I used to think traveling on a vegan diet was complicated ? Not anymore. And that has nothing to do with the latest vegan apps on your smart phone. Let me tell you how I got around the problem.
I am a long time vegan. The type of guy you had once cast aside as a weirdo desperately seeking attention. The dude you had thought more interested in the fate of unknown dirty animals than his own people, and discretely removed from you Facebook friends and phone contact lists. But as the disastrous effects of our actions on the environment get more obvious by the day, creating natural calamities all over our small planet, vegan philosophy has recently been allowed to emerge from the shadows of shame and shine a new trendy light on our western societies. As such, I gladly find myself worthy again of “most” of my friends diner tables, where I spend my evening answering the questions of those now interested in trying a lifestyle, the one they had considered ridiculous not so long ago.
One of those questions, considering my heavy load of traveling, is how do I manage to stay on a vegan diet while away from home ? This question never had crossed my mind before, but it seems to be somewhat of a “hot topic”, considering the number of articles I see on that subject in various renown outdoor and travel magazines. Now, why bother writing another one if the subject has been covered extensively before ? Well, because I have yet to find one giving me useful answers !
Take any article and chances are you’ll read about the greatest new app on the market to download on your smart phone. Like the one able to locate the best vegan restaurants within a certain distance from where you stand at that given moment. Really ? Or even better, the one that helps you “speak” vegan, so your host will understand your culinary needs ! Fantastic, let’s try those then !
I’m currently on a trail in the Al Hajar ash Sharqi in Oman. It’s lunch time and I am hungry. Time to look for a good vegan spot in the neighborhood. Wait ! What’s the name of the closest village near by ? The one I passed two hours ago ? Don’t know its name, there was no sign.
(Don’t worry, your phone will locate you. Says the little voice from the app marketing promotion video)
Actually it won’t ! There is no signal ! No signal, no village, no restaurant, no vegan hot spot, period !
Too extreme of an example ?
No, not really. Unless you travel in western urban areas, like L.A., N.Y., Paris or London, those apps are absolutely useless. So is your smart phone, by the way! Far out in Nepal, in Kenya, in the desert of Arabia, in any “non civilized” place as they call it, all that tech crap is just crap !
But wait, let’s not give up, and let’s try the Vegan translation app in a different situation.
I’m now in Teheran – Iran, invited for diner by some friendly locals, and since I have great signal at their home, I can easily explain to them that I won’t eat any of the fantastic traditional food they prepared for me. Instead I will settle for a miserable salad and tasteless soup because I’m vegan! Isn’t that great ? See, I have found the perfect App allowing me to be rude, and it works !!
Those Apps are missing the point of traveling on so many levels.
Traveling isn’t about staying within your own comfortable zone, traveling is about discovering what you don’t already know. Learning about new cultures, different traditions. Food is an immense part of that. And most cultures you will come across are not vegan. Tasting a traditional Georgian meal in a remote village of the Caucasian mountains isn’t in line with your vegan diet, but it’s ok. It won’t kill you. Instead it will help you get a better understanding of life in this part of the world.
Again, I’m vegan, have been for years, but when in a different country I have to try their cuisine. See what it is made of. I won’t do it every night, as one or two is often enough to get a sense of their tradition. But at least I will know about that place a lot more that if I had gone to a vegan place if it’s not part of their way of life.
As a matter of fact I don’t go to restaurants when I travel, unless I am in a country like France for example, or Japan, or the Pays-Basque, etc, where cuisine is an absolute art form. Where you are given the chance to explore the local “art de vivre” under the guidance of a true master chef. The rest of the time, or if I can’t afford those three Michelin stars, I cook my own meals. For that I go to a local market, look at the various vegetables, fruits, spices, particularly the one I don’t know. I ask questions. How to cook them; what to mix them with. Once locally educated, I select what I fancy for a recipe fitting my very minimalist cooking set for several meals to come. And later on that night, camping alone on a green hill overlooking a wonderful setting like the San Sebastian bay and the ocean far in the distance below, I will enjoy a taste of local life, exploring new culinary frontiers while I stay true to my vegan precepts with home made tapas, or as they call it there my “Pintxos” !
So forget technology. If it works, you’re most likely too close to home to call it travel. Also, forget your tribe, if you’re not opening the door to others and trying what they have to offer, you’re not traveling either. Being vegan isn’t being hermetic to differences, entrenched in its own beliefs, avoiding contact with others for the sake of moral purity. Because if you see the world that way, then you better stay home.
cover photo © CC