In Chicago, my coworkers laughed at me for ordering a family-sized side of spinach as my meal. I have a sense of humor about my diet, and I admit, it was funny. In Honolulu, I struggled. In Detroit, I sat in a Chili's during a lunch and ate nothing.
My favorite city for dining is San Diego. Each restaurant there presents new and exciting vegetarian and vegan offerings. Terra specializes in locally-grown organic food, Hash House offers delicious meal in spectacular arrays on their oversize plates, and we dine at Zocalo Grill for California-style delicacies within walking distance of our hotel. For lunch, I love a bakery cafe called Bread and Cie in the Hillcrest neighborhood and the Peet's Coffee and Tea located next to it. Most menus only offer a handful of vegetarian items, but if you aren't too picky, all it takes is just one.
Atlanta was a vegetarian paradise. I worked hospital shifts from 2pm to 10pm so I partook of breakfast restaurants all over the city. I liked The Flying Biscuit, Radial, and (for lunch) Agnes & Muriel's. My only gripe about Atlanta is my inability to find oatmeal anywhere. Grits, yes; oatmeal, no.
Galveston, Texas was the funniest city. In restaurant after restaurant, the waiters thought that vegetarian food included turkey and chicken. I got a laugh from it, and I ordered a sweet potato as a meal in the steak places.
Honolulu was my biggest failure. After working a 14-hour shift in a hospital, I had a window of a few hours to procure my dinner before heading home to get enough sleep before my alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning. I didn't have time to shop around. The first night, we went to an Asian restaurant. Asian food is typically a safe bet, but this place had menu choices like "tofu bacon stir fry." I ordered a vegetable stir fry. Day two, we went to a local fast food-type place after a friend told me they offered tofu. When we got there, they told us that tofu was only a special of the day offered on Fridays and they had no tofu today. I ate another vegetable stir fry.
I am ashamed to admit that after two days without protein, the next night, when I found myself at Sam Choys (a vegetarian-free zone), I caved. I ordered the poke platter, an entire plate of seared fish. Until my trip to Hawaii, I was never quite so keenly conscious of how many American meals consist of a plate of meat and no vegetables beyond the garnish of parsley. On day four, I joined my friends at a sushi place where the waitress' grasp on the English language was questionnable at best. I ordered tofu and got sashimi. The damage was done the day before, so I ate it. I made up for it the next week by eating live vegan food on Kauai, three meals a day for a week.
The only city I've visited since going vegan is Troy, Michigan, outside Detroit. Troy is a vegan's wasteland. Ask me in six months and I might know the ins and outs of eating vegan in Troy. For now, I'm distraught over the prospect of traveling there so much that I'll practically be rooting for the Pistons. My ray of hope is a fellow vegetarian among the ranks of our carnivorous team.
For other veg*ns traveling for work or leisure, here are the strategies I've developed:
- Ask your server how they might accommodate you. You are probably not the first veg*n to patronize the restaurant* and they can tell you which dishes they can alter to meet your needs.
*This does not apply in Texas
- Search online for veg*n friendly restaurants. I like to search Happycow.net before any trip.
- Read the menus in advance. Most restaurants put their menus online, and most hotel rooms or hotel concierge desks provide menus of local restaurants. If your coworkers or friends are considering a few different restaurants, you can find the most veg-friendly option and weigh in.
- On the same note, ask the concierge at your hotel. They won't just know which restaurants cater to veg*ns, they will also give you directions to get there.
- Find a natural foods coop in your destination city. Sometimes this is only feasible if you have a car. I found terrific coops in Hawaii and in Atlanta. In San Diego, I settle for the Whole Foods. I love buying fresh fruits and prepared vegan meals to keep in my hotel room or bring on-site for lunch.
- Pack wisely. This is difficult if you won't have access to a refrigerator because you can only put up with so many dried fruits and nuts. This is also difficult on long trips - you cannot dedicate an entire suitcase to food. I've tried bringing along homemade vegan muffins (which taste great but do not travel well in a plastic bag). Next time I'm trying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Neal Pinckney PhD comments: Apparently, Ms. Richardson wasn't aware of the Dining Guide with over 75 vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Honolulu - provided by The Vegetarian Society of Hawaii (vsh.org). With over 2,000 members, VSH is the largest vegetarian organization in North America. Honolulu is one of the most vegetarian friendly places in America. I recommend that visitors get the Dining Guide before they come, and if they're here during any of our activities, feel welcome to join us.