Adventures of a California Vegan in Brazil

I spent February in Brazil — mostly Rio Di Jienero. In the second half of this blog, I will talk about my big takeaway…  realizing how much I take for granted in the U.S!

However, I'll start out telling you about my adventures, and my herculean efforts to find healthy vegan food in a country that loves meat and white flour products!

(Note: I typed this up from a Brazilian computer, and some of the keys were different. So please forgive any typos!

FINDING HEALTHY VEGAN FOOD IS TOUGH!

You may already know that I eat organic, free range eggs and goat yogurt. However, when I eat out, I always say I am vegan.

That´s because restaurants almost never use organic, free range eggs or dairy products. So I remained vegan while traveling in  Brazil.

After arriving, I took a bus from Rio de Jienero to the World Rainbow Gathering, which was near Santa Marta .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Gathering

On the way, most of the food was very bad — tons of meat and sugary white flour products. Luckily, I was able to get a bowl of black beans at one pit stop. The counter lady was in disbelief… ¨What? You want ONLY beans?¨

Yes I did. I paid 5 reals (about $3 US). I thought this was an OK price. But since a full plate of rice, beans, and pork was 10 reals, my friend Clara told me I paid too much. So in Portugese, I went to the counter lady and very humbly asked ¨For 5 reals, can I have a little more?¨

At first she said no, but with some coaxing from my Clara, she gave me another bowl without charge!

At another pit stop, there was a decent salad bar. I also bought a bag of apples.

Once we arrived at the Gathering, all of the meals were vegan. There was even a circle of raw fooders eating mostly fruits and veggies each day.

Getting back to Rio was a bigger ordeal. Instead of taking a direct bus, I took a bus to a small town called Ibiterama, then waited 8 hours for the bus back to Rio. Luckily, there was a little fruit shop so I stocked up on apples, pears, and bananas. I also bought a bag of peanuts, just in case.

Despite the language barrier, I befriended the owner of a bar/restaurant. At dinner time, II explained that I wanted beans with no meat. He showed me what they had — there were about six choices at his buffet.

Among them, black beans, white rice, and some kind of pasta. There were also some colorful root veggies, but unfortunately they were mixed with meat!

Since I shun white flour and white rice, I just took a bowl of beans. He told me there was no need to pay, and even encouraged me to have a second bowl. I had also bought a jar of corn kernels at a nearby store. So together with the beans, that was my dinner.

Luckily, once I arrived in Rio I discovered two vegan restaurants with all-you-can-eat lunch buffets for 20 reals ($12 US).
http://www.vegetarianosocialclube.com.br/
http://www.wikirio.com.br/Refeitório_Orgânico

The first one is good. The second is amazing (and all organic!)

On Friday I went out with friends to a place that serves traditional beans, rice, and pork. I explained that I only wanted beans and lettuce. Again, the server was so concerned that my dinner was insufficient, he gave me a second plate of beans and lettuce at no extra charge!

THE WORLD RAINBOW GATHERING

OK, so what did I like about Brazil? The music at the Rainbow Gathering was fantastic. A few hundred counter-culture people gathered in a forest, made meals together, co-created music and drum circles, and sang call-and-response kirtan songs.

I led three men's circles, teaching men tools to create deeper honesty and trust. Two men had huge breakthroughs.

I was also inspired to write songs but had no piano or keyboard with me. So for the first time in my life, I began writing (or channeling?) 4-line chants. For example, here are the words to one:

THANK YOU EARTH

You nourish me with your farms and orchards

You quench my thirst with your water spring

You shelter me with your bricks and mortar

Thank you earth for everything

BRAZILIAN PEOPLE ARE VERY TRUSTING AND TRUSTWORTHY

For example, at the Gathering I didn't have a clock or watch, and my cell phone battery was dead. Yet I needed a way to wake up on time, on the day of my departure.

So Renata, a woman I met there, loaned me her cell phone the night before. Since she didn't know me that well, she could have worried that I would forget to return it, or not find her tent the next morning. But she wasn't worried.

