This is an article about bringing about changes in food choices – about making a difference for others.
I recently returned from a trip to Eastern USA and Canada. In 2 1/2 weeks I visited Washington DC, New York City, and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland/ Labrador and Ontario. I love this part of the world.
Commitment to Health
Anyone following me on Instagram may have noticed I didn’t post any food pictures the whole time I was away. Many friends have asked me whether I stuck to healthy eating during the trip. The answer is ‘Yes’. Traveling always brings a new set of challenges in finding healthy food, but if you are determined to do so, it is usually possible. The key word here is ‘DETERMINED’. If healthy eating is a preference, not a commitment, you’ll settle for whatever is on offer. But if it is a commitment, you’ll find it gets easier and easier and you rarely have to compromise.
Rather than go into details of what choices I made for meals along the trip, I would like to encourage readers to step up and become advocates for healthy eating in those places where healthy food is not readily available. Be confident that your choices are good and that they are important – not just for you but also for the people coming after you. How will restaurants and chefs know change is needed unless we vote clearly with our choices?
I’d like to share some of my various eating challenges while traveling and how I handled them.
Plane Meal Mess-up
Despite having a vegan meal booked for me, the airline was short on soy milk. Since 8/10 people worldwide are lactose intolerant, and many of these people are not vegan eaters, to not provide enough soymilk for tea, coffee and breakfast cereal on a long-haul flight over 13 hrs is not reflecting the needs of many of the population. So after speaking with the staff serving on the plane, and finding how little was actually available – and none for those not booked for vegan meals, I sent an email to the airline requesting more plant-milks be supplied for future flights and my reasons.
The Inspirational Rosa Parks
At the Capitol Building in Washington DC, I looked at the statue of Rosa Parks, the black lady who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in a bus. Rosa was tired of being told that blacks now had equal rights with whites since the Civil War – while in reality, segregation was practiced everywhere. This bold act was the catalyst for ending segregation in the USA.
Here are two wonderful quotes from Rosa Parks – that I believe apply to asking for healthy food in restaurants:
Rosa Parks could have graciously moved when requested by the bus driver. To me, that is what it is like when a person who eats healthy at home is presented with poor quality food in a restaurant, and quietly acquiesces and eats it so as not to upset anyone. No change is ever wrought by that sort of cowardliness, just as Rosa Parks could not have been a catalyst for change if she had not been willing to be brave and quietly stubborn.
I have heard people argue that they prefer to just eat the meaty food so they won’t cause any trouble; I reason that unless people know there are real options, they may not know their health can be improved. I speak up both for my sake and for others. Animal-based and processed-food diets are killing people in the Western world, and demanding better food wherever we buy food is a big part of bringing about change.
Third Party Organised Meals
These are the most difficult meals to negotiate. People who have little idea themselves of healthy eating are booking you a meal with a third party. The general belief is that being vegan means “anything goes, as long as there is no meat, dairy or eggs”. Typically this results in not enough food (“a few lettuce leaves anyone?”) or mainly processed food (Fruit Loops and white toast for breakfast). We either need to be committed to educate the organisers or have a Plan B ready, which may involve boycotting that meal, choosing to eat elsewhere away from the group, bringing your own food, or not eating at all, despite this being irritating for organisers who typically have lots of people to negotiate for. I would prefer the first plan – to educate the organiser – but have brought all my Plan Bs into play at one time or another.
Wherever I eat breakfast, I ask for soy milk (almond or other plant milks would be fine but they aren’t so well-known.) In Australia, hotels usually have a jug of soymilk next to cow’s milk. In most US hotels, it is kept in the pantry – only for guests who request it. We should always ask – because this is how restaurants will learn to keep it ready. In Canada, I went to grocery stores upon arriving at a town and bought some first thing as few hotels have it. I am used to turning up at hotel breakfasts with a calico bag with my own plant milk in it – just in case. I’m not ashamed to put it on the table for a statement to the staff. It should not have to be a secret that many clients want healthier food – I would actually love to be brought to the manager to explain why I have brought outside food into their restaurant – but this has never happened. I asked one New York City restaurant if they would purchase some soy milk for us before we came there for breakfast the next day, and explained how many people were lactose intolerant and that this would be a useful item for them to stock.
When there is nothing healthy on the menu
People often ask me if there was anywhere I could find no good food to eat. I rarely find this to be a problem – because I do my research first. Before going to a restaurant I check my trusty App: HappyCow.net (if you don’t have the app – get it! – It has saved me overseas often.) I also check the website menu, and book restaurants accordingly. One time I ended up at a diner which the hotel shuttle deposited us at, having arrived when the hotel restaurant was closed and we hadn’t eaten for 7 hours. Very hungry, we found this American Diner had nothing healthy at all on the menu. We were seated, drank some of the water while I checked the HappyCow app, then walked out, called a cab – and went down the road to eat elsewhere. Yes, we were hungry – but I ask – how good would you feel eating a heavy meal of grease and fat on an empty stomach?
Those all important reviews
As I travel I review restaurants, hotels and cafes for HappyCow and TripAdvisor. I give hotels feedback on their forms and email requests, always asking for better food and praising them on good options they have available. I write to the airlines and organisers if necessary.
I like to come back from a trip and not have to get back to healthy eating, since I never left it
– but I also want others to have this option. I want to help make the world an easier place for people to travel in without damaging their health.