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Vegan Dining on the Road

Posted by at 2:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)


intracoastal-bread-bottle-co-at-the-wharf-tangy-gourmet-vegan-pizzaIn a recent USA Today article, a business travel columnist candidly shared his experiences maintaining a vegan lifestyle on the road. He and I share a passion for dining, but while he has found that his diet change limits his gustatory pleasure on trips, mine has led to fresh, delicious new dining experiences, including farro with currants and heirloom beets, butternut pizze, porcini mushroom linguine, wakame seaweed salads, nut-buttery desserts, gourmet sorbet, uber-trendy crispy kale chips, and peppery dark chocolate! And to think people ask me, “What do you eat?”

“Too much,” I answer with a smile. (Check out my photos in this article for evidence!) Before leaving on a trip, I go online to find vegan-friendly restaurants and cafés. Oh, the joy when I find all-out vegetarian and vegan places! I also take note of health-food stores, since they’re usually fun to check out in other cities. My Web sources often include local vegetarian societies and Happy Cow. There are even a few excellent apps on the iPhone, including VegOut, Vegan Steven, and iVegetarian. If you read my travel posts, you know that I find places, sometimes limited, but sometimes great in number … and often including some real gems, as noted in my recent Portland travel report

stonecat-cafe-grilled-maple-tofu

For me, being an herbivore fits with my ethics and improves my health-and also supports my highly active, athletic lifestyle. As a bike commuter, daily jogger, and hardcore hiker, I go for foods that stoke my taste buds while also fueling me with clean-burning energy. When visiting cities and towns, I usually ride a bike, allowing me to get to eateries of my choice gas- and taxi-free. The USA Today columnist, understandably, finds eating vegan on the road more costly because of the need to take cabs. He also mentions the challenge of finding vegan fare at conventions and group functions. I definitely hear him. When in such situations, I try to convey my dietary needs in advance, and most chefs are happy to whip up something vegan. But also I have tasty fall-back fare back in my room, which is a great excuse to make an early stop at a health-food market.

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As the writer correctly notes, vegan choices for room service at hotels are often scarce, although I’m finding more and more hotels offering soy milk, oatmeal, and fruit plates. However, room service prices are too expensive for me, as they are for most people, which is another reason why I like finding a health-oriented market nearby or on the way from the airport.

Another tip: local farmers markets! I love not only the food but also getting the flavor of a place at its farmers market. And with increasing demand for local and sustainable foods, there are more and more farmers markets popping up all over.

blossoming-lotus-vegan-quesadillas

Also, I’m often pleasantly surprised. On the way to a mountain hike in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, the only convenient place for an early lunch was Cousins, a bar/restaurant in a big red roadside barn in the small town of Salem. I asked the owner if he had anything vegan, ready to define the term. Well, he knew (guys at the bar turned to follow our conversation). Then he came back with a lovely salad chock full of fresh vegetables and really tasty home fries.

I’m not tempted by animal-derived fare, since I lost my taste for it long ago. Coming from a family that owned a butcher shop and a grocery store with everything sourced from nearby farms, I found meat and poultry sourced elsewhere odd in taste and texture. Later, I realized that that was because of the change in practices in raising and feeding farm animals, including the shift to unnatural diets that also include hormones and drugs. What about ice cream? Sure, I liked it, but not only were animal-free substitutes available (and so many more today), I also realized that sweet treats compromised my energy, slowed me down, and put on unneeded pounds. Plus, an unexpected bonus of a vegan diet: After cutting out animal products, my knee and wrist aches disappeared (arthritis runs in my family), and my lifelong chronic asthma subsided. No more carting around asthma inhalers while camping and traveling!

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Two good animal-friendly tips that both the USA Today writer and I agree upon: Ask if a refrigerator is available at hotels, and remember to ask ahead about meals on flights! The more people request vegan choices, the more likely airlines will be to respond.

But since many airlines are not “onboard” yet, I pack adequate snacks or meals before boarding the plane. Oranges, easy-peel Clementines, tart cherries (which are good for countering jet lag),
other fruits, and protein bars. But no liquids because of TSA regulations. Once I was forced to toss my delicious container of oatmeal with raisins and agave! And if you want to use sky time to sleep, then skip the coffee, tea, and even dairy-free chocolate!

higgins-ginger-and-cranberry-sorbet

Have any tips for herbivores dining away from home?

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11 Comments

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    Phyllis says...

    February 25th, 2011, 5:34 pm

    I like to keep it simple. Recently I stayed with relatives who were stressing because they didn’t know how they were going to feed me. We went to the closest grocery store where I stocked up on organic apples, whole wheat bagles, almonds, peanut butter, pasta with cheap vegan sauce, and soda. I could see the tension melting off of my sister-in-law’s face as she realized cooking was not going to be an expensive or complicated chore. I hope it made eating vegan seem “normal” and less high maintenance.

    Rob says...

    February 25th, 2011, 6:34 pm

    Good idea! Plus you illustrated to your relatives how veganist fare can be simpler than prepping beef, chicken and other carnist food that requires more careful handling, sauces, cooking, bones, clean-up. No bones aout veg food!

    Lacy says...

