For any person with special dietary needs, travel can be anxiety-inducing. In a large city, restaurants and grocers with gluten-free options might be in abundance, but what if you’re stuck in small town America? Perhaps you are allergic to gluten, or have a small child with soy, corn, peanut allergies. You might be hard-pressed to find somewhere to eat with a kitchen free of these common allergens.
Likewise, as vegans, traveling can sometimes be cause for concern about going hungry, or becoming forced allies with the infamous iceberg lettuce salad. Last week, I traveled to New York City with my dad. Of course, in NYC vegan options are ubiquitous, and even restaurants boasting carnivorous entrees are likely to have at least one or two vegetarian options. Still, I was traveling with my dad, an unabashed meat lover (albeit remarkably open to vegan dining), and so the trip was an important lesson in catering to non-vegans while still meeting my daily greens quota.
1. Plan ahead.
No matter who you’re traveling with, you should always spend some time exploring Happy Cow, Yelp, and other applications to locate the vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants near where you’ll be staying. Since NYC is a vegan mecca, I approached the trip by highlighting some restaurants with varied dining options to show my dad the many cuisines that can be veganized. When selecting restaurants, make sure to include your travel partner–there’s nothing worse than taking someone to a restaurant against their will!
2. Faux is not for everyone.
Meat alternatives like soy chicken and seitan are often advertised as great introductory foods for the new vegan. This is certainly true for a large number of transitioning meat eaters; I know I loved snacking on chik’n patties (and often still do!) when I began experimenting with vegetarianism. In spite of all this, many meat substitutes are likely to turn off a carnivore who might otherwise be interesting in eating vegan, since the taste and texture do not always replicate their meat counterparts. Instead, choose restaurants that highlight whole, flavorful foods that speak for themselves.
3. Seek out vegan restaurants that don’t advertise as such.
We’ve all heard veganism typified as a diet of “rabbit food” or something that caters to hippies. While I do think that veganism has become more mainstream in recent years, older generations of non-vegans might still make these flawed associations. In my years as a vegan, I know that some restaurants perpetuate the stereotype (i.e. wheatgrass aroma, bohemian decor) while others are so “normal” that you’d never know their offerings are 100% plant-based. While in NYC, I took my dad to Candle 79, the paragon of vegan fine dining. My dad marveled at the decor and eloquence of it all, and I couldn’t help smiling to myself at the thought of other vegans introducing their friends and family to such an exquisite dining experience.
4. Look for ethnic cuisine that is inherently vegan.
Ethnic food–especially Asian, Mediterranean, Ethiopian, and Indian–often offer vegetable-centric dishes that make vegan dining a breeze. As intuitive as it is for most vegans, non-vegans might not even make the connection that ethnic cuisine is not quite as meat-centric as typical American food. Even the tofu averse might be tempted to try a stir fry with a tangy sauce!
5. Don’t underestimate someone’s capacity to appreciate vegan food.
At times, I think vegans can contribute to the idea that non-vegans are so entrenched in their carnivorous lifestyles that they are unwilling to make strides toward veganism. We affirm that so-and-so is “once a meat lover, always a meat lover,” and in doing so, he or she is less receptive to making a dietary shift. But if we let a person make his or her own decisions on the matter, we might be surprised at their growing interest in the lifestyle. Take my dad, for example: as an afternoon snack in Brooklyn, he surprised me by asking to go to Juice Generation, where he bought this juice of carrots, swiss chard, collard greens, cucumber, apple, and kale! Can you tell how happy he is? 🙂
Do you have any tips for traveling with non-vegan friends? Share!
Also by Molly: Maple Chili Sweet Potato Spread
Photos: Molly Lansdowne