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Vegging out - Go to VeggieDate Mention
For vegetarians, food can represent
one of travel's biggest challenges

By Reed Parsell -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
Published 8:05 a.m. PST Sunday, Jan. 13, 2002

For many, food represents one of traveling's
biggest pleasures. Eating particular things in
particular places becomes a symbolic pursuit:
pizza in New York, barbecue in Texas, haggis in
Scotland, feijoada in Brazil, monkey brains in
China, etc.

For vegetarians -- and especially for those who
follow a more-restricted vegan diet -- food can
represent one of traveling's biggest challenges.
Finding a restaurant that serves meatless dishes
is hard enough. Finding one whose veggie meals
qualify as vegan, with no animal broths, eggs or
dairy products whatsoever, can turn travel eating
into a weight-loss campaign.

Which might be good thing, come to think of it. Go
away, go vegan, go hungry and come back skinny
as a celery stick!

But seriously, what's a traveling vegetarian to

Be adaptable, for starters. Though certain towns, regions and countries might -- in
a broad sense -- have a reputation for being vegetarian-friendly, food servers'
knowledge of such diets is always a wild card.

In some cases, the vegetarian or vegan will have to explain what he or she will not
eat. When that's done in a friendly, patient fashion, and the food server is
attentive and willing to adapt in return, everyone benefits. World peace won't
break out, but maybe in some small way there will be more kinship between those
who eat meat and those who don't.

Even so, on a practical level, vegetarians need to pack more than just pleasant
demeanors when they hit the road.

"One thing I'll do that helps is to take food with me," said vegan Sue Richards, a
project manager in her 40s who lives in Roseville. "Soups and hot cereals that
require only hot water, cartons of soy or rice milk, an organic cereal, herb teas and
the grain beverage that I like, Luna bars ... . My suitcase frequently carries more
food than clothes."

Indeed, packing for vegans is as much an art of meal-planning as it is of folding
and rolling clothes.

Recently, Richards and a few other members of the Sacramento Vegetarian Society
shared thoughts on how they approach travel in terms of their diets, and what
parts of the United States they have found to be vegetarian-friendly.

"I carry a large bowl, eating utensils and a knife for cutting fruits, etc., in my
luggage," said vegan Bill Ewald, 58, an antiquarian-book seller and retired
Sacramento firefighter. "Sometimes I carry an extra suitcase with just food in it. ...
I also carry a jar of organic almond butter and buy bread -- nonwheat for me --
locally for sandwiches."

The longer the trip, the more occasions vegans will have to live off the land
wherever they might be. Richards takes stock of the situation immediately: "The
first thing I do when I reach a new town is check the phone book for health-food
and grocery stores."

Linda Middlesworth of Sacramento also surveys the scene.

"If there are no restaurants to be found that have vegetarian food, I opt for a
grocery store and buy vegan yogurt, vegan energy bars and Muir Glen V-8 juice --
items generally available in standard grocery stores," said the 57-year-old graphics
designer, who has traveled the vegetarian trail in Japan and Russia, among other

Middlesworth, an animal-rights activist who tends not to suffer meat-eaters gladly,
said she usually can make do in restaurants.

"If nothing vegan appears on the menu, I ask the waiter or waitress to make me a
veggie plate with mushrooms, potatoes, rice and whatever fresh veggies they
have," she said. "When my plate arrives, it always looks far better than the brown
and white plates of the carnivores next to me. The chefs are generally bored with
the same dishes over and over, and I think they get creative with my veggie dish."

Davis residents Kendra and Robb Curtis, vegans who met through an online
vegetarian dating service a few years ago( and married last
summer, make their own breakfasts and snacks from "cereal bars, fruit, crackers,
chips, bagels" and the like, said Kendra Curtis, 41 and a chemist.

"For lunch and dinner, we will either try to find a restaurant that offers something
vegan or, if that's not successful, we'll find a grocery store and buy something
there," she said. "We've found that you have to be very creative when traveling as
a vegan.

"You can almost always find something at any restaurant. If there isn't anything on
the menu, we just request to have a dish that is on the menu modified."

