Archive for May, 2008
If there’s one thing about trying to follow a vegan diet that I have to say I find difficult, it’s travelling. As a family we decided early on that we would content ourselves with merely eating vegetarian when we’re on the road, which is a compromise that’s served us well over the last two and a half years. This certainly doesn’t mean we’re scarfing down eggs with abandon or inhaling milk by the carton; it simply means that we might have a pizza with cheese on it once in a while and we don’t quiz our waiters too much as to just what exactly is in the veggie burgers.
There are some vegan websites I visit and vegan authors I read that would call us moral hypocrites for making that choice, and they are certainly welcome to their opinion. (I even had one guy email me and compare me to Hitler for eating cheese pizza while on the road. He may have thought I was taking the easy route, and he may even have a point there. I’m not perfect, and have never pretended to be. But I think the Hitler thing was a little over the top….)
Everyone approaches the challenge of travelling with different resources, monetary and otherwise. In some parts of the world I am sure it’s very easy to eat totally vegan while on the move, and nothing would please me more. However, the vegan options for travellers in the parts of the world I happen to visit are pretty darn scarce, and would limit us to meal after meal of garden salad and french fries. I think we owe it to our two rugrats to try and do a little better than that.
I find that bigger cities have a better understanding of vegan food than do small towns. When Bob and I visited Florida last month, for example, the Orlando Marriott outdid themselves in providing some fantastic meals for us. Take for example, this soup…..
Hidden underneath this crust was some of the most delicious spicy tomato soup we’d ever tasted, and it was all vegan.
They also came up with this little gem, which was kinda like a tower of potatoes and sauteed mushrooms, built on top of a grilled tomato.
Unfortunately, it was swimming in a pool of some sort of cream sauce. Bob and I decided to just eat around it and be happy that they made such a fine effort, rather than send it back in a huff because it wasn’t totally vegan. This is the kind of concession that we happen to be fine with.
Unfortunately, here in the Maritimes, once you wander outside the major centres it’s rare to come across any restaurants with vegan options. College towns, like Wolfville and Antigonish happen to be a little better than most, but generally speaking, vegan options are the aforementioned fries and salad, something that gets a little old really fast. Two summers ago, we spent a week in Newfoundland, and by the time we got home, none of us wanted to see a french fry on our plates for weeks. (I must say though, we were pleasantly surprised to see two or three vegetarian options on the menu in Gros Morne National Park.)
Luckily for us, our family is more of the picnic type than the haute cuisine variety. We like to hike and camp, so lots of road trips will find us parked in some scenic spot, munching on a sandwich from home and soaking up the view.
So, after two and a half years of rambling through the maritimes as a veg*n, what would be my advice for anyone planning a road trip and wanting to avoid the meat?
If you want to totally avoid animal products, be forewarned that it will not be easy. Stock up before you go on food that you know you can eat, and it you choose to eat in a restaurant, be prepared for puzzled looks from the staff, and also be prepared to explain exactly what you mean by vegan or vegetarian. (I still run into lots of folks who think vegetarians eat fish. C’mon, nothing with a face and a mother falls into the category of vegetable…) Also be prepared for varying degrees of willingness to accomadate your request to omit or substitute ingredients in a menu item. Some places will bend over backwards for you, others will flatly refuse to change a thing. Be prepared with Plan B if it turns out that there’s nothing for you to eat. (It happens. Some places have meat in everything, even the salad.) Although I do like restaurants to know that us veg*ns are out there and would appreciate more options, they are within their rights to serve whatever they think will sell, and who am I to take them to task for that?)
You might also want to adopt the attitude before you go of “Food as Fuel.” Sure, you may not be tucking in to gourmet delights, but like I always say, if I want a great vegan meal, I’ll cook it at home. I like to visit restaurants while travelling mostly for the atmosphere and novelty. If a place has great atmosphere, I’m happy to much on iceberg lettuce, have a cold one and appreciate my surroundings. After all, I’m on vacation!!
Next Time: The Camping Veg*n
Let me tell you about my Mother in Law.
