If sticking to a strict diet was easy, everyone would look fit and thin and feel great, but unfortunately, that’s the farthest thing from reality. Let’s face it: fatty and sugary foods are delicious! And it’s nearly impossible to adhere to anything when you’re surrounded by people who have no problem indulging in everything you’re trying to avoid.
But, what if you’re day-to-day interactions were with people who did nothing but support you as well as follow the same diet? Could you cut out the unhealthy guilty pleasures for good? Well, in Israel, there’s a village of 5,000 residents who all share a very unique perspective on food, and what they believe challenges everything you know about life and death.
Israel’s Negev Desert is a massive stretch of land that, for the most part, is arid and barren with few people living there. However, this is one unique village where the residents all have an incredible outlook on health.
The village, located in Dimona, is full of residents who call themselves African Hebrew Israelites. Leading a positive and healthy lifestyle is of the absolute utmost importance to them, and they all work together to achieve it.
Travel vlogger Nuseir Yassin had the opportunity to visit the village to see first-hand what set it apart from most other places in the world. And it’s safe to say he was in for quite a shock.
The diet of every resident in the village is incredibly strict, but since everyone follows it, it’s much easier for everyone to maintain. They avoid eating meat, dairy, and anything processed. But, that’s just the beginning.
They also make sure to completely avoid drinking any kind of alcohol. You won’t find any pubs in this village to clink glasses with your friends. Cigarettes, also, are off limits to everyone.
Every member of the community exercises regularly to keep their energy levels high, and believe it or not, everyone is required to receive at least one massage per month. Not too shabby, huh?
If you haven’t guessed by now, what sets the village apart is that everyone is vegan. They believe sticking to a plant-based diet and avoiding any type of animal product ensures peak physical performance.
For proof their strict-but-healthy lifestyle works, all you need to do is stroll through the village and talk to the elderly, but still youthfully energetic, residents. You’d never guess it, but the combined age of these three ladies is 244!
Although the diet everyone follows is a vegan one, many of the residents refer to it as the “Garden of Eden” diet because they believe a particular scripture in Genesis tells them God’s intention was for humans to consume only plants.
Genesis 1:29 states: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you, it shall be for food.”
The man who led the movement of the African Hebrew Israelites in the 1960s was named Ben Carter, who went by Ben Ammi Ben-Israel. Not only did Carter firmly believe in the vegan lifestyle, but he also had another belief most people find pretty outrageous.
He believed the diet and lifestyle of the village actually led to immortality. Carter passed away in 2014, but still to this day, everyone in the community shares his belief. As nice of a thought as it is, immortality, as we all know, can’t be attained.
The villagers all swear by the diet, and one look at them tells you they do physically feel great. Funny enough, there’s actually a second settlement in Israel that adheres to a strict diet, as well.
The place is called Amirim, and it’s been hailed as the world’s first vegetarian village. It lies 600 meters above sea level, and although the 800 residents aren’t as strict as the vegans in Dimona, the community is totally meat-free.
The community was built in 1958 by a group of vegans and vegetarians who wanted a place to raise their kids that also aligned with their moral and ethical values.
If you’re looking to snag some barbecued meats, you better make your way on through to the next town. The residents are firmly against animal killing, so take those racks of ribs and fire them up on a grill elsewhere.
Another aspect of Amirim that differs from the community in Dimona is the level of tourism. It became the first village to classify as a “rural tourist village.”
Visitors who make the worthwhile trek to Israel can enjoy a number of museums, vineyards, restaurants, and spas. Expect every food option to be vegetarian, of course.
Even though a lot of people can’t live in communities like these full time, it’s pretty cool the residents all promote health, animal rights, and an overall positive way of life. Another village a few thousand miles away promotes something else entirely.
Somewhere hidden in the Szechuan region of China, near Lake Lugu, hours away from civilization, lives a community unlike any other. Here, the people’s practices are something others may deem unfathomable.
The people are called the Mosuo, and they have lived independently in their own ways for centuries, managing to preserve their age-old traditional way of life due to their remoteness. Now, due to the rise of tourism in the area, we can finally learn about their lifestyle and beliefs, and what makes their community work.
The Mosuo region has been dubbed “the kingdom of women,” and for good reason: it’s a completely matriarchal world, with grandmothers occupying the main seat at the dinner table. The family lineage is passed down through her daughters.