Ewald pointed out that certain ethnic restaurants tend to be better bets for
vegans. Mexican eateries generally can whip up "a plain whole-bean and rice
burrito, with guacamole, if it is made with fresh vegetables each day and contains
no dairy," he said.

"Middle Eastern- and Mediterranean-style restaurants have vegetarian and vegan
food options," Ewald said. "Chinese, Thai and other similar restaurants also will
have vegetarian and vegan fare, but are prone to a lot of refined sugar in their
food, which I do not consume, so I personally avoid this type of restaurant except
in emergencies."

Sugar, as Richards found in researching an article for the Sacramento Vegetarian
Society's newsletter, often is processed using animal bones. For dessert-loving
vegetarians, that is sour news.

Mary Rodgers, a longtime member of SVS and a vegan for the past 12 years,
echoes Ewald's endorsement of some ethnic restaurants. She adds Indian,
Vietnamese, Ethiopian and African ("except American soul food") to Ewald's
vegeterian-friendly list.

Once inside a restaurant, though, a vegan must continue researching.

"If a server who actually knows what 'vegan' means and recommends specific
items, relax and eat," said Rodgers, 52, an editor and graphics artist.

"When asking questions about vegetarian options, be specific. Lots of people think
vegetarians eat birds and seafood, so veganism really baffles them. It's a good
idea to ask questions before you get to the table, and be sure to talk to someone
who knows what's in the food.

"Call ahead or nab a restaurant staff person before you're seated, unless for some
reason you want to subject your companions to the tedious details of what's
available for you to eat, or not eat. Most chefs at nice restaurants are happy to
whip up something special, especially if you give them the courtesy of a little
advance notice.

"Be friendly, not confrontational, when asking questions," Rodgers continued.
"Vegans are, what, 1 percent of the population? Don't expect the entire restaurant
industry to know exactly what you want, and don't forget to say 'thank you' to
those who do."

Rodgers said vegans on the go might as well forget about restaurants whose fare
is billed as American, Czech, English, French, German, Irish -- even most Italian

Where in the world can someone with a produce-based diet confidently expect to
find nutritional happiness? Sheila Compton of Sacramento, the local veggie
society's secretary, said, "Portland, Ore., the home of the inventor of the
Gardenburger, is the best city for vegetarian-vegan restaurants."

Compton, a jewelry merchant and retired federal worker in her early 60s, also had
warm words for her home country.

"England has the best vegetarian-vegan food," she said, recalling a recent trip
there. "They always had great substitutes for meat on the menu, such as textured
soy protein and Quorn, which will be soon available over here. The most
memorable vegetarian meal I have experienced was in a little tea shop in Bath,
England. They had vegan sausage rolls."

Closer to home, college towns are likely to be vegetarian-friendly "because of the
variety of students," Ewald said. Places such as Boulder, Colo., and Santa Cruz
come immediately to mind.

Rodgers is partial to Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. "Any meal at Greens is
memorable, with the incredible views of the waterfront, Marin County and the
Golden Gate Bridge. It's not cheap, but it's usually worth it."

Other California restaurants she recommends are Upstairs Cafe in Jackson,
Grounds in Murphys and Joubert's in San Francisco. She called the north state's
Arcata "that most vegan-friendly of towns," and added, "Vegans won't go hungry
in Mendocino, either."

Kendra Curtis said it is easier now to eat out as a vegetarian than it was when
she adopted the diet 14 years ago. "Of course, it's more difficult being a vegan,"
said Curtis, who went vegan a few years ago. "But to have a vegan meal usually
just requires asking your waiter or waitress to leave the cheese off of a vegetarian

Richards was not quite as upbeat. "I think it's easier to find vegetarian foods now,
but it's not easier to find vegan," she said. "Most nonvegetarian restaurants don't
have a vegan option, even if they have one or two token vegetarian ones."

A final piece of travel advice comes from Rodgers, now in her 28th year of

"Go into 'feast or famine' mode," she said. "I'm always prepared to skip a meal, but
tend to overeat a tad when I find good vegan fare and have no clue where my
next decent meal is coming from. Not the healthiest strategy, but it keeps me from
spending too much time thinking about meals instead of enjoying the trip."


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