’ve heard people get outraged over the dog meat festivals in China while they’re eating a beef burger. What’s the difference between killing a dog to eat or killing a cow to eat? Just because our culture tells us that cows exist for our consumption? In some areas of China they grow up eating dog. Yes it’s horrid, it’s cruel and I hope these festivals do stop. I love dogs more than people. But I don’t personally see the difference between any living creature. However, I can also understand why people do see a difference, since we’ve all been raised to think it’s ok to eat certain animals. It took a while for it to really click with me. I think living abroad and travelling really opened my eyes. You’ll be in a little village in Indonesia and you’ll see a local slicing a chickens head off, preparing dinner for their family.
In the UK I would even avoid looking into a butchers shop as I passed. I think that people in poorer countries have to have a higher awareness. They often don’t have the privilege we have of buying ready cut and prepared meat. Due to this they also waste less and probably appreciate what they’re eating more. I believe that a lot more people in the western world would be vegetarian / vegan if they had to physically kill the animals themselves. Or if they just watched some footage of inside a slaughter house.
Some say it is a luxury choice of those in the rich western society to be able to be vegan / vegetarian. Do you agree?
I do think that is the case since poorer countries are less likely to have access to B12 supplements, flaxseed, Chía seeds and all those things we use as vegans. However, I do think that being vegetarian would be easy for anyone. I think veganism can be pretentious but it doesn’t need to be!
I eat (huge) hearty meals made from simple ingredients, it’s cheap and nutritious and I’ve found that I’m actually able to eat more without gaining weight. Since becoming vegan I’ve felt healthier and more energetic. My skin looks healthier too!
So are Vegan foods generally more expensive?
It’s still cheap to cook your own food, I order things from iherb too which is cheaper than supermarkets here. Singapore is really expensive for rent and alcohol but I’d say most restaurants are still cheaper than the UK. It’s just a lot more expensive that the rest of south east Asia.
It’s really easy to be vegan in Singapore since you can find everything you need to prepare your own meals and I’ve learnt which dishes can be made vegan by just removing egg / fish oil …
Do you think vegetarianism / veganism is a ‘thing’ within the local culture, or possibly because of the amount of expats living in Singapore?
I think it’s either due to the Hindu or Buddhist religion, there are a lot of practising Hindus here. I think the vegan restaurants could be due to expats since most of them are a little pretentious.
My last thing I want to say is that I really think it’s great that you’re doing this. I think the more awareness brought to vegetarian/veganism the more people will choose the lifestyle. You feel and look healthier, less at risk of cancer and heart disease, stop animal cruelty and help save the planet and reduce your carbon footprint! With all the meat free food options available and vegan ‘beefburgers’ that even bleed (gross) like the real thing, people won’t have a single excuse to still be eating animals soon! I’m very hopeful for the future and the planet!