How do you piss off vegans the world over and maybe piss off non-vegans as well?
By writing what I’m about to write. ;)
Traveling on a vegan diet isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is more challenging than willy-nilly eating anything and everything in sight.
My veganism is out of respect for animals. A lot of my ideas on veganism are rooted in Buddhism. I am not, however, anywhere near a Buddhist. I am simply a fan of some of the philosophy.
An Overview (Paraphrased from the book Monk Chat, published by Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai, Thailand)
Monks must abstain from killing living things. Therefore, monks are vegan. Technically. There is a loophole.
Every morning they must go on their alms round. Which is a way for laypeople (Buddhists who are not monks) to make merit (Tam Boon). As the monks make their alms round, laypeople give them food. Monks are not allowed to refuse any food, whether it has animal ingredients or not.
And that’s the loophole. If the people who are making merit offer food with animals, the monk has to accept it. :(
There are, however, 10 kinds of meat a monk may not eat under any circumstances: human, elephant, horse, dog, serpent, lion, bear, feline tigris, leopard, or yellow tiger. Do not ask me why, as I do not know.
Monks follow the idea of “eat to live, not live to eat.” Most of Western society lives to eat, hence all the obesity and heart disease. We should eat for nourishment, as fuel for our incredible bodies, as opposed to simply for enjoyment. Food is for survival.
It all boils down to respect. A monk cannot disrespect the layperson by refusing their food. And so, he must eat the food, whatever it happens to be.
I take this same stance. If I order food that is supposed to be vegan and it arrives un-veganized I have only 2 options.
1) Find someone who will eat it and order new food.
2) Eat it myself if I can’t find someone to eat it.
Under no circumstances may I throw the food away (by sending it back). An animal has provided that food with their life and I won’t disrespect it like that.
Fortunately, I have yet to come across a situation where I have been accidentally given meat. I’m still unsure how I will react in that situation, but I have a feeling I will not have a problem finding someone to eat the food.
Yes, I have eaten dairy products since going vegan. And I have absolutely no problems calling myself a vegan. I don’t purposefully buy non-vegan food and I don’t prepare non-vegan food when I’m eating at home.
When I was in Berlin recently I ordered a cheese-less pizza. Unfortunately it arrived with cheese and enough garlic to kill a man. Not a single person at our table wanted the pizza due to the overpowering smell of garlic. I ate it. Throwing it away would be extraordinarily disrespectful. Not only to the animal who was mistreated and eventually died to provide that cheese, but to anybody who has ever gone hungry (billions of people every day).
I submit that if you’re a vegan due to compassion for animals that you should follow this same path.
Think about it, which of the following is more compassionate?
1) Eating cheese that you didn’t order. The animal you didn’t want to die for you has been given to you to eat. If you eat it, at least it didn’t die for absolutely nothing.
2) Throwing away the cheese you didn’t order. The animal you didn’t want to die for you has been given to you to eat. If you don’t eat it, you’re pissing on its life. It died for nothing. And it will be your fault that it died for nothing. You do not have a worthy argument otherwise. (Except lactose intolerance, which I definitely understand.)
It’s an obvious choice if you truly are compassionate.
Stress Free Living
A couple of years ago a friend of mine said, “Karol, you have the most stress free life out of anybody I know.”
At the time I laughed because that wasn’t true at all. In fact, it was quite opposite.
These days, however, most of my choices boil down to whatever is least stressful and I probably do have the least stressful life of anybody I know.
It is less stressful to eat a bit of dairy I didn’t order than to whine and complain that “the stupid chef (or cashier or line cook) is a god damned idiot.” They’re not idiots. They’re human. We are amazingly imperfect creatures and we make mistakes.
Eating vegan, in and of itself, helps release lots of stress. Not only on my mind, but on my body. Animal products are incredibly difficult for our bodies to digest. Especially dairy, which is meant for calves, not grown humans. From a health standpoint dairy is just nasty, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
I don’t preach. Yes, I do want you to eat a vegan diet. Not vegetarian. Vegan. But I don’t care if you’re an omnivore. I will date you (err, if you’re female, haha), I will be friends with you, and I will probably even pay for dinner if we go out and you order a meat dish. It’s not my place to force my choices upon you.
There are many arguments against veganism and every single one is unfounded. I won’t go into any of them here. I just ask that you do a lot of research if you really want the truth. Preferably research that’s not funded by the beef or dairy industries, which will be biased.
