Sunday, 8 March 2009

am vegan, will travel, part 2

I've posted before about traveling while vegan, and a friend suggested I actually show my little red travel bag. Here is it, packed, with a paperback thrown in for scale (actually, the paperback is just as important as the food). This bag is for a week-long working trip in Germany. See how little space it takes up? During the trip, I'll be able to hit a grocery store at the beginning, where I will buy a big bag of carrots, a big bag of apples, and a whack of dried dates or figs, which I will keep at work. Then it's cafeteria food for lunches (no restos nearby where I work, and it's a small harbour town on the north shore of Germany) and I'll be staying with a colleague, who is always awesome about making sure I have vegan eats for breakfast and dinner, and who always has a decent supply of fresh fruit and veg hanging around. So, this bag assumes that I'm going to be able to get bread and fruit for breakfast, and have access to a salad bar at lunch (but that's it.. there are no vegan options on the menu at that cafeteria. sometimes that means there's only lettuce and bread at the lunch for me. sometimes I can make an awesome salad with chickpeas, piles of veg and even some seaweed. depends on the day). And ... I know that I'll get dinner at the end of the day. So this is an "emergency lunch" bag, designed to deal with the dreaded all-iceberg lettuce lunch in the middle of an 18 hour workday. I don't know about you, but I can't work on no energy. I get cranky. And stupid. So this little red bag saves me.

The bag has 6x instant miso soups (I almost always have one with my lunch when i'm living on salad bar lunches and it's cold outside), some small packs of roasted seasoned nori, bag of apricot kernals, bag of soya nuts, bag of roasted dried chickpeas (all of these make lettuce into a good instant meal), bag of rice crackers (who can resist?), 2 lara bars (useful if you have to totally replace a meal at some point), 2 red bean paste candies, some licorice, a really frikin' good bar of chocolate, bag of goji berries and raw cacao beans, a few teabags, candied ginger. I'll probably also pick up some tofu jerky and maybe some soymilk at the grocery store there when I have a chance. I used to also travel with chocolate covered coffee beans, but no scientific institution is ever short on coffee. ever. I'm always caffeinated to within an inch of my life on these trips.

Things I know I'll be able to get there (like in vending machines or at the small convenience store near the research institute) so I don't bother carrying them, but I would if I were going somewhere more remote: nuts, vege yeast pate to put on bread (sometimes I love the german obsession with yeast spreads!), coffee, endless awesomely good german bread, beer (yays!), more chocolate.

That might look obsessive, but I like to be able to concentrate on my work when I'm working, not to worry about if I'm going to be hungry (and therefore cranky and not at my best in terms of concentration) if we have to work late and order pizza, which may or may not arrive without the cheese, no matter how nicely we ask (this is where the lara bars come in handy). Also, it takes the pressure off my hosts if they know that I have some "vegan food" with me. Some of it is also stuff to share (the chocolate, the rice crackers). I also bring a small thermos with me so that I can make my own coffee with soy milk before getting on long train rides, or don't have to use disposable cups. It's also nice for making soup.

Of course, the most important thing in this whole post is the book. There's nothing worse than being on a plane and having nothting to read. That and the nice chocolates and the duty free whiskey one picks up for one's hosts.

And I know I've said this before, but the best way to get people to accomodate you is to a) be gracious and b) be specific. ALWAYS thank people for setting up vegan food for you, even if you're eating pb sandwiches and pickles every day. If you whine about it, you're a loser, and a bad guest, and frankly, an ungrateful spoiled brat. And ALWAYS give people specific examples of easy-to-find things you can eat, rather than only focusing solely on what you don't eat. Do say what you don't eat, but make sure to provide positive information as well. Most omnivores seem to think that "vegan food" is a special subcategory of edibles that they can only find at great expense in specialized stores, which can make providing "vegan food" very stressful for your hosts, when really, it doesn't have to be a big deal at all. For example, it's a good idea to point out that dried pasta, all fresh fruit and veg, and peanut butter are vegan. So is pitta bread and canned beans. Point this out specifically. Name the foods. Don't make people hunt down hard-to-find ingredients ("gee, I really like sea vegetable tempeh and konnyaku with vegan worcestershire sauce and just a touch of fresh grated horseradish, do you think you could drive 50kms to find it for me?"), but do give them a specific list of easy-to-find, inexpensive stuff that you will happily eat ("If it's no trouble, could you pick up some apples, bananas, carrots, peanut butter and pitta bread for me? If you don't have time, can we swing by a grocery store together when I arrive?"), and make sure to thank them if they do it. Now is *not* the time to be picky about the variety of the apples or the shape of the pasta, okay? Be a good guest, make it easy, and remember, it's often not about the food. Trips like this are about seeing people, or getting work done. Keep things in perspective, and enjoy the pb&j and black coffee. Most importantly, enjoy the people.

Also, randomly: Plumbuns! Spicy cornbread filled with plums and some sort of cream cheezy concoction. I'm still working on this one, but will put a recipe up when it gets perfected.


vegandwhatnot said...

Awesome! I have a rather excessively large purse that could also function as a bag o' goodies.
Secondly, I'm with you all the way on being a gracious guest and accepting the simpler foods that people can share with you. I'm always grateful when people make sure that there's vegetables on the table for me, and often times it inspires them to eat more veggies too.
Lastly, have you done any travelling to third world countries? I'm looking at doing some volunteering abroad, but I have no idea how veg-friendly third world countries are. Some religions in the Middle east and such are known to be vegetarian, but I have no idea if marketplaces and such are fairly easy to navigate. Oh, and can one actually bring food on an airplane? What about in your luggage?

sinead said...

Hmmm... I put the little red bag in my checked luggage. I can travel with cabin baggage only on personal trips, but work usually requires too much stuff, so I'm checking a bag anyways, or (more usually) taking the train.

I've travelled to India and Mexico, as well as bits of the former USSR. I ended up buying a lot of veg at roadside veg stands or markets in those cases. In some bits of eastern europe, i was especially happy to have some greens + with me, as you can go days without seeing a vegetable... though it's not the third world by any stretch. If you're staying with people who don't have much though, and they're sharing with you, it can get dicey. Bring food to share. Find a way to communicate what you will and won't eat. If you're volunteering with an organization, can you ask them about it?

>>Anyone with advice on travelling vegan in the third world, feel free to leave a comment here.