Hello, Veganesers! I’m finally back from my trip to Europe. It was a good time. I saw a lot of sites, mastered foreign public transportation systems, walked in the cold and rain, and conversed awkwardly with the locals. I also ate a lot. And I’m sorry to report that I pretty much failed at staying vegan.
After a successfully vegan voyage across the Atlantic, I was very optimistic about my food choices. I traveled with a large group. Our breakfasts and dinners were included in the travel package. It was only lunch that we needed to (or, really, that we could) get on our own. I was expecting buffet style dinners and breakfasts, so I was ready to load up on fruits and veggies and toast with jam and salad and rice and potatoes. I packed a bunch of protein bars to eat during the day so that I wouldn’t have to depend on whatever our lunch choices were.
I wasn’t prepared when I realized that we had a sit-down service for dinner every night. If the hotel didn’t know in advance that there was a vegetarian in the group (there were actually two of us and explaining that I didn’t eat meat was confusing enough so I didn’t say “vegan”), then we had to settle for whatever meal was being served. Luckily, this only happened on two occasions.
The meals usually started with soup; I think it started with a salad on just one night. The soups were usually a vegetable soup, but I can’t say they were vegan. The entree was chicken, beef, or pork served with fries or rice or potatoes and veggies like broccoli. On the nights when I didn’t get my “special” meal, I gave my meat to someone else in the group and ate the rest. And then I had a protein bar in my hotel room.
It was really interesting to discover what “vegetarian” meant wherever we went. In Portugal and Spain, I was served mushroom omelettes with veggies on the side. Luckily, there were plenty of mushrooms so I just picked them out of the egg. In France… sigh… I was given fish. Fish with a side of creamy rice one night and fish with a side of green beans the next night. It was hard to be disappointed when the servers were so proudly serving me my “vegetarian” dish. I could have skipped the fish, but I didn’t for two reasons. One, I was really hungry by the time dinner rolled around, especially after all the walking we did everyday. Two, it bothered me that a lot of people complained or left their food uneaten if they didn’t like it and, while I don’t really eat fish anymore, I felt really guilty throwing it out. (Also, it was kind of delicious. I know, I know, I’m a horrible vegan. I can only eat so many vegan snack bars before I want to hurl.)
There were small victories. We did have a buffet dinner one night, and I was able to eat a ton of salad with yummy fresh veggies along with a ton of yummy artichokes. A lot of the hotels served mushrooms in the morning, so I was able to load up on something warm and delicious and nutritious. I was able to get vegetable soup or other veggie dishes for lunch, like pasta or veggie paella. And on a cold day in Paris, I resisted the urge to get French onion soup and got a salad instead. The arugula was soooo good.
The plane ride back home offered a nice dose of getting back to my vegan diet. I was too tired to take photos, but I got a nice and tasty pasta arrabbiata with a side of veggies in a vinaigrette dressing and fresh fruit for dessert. I was again glad to hear that a vegetarian option was offered to everyone else, but this time it was an Indian dish with paneer that I would not have been able to resist. Then, for snack time, I got a triple decker sandwich with fresh cucumbers and red pepper on this really tasty brown bread. I was happy with that.
I’m confident that I would have been more successful at staying vegan had most of my meals not been included with the travel package. I did pay for it, after all. Unfortunately, we were on the road a lot and in remote locations for most of the trip, so a walk to a nearby market or restaurant wasn’t possible. We even went to a small spot that had a grilled ham and cheese sandwich on the menu, and they wouldn’t make it without the ham. I do consider it a victory that I avoided meat. It wasn’t easy since everyone around me was eating it and it all smelled so good.
I would love to go back to Europe for obvious reasons but also because I would like to have an opportunity to seek out vegetarian and vegan places. Our tour guide was very passionate about saying that there are no vegetarian restaurants and everyone eats meat, which of course cannot be true. The trip also demonstrated to me that “vegetarian” has a different meaning depending on where you are and “vegan” is still a totally new concept.
Looks like we’ve got a lot to teach the world, you guys! And I better start by being a real vegan myself. –Melissa