Likewise, over Facebook before leaving, I was introduced to Dani, a friend of a friend of a friend. She laid out 100 reals (about $60) to reserve my seat on the bus to the Gathering, even though we had never met. She had complete trust that I would repay her when I arrived.

And when she learned that I was going to pay 330 reals to stay in a hotel the first two nights, she insisted that I cancel the reservation, and found a friend for me to stay with… Thiago. He is a raw food chef who lives with his girlfriend Camila.

One week, Thiago was out of town so he loaned me his key. Not just a spare key, but HIS key.

When I took a bus from the small town of Santa Marta to Ibitirama, I didn´t know how much the fare would be and couldn’t speak Portugese. So I handed the man 30 reals — a ten and a twenty. He could have taken advantage, but instead give me back 23 reals.

While in Ibitirama, the pharmacy owner — who sold me the bus ticket back to Rio — came out of his pharmacy at 9:20pm to let me know I was standing on the wrong side of the street. Then he loaded my stuff into the bottom of the bus, once it arrived.

A week before leaving Brazil, I relocated from Thiago’s apartment to Sophia’s house, which was about an hour away. Sophia told me to take a taxi to a college near Thiago’s, and then catch a bus to her neighborhood.

When the taxi driver dropped me off, I asked a couple of security guards if they spoke English, but they did not. Despite the language barrier, I tried explaining that I needed the bus to “Rio das Pedras”.

Meanwhile, the taxi driver stuck around to make sure I wasn’t abandoned. He came out to speak with the guards, and then pulled out his cell phone to call Sophia for me.

Once he got on the phone with her, he realized that the correct bus stop was a few blocks away. He told me to get back in the taxi, and drove me there for no additional fee.

I was really taken with the fact that he didn’t just drop me off and leave. He spent an extra 5-10 minutes to make sure I got on the right bus, time he could’ve used to pick up another customer.

When I arrived in Rio das Pedras, I asked someone to point me to Florenta Condominium. I started walking with my large hiking backpack, two bags and a tent. I knew it wasn’t that far, but I wanted to grab a taxi anyway.

None came for about ten minutes. Finally a taxi showed up. I showed him the address. He gave me directions, indicating it was only a few blocks away, but I asked him to drive me there anyway.

When we got there, it looked wrong. It was a dirty dead end street. So I pulled out Sophia’s number and asked him to call her from his cell phone.

Once he spoke to her, he realized we were still a few blocks away. So he drove me to the right place. Incredibly, there was no charge for any of this. He never turned the meter on! But I was so thankful, I gave him 5 reals anyway.

THINGS I TAKE FOR GRANTED IN THE U.S.

Here are some things that are uncommon in Brazil –

Respect for women.

1) Together with four young women, I attended a very crowded street fair called "Carnival". Almost everyone was drinking, and many were smoking too.

More than once, I saw a drunk man grab a young woman by the arm, and not let go even when asked. At one point, I had to get in someone's face and tell him "NOT COOL!".

My friends tell me this is fairly common, even outside of "Carnival". When a woman tries pulling away, some guys get mad and curse at them or call them ugly.

One friend explained it this way… if you go out when it’s raining you know you are going to get wet. Likewise, if you go out to a street festival, you know men are going to do this.

2) I was shocked at a couple of markets, when I saw magazines like Playboy and Hustler at the point of purchase, even though there were children on line. I asked a female friend how she felt about this. She said ¨it´s always been like that, so I never gave it a second thought.¨

Respect for the legal drinking age. Although technically, there’s a legal drinking age in Brazil, kids of any age can buy alcohol at grocery stores. ID is not checked.

Respect for traffic lights. Brazilian taxi drivers (and maybe others too, I don’t know) run red lights all the time. And even when they know there’s a stop sign at the end of a block, they gun the engine up to 40mph, only to slam on the brakes just before the stop sign.

