by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
I once drank wine in a cellar in Moravia. After the tasting, the travel group I was with gathered around a long table for a meal. For appetizers we were presented slices of bread and dishes of a white substance the consistency of butter. I did as the others did, smothering my bread with it. Only after I’d eaten several slices did someone tell me: I’d just eaten straight lard.
I wasn’t vegan then. Now, as a vegan I don’t take such chances; I almost always ask. I wish I could say something about the lard mistake like, “and that’s when I became vegan.” But I would have starved in the Czech Republic, at least on our tour group: our two options at each meal were beef goulash or fried cheese. It wasn’t until one year later that I stopped eating meat. Three years after that, I stopped eating animal products altogether. Traveling is more difficult now.
These days I’ve learned my lessons: I study up on vegan restaurants before going anywhere, particularly to SF conventions where I’ll be busy and tired and will have to squeeze in lunches when I can. I memorize where the vegan-friendly restaurants sit within a four-block radius: Chinese, Thai, Indian. Mexican, sometimes. Chipotle, always. Certain sandwich shops: the kinds with protein options like hummus or tofu.
I also email the organizers behind any event I plan on attending. At last year’s WorldCon in Kansas City, I checked to see if I would be able to count on dinner there any night. After some back-and-forth, it was decided that there would be snacks and perhaps one dinner.
Ditto with peer workshops and writing retreats, particularly those where meal-making is an element. It’s difficult to distill veganism into a brief email explaining what would work meals-wise. I usually list the best proteins, since many people’s first attempts at placating one of our kind consists of salad: delicious but filling for thirty minutes tops, unless it’s decked out with all manner of nuts and beans. I usually don’t recommend tofu; it takes practice to get tofu to taste good, and poorly-seasoned tofu is responsible for many a poor opinion of it. Instead I stick to the easiest routes: anything bean or nut-based.
This is actually the worst part of traveling with dietary restrictions, particularly those self-imposed: some people are sensitive about food. Of course there are many people who just want to help if they can, but others might react strongly to a request for vegan options. I’ve had more family arguments about menus than about any other topic; drunk carnivores have on several occasions attempted to incite shouting matches. I always try to be as courteous as possible, and if someone asks my reasons for being vegan in a tone that is less-than-dulcet, I refuse to engage them on that particular topic.
When traveling as a vegan, I recommend packing a few of these staples: a bag of nuts, a couple cans of beans. I don’t go on trips without my trusty cans of dolma and a jar of peanut butter. And I never leave on a trip that’s longer than a weekend without a bar of chocolate or a bag of cookies: homemade if I’ve got the energy, Oreos or some other premade version if I’m short on time. Some of the most difficult things to find in strange cities are vegan desserts, and conventions are full of sugar. I come down with some serious cravings if I don’t have some way to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Here’s the cookie recipe I always use, adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau:
3 heaping Tbsp. applesauce
1 cup Earth Balance margarine
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (most grocery stores will have an accidentally-vegan brand)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add the applesauce. Combine. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture into the wet mixture until it forms a dough. Add chocolate chips.
Form dough into balls and drop onto baking sheet. Bake 8-12 minutes. Remove to cooling racks.
Makes about 4 dozen.
With proper preparations, I’ve learned how to stay well-fed even in the midst of cities built primarily for meat-eaters. Hunger, after all, is not the con-goer and workshop-attendee’s friend. Careful planning allows me to enjoy traveling and stay well even when out of my comfort zone.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in over 40 magazines and anthologies such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her novelette “The Orangery” is a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. In 2015 she released a collaborative fiction-jazz album Strange Monsters. She also created and coordinates the annual Art & Words Collaborative Show in Fort Worth, Texas.