Guidebooks, camps, tours and more for those herbivores among us
Sometimes with difficulty, but almost always eventually, vegetarian travelers are able to compose and receive a vegetarian meal at restaurants that feature meat. But their best vacation meals are obviously at vegetarian restaurants--the kind that make a high art out of that approach to food. And the best type of assistance that a Web site like this can provide is information about where such restaurants can be found.
Say you are cruising along California's Highway 99 in your rented Dodge Neon, heading to Sequoia National Park, but with a visit en route to Visalia to see an old friend. Soon the growling in your tummy is louder than the radio-it's well past lunchtime. You've been checking the roadside for chow choices, but it's a fast-food canyon of Sirloin Kings, Chicken Wings, Fried & Processed Things. No Veggie Village, Tofu Hut, or Broccoli Barn in sight. Since you became a vegetarian, it's been harder and harder to find fodder.
Even though you're way outnumbered, your decision to forgo flesh in your diet puts you in the same club as Albert Einstein, Mr. Rogers, Janet Jackson, and many more. People who call themselves vegetarians fall into categories that range from lacto-ovos, who avoid meat and fish but consume dairy products and eggs, to vegans, who shun all foods involving animal participation, such as cheese, honey (stolen from bees), and gelatin-which comes from cow, fish, or pig bones, skin, and hoofs. There are fruitarian, macrobiotic, and raw-food devotees as well.
Scrutinizing the "typical" American diet
The typical American diet is under increased scrutiny. Our country is known for large portions and, increasingly, our girth. Whether you've opted out of the mainstream for health, spiritual, or monetary reasons, it takes planning to travel and vacation in Carnivoreland. You need a good map. Let's return to Highway 99. The meat eater, encircled by myriad fast-food joints, pulls into a Chicken A-Go-Go and, without leaving the car, orders a Mini Rooster Special: three pieces, breaded and fried, a thimble of cole slaw, a biscuit, and a soft drink. Cost in dollars: about seven. Nutritional cost: well over 1,000 calories, with at least 150 grams of fat.
But since you packed for the road, you reach into your backpack for the reliable 32-page Guide to Fast Food, published by the Vegetarian Resource Group (send $6 to V.R.G., P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203; 410/366-8343, vrg.org/). This trusty booklet, packed with dietary minutiae, lists possible veggie options in the fast-food pantheons all over America.
Did you know that vegetarian and vegan bean burritos are available at Taco Bell; that their beans do not contain animal fat; that Taco Bell's seasoned rice is no longer made with chicken broth; and that their tortilla wrappers are without dairy of any sort? Or that Jack in the Box, which you just passed on the freeway, has a great stuffed jalape o pepper with cheese? Were you aware that many Subway stores are now offering a meatless burger and vegan Fruizle smoothies? Those pithy pointers-and more-are set forth usefully in the Guide to Fast Food.
For additional restaurant information totally free, you can go to www.vrg.org, click on Restaurants & Travel in the left-hand vertical box, and you'll be able to instantly access local vegetarian dining guides for Anaheim, California; Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; Manhattan; Ohio; Orlando, Florida; and central Virginia. The more extensive, 434-page Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Food Restaurants in the U.S. and Canada ($18, plus shipping) is also available from the Vegetarian Resource Group.
You can also do well at the momma-and-poppa cafés. On our hypothetical itinerary, rather than slow down for a fast-food outlet, you continue into Fresno, California. In a minute you spot a small luncheonette on a side street. Because of the large, local Armenian population, this family-run place offers a lunch of homemade patlijan, a flavorful eggplant casserole, which you enjoy for the first time. Cost in dollars: about five. Nutritional cost: relatively low in fat and about 450 calories.
In this instance, your curiosity has been an extension of the true travel ethic. With a short detour, you have been rewarded with a reasonably priced and flavorful meal, contributed to the local economy, and perhaps enjoyed an interesting conversation.
Vegetarians save money
There is anecdotal evidence that vegetarianism is growing. Restaurants, even those outside urban areas, have responded by taking salads more seriously and having at least one vegetarian entrée on their menus. At TGI Friday's, a nationwide chain, a rib dinner is about $13; shrimp dinner, $10; fish-and-chips, $8; burger, $6. But you can choose the grilled vegetable platter, including chunky and filling portobello mushrooms, for $8.
While all this eating out is fun, every cheese sandwich you're served is priced to cover the cost of ingredients, labor, real estate, marketing, and salaries. To save money, think of your vacation as an expedition and pack a simple camping mess kit, a good slicing knife, a thermos, plastic bags you've saved, and a small cooler. Shop local stores for breakfast and lunch goodies such as yogurt, breads, fruits, and vegetables. If you're a coffee gourmet, bring your own pre-ground beans and immersion coil to protect yourself against the sin of watery java. With money saved on breakfast and lunch, you can treat yourself to a special dinner.
If you're new to vegetarianism and would enjoy being with like-minded folks, explore vegetarian-friendly destinations. Talk to Donna Zeigfinger at Green Earth Travel (888/246-8343, vegtravel.com/) for assistance in finding retreats and resorts, both domestic and foreign. Prices range from surprisingly affordable to "a special experience." You can use the map on the Web site vegetarianusa.com for a geographic guide.
Here's to healthy, low-cost eating!
