Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Meditation on Traveling while Being Vegetarian

As the one or two readers of this blog probably already know, I am currently in Canada on vacation. Not only am I on vacation, but I am still a vegetarian. While being vegetarian can make eating out a fun adventure in one's home territory, where the restaurants are familiar and (if you live in the Pioneer Valley) relatively "friendly," the same cannot be definitively said about traveling to foreign soil, especially when you are on an island that specializes in seafood dishes. I am not the kind of vegetarian that eats seafood. Actually, I was never the kind of person that ate seafood even when I wasn't a vegetarian--but that's the subject of another Meditation altogether. We are listening to Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the car, and I recently finished Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, both of which expound at length on the subject of food, and its relationship to culture. All of which leads to the question: what have we been missing on our vacation by eating our own imported food almost exclusively, other than the cost of eating out? From past experience with family vacations, eating in a foreign country is one of the easiest ways to experience the "atmosphere" and "local flavor" of the place that you presumably want to know better. I watched my parents eat pâté in France (and my mother tuck the leftovers into her purse, gross) and presumed that they were doing it because it was an Ultimate Dining Experience, to eat pâté in France. While I certainly agree that eating a freshly baked french baguette in the back seat of the car in France is an excellent experience that should be embraced by all, the vegetarian part of the equation throws all of this into confusion. Unfortunately, a lot of "ethnic" cuisine involves the heavy use of meat products. See, it's difficult to go repeatedly into restaurants, look at the menu, realize that there isn't much you can eat, then leave and go to the next restaurant. That could be considered a way of experiencing a lot of different cultures--or at least a lot of weird looks from maîtres'd and hostesses. This time we tried to go online ahead of time (not an option during those earlier family vacations) and identify restaurants we could patronize for one special meal on the island. Apparently this is not a possibility. We are reduced to emailing the nice restaurant with a special menu request for our extremely weird dietary needs. So, I am forced to conclude that, until I visit a place where vegetarian options are part of the local food culture (India, maybe?), or until such time as standard restaurants realize that there are starving vegetarians out there who would love to patronize their well-reviewed businesses, we will be eating back at the hotel room. This may mean that we have an oddly minimal contact with the local food (although I have been to the grocery store twice, for staples like milk), but at least we are eating things that we know won't have secret meat ingredients, whenever we're hungry. I think that's a fair trade.

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