The vegan vacationer

Samantha Bridges 

Travelling to a new city can be challenging. You’re entering into unchartered territory and you think to yourself, “What should I pack?” “What hotel am I going to stay at?” For vegans the question of “What am I going to eat?” also comes to mind. Food is a big part of our culture across the globe and it can be a culture shock for someone. With the right tips, traveling as a vegan can be easy the next time you plan a trip.

So what is like travelling as a vegan? Today it’s becoming easier than one would think. Many international restaurants and airlines are vegan-friendly, making it easier for the person to have everything they need for their trip. Vegan traveller Maria Giurcn and author of How To Travel The World As A Vegan, says her journey as a vegan has been easy to maintain and offers these helpful tricks.

“I maintain my values by packing some vegan snacks and pre-packaged meals in my luggage. A few camping companies prepare freeze-dried vegan meals which I find helpful. I also like to use airlines that are vegan-friendly as well, “she said.

Giurcan knows well that every trip can present challenges. So what happens when you might not have the option to go to a vegan-friendly restaurant?

“The main challenge is when you’re in a tour group and they have already set up a specific restaurant in mind. If this happens, I just ask the tour guide in advance to ask the restaurant for a vegan meal. I bring my own packaged vegan meals in case there’s no options,” Giurcan said.

Think of being vegan as a life philosophy: Know what you’re eating and where it’s coming from. Food writer Adam Waxman, though not vegan says even he encountered meal challenges while travelling to the southern U.S.

“I was travelling in the south and everything was fried. I was sitting in a diner and I went to order a salad and they looked at me like I was crazy,” says food expert Adam Waxman.

He advises vegans to do lots of food research in advance, and warns, “You won’t want to go to a typical diner.”

If you’re travelling for pleasure, find places that suit your lifestyle and where you know a little bit. Being prepared is essential, and researching is a quick and easy way of setting yourself up for opportunities rather than challenges. Waxman believes you should treat your veganism like a religion because it’s all about the attitude that you carry. Have the confidence to say, “No I can’t eat that” and find something else.

A bigger challenge is living in a new country. It takes a lot to adjust to the life you’re living now as opposed to the one you had back home. Your everyday life tasks such as grocery shopping and cooking becomes harder because you may not have the same quality of food you had back home. Toronto native Danika Cahill, who moved to Australia in early August, has found it harder than anticipated to live in a new country.

“I’ve been living in a hostel for two months and even though I love it here, there isn’t an oven. I’m tired of frying and boiling, I miss baking vegetables!” she said.

“Even though it’s been a little more challenging than I anticipated, I’ve been eating this way for so long it’s like second nature to me.”

Don’t be overwhelmed when planning your next trip. It’s just going to take a little more community and internet sleuthing to make you feel at peace. Learning recipes, researching local grocery stores and vegan restaurants in your area are just a few tricks to help with the preplanning. Reach out to online vegan bloggers, Twitter or Facebook groups that offer advice on where to eat, that way you will feel you’re prepared to visit your destination. Remember vegans; you’re there for the experience, so enjoy what the world has to offer.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner

Samantha Bridges

The date is marked in your calendar. Your friend is having a dinner party on Saturday night. You can’t figure out whether to be excited or dread it because they’re making their famous pot roast, and as a vegan you can’t even stand the thought of looking at it. For most vegans, this is a common scenario.

Knowing your table manners, bringing the host or hostess a gift are typical examples of polite dinner etiquette when going to somebody’s house. But for a vegan, a large dinner crowd can feel overwhelming, however it’s important to make your dietary restrictions known. Whether you’re invited out for dinner, or going to a party, as a vegan don’t make your friends cater to you if you haven’t helped prepare yourself first. There are certain steps you must take when being a dinner guest.

When someone invites to you dinner, let them know what you can and can’t eat. That way your host will have plenty of time to prepare something separate for you. Toronto etiquette specialist Louise Fox believes common courtesy can go a long way to help vegans enjoy a dinner party.

“Sometimes vegans think that it would be more trouble to tell the guest of their restrictions, so they wait till they’re at dinner to say anything. You can’t expect the host to accommodate you if you don’t say anything before,” Fox said.

When you have dietary restrictions one solution is telling the person, “It’s okay, I will just bring my own thing,” Or simply eat before you go to the party so you don’t starve. Los Angeles vegan chef Brian Patton learned this the hard way.

“In my first month of being vegan, I was at a fancy dinner party at a friend’s house and they were serving a bunch of hors d’oeuvres. None of them were vegan, and since I was inexperienced at being vegan I didn’t eat anything before hand. So I ended up eating nothing that night,” he said.  “My stomach felt like it was eating itself.”

