Vegetarian Food On Flights: Doesn’t It Just Make Sense?


It’s certainly not impossible to travel as a vegetarian, but it’s not always easy. Not only do I not eat meat, but I usually try my best to refrain from animal products of any sort. Navigating this kind of diet abroad can be tricky, but airlines could do their part to make it easier. On one of my most recent flights, my husband was literally mocked for wanting meat-free food, even if that just meant a piece of bread. All maliciousness aside, what always gets me upset about the pitiful selection of vegetarian food on flights is the pure logistics of it from an airline’s standpoint.From a purely business perspective, it seems like a no-brainer that airlines would serve vegetarian options. Everyone eats vegetables (or should). Not everyone eats meat. In fact, some of the latest estimates say that there are more than 400 million vegetarians worldwide. While both meat and vegetables can rot or become otherwise tainted, the risks of contamination are higher with meat, especially when stored for long-term use, not to mention that the meat that does have a long shelf life isn’t usually the popular choice — give me canned beans over canned Spam any day. Meat is also expensive!

I realize that passengers can usually request food that meets their personal dietary restrictions for flights in advance. What I don’t realize is why plant-based food should be a special request. It seems to me that increasing the availability of vegetarian food on flights wouldn’t just satisfy the millions of vegetarians who travel as well as many non-vegetarians who are more than happy to eat plants, but it would be good for the bottom line, too.

Travel Tip: Vegetarian Food That May Not Be Vegetarian

Dinner And Bikes 2013: An Annual Tour To Grow The Bicycle Movement

There’s a lot of talk about bikes these days. From single speeds in New York City to nighttime tours in Guatemala City and the bike share in Paris, the discussion of bicycles as a real means of alternative transportation is taking hold in a big way.

But talking about bikes in cycle centric hotspots like Portland, San Francisco and New York is only part of the step. As with anything, getting more people on two wheels means getting people engaged all over the country. And that’s where Dinner and Bikes comes in.

The annual month-long tour is a traveling combination of bicycle inspiration, vegan food and pop-up bookstores that brings people together to get inspired about bicycle transportation. If you’re a bike junkie, it’s hard to resist.So what do you get from a Dinner and Bikes evening? A gourmet, vegan and gluten-free buffet dinner prepared by Joshua Ploeg, a presentation by Elly Blue on transportation equity and the everyday bicycling movement, and a near-complete excerpt from “Aftermass,” Joe Biel‘s forthcoming documentary about the history of bicycling in Portland. This year, they’re hitting up the Midwest and Northeast, with over 30 events from Michigan to New York. You can find the full schedule for May and June here.

Elly took time to answer a few questions about the tour and the inspiration behind it. And in perfect nomadic traveler form, she answered them on an Amtrak train somewhere between Portland and Chicago.

What was the inspiration for Dinner and Bikes?

In 2010, Joe and I did a tour called Bikestravaganza around the Western US. It was similar to what we do now, but just the two of us talking and showing movies about bikes. The idea was to energize people about bikes, show them a little of what we’ve seen is possible, and also let them know that Portland’s bike-friendly streets weren’t this huge, unattainable goal, but that in fact our achievements could easily be matched or surpassed by any city or town that wanted to. It went great, but one big problem was that the event was always during dinnertime. Everyone was hungry including us! We invited Joshua to join us the next year and it all fell into place.

Why bikes?

When I first started bicycling, it was liberating and it’s continued to be so at a personal level. Culturally, though, it’s about as good as it gets as far as a movement goes. With bikes, everyone wins and there’s no problematic temptation to put someone else’s happiness or livelihood secondary to your cause, as is the case in a lot of other social movements. Also, even when people are vehemently anti-bike, they usually change their mind once they start riding. So even when it’s polarized, it isn’t really. That photo of Senator Schumer smiling as he rides down the cycle track he fought so hard to prevent? That’s why I do it.

How do you decide which places you visit/where you host dinners? Why the central/northeast for the 2013 tour?

It’s an inexact science. As we go on tour, people’s friends in other cities hear about the events and get in touch to invite us to their town. I keep track of all the invitations in my spreadsheet, and then Joe and I go out to breakfast with an atlas and a notebook and create a route that we can do in a month that incorporates as many of those cities as possible. Then I set to work filling in the gaps. I believe the impetus for the Midwest/Northeast route is the result of invitations from folks in Michigan and DC. Next year I already know where we’re going: up and down the eastern seaboard, Maine to Miami. People should get in touch if they want to talk about doing a stop.

Having traveled around the country talking about bikes, how do you think the attitude towards bikes differs by region?

People who are deeply involved with their local bike scene read a lot of the same blogs and articles, so there is some unity in the movement. But local attitudes generally differ quite a bit, and in unexpected ways. A lot depends on the culture, layout and politics of a city. Some cities have a culture of being polite, so even if most people don’t understand bicycling, they don’t mind waiting a bit till it’s safe to pass the person riding in front of their truck. In other cities, there’s some kind of hostile force against it, maybe driving culture or city planning or the police – which oddly enough often has the result of catalyzing a far stronger bike movement.