    February 25th, 2011, 8:06 pm

    While recently traveling to a small town in the South, where the ‘Big’ restaurant was Cracker Barrel (even the veggie plate is cooked with fatback and the server told me I was definitely in the wrong place for vegan) and the only other restaurants were fast food (yuck) my emergency-so-I-don’t-starve plan was the bean burrito at Taco Bell. Not a culinary delight, but this from a town that said wine might be got at the local Shell station. I am much happier at home with my Farmer’s Market and Organic food stores, but if desperate….

    Michael says...

    February 25th, 2011, 8:55 pm

    I don’t know if I’m just being nit-picky or not but I feel the need to share this with everyone. We – vegetarians and vegans are NOT herbivores. As humans we are scientifically classified as omnivores. A herbivore is a rabbit, a horse, a cow, a giraffe for example. These animals cannot and will not ever eat meat – the same way we would never eat a piece of steel – even if we were literally starving. As a vegetarian I never go out and nibble on the leaves on the trees. Then it would be really easy to find food while traveling. That said I would like to say that this is an inspiring article – thank you.

    Rob says...

    February 25th, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Interesting observation! It got me wondering “what kinds of grasses and foliage can we eat”…especially if lost in the wild, a possibility for wanderers like me. So I found this video about identifying edible grasses…edu-tainment! It’s at http://video.answers.com/how-to-identify-edible-grass-165864908 . In addition to traditional edible leafy plants, I see on some websites some tree leaves that are edible for humans (sassafras) and various bushes, including some I recently learned were used in Native American cooking. Now I want to take a survivalist class!

    oh holland says...

    February 26th, 2011, 2:06 am

    As if mere compassion for animals is not reason enough to go vegan, whose mouth would not water at the sight of those dishes?!? Compare and contrast with the vision of a slab of dead muscle, fat and gravy … no contest as to which is appetizing.

    Marty says...

    February 27th, 2011, 11:59 pm

    Hi Robin,
    Nice post. It’s always easier when you know where you’re going and have some sort of transportation available. Many hotels have both refrigerators AND microwaves. Now I’m not a fan of microwaved cuisine but when traveling my frozen Amy’s burritos and other “instant” meals last a day or so and there’s a meal or two. I have found that ethnic restaurants are more than likely to have vegan dishes but chains are now opening up with vegan educated wait staff. (Check websites for menus!) I’ll be reviewing Mama Fu’s in a day or so where I had a great vegan dish and met some of the most knowledgable folks regarding vegan needs in mainstream dining.

    You certainly do get surprised.

    Cracker Barrel … ha, someday soon they’ll join the 21st century.

    Marty
    Marty’s Flying Vegan Review
    http://www.martysnycveggiereview.blogspot.com
    @veganpilotmarty

    Robin says...

    February 28th, 2011, 8:45 am

    Hi Marty – I’d like to see your review – sounds like a great place. I rarely stop at chains since I have fun finding locals’ and indie places, but when I do, I ask if there’s an ingredients list for dishes (many chains have them). In one case, the server and chef-on-duty at PF Changs looked up the ingredients in for their dishes marked vegetarian and it turned out the sauce contained an animal ingredient (so I ordered just steamed naked veggies). Follow me at @TravelVeg . I’ll keep watch to follow you back.

    Sadie says...

    March 5th, 2011, 10:53 pm

    Yeah! Great article. I love your response to the “what do you eat?” question! Traveling is such an awesome opportunity to discover new foods!

    My partner and I just got back from Thailand where we filmed the pilot episode of “The Intrepid Herbivores,” a TV travel show about vegan food. Its intent is to aid veggie people as they navigate unfamiliar lands, and also to highlight and celebrate just how much spectacular vegan food is out there. We definitely do not go hungry.

    We just filmed the pilot and hope to get backing to continue the series, highlighting a different country or region in each episode. Come see us at http://intrepidherbivores.com/.

    Thank you!

    Lora says...

    March 13th, 2011, 2:53 pm

    I was so dis-heartened to read about how McDonald’s is torturing chickens, it made me cry…WHY, oh why I continually ask myself do we consider ourselves “human” (“HUMANE”) when even the God-fearing amoung us allow torture for innocent animals, chickens, dairy cows, horses, fish…why does this continue?!! I have spent most of my adult life on a plant-based diet and gave up dairy products altogether after witnessing first-hand how dairy cows are treated at a dairy farm in Whiteland Indiana. I want desperately to bring change to the forefront for all of God’s innocents. I am so moved by animals and all creatures of the earth-I want to educate the human race on vegetarian living and making paradise available to all creatures of the earth. How can I DO MORE? Thanks-Lora P. Greenwood, Indiana

    Rob says...

    April 30th, 2011, 10:54 pm

    Hi Lora – I feel the same as you do. I don’t understand how people can close their eyes and hearts just because they and/or people they know like to profit or indulge in ways that hurt other thinking, feeling beings. Some say it’s because humans have a tendency to limit their kinship circle. But humans also have the capacity to increase their kinship circle, as evidenced by the (increasing) many who demonstrate respect and care for other inhabitants of Earth and their habitats. You can channel your caring nature and passion in many ways. You can get ideas on the websites of nonprofit animal welfare organizations such as PETA, Mercy for Animals, the Humane Society (as a believer in God, I like their Humane Steward posts from religious people), PCRM (and there are other wonderful groups too). Thanks for speaking up for the voiceless.

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