Help the host during busier times of the year such as holidays. Often the host has a signature dish they want to perfect, and preparing a vegan option may seem like too much work. But there is still a way for everyone to be happy. Kristin Lajeunesse, a vegan blogger of “Will Travel for Vegan Food,” believes that both parties can meet in the middle.

“If the host wants to do all the cooking, ask them to send you their favourite recipes,” she says. “There are a bunch of great vegan options for the holidays. It won’t seem like extra work if it’s done ahead of time.”

She says it’s important to keep in mind that dinner is about enjoying time with family and friends.

The trick to being a great dinner guest is knowing what to do before going to the party. Let the host know about your restrictions immediately or bring your own separate meal. Also help the host research some quick, delicious vegan options for everyone, so next time you’re invited to a dinner party, you won’t dread being that pain-in-the-butt guest. Embrace the company of your friends and family with a little communication and planning ahead.

How to satisfy your vegan sweet tooth

Alissa Heidman

Many individuals choose a vegan diet based on their desire to live a healthy lifestyle. While proper nutrition and exercise is certainly important, a balanced diet includes a sweet treat now and then. Whether you’re a beginning vegan or a veteran vegan you need to know how satisfy that sweet tooth without compromising your vegan values.

If you’re not a whiz in the kitchen don’t fret! There are a lot of products out there that are technically vegan to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings. Lesia Kohut, a chef and founder of LPK’s Culinary Groove in Toronto says because veganism is trending, these products are becoming easier to spot on grocery shelves.

“Companies nowadays big and small are jumping on whatever marketing bandwagon they can. You’re going to see a lot of vegan stuff out there [that] wasn’t necessarily labeled ‘vegan’ before,” Kohut says.

Anne-Marie Campbell is a Toronto vegan who lives very healthily as an MMA athlete but admits she does enjoy junk food like sweet and salty popcorn on occasion when she isn’t training.

“There’s a lot of vegan junk food at the grocery store,” Campbell says. “Some good ones are Oreos, Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids, Ritz Crackers, So Delicious ice cream and frozen desserts and Tofurky frozen pizza.”

When she’s enjoying time with friends or family, she stacks up on mixed nuts, tortilla chips with salsa and vegan cheese and crackers.

“I also really like dark chocolate-covered coconut cubes and almonds,” she says.

Kohut has been creating vegan desserts for over 15 years. She took home the win for Toronto’s “Best Professionally Crafted Vegan Dessert” in 2009 and 2010 with her vanilla bars and peanut butter Nanaimo bars. Some of her favourite ingredients are certified organic sugar, coconut milk, dark Camino chocolate, organic peanut butter and of course fruit. She makes her own vegan ice cream with a coconut milk based sorbet which is sweetened with agave and other fruits that are in season.

Kohut says you don’t need to be a chef to come up with your own mouthwatering sweet creations. Random ingredients in your kitchen can do the trick. Such as this dessert idea she pulled together last-minute on her birthday:

“I took coconut milk and organic peanut butter and I whipped [them] together. Then I had some fresh raspberries available and some organic frozen blueberries. I just made myself a parfait,” Kohut says.

Kristen Bethel Lepine is a Toronto-based vegan educator and founder of a mobile vegan cooking school called Know Thy Food. She works with a lot of beginner vegans teaching them how to transition their diet and cooking.

“While I teach whole food vegan cooking focusing on unprocessed and simple ingredients – I still enjoy going out for cupcakes, cinnamon buns and vegan French fries,” Bethel Lepine says. “I know that vegan food trends are like any other ones and I can tell you that when vegans find anything sweet that they can eat, they are usually pretty excited.”

Creating your own vegan sweets is all about finding alternatives to the animal products use in most non-vegan treats. This includes dairy, honey, bone char refined sugar and gelatin to name a few. The way around this is finding alternative fats and sweeteners that work as well as animal-based counterparts.

Bethel Lepine says she uses dates, raisins, coconut sugar and sometimes stevia which are all great plant-based sources of sugar for her vegan desserts. Her recipe for vegan date squares is a quick and easy dessert fix anyone can make at home.

“I like to mix oats with some virgin coconut oil, date paste with some cinnamon and nutmeg. You can pop it in the oven or you can put it in the fridge if you want it raw,” she says.

Having desserts and junky snacks in moderation is a way to stay on track and fulfill your cravings. You can do this by learning more from a vegan cooking class, filling your kitchen with vegan-labeled products and visiting your local vegan baker. Having sweets and snacks should never be a guilty pleasure – just a delicious one.