Thursday, August 19, 2010

Veggie Might: Traveling While Vegetarian

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Hello from Canada! Bonjour du Canada! My good pal KC and I are wringing out the last bit of the summer travel season with a road trip along the Bay of Fundy to Prince Edward Island.

Almost as much fun as being here (whales! porpoises! seals!), was plotting our course and picking fun things to do with her 6-year-old daughter (whales! porpoises! seals!). My additional task was ensuring there were places for me to eat along the way, here in the land of abundant seafood/fruits de mer.

Vegetarian/vegan travel can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. In my 19 years of vegetarianism, I’ve never gone hungry from lack of choices. There are a few things I do when I’m traveling to unknown locales, but starve is never one of them.

For this trip, and this post, I called on my own Veg Posse (VP) and Friends of the VP to bring you the best vegetarian/vegan travel tips they and the Web have to offer.

Meet the VP:
LEIGH: me, writer/tea-drinker, lacto-ovo vegetarian
DH: roommate/pal, actor/orator, lacto-ovo vegetarian
BA (in absentia): pal, rock star/bon vivant, vegan
LB: pal, rabble rouser/animal advocate, 98% vegan
HC: friend of the VP, giver of good email, vegan

1) Do Your Research
When traveling to an unfamiliar destination, make a plan. Both LB and HC agreed that researching restaurants online is the best way to find veg-friendly places to chow down. Sure, you can get French fries/pommes frites/chips and salad just about anywhere. But sometimes you want a healthier/less boring option.

HC wisely recommends calling ahead whenever venturing out to a new vegetarian restaurant. “One thing I have learnt is that vegan restaurants close down so frequently that information can be out of date. The number of times I have trekked through a town to find that the restaurant is no longer there...rather depressing.”

Get out your guidebooks, interweb resources, and maps, and plot a course for the nearest veg-friendly restaurant. Here are the most highly recommended sites for searching veg-friendly travel.

VEG-SPECIFIC:
Happy Cow.net: Hands-down the most popular and comprehensive vegetarian directory on the Web. You can search restaurants by country, region/state/province, and city. You can define results by veg-only and vegetarian-friendly, user ratings, and/or veg type: vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly. Plus, Happy Cow provides other resources, such as travel and health articles, as well as forums for members to share information. I used Happy Cow to find a great vegetarian restaurant in Moncton, New Brunswick that not only pleased my palate, but a picky 6-year-old’s.

VegGuide: A community-maintained veg restaurant and market guide. It allows you to search for restaurants, groceries, and markets all over the world by country, region, and city; describes each entry by “How Vegetarian?”; and allows for user ratings.

Vegan Forum: Message boards like Vegan Forum are a great way to get the skinny on local joints from local folks. After you’ve found a place that sounds good on “paper,” search for it, or ask about it, on a forum and find out if anybody really eats there.

GENERAL:
Trip Advisor: An invaluable resource when planning any trip. You will find user ratings and reviews on hotels, restaurants, and destinations of all sorts. Since I knew seafood would be all the rage where we were going, I did a little digging on Trip Advisor and found several Lobster Suppers with vegetarian options on Prince Edward Island. After emailing the proprietors, I found the one with the best veggie deal for the price.

Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums: The first (two) name(s) in travel guides for the modern adventurer. Just enter your destination and the word vegetarian or vegan in the Lonely Planet search window, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a thread loaded with information from fellow travelers.

2) Pack a Snack
A frugal traveler of any stripe packs a few snacks or meals for the road (or airport). For a veg, it’s especially helpful if you’re unsure of your options where you’re headed or along the way. BA, rock star and world traveler, always stocks my fridge with single-serve soymilk and soy yogurts when she’s passing through NYC. HC swears by raw cashews and veggie sausage sandwiches. LB packs apples, carrot sticks, and rice cakes for the road. Me? I’m a tamari almond, granola bar, and peanut butter sandwich traveler—plus single-serve almond milk for continental breakfast cereal.

3) Make a Few Concessions
As DH said so eloquently said, “sometimes you just have to give up eating healthy when you travel.” So true, DH. Fast food is inevitable at times, and a moment of calm and surrender can be worth far more than stress about finding organic, seasonal, local produce in the suburban jungle. HC and LB agree, though we all make an attempt to avoid it unless unavoidable. LB says, I just find it hard to patronize places that promote an unhealthy diet, nutritionally, ethically and environmentally, on such a large scale.” Preach it, sister/soeur.