What was the most surprising location you have visited in terms of their support for cycling?

Over the last four years, I’ve learned not to be surprised. Everyone’s got their stereotypes, like only big cities like bikes, or only small cities, or only liberal cities or secular cities or gentrified neighborhoods or cities with lots of young white creative class people. None of these things are true. People like bikes who have started bicycling already is the only generalization I can make. Once you get riding and have just the barest amount of community and infrastructure to support you, there’s no turning back.

Is it true that you travel only by train and by bike?

Nope, we rent a car to travel from city to city. If we’re lucky, we get to go on bike rides in some of the cities. I am still trying to figure out how to do it all by train, but we would pretty much have to have a source of funding from outside the tour in order to make that happen. I see it as an opportunity to not totally lose touch with the car-oriented reality of most of the US.

Any top tips for traveling by bike?

I’ve only been bike touring a few times, but I will say it’s important not to run out of water, and always to talk to people.

Check out the Dinner and Bikes 2013 schedule here.

[Photo Credits: Dinner and Bikes, Elly Blue]

Vegetarian Travelers Still Experience Culture

“You can’t travel if you don’t eat meat,” says a person who likes to both travel and eat meat.

But that’s not true – of course you can travel if you don’t eat meat. Contrary to what many travelers and even travel writers believe, you can genuinely learn about and experience another culture without eating meat or any other food your diet restricts. I’ve traveled as a meat-eater, a pescetarian, a vegetarian and a vegan. I’ve watched as others have shaken their heads in disbelief, unsure of why I’d ever travel in the first place if I didn’t want to taste what steak is like in another country. I’ve heard some people claim that travel and meat eating are so inseparable that culture simply cannot be experienced while practicing a plant-based diet. This is misleading and unnecessarily dissuasive.

Culture is a term we use to describe myriad facets of any given society. Merriam-Webster defines the word as:

1

a : the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends upon the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations

b : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group

Food is just one part of culture. Food is important because we need food to survive. We eat several times a day. We eat socially. We eat emotionally. We love to eat. So let’s get something out of the way: those who do not consume meat (or nuts, soy, gluten, alcohol or caffeine, for example) do still consume. I’ve visited countries around the world and sometimes I’ve eaten animals or animal products in those countries and sometimes I have not. But no matter what I eat, I’m eating unfamiliar food that is prepared in a way that is new to me when I travel. I’ve tried fruits and vegetables that I never knew existed but are simultaneously staples of the diet in other cultures. In that way, I’ve experienced the food of a different culture and all of the excitement that it brings without having to eat meat.

Because we spend so much time eating and because eating is often communal, having a restrictive diet can make it more difficult to eat with others, especially while traveling. If you don’t eat meat, you may have to disclose that to restaurants or hosts in advance. You may have to work extra hard to seek out places that serve what you want to eat. You may have to go grocery shopping while traveling (which is one of my favorite things to do and a good way to gain cultural insight, anyway). You may get lucky enough to have a host who is willing to prepare animal-free food for you. Some cuisines of the world are laden with meat while others are based in vegetables. The difficulty you’ll have eating as a vegetarian will depend on where you are. No matter the case, you will eat and what you eat will likely be different from what you normally eat when you’re at home.

What’s important to recognize though is that food is not the only part of culture. Similarly, an anything-goes diet is not necessary for experiencing culture. If you have dietary restrictions, that’s fine. I think we should treat food as medicine and think carefully about what we put into our bodies as regularly as possible, even when we’re on vacation. If you’re visiting a place wherein locals eat a cow tongue and lard custard, you don’t have to feel guilty when you choose not to try it. You can learn about this specific food, if you care to, by asking questions and by learning about the history behind the dish. Nothing compares to trying a dish for yourself, but you don’t have to try everything to be a good traveler. You can enjoy other aspects of the culture at hand. You can explore the arts community, listen to live local music and dance the traditional dances of the region all night long. You can listen to and share stories with locals. You can go swimming where locals go swimming. You can shop where they shop. You can visit their churches and schools and you can drink their wine.

This idea that culture cannot be experienced without throwing caution to the wind and eating whatever is set before you while traveling is misguided. I’ve traveled and eaten in the places I’ve traveled to with meat and without meat and the difference between the two is hardly memorable at all for me. Travel might be a more difficult if you have diet restrictions, but travel might also be more difficult if you have other restrictions – like being too scared to go free-diving with the locals, insisting on speaking English in a non-English speaking country or not going out dancing because you don’t like to dance. Lest we continue even further down the wrong path when discussing travel with others, let’s remember that learning about and experiencing another culture is not contingent solely on what you do or don’t eat.

Travel Tip: Learning Local Culture

Norfolk, Virginia: Thanks to PETA, it’s the next best destination for vegetarians


It seems likely that the site of the world’s largest Naval would be a place where meat monopolizes the menu. But in Norfolk, Virginia that’s simply not the case. The small city has truly embraced vegetarianism (and veganism as well), with nearly all of the restaurants featuring an ample list of veg-friendly options-plus plenty of places that cater solely to the meat-free crowd.

