5 Tips on Eating Vegan while Traveling

As I continue sharing my “Vegan Travel Blog” with those around me, new ideas about topics to explore begin circling my mind. I’ve been going on trips about twice a month (if you would like to hear more about how I do this, click here), and telling those stories has become my pride and joy- something I constantly look forward to in my travels. My other favorite thing about traveling (as you may already know) is the opportunity it brings to try delicious plant-based foods from all over the world- a mission I created as I started this blog and set off to explore. In the years to come, I hope to continue traveling and discovering both new places and new foods, documenting my experiences along the way! 

Often, people ask me if eating vegan is difficult, if it requires a lot of planning, and how I stick to a vegan diet when eating out, visiting my non-vegan family back in Maine, and especially while traveling. The truth is, eating vegan has it’s moments of inconvenience. But so does animal cruelty, global warming and heart disease. It’s all in the priorities, guys.

Because following a vegan diet is not the norm (I have hope that someday it will be!), it isn’t always easy to eat this way, but that doesn’t mean it has to be incredibly difficult. In my day to day life, buying groceries and cooking vegan food for myself is quite simple and straightforward. Although traveling and following a vegan diet can be a bit trickier at times, there are a handful of things I keep in mind in order to set myself up for success.

Here are five tips I have on sticking to your vegan diet throughout your travels:

 

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Do Your Research

One of the most important tools when traveling on a vegan diet is the internet. Regardless of whether you are taking a weekend trip to another city, or will be staying abroad for weeks at a time, it’s always a good idea to do some research. What type of food is eaten at your destination? What vegan options will be available to you? Are there veg-friendly restaurants nearby? Knowing these things prior to your travels eliminates a lot of stress and makes the process much easier once you arrive. 

If you are traveling abroad, it’s a good idea to consider what the traditional food is like and how it might be made vegan. I recently visited Southeast Asia and did some lengthy research on what type of food is eaten there. I was relieved to find that most Asian cultures do not consume much dairy in their traditional diet (different from the U.S. which seems to sneak dairy products into literally everything… Please tell me why there are cultured milk solids in this normal-looking bag of chips?) On the other hand, there was this ambiguous “fish sauce” that seemed to be a part of every recipe. I knew beforehand that this would be a potential obstacle upon my arrival in Thailand. 

Traveling within the U.S. on a plant-based diet will generally be a bit easier as many restaurants are beginning to include more plant-based options (yay!). If you are taking a domestic trip and are worried about whether or not there will be food available to you, do a little research and pick out some restaurants you would like to try.

Doing some research on plant foods at your destination is also an excellent way to show non-vegan family and friends that following a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Many of my non-vegan family members make a big deal out of my vegan diet and worry that restaurants won’t be able to accommodate me when we are on vacation. If I come prepared with a list of veg-friendly restaurants, or am familiar with vegan menu options at the restaurants of their choice, the whole process becomes easier for everyone. Often my family and friends are surprised at how easy it can be to accommodate a vegan diet at most restaurants- and how delicious the outcome is!

Be Prepared

Traveling or not, being prepared is one way to set yourself up for success when eating plant-based. For me, this means stocking up on healthy snacks to take with me when exploring a new place. If you are new to this lifestyle, preparing snacks and meals ahead of time (especially while traveling) will help you stick to your goals instead of reverting back to old habits and eating meat or dairy products because nothing else is available to you. Although it is usually possible to find a vegan option near you, it can sometimes be tedious stopping into stores or gas stations and reading the ingredients on the back of every snack (or finding yourself in a fit of panic if the ingredients aren’t listed in English). If you have easy snacks planned and packed ahead of time, you will be prepared when your tummy starts making noise.

If you have been vegan for a long time, you may already know of some quick snacks you can pick up last minute, and you likely won’t be as tempted to consume something containing meat or dairy products. As a seasoned vegan, I have a long list of snack ideas which I’ve (somewhat subconsciously) collected over time, making it a lot easier when food is on my radar but I don’t have anything packed. Planning ahead, however, still saves time and money while traveling, and helps to maintain a healthy and balanced diet in moments when it can be otherwise difficult. 

