13 August 2012

Travel like a vegan rock star

Traveling can be difficult for vegans.  We face the unpleasant choice of eating boring foods (French fries, spaghetti marinara, salad) or compromising our values because of a lack of available vegan food.  At least that’s what non-vegans have been telling themselves so that they can justify the “need” to remain carnivores.

But this is a myth and nothing could be further from the truth.  Traveling as a vegan is not only easy, it’s so much fun that you’ll want to sell everything you own and travel full time.  You just need a little preparation and some research of your destination and you’re ready to travel like a vegan rock star.  Or better yet, travel like a vegan chef.

One of the biggest problems (and misconceptions) when converting to veganism is that we are depriving ourselves.  That is upside down thinking.  Don’t think of it as deprivation but as an expansion of your culinary horizons.  It should be a way to explore new produce and spices rather than a retreat to the tried and true peanut butter sandwich.  Sure you can live on that but why would you want to when the world is full of all sorts of culinary options for the vegan traveler.

For most of us, travel is in the form of vacation.  No one wants to eat a boring meal while on vacation.  Whether you’re on vacation or traveling for business, you can jazz up your repertoire by taking a closer look at what’s going on around you and by bringing along a few essentials.  First, make yourself a chef’s survival kit.  (Even if you’re not a real chef, you can act like your own personal chef anywhere you go.) 

You’ll need the following:

A bamboo cutting board (Bamboo is lightweight and best for traveling.  It’s also sustainable.  You can even find them at the dollar store these days.)

A 10” chef’s knife (I like Wustoff-Trident, but it doesn’t matter what brand you buy as long as the handle is well constructed and weighted properly.)  If you have the money, get a sheath for it.  Otherwise just wrap it well.  If you don’t know how to use it properly, go to YouTube and watch this video on how to use a Chef’s knife.

A paring knife or a utility knife for small things.

A mortar and pestle.  (Yes, this is old fashioned but the alternative is carrying an electric spice grinder.  Your choice.)  A small bamboo set costs less than $10 and will last forever.  Word to the wise: Don’t wash it, just wipe it out.

If you’re willing to spend the extra money, get a 3-cup rice cooker.  They are $15 on Amazon and can be used for much more than rice.  You can actually cook most foods in one and it’s lightweight and portable.

In addition, you will want something to carry your kit in.  I use a laptop case to carry the cutting board and knives and a man’s shaving bag for the mortar and pestle.  I also carry some chia seeds, olive oil and salt.

Now you’re prepared to make just about anything at your destination.  Mind you, you can’t bake in a rice cooker but you can learn to find alternatives.

Next, go on the internet and read about what kind of food the locals eat.  Not what kind of vegan food, just what kind of food.  Look up some recipes; get a feel for the culinary layout.  Then make a veganized version of a recipe from that region at home to launch your travel adventure. 

For example, say you’re going to New Orleans.  They eat a lot of seafood, and sausage is big deal.  Restaurants will be a challenge, but more and more eateries are recognizing the need for vegan alternatives.  For the inside scoop, let’s do a search. 

The search parameters “vegan New Orleans” showed 7 restaurants and cafes in addition to a vegan blogger in New Orleans.  Her blog is informative and definitely helpful.  She also has a blog that unites vegans for drinks at various watering holes.  This is an excellent resource.  Contact her, show up for drink, ask lots of questions.  Maybe someone will know of a great place for vegan pastries or maybe a new vegan pho restaurant just opened and they are dying for business.  Local bloggers and foodies are always good sources of info.

Once you’ve gotten a little knowledge under your belt, do some exploring.  Put on some comfy vegan shoes and walk around the trendy areas and see what’s going on.    Go to a bar in the French Quarter and talk to people.  Ask what their favorite meals are.  Let the local eaters tell you what to eat instead of eating the same salad and spaghetti you can get anywhere in the world.   And be brave.  If you want to eat at the local cafes and restaurants, great, but I also encourage you to go shopping at the local market, then break out your kit.

Get some rice and lots of Cajun spices.  Look for Goya red beans.  Buy whatever veggies are local and in season.  Take all of it back to your room and plug in the rice cooker.  Following the instructions, prepare your rice for cooking, add some spices and start cooking.  After about 10 minutes chop up your veggies and place them on top of the rice/spice mixture and add the beans.  Continue cooking.  Voila!  Vegan Red Beans and Rice in New Orleans.

You’ll also want snacks for the plane.  You are allowed fruits and nuts and salads, although liquids like water and juice have to be purchased at the airport after you’ve been through security.

Once you get the hang of traveling with your kit and searching for vegan foods in  other locations just like you do at home, you’ll be traveling like a vegan rock star!  Send me a postcard and make me jealous with pics of your meals.  I’ll be waiting.

Fianna MacGregor | Blog | Blog | Twitter | Email

New York City Fianna has been vegan for 36 years. She is currently working on a second M.A. in Human Rights from NYU. When she isn’t veganizing every cookbook she can get her hands on, she’s working her urban farm in New York City. She also writes extensively on veganism, running and green living. Her newest project is to trace everything she buys to find out if it’s cruelty-free (both animal and human) and eco-friendly. Fianna and her fiancĂ© are animal rescuers of dogs, cats and birds.

Photo credit: Claudio Sepulveda Geoffroy