Whole Foods Market and other health food stores. It is hard to find health food and organic produce here… and when you do, it is very expensive.

Ethnic Restaurants. According to my Brazil friends, there are no Indian restaurants. Thai and Japanese restaurants are rare and expensive.

Netflix, Hulu.com, and streaming TV shows over the Internet. At home I watch TV shows online all the time. But due to licensing restrictions, these websites would not let me watch any streaming video in Brazil.

Dishwashers and dryers. In Brazil, most middle class folks have washing machines, but only rich people have dryers and dishwashers. This is the first time in my life I had to hang my wet clothes from a clothing rack with clothespins!

Reasonable prices on imported products. From dark chocolate bars to ipods to cars, imported products are very expensive in Brazil. Apparently, this is because of several taxes that are built into the prices. A dark chocolate bar here is 20 reals ($12 U.S.). And a Toyota Corolla is about 50,000 reals ($30,000 U.S.).

Reasonable prices on natural and health products like coconut soap, natural sunblock, maca powder etc. These things tend to cost more in Brazil. I paid 30 reals (about $18) for a very small container of sunblock and 10 reals (about $6) for one bar of coconut soap.

Hemp seeds, hemp protein powder, hemp shoes. These are not sold at all in Brazil.

Food dehydrators. These are not sold at all in Brazil.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

These aren’t necessarily better or worse than the U.S., but still worth noting.

Brazil has free health care (paid for by tax dollars). But if you want to drop in, you have to wait on line for hours. And if you want an appointment, you might have to wait a few months.

Racism and white privilege. When I first arrived, I was excited to see that Brazil is a melting pot of people with many skin colors.

My friends explain it this way: the native people had medium brown skin. The original Portugese people had white skin. And their slaves had dark brown skin. So now, wherever you go, you see people of many colors.

However, people with dark brown people still work the lowest paying jobs in disproportionate numbers. And billboards and magazine covers portray almost exclusively white people.

Even more surprising, most of the women on magazine covers have blonde hair, even though very few Brazilian people have blonde hair!

25 Comment(s)

  1. I visited Brazil in 1984, and stayed for 2 months. I speak Portuguese, and visited the traveling produce markets for fruits & veggies (I'm vegan). Sounds like things haven't changed all that much. I did travel on a BrasilAirPass for 3 weeks, so I got to see something of half the states in Brazil.

    Zyxomma | Reply

  2. Thanks for your article.  Very interesting but I don't know that I really want to go there now!  lol.  Sounds like you enjoyed it for the most part though.  Very different than here. 

    Brett | Reply

  3. Read all your post and a great example of what you put out there you get back on your travels.
    Have been experimenting with raw food since the beginning of 2012 and, being in the UK, one of the main barriers comes when on the move. Our service stations are littered with fast, salt induced and sugar coated options and sometimes a small offering of fruit, so, I can kind of symphasise with your travel searching. 
    Nevertheless, this is also one of the joys of going raw and changing your life, if it was easy, why would there be challenge and resistance.
    Love your passion
    Mike Todd x

    Michael Todd | Reply

  4. That was an amazing story, thank-you for sharing. People really are trusting there.

    Lesley | Reply

  5. Very interesting Trevor. I know a lot more about Brazil than I did, for sure.

    Raederle | Reply

  6. Thank you very much for a most interesting, well written and infomative letter. Thank you, Sonja

    Sonja | Reply

  7. As a Brazilian living in the US for 27 years, it was interesting to see it thru your eyes. Agree with most comments, except the fact that blonds are showed all over. in the past decate  Blacks and "mulatos" (browns) have been changing their status and we now find them on major TV and movie screens; as well as college degree professions. Still a long way to go, but it is changing. Brazil is having a style phase and most ladies are highlighting their hair, maybe that's why you saw so many blonds :)   Most families do not have dish washer or drier, mostly due to the culture, even some that can afford it,  don't feel it is necessary. However if you walk around the shanty towns of Rio you will see every single little house with satelite dish. Brazil is the country that most sells cellular phone and uses the Internet, and that includes the poor people! Super friendly people, but as you said with a lot to learn about manners : /  but despite all that, it is a great place to visit, and Rio is just an amazing natural beauty. Great Blog!

