"We're looking for a restaurant where my coworker can eat a cow and I can eat like a cow," I told the concierge in my San Diego hotel. Eating while on the road for business can be a challenge.
I've been vegetarian for a year and vegan for a few months. At home, I am quite resourceful at inventing new healthy vegan recipes. I travel domestically for business approximately three days a week, every other week. Some cities are better than others, and some coworkers are more understanding than others.
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: