Dear Concetta:

I am a vegan (I don’t eat meat or dairy). In your experience as a recruitor, have you come across anyone with this dietary concern? If so, how does the Peace Corps handle this preference?

Sara

(Concetta Comment: At this point, I feel slightly obliged to point out that I am not making these questions ups-even though this is shaping up to be a “Greatest Hits” blog of great applicant questions… keep em comin folks!)

Hi Sara,

Thanks for getting in touch.  Get ready for a long answer to a short question because being a vegan (or a vegetarian) can definitely make your application process more complicated.

Here’s why- Let’s say you are a newly minted Peace Corps volunteer in X country. You sail through training and off you go to your village.  This village is filled with great people and lots of challenges. It is not filled with lots of protein- between them they have 10 goats. In any case, you arrive at your village and in honor of this big event (because more often than not, it IS a big deal) the village has decided to kill a goat.  So, your new community has chosen to offer up 10% of its collective protein as a welcome gift and…. you don’t eat meat.

Now, you might be thinking “Come on, that is SO “Sixties” Peace Corps is in big towns, small cities and BIG cities for that matter.”  All true. the challenge is that your placement is mostly predicated on your skill set. So, what to do???

1) You can stick to your vegan guns and hope that there is a vegan friendly country that requests your skills.  This could take a while. But has it ever happened?  Sure.  In all my years recruiting I can think of one time in particular that this worked out.

2) You could talk this over with your recruiter and try to get a sense of what places can accommodate vegan/vegetarian dietary restrictions and see if there are ways that you can make yourself more competitive for those programs.

3) If at all possible, you might consider a moratorium or sabbatical. Several of my friends with whom I served and many people that I recruited took this path.  One of my friends was vegan on her way into Thailand but after settling in and experiencing the above situation (not so much goats, but definitely chickens), and being able to appreciate how much closer people are to the actual food chain- she decided to eat meat. Now, does this mean that she ran out and tucked in to the first Mongolian BBQ she could find? Of course not. But it does mean that when necessary, she ate meat.  Oh, and very important… “necessary” refers to more than culturally appropriate- it can also be nutritionally necessary.  Many of the products that make a vegan life possible (soy, tofu, other protein sources) are not available where volunteers serve- so getting sufficient protein can be more challenging than you might think.

So Sara, the upshot is you have options, and you have a lot to think about.  Thanks again for the question and please keep me posted.

Concetta