Obviously, larger cities like New York, San Francisco, and Toronto or towns that attract more eclectic inhabitants such as Portland, Bloomington, and Austin have plenty of demand for vegetarian eateries. In Norfolk, however, something else seems to be at work. The big influencer is actually the world’s largest animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is based there. For many positions at the organization, it’s actually a requirement that the employee is vegan-and it’s a bit of a no-brainer that the office culture probably dictates most employees stray from meat.

As the sailors filter in and out of the city, the PETA employees stay. As a result, there are plenty of places for vegetarians to eat morning, noon, and night. In the funky neighborhood of Ghent alone, there is a laundry list of over two-dozen restaurants that cater to vegetarians-and all seem to have mastered clearly marking menus for easy perusal.

Just a few of the favored pit-stops for vegetarians around Norfolk include Machismo Burrito Bar for Tex-Mex covered with nondairy sour cream and cheese, Rajput for Indian cuisine like veggie samosas and tofu palak, and Azar’s Market & Cafe for over 40 meat-free Mediterranean options. The menu at The Ten Top is dominated by veggies, and at Dragon City you can get cheap Chinese takeout that is assuredly vegan. Bella Pizzeria serves up pizza with soy cheese, and Yorgo’s Bageldashery goes above and beyond tofu cream cheese by serving a tempeh BLT wrap and “egg” salad. Even a local greasy spoon, the Donut Dinette, serves soy sausage with breakfast and vegan chicken salad for lunch.


Of course, the food isn’t the only draw to this seaport. There’s wine, too. Each year in May, the city’s waterfront becomes home to the Spring Town Point Virginia Wine Festival, when visitors pack the downtown area to sample Virginia’s finest vino and listen to live music.

But seriously: Besides food and wine, Norfolk has historical and cultural attractions that draw visitors year-round. History buffs will want to explore the naval museum Nauticus, where you can walk the decks of the impressive USS Battleship Wisconsin, a retired ship that’s storied history launched during World War II and continues through firing the first four missiles in Operation Desert Storm. Art lovers, on the other hand, should head to the Chrysler Museum of Art to peruse the expansive collection of 62 galleries or partake in a glass blowing workshop at the museum’s brand new studio. It’s also a good idea to weave through the local artist studios at d’ART Center, or possibly even plan a visit around the Stockley Gardens Arts Festival, a free event that brings 25,000 people to a local park (and just so happens to coincide with the Wine Festival in May).

No matter why you choose to come to Norfolk, it’s a city that is sure to surprise you once you arrive. My advice is to come for the food and wine, and stay for the great festivals and museums.

[Photos by Libby Zay]

The worst zoo I ever saw

zoo, Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Lion ZooI feel sorry for my Harari friends.

During my stay in Harar, Ethiopia, they were so hospitable, so eager to ensure I had a 100% positive impression of their city and country. For the most part I did, and I left for the capital Addis Ababa with lots of great things to say about Ethiopia.

They should have warned me not to visit the Lion Zoo in Addis Ababa.

It’s billed as a natural wonder, where you can see rare Ethiopian black-maned lions descended from the pride that was kept in Haile Selassie’s palace. In reality, it’s a sad display of animal cruelty and neglect.

The lions, primates, and other animals are kept in undersized cages with bare concrete floors. They look bored, flabby, resigned. Several of them look sick. Visitors shout at the listless animals or even throw pebbles to get them to move. Some toss packets of chocolate or potato chips to the monkeys and laugh as they tear the packages apart to get to the food inside.

The worst are the lions, proud carnivores, kings of the wilderness, reduced to trapped objects of amusement for bored city dwellers who don’t give a shit about nature. The lions lie around most of the time, doing nothing. Occasionally one will get its feet, shake its dirty mane, take a few steps before realizing there’s nowhere to go, and then sit down with an air of defeat.

The whole place made me feel ill, yet I can’t feel morally superior. I come from a country where people freak out if someone beats a dog but cheer when a Third World country gets carpet bombed. Where a zoo like this would be a national scandal but people eat meat raised on factory farms that make Ethiopia’s Lion Zoo look like a nature reserve. Only vegans can talk about animal cruelty from any moral high ground, and I’m not a vegan. Meat tastes too good.

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But a travesty like this zoo is totally unnecessary. Ethiopia is anxious to promote itself as a tourist destination, a friendly, civilized country where Westerners can feel at home. Well, if it wants to do that, it better do something about the Lion Zoo.

Like shut it down.

So to my Harari friends, I’m sorry. You came close to getting a 100% positive series (well, except for my bumbling around Ethiopia’s Somali region) but it was not to be. I understand Ethiopia has bigger priorities than a few animals in a zoo in Addis Ababa, but if you want to make a positive impression on Western visitors, this place has got to go.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints.

Coming up next: Tomoca: the best little coffeehouse in Africa!