It sucks when somebody comments on my blog, e-mails me, or discusses in person their misinformed ideas about the meat and dairy industries. But I don’t correct them. I’m not interested in arguments (Life Lesson #8). I simply ask them to research what they’re saying. And so, if you comment below with misinformed arguments you should save your time because they will not be accepted.
How To Make Vegan Travel Easy
Now that we’ve determined that if there is a mistake made you will not disrespect the animal, let’s get into the details of how to actually eat a vegan diet while traveling to unknown lands where you may not speak the language. It’s actually pretty darn easy to eat vegan anywhere in the world!
1) Eat lots of fruit.
Fruit is available and plentiful everywhere. And, of course, it’s vegan and incredibly nourishing. ;) While eating only fruit (Fruitarian) would not work well for me, I have gone a full day eating only fruit on at least 1 occasion. Not sustainable (for me) for the long haul, but one day? Sure, I can handle that.
I eat a lot of fruit anyway.
In India I ate ~20 lady finger bananas per day. These are very small bananas, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 regular bananas. In addition to that I ate lots of whatever other fruit was available. Fuji apples, grapes, strawberries, and papaya were plentiful. And, of course, my daily fresh coconut for 20 Rupees. :)
Fruit is an important part of our diet and most of us don’t get enough. I definitely didn’t until I started eating vegan.
I call bananas the perfect travel food. You can pick a banana out of a mud pit, open it up, and eat it. :) No need to worry about the outside getting dirty because you only want the sweet fibrous inside. In addition, no utensils necessary.
My favorite fruit in the whole world (besides the not-so-easily-available Jakfruit) is mango, but I’m not a fan of the preparation. Thankfully, in Thailand I was able to eat mango a few times per day. For 10 Baht (~30 cents) it was freshly sliced and ready to devour. And it’s available everywhere in Thailand (along with many other fruits) at the ubiquitous Thai street carts.
When you arrive in a new city immediately go out and find the nearest market (or corner store or anything) that sells fruit and stock up. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s healthy, and it’s vegan.
Note: avocado is a fruit. Mmmm … I love avocado. Here is how to check for ripeness: do not squeeze! You will bruise the insides. Instead, push in the stem a little. If it gives it’s ripe. If it doesn’t give then wait a day or two.
2) Eat lots of beans / whole grains.
Whether you’re making your own food or eating out, beans and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) are a perfect combination of food available in most parts of the world.
My favorite dish is a combo of black beans with either quinoa or brown rice (and avocado if I have a ripe one handy). Quinoa is much less readily available so I usually have brown rice. I eat this at least once/day and sometimes twice.
3) Eat lots of vegetables.
Due to so many vegetables needing some kind of preparation I’m not a great vegetable eater. While I eat them daily, I eat far more fruits than vegetables.
My favorite easy to prepare vegetables are tomatoes (crap, another fruit? haha) and broccoli. I eat these raw and sometimes I eat tomatoes like they’re apples. When I was younger I didn’t like tomatoes at all, but as I grew and my palate changed I grew to love them.
If you’re not a vegetable fan you might have to train your palate. Try something new every time you go to the market and you will eventually find something you like. And remember: different varieties of the same vegetable taste completely different. There are some tomatoes I’m not a huge fan of. And mushrooms have so many different flavors it’s insane. Continually test your palate!
Eating a nice salad every day is an easy way to get a lot of your vegetables in one fell swoop. I’ve been known to eat an almost 2 pound salad (lots of greens, LOTS of tomatoes) for dinner. :)
Salads are available in virtually every restaurant in the world. Eat a big enough salad and it is quite filling.
4) Eat nuts.
Nuts are also available everywhere and greats sources of many nutrients. Goa, India is known for its cashews (kaju) and you can bet I ate a LOT of them while I was there. They are my favorite nut. Unsalted, raw, of course. Nuts pack lots of much needed energy in the forms of protein and fat. You don’t want to make nuts your staple, but eat a little bit regularly. They’re also great while you’re in transit (planes, trains, and automobiles).
5) Research local restauarants.
HappyCow.net has listings for veg and veg-friendly restaurants all over the world. (Don’t waste your money on their iPhone app if you have an iPod Touch. It’s a waste.)
If there are a lot of restaurants listed on HappyCow I also post in the CouchSurfing.org Group (message board) for whatever city I’m going to be in to get favorite veg restaurant recommendations.
Restaurants where you should never have a problem finding veg food:
- Indian – Channa Masala and lots of other stuff.
- Thai – veg/rice/tofu.
You will find Indian and/or Thai restaurants in so many cities in the world it’s crazy. Even here in Wroc?aw, there are two Indian restaurants that I know about.
