Worlds Apart: A Vegetarian Faces Barbecued Camel

By / Photography By Ivan LaBianca | April 15, 2015
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Young man dicing a camel in the Libyan desert
A young man dices camel meat on a piece of cardboard in the Libyan dessert.

“Eat! Eat! You must be strong for the battle tomorrow!” I was 24, and my chosen career as a photojournalist had led me to my current position, camped out at Birak Airbase in the middle of the Libyan Sahara with a group of rebels waiting for the order to attack Gadhafi’s boyhood home of Sebha.

I should have been thinking about a lot of other things—how the next 24 hours might play out, my own safety—but at that particular moment, all that was on my mind was how to get this man to stop force-feeding me eyeball-size chunks of barbecued camel.

I grew up a vegetarian, and this tough, gamey meat tasted nothing like veggie meat. It was impossible to forget where it came from given that I had actually petted the animal who generously gave his life for this meal just a few hours earlier. I felt I had done my duty by tasting a few chunks, but the man kept pushing and pressuring me to eat more. “Eat! Eat! Eat!”

I started eating again, surreptitiously tossing every other piece away into the darkness. That night as I lay looking up at the stars, I hoped and prayed no one had happened to shine a light on the shameful wasted meat behind where I had been sitting.

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