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Stick To What You Know

While I am not advising that you shun all new and suspicious foods when you travel, I do think that it is sometimes easier to stick to the basics. We know that if a certain food came directly from nature, it is vegan! This is part of why many of us are vegan in the first place. Regardless of where in the world you may be traveling, it is usually not an issue to find fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds (candy of the earth as I like to call it). If you are ever in doubt about where you can find vegan options, or whether a certain food is vegan, try reverting back to nature. This is an excellent means of eliminating any stress, staying healthy, and feeling good about what you are putting into your body! 

Likewise, if you are traveling and eating out, sometimes it is better to stick to what you know: Think pasta, salads, pizza without cheese, etc. These may be some of your vegan favorites, and can be found at most restaurants. Sure, it is fun to seek out plant-based restaurants with unique and elaborate dishes, but if you ever find yourself sitting at a steakhouse next to your 6’3″ brother scarfing down a literal live cow on a plate, just be glad that even this place offers salads. 

Ask Questions

Being unafraid to voice your dietary restrictions and ask lots of questions is one thing so many vegans are uncomfortable with- But it’s so necessary! I find that even non-vegans (people with allergies, sensitivities, utter disgust for mayonnaise, personal preferences to make a dish a little tastier) are often hesitant to ask for what they really want when eating out. This is especially important when traveling and trying new types of food or new restaurants. It is near impossible to stick to a vegan diet and refuse to ask any questions regarding ingredients. Yes, it may feel like you are being a pain in the ass. But at the end of the day, people who work in food service are used to this kind of thing. Quite frankly, it’s part of the job. In all my years working in food service, I have had to accommodate hundreds of special dietary restrictions including gluten free, dairy free, ketogenic diets, WHOLE30 diets, liquid only diets as well as every food allergy under the sun. Trust me when I say that requesting a vegan option will be far from the most annoying thing anyone has ever done to your server. 

In my experience, when it comes to requesting a vegan meal, the best way to go about it is by avoiding the term “vegan.” I wish this were not the case, but I can’t help but imagine an evil chef maniacally laughing in the kitchen as he cooks my potatoes in butter, exclaiming “It would do you skinny, un-American vegans some good to have a little protein!!!” On the other hand, it might just be best to assume not everyone knows what exactly a vegan does and does not eat. For this reason, I usually try to ask questions about whether or not menu items contain eggs or dairy and stress to the staff that I cannot consume these products. 

Be Realistic

I like to call myself a realistic vegan, something I adopted from the friend of mine who urged me to go vegan in the first place. I learned the basics of veganism from a person who would pick the cheese off the veggie burger, eat around it in the salad, and consume the occasional muffin (which may or may not have contained eggs) because someone baked it for her and she didn’t want to be rude (Plus what you don’t know won’t hurt you, right?). I am not saying that being this flexible will work for everyone, but I do think it is important for all plant eaters to be realistic in their endeavors. We all know damn well that the rest of the world doesn’t eat this way, and It would be near impossible to ensure that every morsel of food you consume has not even briefly come in contact with an animal byproduct.

This may be a controversial idea within the vegan community, but I think it is important to keep in mind that nobody is perfect. As long as you are doing your very best not to contribute to factory farming, to improve your health or create less environmental impact (your reasoning for eating plant-based could be just one of these things, or it could be all three!), you are doing great. Traveling may be one of the hardest things when it comes to maintaining your lifestyle because it is often impromptu (if you are anything like me), and unfamiliar. This can sometimes make it difficult to ensure there is vegan food available to you at all hours of the day.

By doing some research, planning ahead, sticking to what you know and asking questions, you can almost gaurentee that eating vegan in your travels will be a breeze. But regardless of how well prepared you may be, there is sometimes that lingering ounce of doubt about whether or not a certain thing you ordered is actually vegan. In these instances, it is best to put your worries behind you and know that your intentions are good, and it is okay to slip up once in a while. There are too many moments in life that can be wasted obsessing over your vegan diet. Learn to enjoy the moment, the food and the people you are sharing it with.

Have Fun

Vegan food and traveling are quite possibly the two best things in the entire world. Putting the two together will set you up for nothing short of a freaking good time. Regardless of where you are traveling, consider it an opportunity not only to experience a new place, but to experience new food! Whether it be a trendy plant-based restaurant or a fruit you have never heard of, make it your mission to try at least one new thing during the trip. You will likely be surprised at how many vegan options there are all over the world, and the different ways they can be put together to make a tasty combination. 