Bonus restaurant tip: If you pass by a health food type store walk in and ask about local veg-friendly restaurants. I had trouble finding a decent restaurant in Cairns, QLD, Australia and asked a girl at a health food store. She said there aren’t many options (boo Cairns!), but gave me directions to a Mexican restaurant. This Mexican restaurant actually had a vegan menu! :)
6) Allow yourself some junk food.
I promise once you start eating a whole food plant-based diet that your cravings for junk will almost completely subside. I rarely crave junk. But when I do? I go all out. I will happily eat a whole bag of chips or a veggie burger (or 3) or a pizza or a 2 liter bottle of soda. It doesn’t happen often, but when I have a really strong craving I let myself at it. Some people advocate having a “cheat day” once/week. For me that’s far too often and sometimes not often enough. It would be forced. As I sit here right now I am eating a 90% dark chocolate bar. :) I probably won’t finish it, but I won’t deny myself if I happen to want to eat every last bite.
Another thing about junk food: when you’re in new lands you will find some very interesting choices in vegan junk food! The best, by far, is in India. I’ll let you discover it for yourself. ;)
What About Soy?
You’ll notice I don’t mention soy above. I’m not a huge fan. In Thailand I ate soy regularly because it was part of a lot of local cuisine (in the form of tofu). For the most part I don’t eat soy.
That said, I’m currently in a phase of drinking one B12 fortified glass of soy milk every day. B12 is the one nutrient that I have had trouble introducing into my diet without drinking soy milk. I can handle that.
Claims that soy is unhealthy are incredibly overblown. (Again, I ask that you research it yourself. Don’t believe anything I state.)
Learn The Local Vegan Options Ahead of Time
If you can, do a little research about traditional meals that are already vegan. If you know ahead of time which meals should be vegan that will make things a lot easier on you. My best suggestion: utilize CouchSurfing again. :) Go into the Country Group (or any City Group) and ask what meals are traditionally vegan. There may be none, but it’s worth asking.
The Language Barrier
The language barrier is what can sometimes cause the aforementioned un-veganized food at restaurants.
It’s fairly easy to solve: learn how to say you don’t eat meat or milk or cheese or butter in whatever language you’ll be encountering. If you’re not willing to do that then you could always sit at home, watch TV, and do nothing. ;)
Back to keeping things less stressful: don’t worry too much about the language barrier. When you start traveling things seem to just fall into place. I could write for days about this topic (or any topic) and you’ll never learn as much as by experiencing it for yourself.
On the overnight train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok there was a menu with 8 or 9 meat options and 1 vegetarian option. I ordered the vegetarian option, but it wasn’t available. Dammit. The lady taking orders refused to accept that chicken was not a vegetarian option. I spent a good 1-2 minutes insisting she not give me chicken because it is not vegetarian. (I run into this a lot. Chickens and fish are animals people!)
I travel with some sort of emergency rations. Currently that is a Clif Bar. Important: these rations must only be used in an emergency! Like, when you haven’t eaten for 14 hours on your train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. :)
Emergency Rations For The Emergency Rations!
1) Head into any super market / convenience store.
2) Buy a can of beans (my preference is black or kidney) with an easy open top. (If not available, buy the can of beans and a can opener.)
3) Open the can a little and dump out the water. (I usually rinse the beans with clean water as well.)
You might scoff at this, but a can of beans is a filling, healthy, nutritious meal. And it’s cheap to boot!
I don’t always use this as an emergency meal. Sometimes I just want to eat a can of beans and make this a nice little meal/snack. :)
Keep An Open Mind
Would you believe it if I told you that steak houses are one of the easiest restaurants to eat vegan? Think about it. Baked potatoes, beans, lots of salad options. If your friends want to go to a restaurant that is “obviously” not vegan, stop to think about it for a second. When my friends want to eat at a traditionally non-vegan restaurant I don’t usually have any problems eating a very filling meal.
A Learning Process
Eating vegan while traveling is a learning process. Before I embarked on my adventures I was as worried as anybody about being able to eat vegan. It has been a fun experience eating vegan in Australia, New Zealand, India, Thailand, Germany, and Poland.
On many occasions (usually while staying at hostels), when I’d make a meal others would comment on how amazing it looked. When you use lots of fruits/vegetables your meals look quite appetizing. ;)
If you’re worried about traveling to far off lands and keeping a vegan diet, stop worrying. Start living.
Special Note On Comments:
If you have anything negative to say, if you’re not willing to do your research (as stated above), or if you’re making stupid arguments your comment will be trashed.
Feel free to add positive thoughts or helpful points for vegan travel. Thanks!