Sunday, November 1, 2015

Traveling while Vegetarian.

Location: Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
People always ask me if it's hard to eat vegetarian when I travel. Spoiler alert: it's actually not hard at all. Finding meals that aren't meat-centric may seem challenging to those of us from the U.S. (or other countries where excess is king). But the truth is, lots of other cultures know how to create delicious plant-based meals much better than we do. Chances are, if you already enjoy vegetarian food, you won't have much trouble at all.

But for those of you looking for concrete tips, here are my rules for eating vegetarian on the road...


 1. Eat your veggies.

Talk about preaching to the choir, right? But it is easy to fall into the rice-and-beans routine, especially at places that serve mostly meat dishes. Make a point of including veggies in each meal, even if it's not convenient. Figure out how to safely cook produce in your kitchen, or ask your vendor if it's possible to add vegetables even if you don't see that on the menu.







 2. Watch out for the raw stuff.

Of course, raw produce may not always be safe to eat. Often it is possible to disinfect raw produce and then eat it as you always would. Many vendors will have done this for you. Don't be embarrassed to ask, and don't be too proud to order the cooked stuff if you have doubts. Believe me, you will always regret the food poisoning that you know you could have avoided.





 3. Try new things.

You're a traveler, so this is probably already a big part of who you are. Remember to apply it to your veggies too! Many places will have produce you've never seen before, or will cook with parts of the plant you've never thought to use. Ask questions, taste things, experiment! Resist the temptation to memorize the words for a few of your favorite vegetables, and play it safe by ordering only those things. The only word you really need to know is "vegetarian." After that, go crazy!




 4. Set your own rules.

For many of us, "vegetarian" means no chicken broth, no insects, no fish... But don't feel confined by the label for the label's sake. It's ok to say you're a vegetarian and then try the tarantula. It's ok to turn down the fish and then eat the soup made with mystery broth. You don't have to explain yourself to anybody. You get to make the rules about what you do and don't want to consume. Decide ahead of time what's important to you. And if you change your mind as you go, that's ok too. As long as you're comfortable with your boundaries, nobody else gets a say.





5. Be forthcoming.

Nobody wants to be the high maintenance vegetarian. We all want to be the easygoing counterexample to the stereotype. But when you stay silent about your preferences until after everyone has ordered their food at a place you can't eat, you just make it awkward. When you hesitantly force down two spoonfuls of the food your host mother spent two hours preparing, you are the inconsiderate one who could have saved everyone a lot of trouble by giving a simple heads-up a few days earlier. This is not always possible, of course. But in my experience, vegetarian food is often readily available, and you are genuinely not putting people out by expressing your preferences ahead of time. Expressing them at the last minute, however, makes things uncomfortable for everyone.



6. Know when to let go. 

There will be language barriers. There will be misunderstandings. There will be hosts who lovingly cook for you, who couldn't have known you were vegetarian, or didn't understand what that meant. You will be served a drink rimmed with crushed worm salt. Be respectful above all. Sometimes this means eating the meat. Of course, I can't tell you to do that, especially not in a post about how to be a vegetarian. But before automatically rejecting the meat, think long and hard about your values and priorities. Don't react out of habit or out of disgust. Consider the parties involved, and consider whether you might be willing to make an exception. If you're like me, you may, on some occasions, decide that it's worth it.



7. Pack a multivitamin. And some nuts.

Traditional diets are evolution-tested, and are almost always better for us than our corn-fed-beef-centric western diet (citation: every Michael Pollan publication ever). But if these diets incorporate meat and you do not, you may miss out on some important nutrients. It can't hurt to supplement with the occasional vitamin, especially one with B12 so your brain doesn't fall apart. (In case it wasn't obvious, I am not a medical professional, and none of these statements should be taken as medical advice. Please consult your primary care provider about your own personal needs.) As for the nuts, well, sometimes you'll really need a snack.



What do you think? Any other tips for keeping us vegetarians happy while traveling? Please share in the comments section!

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