In some of my recent trips, I have had the privilege of devouring a three course vegan meal by myself in Los Angeles, eating at my first fully raw restaurant in Chicago, trying all sorts of mysterious fruits in Thailand, and enjoying some authentic vegan enchiladas in Mexico. These are just a few of the places which have graced me with exciting plant-based opportunities, and provide for only a minuscule fraction of all the vegan food to be had in the world. 

Following a vegan diet is not always easy, but it is always worth it! Enjoying plant-based food from all over the world, connecting with other vegans, and embracing this lifestyle regardless of where you go will promote optimum health, animal well-being, and preserve the planet we’re all dying to explore.

Happy traveling (and eating), ya’ll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fully Raw February- Week Three

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For about a week now I have been lazily anticipating a blog post where I summarize all of the wonderful benefits I’ve experienced on the raw food diet as well as some challenges I’ve faced thus far. The weather in Denver has been particularly cold and dreary over the past few days and I could not find the motivation to put my food down, roll over and open my laptop to type this summary (clearly the most profound benefit of this diet has not been an increase in energy levels). As I arrived home from work this morning and began stuffing my face with some zucchini noodles covered in a delicious raw marinara sauce I had made, I decided that it’s about time I get to work on telling you all what the deal is with all this raw food mumbo jumbo.

 As you may already know, I have been following a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet for over a year now and I have only good things to share. Much of my life up until this point was spent in search of optimum health and I am here to tell you that the magic lies in plant foods. Over the past year I have experimented with many different variations of the vegan diet, taking note of what makes my body feel its best. With full confidence I can say that raw foods have always treated me well, and a diet consisting of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies and salads is one that I keep coming back to. In recent months I have begun to question how I might feel if I put the potatoes and rice down (don’t cry, Callie, don’t cry) and commit myself to a month of eating fully raw. You can find out more about week one here. For now, I will be sharing my experience in weeks two and three.

 

 

 

My very favorite thing about the raw food challenge so far has been discovering new foods. In all of my research on plant based foods over the past year, a few key ingredients seemed to pop up in nearly every recipe, often deemed staples of the vegan diet- ingredients so revolutionary, one may even be tricked into thinking they were eating something cheesy or held together with eggs. A lot of these ingredients never appealed to me, as I was just fine eating fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately after all, there were moments in the beginning of my raw food experiment when I realized that my food was missing something (sugary gluten-filled carbs perhaps?), that I was getting bored (and hungry) eating bananas and apples at all hours of the day. I finally decided it was time to expand my resources and try some new raw vegan foods. I won’t go into great detail, but I will say that this is how I discovered the wonders of kelp noodles, nutritional yeast and most importantly, my precious dates, which will forever hold a place in my kitchen cupboard (and my heart). I never believed that these roach-like dried fruits could be so tasty, but I have purchased several pounds in the past few weeks and I keep going back for more.

My addiction story began like any other, starting with just a single date, spiraling out of control to the point where I began spending countless hours of my free time googling “dates in bulk” to find the biggest bang for my buck, and purchasing date nectars and other date products to feed my desire for everything I eat to taste like dates. Recently, my brother came to visit me in Denver for the first time, and setting aside all that there is to do in the city, I dragged him to the nearest health food store on a Saturday night and we purchased some of every type of date they had so that we could sample and rate them in order (my idea of fun). I have raved about these things to the point where my girlfriend called my local Whole Foods all the way from Puerto Rico and had them specially deliver a fuck ton of dates to my doorstep on Valentine’s Day. This is true love if I’ve ever known it (Me and the dates, I mean).

This leads me to my next point of Becoming a gourmet raw chef. Yes, this is a self declared title. But I swear, if you have never tried raw vegan brownies (made of dates, of course) or raw spaghetti and sauce, then you must do so immediately. I have said it before, I am no genius in the kitchen. But raw food is pretty simple in that literally nothing has to be cooked. Most of the “cooking” involves mixing or blending together different flavors and textures to mimic that of cooked food. It is fairly easy but allows one to be creative and find the perfect combinations through some trial and error. I have made a few recipes from the internet and have recreated some raw dished I’ve tried in restaurants (hello beet ravioli with cashew cheese). These past few weeks of eating raw have truly inspired me to experiment with food. I am fairly certain that any cooked (or non-vegan) recipe can be made into a spectacularly delicious and healthy raw vegan masterpiece and I am determined to try it.

