05 January 2011

Paradise has its share of culinary challenges for vegans

Paradise is great... unless you actually intend to eat a healthy meal while you’re visiting. I recently spent a week in Staniel Cay, Bahamas at my sister’s house surrounded by surreal turquoise water and more natural beauty than any human truly deserves to witness. The problem is that though there were roughly 307,000 people on the island, three restaurants and two “general stores,” the overwhelming offerings were only beef burgers and Kalik beer. Great for mainstream omnivores but the veggies, beans and grains I needed were a distant dream.

Thankfully, my sister also follows a macrobiotic diet but not as strictly so she had some staple items such as brown rice, oats and corn meal to work with. Finding beans, however, was a comedy worthy of Saturday Night Live. At one point, my brother-in-law was on the maritime radio putting out an APB for “dried beans of any kind” after we opened two cans of garbanzo from Suzanne’s “cellar” and found they were rancid. Meanwhile, I was driving their golf cart around the island looking for “wild vegetables” growing anywhere and hanging off of coral rock cliffs trying to grab anything that looked remotely like a dandelion green.

It just got better from there. I was building a great tan and busting out some excellent bikram yoga moves every morning on the pristine beaches right behind my sister’s house, but I was pretty much starving. The “yacht club” (a screened porch with a very accommodating owner and waitresses) offered me fresh grouper fingers but they were deep fried and had a congealed white sauce on them that looked and smelled like mayonnaise. What was a serious vegan/pescatarian girl to do? I had to get creative and it was going to take a village (literally).

First, I had Suzanne call her neighbors (who were staying in New York for the holidays) and beg some shoyu and aduki beans from their Staniel Cay pantry. When we got the okay, we ran the half mile and practically broke down the front door and had their surprised house guests hand over the groceries. Next, we scrounged around in the bottom of friend Andy’s houseboat and found some tahini, cumin and honey and then managed to get another friend, Pam, on the phone before she flew over from the states. In her bag when she arrived were two big bags of collard greens and a big bag of dried black beans. We were in business!

In seven days, I managed to pull together some relatively decent meals but it was creative cooking at its best and I don’t think I’d find anything close to what I made in any mainstream macrobiotic or vegan cookbook. I'm pretty sure Alicia Silverstone wouldn't include any of my creations in her next publication but the cornmeal/quinoa flake “pancakes” I whipped up one morning were surprisingly tasty (even if we did have to use fake maple syrup from the general store down by the marina.) We all survived, though, and I did take some really good notes for my first cookbook which just might be called Survival Cooking Vegan Style: Creating something from nothing in paradise. Suzanne swore everything tasted fabulous but I’m pretty sure our palates became a lot less picky in their calorie deficient state. Look for the book on Amazon in the near future because hey, I learned a thing or two about dietary resilience in one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Kathryn in the Bahamas feeding wild pigs

Kathryn Lorusso
Kathryn is a former journalist and English teacher who now counsels and mediates teenage drama on a daily basis in the Dallas, Ft. Worth metroplex. Time away from school is spent cooking up new macrobiotic/vegan specialties, writing various blogs and newsletters and taking as many bikram yoga classes as possible.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/zanzibar123, Kathryn