My Mother in Law and I have had an up and down relationship as long as I have known her, which is going on sixteen years now. She is a smart, capable, fiercely self-reliant and industrious soul, and I love her to death, but let’s just say there’s been lots of subjects on which we haven’t exactly seen eye to eye about. Vegetarianism is one of those subjects.
Back when I was in my early twenties and dabbling in vegetarianism, we lived quite close to my in laws. At the time, both her and my father in law hunted and killed their own meat with great regularity. When I announced that we were going to raise the kids as vegetarians, it went over like a lead ballloon, as I’m sure you can imagine. At one point, she flatly advised me that I could do whatever I wanted in my own home, but when the kids were at her house, she would feed them whatever she pleased.
OK then…..well. I guess the line was drawn in the sand with that one. Ultimately, it simply became too much of a point of contention for us, especially being in our early twenties with a pretty undeveloped backbone. It just wasn’t worth the arguments and bad feelings that seemed to result every time the subject came up. We drifted away from the veggie life for the time being, although I dabbled in it over the next ten years enough so that my kids were certainly familiar with tofu, and weren’t ever surprised to see veggie burgers on the menu.
Fast forward to January 3rd, 2006, the last day we ate meat. We were now older and wiser, and considerably more comfortable in our ability to take a stand for what we believed in. We knew it was going to ruffle some feathers in the family, but we knew that this time was forever, no matter how much other family members might not like it. And let’s just say they didn’t.
There were a few uncomfortable moments at family events, despite the fact that Bob and I tried to bend over backwards too make sure that no one had to cater to our needs. We always showed up with all the food we needed and we made a concious effort not to ever preach to anyone. Despite that, it was pretty clear that both my Mother and Father in law were convinced we had all taken leave of our senses. Our very presence at the dinner table seemed to make folks uncomfortable. After a while, the very fact that they too went out of their way never to talk about our vegetarianism made it seem like there was always a big white elephant in the room.
Whenever my husband would mention to his mom on the phone that he had a bit of a cold or didn’t feel well, she would quiz him at length about the state of his B-12 stores. An ache in his bones became a calcium deficiency. A bout of the flu meant he had a gluten intolerance from eating “all that damn fake meat sh**.” Although they would never come right out and tell us that they thought we were depriving our kids, it was clear from their odd pointed comment that this was precisely what they thought, Mom in Law in particular. (Oddly enough, I have a steady line-up of neighbourhood children at my house, weekends and weekdays alike, lining up for some of that quote-unquote “deprivation.” In fact, there aren’t too many meals that I don’t have at least one extra kid at the table. That wasn’t enough to sway her opinion, however.)
But time passed. They saw that being vegetarian never stopped us from attending family functions, from travelling, or from camping trips. Christmas dinners were still special, birthday cakes were still sweet. They saw that both kids were growing just fine, and in fact, are in better shape now than they ever were before, with strong teeth and nice clear skin. We made sure to tell them about the results of our blood work when we had it done….(Cholesterol of 161 for Bob, 156 for me.) The kids did well in their fitness tests and clearly had lots of energy for their physical activities, including grueling hikes with the army cadets. And little by little, the tide started to turn. They became more willing all the time to eat what we were eating when we went to visit, and even started commenting that the kids sure did seem to eat well and prefer healthy food to junk.
It reached a whole new level a few months back when Bob’s aunt adopted a vegetarian diet to deal with her menopausal symptoms and environmental illness. She’s lost 11 pounds of fat, no longer has hot flashes, and feels better than she has in years. She had no trouble telling her sister (my mother in law) that if she didn’t eat this way too, she was crazy.
So, where are we at now? I just spent a weekend with my inlaws. All of the hostility seems to have evaporated, and in fact, they just made a special trip last week to pick up some Tofurky and President’s Choice Meatless Chicken for themselves. We even had a neighbour of theirs over for dinner, and mom-in-law spent the whole meal enthusing to the guest about how great some of these new meat substitutes are. When they were outside, I snuck down to the basement to case out their freezer. And guess what I found?
Veggie burgers….. (two different kinds, actually!)
..and soy ground round.
(Not only that, but I found soy cheese in her cheese-keeper!)
Hey, Mother in Law! I guess we weren’t so crazy after all, eh?