Fast food joints are getting better about offering vegetarian fare. Salads are prevalent, though often less than appetizing; veggie burgers pop up every now and then, though vegans should ask for an ingredient list before ordering. I had a fast-food veggie burger on Tuesday when we kicked off our road trip with the kid’s choice of restaurant, and it was pretty good.

Still, there will be times when your only option is fast food French fries/pommes frites/chips. Remember when you were a kid and you begged to have only French fries/pommes frites/chips for dinner? When you’re a veg/vegan on the road—especially in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.—that kid gets to live his/her dream.

4) Know You Will Not Starve
There will always be something for you to eat. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your waiters and the locals. Someone will be able to guide you toward food you can eat and enjoy.

Since my international travel experience is limited to the Great White North, I put the following question to LB and HC: How do you negotiate what's available/cultural norms/etiquette? Their answers were so brilliant that I’m just going to quote them outright.
    LB: “In my first serious solo trip overseas to Tanzania, I spent the first 2 weeks with a volunteer group working in a local village. The village women were responsible for preparing our meals, which we ate with our hosts. I honestly don't recall if I specified that I was vegetarian but amazing vegan options were available at every meal. Their diet in general is not very dairy-rich, probably due to limited dairy production in [that] area of Tanzania, and also, I imagine, cost. My colleagues were actually a little jealous of my diet, as the meat they were served was generally of the chewy animal sort—not very appetizing! Later, when I did a 10-day walking tour with just me and a guide, I told him I was vegetarian, and so he would buy rice and vegetables in the markets of the various towns and have our hosts for the evenings prepare them for me. I don't recall anyone thinking my diet was odd or out of place and, again, I think this is largely due to the fact that Tanzania is not a wealthy country and so meat, while available, is costly and not served at every meal.”
    HC: “I find that in many countries where they have dietary restrictions for religious reasons, they find it easier to understand the concept of veganism, and it's not so strange to them to hear that someone can't eat something as a result of their beliefs.”
No matter where you go, in the whole wide world, there will be something for you to eat. Except, says HC, maybe in France if you’re a vegan.

If you’d still like a little help explaining your diet, check out this article:
WikiTravel—Vegetarian and Vegan Food

There you’ll find a link to the International Vegetarian Union’s Vegetarian Phrases in World Languages page. You’ll be able to say, “I am a vegetarian. I do not eat meat, pork or chicken./Je suis un v├ęg├ętarienne. Je ne mange pas de viande, de porc ou de poulet,” in a bajillion/baguillion languages.

5. Relax and Enjoy
Sometimes, the best way to plan your vegetarian/vegan vacation is not to plan at all. Just get out there, meet some people, and have fun. And eat some French fries/pommes frites/chips.

All the veg-specific guides mentioned in this article, and many more, can be found at
~~~

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4 comments:

CJ said...

Traveling vegetarians have fewer options but it's still do-able. Being a vegan is much more challenging. Restaurant trends are changing, but offerings are extremely limited for vegans.

I am neither, almost always pack my own snacks so I'm not beholden to greasy or poor quality, over-priced food options. We often stop at a grocery store and pick up a few things to eat. Hummus, peanut butter and fruit are widely available almost everywhere.

Jane said...

Luckily there is a chocolate factory just outside of Charlottetown which could nicely tie you over :)

jane-adventuresindinner.blogspot.com

Marty said...

Great post. I am all too familiar with vegan travel on the road. See my blog about eating vegan as a charter pilot. Marty's Flying Vegetarian Review is at: www.martysnycveggiereview.blogspot.com

But, that self serving plug being said, a few things come to mind. Remember that when you say vegetarian to some people they interpret that in ... well, as many ways as there are people. I ate in a Chinese restaurant in NY for years eating the veggie soup with dumplings. Delicious, until one day one of the waiters told me it was a chicken based soup. Nice.

So some people just don't care and want to take your money. But Ollie's is now closed on W. 82nd St so there!

On a recent trip to Canada I had trouble convincing the waitress I only wanted toast and fruit and juice, no eggs, sausage or bacon. Canada can be tough in the more rural areas but the cities are much easier. Try FRESH in Toronto as an example.

The other helpful iPhone app is Veggie Passport which translates all those phrases right on the phone so you can just pull up a phrase and show it to someone. Of course, you won't understand their answer but at least you tried.

And finally I think trying is the key. If you ask for vegan and it looks vegan you did your job. Eat it and enjoy. Unless you find a chicken foot in the bottom. Then scream like hell.

Marty

Anonymous said...

Have fun on 'the island' (as we eastern Canadians call it)!