Learning to prepare gourmet raw foods has been a blast, but sharing healthy raw foods with others has been even better. When my brother came to visit, we attended a raw vegan pop up dinner at Vital Root, a local plant-based restaurant. My brother, a chef himself, has been known to pass judgements about vegan foods (cooked or not) and you should have seen his face when he tasted the raw pesto. It was so exciting to see someone so skeptical of the vegan diet consider ordering a second helping because it was just that good. I often worry that a vegan future for our world is just wishful thinking, but it is moments like these that give me hope. Vegan food is the most healthy, sustainable, ethical and delicious food that there is. It is the only food that there is. Sharing this lifestyle (especially raw veganism, an even more healthy and sustainable option) with others has become one of my greatest passions in life and I am eager to continue spreading this message. I am already looking forward to preparing a raw vegan dish on my family vacation in April. Vegan or not, I know they will love it just as much as I do.

Yes, yes we know, Callie. Raw foods are healthy, sustainable, ethical and delicious! But how have they made you feel? Well, if you must know…

This is a complicated answer. I do feel more motivated to be active and have taken up running again after a few months off. I also feel healthier in general because I have cut out all processed foods and added sugars. I feel that I have slept much better and am more awake in the morning. I have not, however, experienced anything so unbelievable it defies all laws of nature as many raw foodists would have you believe, but I would like to point out that this is only month one and I am still experiencing a lot of trial and error.

Eating raw vegan is no easy feat. It takes a lot of will power to say no to some of your favorite foods or sip on a fruit smoothie when it’s thirty degrees and snowing outside. Being social can also be tricky, as it is nearly impossible to eat out in restaurants and can be awkward to tell others about your new lifestyle.

Over the course of these past three weeks I have had a few slip ups where I just genuinely craved peanut butter and had to have it, or was out with friends and decided I’d have a taste of their non-raw dinner because it just looked so good. I have certainly eaten too many dates in one sitting only to spend an entire yoga class in corpse pose because I couldn’t move my limbs and I have suffered some severe hanger because I forgot to bring a raw snack with me to work or to the store. Although I did stay 99% raw, it was not always easy or enjoyable. Additionally, I have noticed that eating raw entails eating a lot of food in order to receive sufficient calories. There were times when I just didn’t eat enough and later helped myself to several handfuls of nuts which I’ve also realized, do not make me feel my best when eaten in excess. While I don’t regret these decisions, my body has learned from them. I hope to make my final week of Fully Raw February the healthiest and most enjoyable week so far as I apply all of the information I have learned in my first three weeks raw. I do believe that raw foods have healing properties and will truly make me thrive if I let them, but I still have some experimenting and learning to do.

As my last few days of raw food approach, I question whether or not I will continue exploring this lifestyle in March. Although it is a very dynamic and challenging lifestyle to sustain, it has definitely initiated a habit of eating raw foods that I hope to adhere to throughout my life, even if I am not eating 100% raw foods all the time.

 

Stay tuned for my final thoughts on the raw food experiment and updates on whether or not I will continue eating fully raw in the months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fully Raw February: Week One

Before I go any further, I must confess that I am mildly addicted to youtube, especially vegan youtube. I have gone through many phases over the years, binge watching videos about health and nutrition, makeup (I was a much different person back then but damn my eyebrows were killer), workout routines, fashion… you name it. I remember stumbling upon Freelee the Banana Girl, the infamous vegan youtuber known for eating thirty bananas per day. At the time, I probably had to open another tab to look up what a vegan even was, nevermind a raw vegan. You can imagine my horror when I realized that eating fully raw meant eating only fruits and vegetables. My jaw dropped (in shock or perhaps to shove another handful of cheez-its in my mouth).

When I transitioned to the vegan lifestyle about a year ago, I began educating myself on the benefits of raw foods and toyed around with the idea a bit more, watching some raw vegan videos on the web and incorporating some more smoothies and salads into my diet. Since then, I have learned much more about why going raw is beneficial, especially for resetting and nourishing your body after some less than ideal days of eating (We all know the kind). The idea behind eating fully raw is to consume only whole, uncooked or “living” foods from nature in order to reap the benefits of their nutrient contents. When plants are heated above 110 degrees, some of the nutrients die. Cooked food is also said to be more addicting than raw food (I mean it isn’t often that we binge on apples and carrot sticks, is it?).

