I think one of the most common questions I get asked when they find out I eat a plant-based diet is how I cope when I go away or eat out with friends. The short answer is I cope just fine, but I guess I should explain this a bit more.
First of all, when I go out with Seb for dinner locally, we go to the restaurants that we like, restaurants that can cater for us. We like Italian, Thai and Indian places. As far as I am concerned this is no different to anyone else for that matter. We all make choices of restaurants based on our tastes and food choices. A lot of the time we choose vegetarian places. We like to support veg places and they also have the biggest selection of dishes.
However, there are some times that I can’t go exactly where I want to go. Perhaps I am a guest at a wedding reception, or at a work function, with friends who might not want to eat veg or in a town where I am not familiar with the options. This is what I do.
You’ve guessed it. I plan ahead. I check out Happy Cow, which is an online database of vegan, vegetarian, veg-friendly and health food stores around the world. There are thousands of veg places and they are reviewed by the public so you can make an informed choice. They have mobile phone app so finding the closest place to you isn’t a problem.
I also make sure I have plenty of snacks with me when I go away even if it is for the day (and certainly when I go away for longer than that). Think about it, when we were kids, our parents would never go anywhere without snacks. There are always fried nuts, or potato chips available at the local convenience store, but I just don’t want to eat that stuff. I make sure I take some muffins, or some soy milk and muesli when I go away.
If I am staying in a hotel, or a place where I have no choice about where I can eat, I will usually call ahead. In a hotel, I will email them and let them know that I am vegan (and usually explain what that is) and ask if they have anything on the menu for breakfast, I check their menus online to see if there is anything that is vegan or veganisable. I also have been known to send restaurants or hotel functions some suggestions of recipes. I know that many chefs (even in 5 star hotels) have no idea about how to cook vegan food as most of them are only trained in traditional French cuisine. Many of them have no idea how to cook without traditional dairy or meat.
I have had a range of experiences, some positive and some really pathetic. One of the positive experiences I had was when I had a staff dinner at a 5 star hotel in Bangkok. Having eaten at the place several times, I knew that their buffet was really un-veg friendly, so I decided to contact the hotel ahead of time. I emailed and told them that I was coming and asked if could they accommodate me. The head chef wrote back asking for recipe suggestions. I sent some through and he prepared about 6 dishes that everyone else enjoyed as well. Another time, staying in the Hyatt in Kathmandu, we went down to breakfast to have a look. Breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate we had, so we asked them how much it was. The replied with some really expensive price, and as vegheads it just was terrible value. After we told her why we wouldn’t be eating breakfast, she gave us the buffet breakfast for free, because we wouldn’t be eating all the expensive meat and seafood. We ate really, REALLY well that morning! On the negative side, I was staying in a ridiculously luxurious hotel in Vietnam. I had a long chat personally with the English speaking chef. Boy, was I excited for dinner, but all I got was green salad with an Italian dressing. Needless to say, I had a lot of feedback to give including ‘Dudes! You’re a six star hotel! Buy a copy of Veganomicon!”
But, you know after saying all of this, there are certainly many times where I haven’t been able to call ahead, speak the language or it’s a very un veg-friendly place in the middle of rural Vietnam. In cases such as these, I will just find something to eat. Whether it is my 10,000th Spaghetti Arabiatta, a fried rice, a Pad Thai or a green salad, I just suck it up and eat it. Because, you know, it happens so rarely (for me, once every couple of months) that I’m ok with that. Don’t we all have a bad meal from time to time? I eat so incredibly well the rest of the time I don’t feel deprived or bitter in any way that I have had a crappy meal.
I guess this situation can be one of the challenges of eating plant-based and it can certainly feel frustrating and difficult at first, but for me, it’s easy. There’s no way I want to compromise my values for just one meal in one hundred and let’s face it, that sub-par meal that I had to ‘endure’ is nothing compared to what all the animals have to deal with.