THE LAST TIME I hit the road for any meaningful amount of time, I was a vegetarian, which made eating reasonably simple. After all, dairy is available just about everywhere. So from America to Scotland, South Africa to China, and points in between, I ate well.
My current trip started off in America’s Pacific Northwest, and it’s my first as a vegan. I have to admit to being a touch apprehensive about the food aspect. As anyone who’s traveled with me can testify, I tend to eat a lot and often. I didn’t expect to have any hassles in Seattle or any other big cities, but I thought that the small towns in the middle of nowhere might prove slightly more problematic when it came to providing hearty vegan fare.
Flying is easy enough because the airlines are only too happy to provide vegan meals (when they remember). In fact, I’ve been ordering vegan meals on planes for ages, even when I was a vegetarian, just to avoid the yellow stuff in that little foil box – it’s meant to pass for eggs but doesn’t really. However, these in-flight vegan meals are usually only vaguely edible, and always protein-light, so I tend to carry around protein bars and even little sachets of protein powder on the long haul legs.
That said, my flight between Sydney and LA was my first long haul with Delta and I was shocked by just how good the meals were. For dinner, I had mushroom pasta that was actually delicious. It was genuinely al dente, not mush, and was covered with a rich and creamy sauce. How they pulled that off, I have no idea. The meals were obviously prepared in Sydney because dinner and breakfast came with a little heart-shaped Aussie-made brownie that was about as tasty as anything I’ve ever eaten. So in addition to stellar in-flight service, Delta got the food right too – there could have been more protein in the mix but it was only a 13-hour flight, so no big deal. I just chugged back a protein shake in my water flask and counted myself lucky.
Landing in LA with five hours to kill between flights, I caught up with my good friend Rasul, who drove me down into Venice to eat lunch at Café Gratitude, which as the name suggests, is exactly what you’d expect a vegan restaurant in LA to be – slightly flashy with a distinct lean towards the hippie side of things. The meal came complete with a “Question of the Day”, which is delivered by the waitress if you want to hear it. She asked: “What are you doing to be mindful today?” Thanks, but I was just going to enjoy the food and the company.
Even the menu items had hippie names – the “TRUSTING” Tempeh Scramble was good – it’s made with gluten-free tempeh, seasonal vegetables, shitake mushrooms, spinach, scallions, cilantro, avocado, side of whole grain sesame toast and costs a very reasonable US$12.50.
On top of that, I had the $8.50 “ENRICHED” Alkalizing Green Smoothie, which is blended up with spinach, kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, avocado, hemp seeds and Himalayan salt. It was one of the strongest tasting smoothies I’ve ever had, almost violent in its green intensity but that was just what I needed on the day.
Being a vegan in Seattle proved to be effortless thanks to the premium organic and healthy supermarkets like Whole Foods Market, PCC and Metropolitan Markets scattered all over the city. I regularly bought everything from vegan donuts and scones to delicious Bahn Mi sandwiches, fresh and ready-made. The selection makes anything in NZ look a bit sad, but that’s understandable in a country of over 300 million people.
Vegan meals are about as easy to find as they are in NZ. At the low end, I ate at ultra-low budget Mexican joints, cheap USA style Chinese restaurants and diners, usually without any trouble. In fact, the amazing American service meant that waiters and waitresses would often go out of their way to make sure I didn’t get any non-vegan food – inspecting the ingredients in salad dressings, for example.
In the midrange, Chaco Canyon Organic Café became a mainstay every time I was in West Seattle. This was the place I tried on my first night in the city, and the food blew me away. The in-house kombucha was superb, the lentil burger super-tasty and the artichoke melt sandwich was mind-blowingly good, all at a price that’s cheaper than any equivalent in NZ.
At the higher end, we tried a remarkable organic vegan place called Plum. The hour wait for a table was totally worth it – with four dishes on the table to share between four of us, we ate like kings, even the totally non-vegan friends I was dining with, who seemed to love the food. Hand made ravioli and a massive salad laced with citrus fruit were highlights, and of course, there was more than enough food to go around – this is America after all, home of the big portion.
Even in the hinterlands of the USA, getting vegan food wasn’t a worry. I took two road trips – one down south to Mount Rainier and one up north through Canada and back into Eastern Washington. In most places, the restaurants were happy to work around my meal requirements, including finding a genuine Himalayan eatery in the middle of nowhere that happily served up a vegan thali and a massive plate of steamed momos (dumplings). Also, as long as I could find a supermarket of any size, I could pig out to my heart’s content on humus, salad, kombucha, bread and dips.
Heading out to a long-term stay on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, the restaurant choices diminished substantially. Whidbey seems to be like Tauranga – the home of the newly wed and nearly dead, only without the newly wed. So picture very plain, non-spicy food and you’re in the loop. China City, the local USA style Chinese place does a respectable plate of food at a good rate but it’s about as authentic as butter chicken at an Indian restaurant. There’s a vegan café in Freeland (the town I was staying in) and the food here is good, albeit without the zing I like – again, the lack of spice is noticeable.
At any rate, I wasn’t going to starve, and eating at my rented apartment was again, particularly easy. The local supermarket (Payless Foods) is well stocked with organic products and produce including a large chiller filled with everything from dinosaur kale to berries. They stock every kind of non-dairy milk you can imagine including hemp and coconut, which makes trying the enormous selection of mueslis a pleasure. There are also organic options we just don’t seem to see all that often in NZ – pickles and relishes for example.
They even have Daiya vegan cheese, which went down well as a way to bulk out sandwiches on the delicious bread I found in the healthy bread section. That’s right, they keep the healthy chips, breads and juices away from the rest of the stuff, which suited me down to the ground. A borrowed blender has kept me in green smoothies – the only glitch has been the quality of the local avocados – they’re nowhere near as big or as tasty as typical Kiwi avos.
Pricewise, things are definitely cheaper in American supermarkets, especially when you compare the cost of organic items such as strawberry jam, or bananas. Again, that’s expected considering the dramatic difference in the size of our market and theirs. Suffice to say, I’ve been eating well, with only the distractions of a new romance and working on new business ideas keeping me from doing my three or more smoothies a day routine (not really an excuse, I know).
So being vegan in the USA is a non-event, even on the road. Spending a month in Bali on the other hand was sure to be a different cup of tea… ASHLEY KRAMER