It's been almost a week since I last stepped foot in a Whole Foods. Oh, Whole Foods, you majestic and far away phenomenon. I promise never to take you for granted again. Who am I kidding? I never took you for granted - every other charge on my credit card statement a tribute to your over-priced collection of perfection. But I am in a new place where the produce is less than stellar and the culture has no understanding of the words: sin carne (no meat).
I have spent the last seven days traversing different small towns in Patagonia, a region in the south of Chile. I arrived in Punta Arenas (this region is also known as Magallenas - as are the people in this part of Chile. My understanding is that there are Chileans and there are Magallenas - Chile being enormous in length - it makes sense that there are so many sub-cultures). So I arrived in a place that has been penned The End of the World. Literally. That's what they call it, and instantly I felt hungry. Oh my god, for sure I am gonna fucking starve. And it's so cold. And contrary to popular belief, a good cup of coffee doesn't exist outside of Colombia* I've been told.
At first I was lenient. This free toast with jam that they're offering me in my hostel is probably vegan... ish. Maybe? My Spanish being very limited, and feeling embarrassed by this, I just turned a blind eye and made the decision that it was safe to eat. When I finished my breakfast those first couple of mornings I couldn't help but wonder why I would be willing to dial down my staunch commitment to eating 100% animal free all for a piece of sub par toast (actually it was really good, though it turns out apricot jam will never be my favorite). I mean, if I'm gonna say fuck it, shouldn't I at least be eating some epic Chilean delicacy and not this questionable piece of toast. I started to feel a little lame about it all, so I began investigating. Here are some tips and tricks to help you stay strong while traveling as a vegan:
First, download the HappyCow app (iPhone: $2.99, Android: $2.49, Palm Pre: $.99, Nokia: FREE). It directs you to the nearest vegan friendly spots based on your current location. Depending on where you're traveling, don't be alarmed if it doesn't turn up any results.
Second, and possibly most important, DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Especially when traveling in countries known for their general resistance to vegetarianism. Things like bread often have milk, eggs or butter or wait for it.... Animal fat. Yikes! Blech. In fact, I picked up a pack of cookies at a grocery store to see what was in them just out of curiosity. Score! The ingredients are also listed in English. Sugar, obviously. Milk, darn. Butter, okay I get it I can't eat these. Eggs, FINE! Beef fat....errrr... BEEF FAT?! Um, just gross. Don't believe me?
Speaking of grocery stores. My third tip is this: find one. And stock up. I found vegan friendly bread, peanut butter, jelly (without gelatin), vegan AND gluten free cookies. Pasta, lentils, sauces (all safe!)... Then find accommodations with a kitchen and cook for everyone. Help spread the word that vegan food is delicious by proving it. In fact, my new Australian friends were willing to make vegan dinner the other night at our hostel. We made a delicious tomato soup with penne, lentils and green peas.
We had so much left over, we decided to offer it to Mundo and his daughter Gabby (the owners of the hostel) - and they loved it. HA! You just enjoyed a meat free meal, fools. Needless to say they invited us to cook for them the following night, where we enjoyed red bell peppers stuffed with lentils, rice, sautéed mushrooms and leeks, with a side of roasted vegetables.
Finally, don't hate yourself for not knowing the language of the country you're in. However, I do advise that you be willing to learn, however imperfectly. Speak with confidence and don't be afraid of sounding stupid. You are not stupid, you're a stranger in a strange land and this is your temporary new residence. Try and make yourself at home. I've found that the following are the most important Spanish words for a vegan to know:
No - Hey, cool. You know that one already!
Sin - without
Carne - meat (sin carne, for example).
Pollo - chicken
Pescado - seafood, fish
Leche - milk
Huevos - eggs
Mantequilla - butter
Ah-nee-MAHL (animal) - animal
Queso - cheese
Now be mindful too of where you are. It's not always so easy to go on an all vegetable diet. Chile is okay, but as I move into Peru, raw fruits and vegetables aren't always safe to eat. The vegetables are washed in third world water (which often might be contaminated with bacteria) -unless you cook your veggies in boiling water, you could have some serious stomach trouble. One friend told me in Indonesia they called it Bali Belly. And that situation can turn a perfectly awesome trip into a shit show (literally).
A NOTE ABOUT ORDERING AT A RESTAURANT:
Often times menu items won't list all the ingredients. Be sure to remind your server: no mayo or butter or cheese. (In South America they don't list theses ingredients because they are staples in most sandwiches).
Happy travels, you adorable vegans.