Perhaps what distinguishes the Mosuo most from other societies are their marital and family structures. In fact, the Mosuo have a separate word for their unions between women and men — zou hun or “walking marriage.”
To understand a walking marriage, one must learn how love is shown among the Mosuo and how relationships develop. It starts when a woman reaches adulthood and is free to choose who her partner will be. If the two fall in love, the men start walking. But, where do they walk to?
The axias, or lovers, literally walk to the woman’s family home, spend the night, and leave in the morning to return to their own. However, this is not considered scandalous or taboo. Rather, freedom is encouraged so that the courting couple might truly enjoy the relationship. But that doesn’t mean every family is okay with it!
Before he got his wife’s family’s permission to marry her, a Mosuo man admits that he didn’t get much sleep. “I had to sneak into her home after her family had gone to sleep around midnight or 1 a.m.,” he recalled, “and leave at around 5 or 6 a.m. before they woke up.”
It is not necessary for a woman and a man who marry to stay with each other throughout their lifetime. “Till death do you part” is not a vow the Mosuo make. When the chemistry is gone, life moves on. Who and how many men a woman will choose to be with during her lifetime is something nobody will judge her for.
Not only is the mother able to remarry, but there is no obligation to any husband or father to support their offspring. They may bond with their children if they so choose, but they have very little to do with their upbringing. “I don’t think I ever discussed having children with my husband,” a Mosuo dancer said matter-of-factly. “It seems he didn’t really have much to do with it.”
Children are raised by their mother and their mother’s siblings. There is actually no word for “aunt” in the Mosuo language. Your mother’s sisters are also your mothers — it does not matter much who gave birth to the child. Men are, however, expected to help raise their sister’s children.
Due to their family structure, a woman’s bloodline will always stay together and remain strong, while male-female relationships are free of possessiveness, jealousy, or regard for economic status. Their society has practically no widows or orphans, no war or crime.
Not only is the matriarch in charge of the children, but she also collects everybody’s income and divides it how she sees fit. When she passes, the wealth is passed down to her oldest daughter. This is what helps the Mosuo women hold progressive positions of power.
Men, though, are not dependent on the women; they are valued as much as anybody. They are still able to materialize their claims to power in the wider circuit of society, as they are traditionally responsible for trades at more distant outposts, and are also in charge of building homes, fishing, and farming.
Tasks or jobs are assigned to work according to one’s greatest strengths. While a grandmother might be in charge, she could feed livestock while her daughter takes care of a more modern business. Her son might handle any outside trade with other communities as men are more respected in most of the world.
The Mosuo belief system has a central Mother Goddess figure and values strong bonds with the animal world (especially with cats and dogs). While men preside over everything related to death, such as funerals and slaughtering livestock, women are in charge of everything related to birth and life. Lately, however, their economy and culture have been shaken up quite a bit.
Due to the mystery of the Mosuo, the Chinese government has built roads and an airport to make the area more accessible for tourism, thus turning the trickle of visitors into a tsunami. This is inundating the remote region with people, traffic, garbage and noise, and putting pressure on the local culture.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems the Mosuo encounter with their new visitors is that the walking marriages have enticed some tourists to try to take liberties with local women. “So we have to beat them up,” said a male Mosuo tour guide. “After that, they behave better,” he added with a chuckle.
Another issue is that the Mosuo have traditionally given careful consideration to balancing factors such as population, food supply and land. With new income from hotels, restaurants, casinos, and karaoke bars, both the economy and environment have gotten quite a shake.
Then there is, of course, the social pressure the modern, outside world places upon the Mosuo people. Some native daughters are tempted to leave their families and move elsewhere. Others feel misunderstood by the strangers coming to gawk at their community.
“Many people say: ‘You’re so backward, now that you’ve met advanced people like us, why do you still practice these walking marriages?'” the tour guide said. “It makes me furious. We feel we have no way to interact with outsiders on an equal footing.”
However, the influx of tourism does have one advantage: those families who were living in poverty now have a chance to start over and build up some wealth for themselves and future generations. The question is, is the incoming money worth risking the integrity of the Mosuo culture?
Whether the matriarchal society of the Mosuo people will survive the pressure from the outside world is unclear as of 2018. With modern technology and easy transportation, it’s as easy for others to enter as it is for locals to leave. Let’s hope, however, that their culture remains preserved; their uniqueness and balanced way of living is something to be celebrated!