Traveling Vegan in a Meat-Eater’s World
When I was 5-years-old, I remember my parents ordering dinner in restaurants and asking the waitress if dishes had any meat, animal rennet in the cheese, lard in the beans, or chicken broth. They explained to my twin sister and me what these items were and how they were not vegetarian. We had been vegetarians since birth and my parents taught us how to make sure what we were eating was vegetarian and had no hidden animal ingredients.
Six years later, my sister and I decided to take our diet one step further and we became vegans. Although our grandparents thought it was a fad, my parents knew that we were serious about our newfound diet. The vegan diet was in its infancy and many had not heard the term and assumed we meant vegetarian. I remember a classmate looking at me like I was an alien who had just stepped off a spaceship when he heard I did not eat meat, chicken, eggs, and dairy. But it never bothered me, and I was up for the challenge.
Over the years, eating out has become a lot easier, with many in the restaurant industry now familiar with the vegetarian and vegan diet. In fact, many restaurants now feature at least a few vegan dishes, if not a separate menu. I have also learned how to travel smart and follow these four steps before I leave for vacation.
Do the Research
Always research restaurants in the area before going on a trip. I used to buy vegan travel books for specific cities and schlep the book around with me with my notes on where to eat. Now, it is so much simpler with the internet at your fingertips. Certain apps like Happy Cow can make it easy to research restaurants in advance so you can see where it will be convenient to eat. Also, pull up menus from other “non-vegan” restaurants. If there is nothing on the menu, call to see if they can accommodate you. Wynn and Encore casinos in Las Vegas currently feature a vegan menu at all their restaurants. However, before they made this change, I ate at Sinatra’s with my Grandma. Before we booked our reservation, I asked if they could accommodate my dietary restrictions. They said “absolutely.” The chef cooked me the best vegan risotto I have ever eaten. Most recently, many fast-food restaurants have started to offer vegan options – just remember to make sure whether they use the same grill/pan as meat. If it is not separate, I would shy away from these as options.
I learned from my parents that it is ok to always ask about detailed ingredients in dishes. Also, I always ask about certain heavily used ingredients in certain cooking (oyster sauce or chicken broth in Chinese food; Lard in Mexican food). When my husband and I traveled to Tokyo for our honeymoon, I started to ask questions about the ingredients in the meals. The waiter was unsure, so he brought out the head chef and he went through the different options with us. We were so impressed with our meal, we decided to go there the next night.
Call to Make Sure the Restaurant is Open
I had one of the most amazing meals at a vegan Chinese restaurant in New York City and wanted my mom to have the same delicious experience. Unfortunately, after walking 20 city blocks and working up an appetite for this tasty food, we turned down the street and saw that it was now an Italian restaurant that specialized in meat (the irony!). The restaurant business is always changing so make sure to give them a call to make sure they are open before you go.
I had to learn this the hard way. When I was in middle school, I won a trip to the Magic Johnson Basketball Camp. This was my first time away from my family and I was on my own for everything, including eating. I did not plan and in 4 days, I lost 10 pounds. I survived off a salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans for lunch and dinner. I had a piece of bread for breakfast. I now know that I should have brought some snacks with me. Since then, I make sure to visit local grocery stores – including Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Smith’s, Von’s – and stock up on bars (Luna, Lara, Kind), nuts, dried fruits, dried vegetables, and other snacks to sustain me both on the airplane and while I am exploring on vacation.
Traveling while vegan has become much more commonplace. However, if you go the extra step, you can always make sure you will not be without food.