Veggie survival tips
For biking enthusiasts, we recommend Bicycle Beano Cycling Holidays (and no, the name has nothing to do with the pills that fight gas. In the U.K., "Beano" is slang for "party" or "jolly"). While the firm claims that the majority of their clients are not vegetarians, participants are served a gourmet, vegan or vegetarian breakfasts and dinners, and dropped off at pubs (where vegetable-only options are readily available) for lunch. When not chowing down, clients cycle through some of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, including the Upper Wye Valley in Wales and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Tours are for 15 to 30 persons, and accommodations range from Georgian manors to Victorian homes to classic country inns. Rates range between £70 and £100 (about $128 to $181) per day and include breakfast, tea and dinner, accommodations, route sheets and the services of a cycling guide and mechanic. Bikes can be rented from nearby rental companies for an additional £60 and up per week. While Beano will accept checks in American dollars for their trips, they ask that an additional £20 is added to defray the costs of money changing. You can see a list of all Beano's programs on the Web at bicycle-beano.co.uk/ or write to them at Bicycle Beano, Erwood, Builth Wells, Powys, LD2 3PQ, Wales, UK (phone 011-44-1982-560471, e-mail email@example.com).
Founded in 1989 by professional chef Nigel Walker, Vegi Ventures Holidays puts together approximately 15 group tours a year to the United Kingdom, Peru and Turkey, that vary in their focus but all emphasize delicious vegetarian (or vegan) meals. The Peruvian trip, for example, is led by a noted anthropologist, and features, along with the more standard sightseeing excursions to Machu Picchu and Cusco, homestays with indigenous families on Taqulie Island and lectures on local culture and folklore. The English Lake District tour is less a cultural tour, than one of physical fitness--mornings began with an optional "stretch, breathing and movement" class, and the rest of the day is spent trekking the surrounding hills and mountains (owner Walker serves as chef for this tour). During Christmas and other odd times during the year, Veggie Ventures sponsors "Creativity" weekends around England that emphasize "skill sharing" in subjects ranging from music to yoga to cooking to botany. Prices for the trips are reasonable, and though most of their clients are British, all nationalities are welcome. For more information, write to Vegi Ventures, Castle Cottage, Castle Square, Castle Acre, Norfolk, PE32 2AJ, United Kingdom (phone 011-44-1760-755888), e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out its Web site, vegiventures.com/.
Green Earth Travel was founded in 1991 by Donna Zeigfinger, a seasoned veteran in the travel business. Zeigfeinger specializes in setting up customized itineraries for vegetarians and vegans, to destinations all across the globe. She reports that while cruiselines and hotels have made great strides in accommodating vegetarians, most are still stumped by the vegan requirements. She goes through a lengthy process of telephone calls and faxes for every client to ensure that their dietary needs will be met (and if that turns out not to be possible, she will advise a client against a trip)--a thorough, helpful and thoroughly professional travel agent. Call or write, Green Earth Travel, 7 Froude Circle, Cabin John, MD 20818 (phone 888/246-8343). Also be sure to visit the company's Web site at vegtravel.com. The site offers extensive listings of vegetarian B&B's and other accommodations in North America, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as postings on numerous vegi tours. You can also send an e-mail inquiry to email@example.com.
A vegetarian summer camp
Located on the shores of Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont (on the YWCA grounds of Camp Hochelaga), Camp Common Ground is a cooperative, family-camp rooted in its dedication to a strictly vegetarian and organic cuisine. Since its beginning in 1994, families have regularly convened on the lakefront each summer, fulfilling the vision of camp founders "Peg and Jim" (still on the staff) of a community-oriented, family-run summer camp. From kayaking, to dance, to creative cooking, all activities are infused with this cooperative spirit, including daily chores, which the campers also share. Meals are prepared by an "amazing" staff of vegetarian cooks, with years of experience and served family-style.
Between 150 and 160 campers fill the summertime retreat during its three-week run in August. Adults and teens pay $495/week, and kids, between $70 and $435 (booking after March 20 will add $20). To encourage diversity (one of the camp's founding principles) Camp Common Ground offers scholarships to about 40% of its attending families. Bunkbeds in 12 "rustic-style" cabins and 10 platform-tents house most of the campers; the rest bring their own tents. Platform tents cost $40 a week, and private cabins run $120 extra a week. Beds in shared cabins are $15 per bed, per week. (If you want a solid sleeping structure, be sure to make reservations early.) None of these accommodations come with private baths, so there are three communal bathhouses (men's, women's, and coed). Priority is given to returning families (about 60%) and the rest of the slots are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information or to make reservations, contact Camp Common Ground, 159 Lost Road, St. George, VT 05495, phone 800/430-COOP (2667), or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. View the Web site at cgcvt.org.
Helpful websites for vegetarians
Vegetarian travel books
Fortunately, a small but growing number of guidebooks to vegetarian travel have been published, and are available either at bookstores specializing in travel, or through the mail.
The following seem to be the key, recent works (and thus most likely to be up-to-date):
All the books listed above can be obtained from one or both of the following sources. Either call the well-known travel bookstore Book Passages at 800/999-7909 or 415/927-0960 (you can also order via the Web site at bookpassage.com); or contact the North American Vegetarian Society by phoning 518/568-7970 or visiting navs-online.org/. Most of these books can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.