When one thinks of Dallas, Texas, I doubt to-die-for vegan meals come to mind. I recently traveled to Dallas for a professional conference, and I had not given much thought to how I would maintain my vegan diet in a city where the question, “Can you point me to some vegan options on your menu?” is often met with, “What is a vegan?” I mean, if I’m being completely honest, when I think Texas, I think meat, meat, and more meat. So, as I was on my flight to Dallas, I ordered the in-flight Wi-Fi just so that I could surf the net for restaurant options that would be vegan-friendly. I came across a website DallasVegan.com that let me know that indeed a vegan community does exist in this heart of Texas. The site provides options for dining, lists best places to go food shopping, and posts up-to-date local events.
Brunch is my favorite meal time so I also looked for local brunch or breakfast spots with vegan options. One that was highly recommended (and said to be frequented by celebrities like Bono of U2) was the Dream Cafe in the Uptown neighborhood. I checked out their menu online, and I was set to try their tofu scramble. My girlfriend and I ditched the conference one day and journeyed Uptown for brunch. The Dream Cafe had a nice neighborhood feel and local vibe. As soon as we were greeted by our waiter, we ordered peach bellinis and I asked him for the best vegan recommendations off the menu. He confirmed that the tofu scramble was a hit (as are their Cloud Cakes which are made fluffy with ricotta cheese and certainly not vegan) and he convinced me to try their vegetarian sausage (which I learned later was NOT vegan). Generally, I do not like “sausages” made from non-animal products. I guess I feel like, if you’re going to eat sausage, eat the real thing. He said that these “sausage” patties were vegan and made by Morningstar. He assured me that I would like them. And, yes, I did enjoy the entire meal, including the veggie sausage. However, when I went to look for this Morningstar product, I read the ingredients and learned that their veggie sausage is made with egg whites and milk protein. The entire time that I was in Dallas, I felt like I had to explain to people what veganism is, at least, what definition of it I subscribe to (no animal products). While the Dream Cafe offered vegetarian options (which is easy to find at most if not all restaurants), vegan options were another issue. I later wondered if the waiter fully understood what vegan means because he so confidently recommended the sausage as a vegan option.
Which brings me to my final point–as I’ve now fully embraced a vegan diet, I have to be more proactive when thinking about dining out, especially when I travel. Now, I visit places I used to frequent with a completely new identity–as a vegan. And, I’ve learned quickly that most menus are not made for me. I am not the targeted clientele. Instead, I’ve been made to feel like I’m being a pain when I have to ask wait staff to check with the chef or to check with the manager about whether or not something is prepared vegan. I feel bad for friends who dine with me because my order is always full of drama. And, all of the drama is generally for a dish that is a plate full of veggies sauteed in olive oil with lackluster flavor. I can make that at home and much better! Being vegan encourages me to prepare my own food more, yes, but that is difficult to do consistently when you travel as much as I do. So, here are a few strategies to combat these difficulties that I’ve learned as a new vegan traveler:
1) Definitely surf the net beforehand to find out what vegan eateries are closest to your destination. While there weren’t many in Dallas, I did come across a resource that pointed me in the direction of a few vegan spots and several vegetarian options.
2) Be prepared with a few recipe ideas to assist the restaurant chef in creating a vegan dish just for you. I stayed at the Omni Dallas Hotel, and I have to say, the restaurant staff there was great. On one occasion the Chef came out to personally talk with me about possible options that he could quickly whip up for me. It was helpful that I could provide him with some ideas that insured that the recipe would give me the protein and necessary nutrients that I needed. I also gave the hotel feedback that it would be useful to have a few more vegan options on their menus and they seemed receptive. At least, I received an email from the restaurant staff stating that they were working on it.
3) Get to a local grocery store to buy fresh fruit, veggies, and other non-perishable vegan foods that can keep in your hotel room. I’m traveling to Kenya in June, and I’m already thinking about putting together a vegan food staples list for items that will keep in my room. There, I’ll have a kitchenette so that I can prepare some of my own meals. It is more difficult to do this, though, when you’re staying in a hotel.
And 4) Make sure you eat well when you come upon a good vegan meal or restaurant. I ate like it was my last meal anytime I was blessed to have a nutritious, tasty vegan meal. I just couldn’t be sure that the next meal would be as fulfilling.
I’m sure as I become more and more knowledgeable about and experienced in maintaining a vegan diet, Traveling While Vegan (TWV) won’t be as challenging. I look forward to the days when being vegan is more mainstream. I have a feeling we’re moving in that direction.