I went out the other night with a few of my roommates- fellow travelers hailing from Canada, Korea, Switzerland and Germany. We had a drink at a chill bar near our house. The bartender was really cool. He remembered that I’d ordered a soda water and lime the last time I’d been in and asked me if I wanted a specialty non-alcoholic drink. He started describing all sorts of delicious sounding concoctions. Excited by the prospect of something yummier than water, I asked him to make me his favorite non-alcoholic drink. I ended up with a delicious combination of ginger, mint and bubbles.

Towards the end of the night, I told my roommates that I was going to run down the street to the vegan restaurant and grab what is known in the vegan culinary world as a bliss ball… (It’s usually some combo of oats, nuts, nut butters, possibly cocoa- I’m not entirely sure but bliss sums it up pretty well.) When I asked if anyone wanted one, one of my roommates said he’d never had vegan food before. I laughed and said, “Well that’s just not true… Rice, beans, corn, tortillas, that’s all vegan food, ya know?”

He meant he’d never been to a vegan restaurant. Emphasizing that the simple foods I mentioned are not what people usually mean when they say vegan food. He’s right. Vegan food, especially from an exclusively vegan restaurant like the one I was about to go to, are marketed with novelty and affluence in mind. He seemed annoyed by the whole concept, associating the elitism of vegan restaurants with a vegan lifestyle.

I was annoyed because it is true. Veganism is often synonymous with the upper class, privilege and entitlement, which is very off-putting. I know this because I am put off by the vegan industry and bougie vegans all the time!

On my walk to the vegan restaurant to get my bliss ball, I tried to convince myself that I’m not perpetuating vegan elitism with the way I live my life. I go to vegan restaurants occasionally, but most of the time I eat simple plant-based foods. I love rice, beans, corn, noodles, tortillas, oatmeal, and a wide range of fruits and veggies.

All of which are plentiful in Guatemala.

But the truth is, even knowing how easy it is to be vegan in Guatemala, even a healthy, satisfied vegan, on a budget, I’m still going to all the bougie vegan restaurants, all the time. Which, just like the yoga studios do, they scream privilege.

Vegan restaurant food can be be a fun treat, but for the last few weeks, there’s no doubt, I’ve been overindulging.

For one thing, although the vegan restaurants here are way more expensive than the other restaurants, they are still much cheaper than vegan restaurants back home. Shoot, they are cheaper than fast food back home.

The reason I can take advantage of restaurants that are too expensive for most locals is because of my privilege.

The ability to choose my diet is a privilege in and of itself. The ability to eat at restaurants serving high quality food that perfectly aligns with my chosen diet, is an extreme privilege.

This kid’s annoyance triggered self-reflection and forced me to recenter myself, realign my eating habits with my beliefs and goals.

Plant-based eating is not (and should not be) synonymous with over priced, trendy, vegan food. Vegans don’t have to be bougie. I am not saying you won’t ever see me out at my favorite vegan hot spots, because you will from time to time. But that’s not what it’s about.

My plant-based lifestyle is a conscious simplification of food consumption in an effort to improve my health, the well-being of humanity, animal welfare and the environment.

I am incredibly thankful for the abundance of good, healthy, cheap and simple vegan food available in this part of the world!!