    Patricia | Reply

  8. You have clearly led a privileged American life.  Your "Brazilian experience" could be had right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. in any food desert or urban S.W.A.T.s.  Travel to other worlds right in your own country.  Blog about that, should you survive.

    GraceLena FrankHerman | Reply

  9. Wow interesting article.  I'd actually been wanting to visit brazil but after reading your blog I'm not sure I'm inclined to do so.  I will say though one of my girl friends from nyc moved there last year and was raving about the friendly people and generousity of others.  I would think the resources are all a matter of where you are.  I know there is a raw food institute somewhere there called Viva for example.  

    sara | Reply

  10. The bit about dryers and dishwashers really made me smile. That is sooo "I'm a spoiled American who will waste tons of energy to have the most comfortable lifestyle.". :) (No offence meant!) My experience of Brazil has been that many families just don't find these things necessary, even when they could afford them. Just like in Europe. Among my European friends and family, none has a dryer and only a couple have a dishwasher, even though they could of course afford it. We just don't find the small increase in laziness worth taking such a toll on the environment. Besides, given the powerful sun in Brazil, it would be stupid to use a dryer instead of just putting the clothes in the sun for an hour. They dry so amazingly fast there. 
    Did you taste the fantastic hundreds of different exotic fruits? :) I'm in paradise when I'm there, even though as you said, finding organic stuff is really hard. :-/ That's such a pity. 

    Rosine | Reply

  11. I am glad you came to Brazil, but I wish you had had a better time.  I've been vegan for 5 years here and it's not only doable, but pleasurable, although without the benefit of the language to sweet talk people you certainly have a harder time!  Had you visited me, you would have seen good, cheap organic food, food co-op groups, hell- even a vegan hotdog cart (we have junk-food vegans here too) and plenty of international food.  In Rio there's at least one raw food restaurant and there's a decent vegan community in most of the bigger cities.  Takes a bit of research, but we're here.  Did you know the international chair of the International Vegetarian Union is a Brazilian?
    And yes, Carnaval brings out the worst in everyone.  But one could make the same observations about Mardi Gras, the St Paddy's day parade, or spring break in Florida (^shudder^).  And women are taking power here in Brazil, not only in government but also in business, policing (a Rio cop got an award last week from Michele Obama on women's day), piloting, policy, and education, for example.  We could do worse. 
    Sure, we have corruption, sure we have dismal class divides- but we're working on it.  Health care is a good example- it's free and you have to wait.  (Same in UK and Canada as I recall).  But you don't have to worry about going bankrupt if you have an accident or sudden illness, and kids get care.  Next time you come, email me and I'll be happy to show you a different Brazil than the one you saw.  It's a lovely place, growing and changing, and going far.

    teresa | Reply

  12. Dishwashers and dryers. In Brazil, most middle class folks have washing machines, but only rich people have dryers and dishwashers. This is the first time in my life I had to hang my wet clothes from a clothing rack with clothespins!
    These kinds of comments are somewhat disconcerting… I think that if you go beyond eating a certain way, a healthy, sustainable lifestyle involves so much more than eating a vegan/raw/vegetarian diet. Unfortunately (at least for you, it seems), being able to live without many 'commodities' is part of what will awaken our world. I'm pretty sure that living without 'live streaming' will give you much more time to get out into the real world and do so much more than you've done up to now, Trevor. 
     
    Light and love,
     
    Natalie

    Natalie | Reply

  13. Apart from the beans ad infinitum it still sounds like an interesting trip. People all over the world are much friendlier and trusting than many Americans would imagine, and that's why I love to travel so much.
    You've really never hung your clothes to dry? But there's a big free clothes dryer hanging up in the sky!

