[photo: diners at a vegan 'Loving Hut' in western Mongolia]
An unlikely vegetarian movement is taking root in Mongolia, where livestock outnumber people 14 to 1, and annual meat consumption tops 200 pounds per person.
The first vegetarian restaurant in Mongolia, Ananda's Cafe, opened in 2006. Today more than 20 vegetarian and vegan restaurants dot the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and a handful of others are scattered throughout the country. Ananda's has launched a catering service, and another popular restaurant, Luna Blanca, now sells frozen faux-mutton dumplings in local supermarkets.
The vegetarian restaurateurs are mostly Mongolians. Many follow Christian and Buddhist-influenced spiritual movements that promote vegetarianism, some of them fringe foreign sects, such as the Indian-based meditation group Ananda Marga, and followers of the quasi-Buddhist Supreme Master Ching Hai, who promotes vegetarianism and veganism.
Mongolians are turning to vegetarianism "mostly because of health. Also because of meditation - they're following this trend," says Solongo, a former doctor for the United Nations, who like most Mongolians uses only one name. She estimates that vegetarians number around 30,000 or 40,000 throughout the country, just over 1 percent of the population.
[the photo below was taken by the IVU manager in another Loving Hut, in Xiamen China. The three women to the right are all from Mongolia, leaders of the 'Vegetarian Earth Green' group in Mongolia which is a member of IVU. The woman on the left is from Taiwan, and the man from Beijing, China.]