In my Recent trip to Chicago  I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fully raw vegan restaurant, Chicago Raw, and my mind was blown. If you are a vegan and are passing through the city, you must go check it out! I discovered that some of my favorite cooked recipes can be easily made into delicious raw masterpieces- something I knew I wanted to experiment more with. Upon my return to Denver I decided that February would be a great time to take my vegan lifestyle to the next level and eat raw as much as possible.

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It has now been a week of eating solely raw foods and I’m super excited to continue this challenge for the month of February. As someone who ate lots of smoothies and salads before committing to this challenge, fully raw was an easy transition for me, and it truly has opened up a whole new world of food (and health!). Here are some things I have noticed about eating fully raw during week one.

Easier Meal Prep

On a day to day basis, eating raw has been easier because I haven’t had to plan many meals. At the beginning of the week I grocery shopped for fresh produce, nuts and seeds. It is easy to make a meal of these items because any combination tastes good, and they also taste great by themselves! I love having smoothies for breakfast, fresh fruit or veggies and guacamole for lunch and a large salad for dinner. I eat some mixed nuts or dates as a snack (Not sure if you can call it a snack when a quarter of my daily caloric intake is coming from dates… But these things are so good). There isn’t much thought involved in the preparation of meals, I simply eat whatever sounds good in the moment.

Feeling Lighter and Having More Energy

I have found in my first week of fully raw eating that I feel so much lighter and have a lot more energy immediately after a meal. In the past year I have experimented with many different versions of the vegan diet and my general conclusion is that the closer to nature that I am eating, the better I feel! Of course eliminating meat and dairy provided an enormous change in my energy levels- going from immediately taking a nap after eating to feeling much more alert. It only makes sense that eating fully raw would give me copious amounts of energy- and never the “crash” that is often experienced after a giant plate of pasta and sauce with added sugar.

It is Expensive

When it comes to the vegan diet, there is a large misunderstanding that everything is so expensive. I can honestly say that I spend about $35 per week on groceries for myself when eating a standard vegan diet- Pretty cheap I’d say! Unfortunately, when it comes to eating fully raw, there isn’t any way around spending more money than I’d like. Fresh fruits and vegetables (not including potatoes, a previous staple of my diet which is ridiculously cheap and filling, but can’t really be eaten raw) are expensive. Additionally, it takes a lot more food to feel full after eating. In my first week of raw food I had to grocery shop twice, which is pretty unusual for me. This month of raw food will certainly be an investment.

I have to eat A LOT

I have always been a person with a hefty appetite and munching on raw fruits and veggies seems to maximize it. I have to eat a ton of food to feel satisfied. This usually means putting four bananas and a large cup of blueberries in my smoothies, making a salad with at least five cups of greens, a whole tomato and at least half an avocado, or eating several zuchinis worth of zoodles. On the other hand, I can eat a ton of food without feeling bloated and uncomfortable from eating too much because it’s all healthy and generally lower in calories than the standard American diet, or even the standard vegan diet. This is a good thing for someone who just really enjoys eating.

There Are So Many Great Recipes

There is a running joke in my family that I am a horrible cook. I’m not sure where exactly this life-long label originated, but I plan to overturn it by making some really easy and delicious raw recipes that even non-vegans will go crazy for. My brother has been visiting me in Denver this week and came up with a raw vegan Alfredo (stay tuned for the recipe!) that was out of this world. It was super easy and tasty, opening my mind to a new way of preparing dishes with simple, uncooked plant foods. In the next few weeks I plan to test out a variety of recipes for tacos, pasta sauces, snacks, “nice-cream” and other desserts.

 

In this next month I hope to challenge myself and gain a greater understanding of the raw food diet and how it impacts health and wellness. I am excited to explore new combinations of food and create some of my own recipes, all the while documenting how I feel relating to sleep, exercise and mood. I’ll be updating often and including some great recipes in the weeks to come so keep reading and feel free to join in on my Fully Raw February!