    Stacy | Reply

  14. Hi Trevor
     
    so are you saying its the first time in your life you've hung wet clothes and not used a dryer to dry them? First time? really?
    If that's the case, wow, I'm so surprised. I would have assumed that a person such as yourself who eats well, cares for organic food, sustainable living etc wouldn't own a dishwasher or dryer anyway.  Despite this, you've owned a clothes dryer and used it for your whole life?
    How you've missed hanging clothes in beautiful sunshine, and they dry so much better!
     

    Geraldine | Reply

  15. This is a terrific article.  I'll be going to Medellin, Colombia soon, and will be very interested if things are similar.  I've never been in South America before.

    Marc | Reply

  16. LOL! I love the commentary about what a shock it was to hang my wet laundry. Natalie and Rosine made similar comments, calling me a “spoiled American” (in good humor). I can laugh at myself because I know it’s true. But I am more spoiled than you think.

    I haven’t done my own laundry in years.

    I use a door-to-door laundry service. This habit started when I lived in Brooklyn NY, on the fourth floor of a condo building that had no washer or dryer. I’ve continued it to this day. And it’s the reason I never bothered to buy a washer or dryer for my current home, the one I’ve lived in for six years.

    Besides, it would be very hard to run The Vegetarian Health Institute, find time to write songs, and still have a social life if I were also doing things like laundry. It’s simple time management.

    admin | Reply

  17. THANK YOU FOR THE TRAVELS IN BRAZIL.
    I FIND IT HARD AS WELL TO FIND VEGAN FOOD HERE AT HOME [EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA] AS WELL WHILE TRAVELING.  PREPARING A RAW DIET  IS VERY TIME CONSUMING NOT TO MENTION THE THOUGHT GIVEN "WHAT TO PREPARE". 

    Dolores Murphy | Reply

  18. I LOVED Brazil! However, thanks to Marly Wincler and her team who put together the WVC in Florianappolis and arranged FABULOUS side trips to Rio and ESPECIALLY THE MAGNIFICENT UGAUZU (?) FALLS (Mother of ALL Waters???), that trip and the wonderful Brazilians who opened their minds, hearts and homes to us, it etched memories for a lifetime;-). –Gerry

    Gerry | Reply

  19. Any time you travel Latin America with a little Spanish or Portugese you can frequent the local market loaded with fresh fruits and veggies. At these markets are small boths preparing daily breakfast and lunch meals for the locals. They will prepare any food, any way you request for a minimal price. Enjoy local preparations of basic foods that have been lost in our fast food culture. Rice and beans with veggie dishes that are eaten daily by most locals will suprize your taste buds.

    Bill Lyons | Reply

  20. FYI: it is Rio de Janeiro and the language is Portuguese.

    Su | Reply

  21. Hi Trevor,
    Just wondering what ethnic food is. If it's food that is not native to the place where one is at any given moment, would American food like McDonalds be ethnic to a Brazilian? Or is it just food prepared by people from countries that sound exotic?
     
    - R

    Robert | Reply

  22. I would also like to know how you handled a limited diet when travelers are advised not to eat salads and such things that are typically washed in water of questionable quality. 
     
    - R

    Robert | Reply

  23. I didn’t worry about that. If I did, I would’ve had to fast the entire time! I think there are only so many precautions you can take. If you want to be 100% safe, it eliminates traveling to many parts of the world.

    admin | Reply

  24. Good point! Yes I am used to my American frame of reference… so I think of Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Chinese food as “ethnic”. In Brazil, I think it’s still accurate to call these ethnic foods. I have never eaten “Brazilian” food in the U.S. But I see your point. In Brazil, Brazilian food is not ethnic, it is local!

    admin | Reply

  25. Your notes on Brazil were intereting.  I know what it's like to try to find vegan food "on the road".  You might like my eBook "Am Vegan – Will Travel".  Merry Christmas and happy trails.
     
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    DULCIMER NIELSEN, PhD
     

    Dulcimer Nielsen, PhD | Reply

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