I’ve always loved travelling and been lucky enough to have visited 5 continents, 17 countries and Lord knows how many cities at 20 years of age. I’ve also always loved food, and as soon as I grew out of my picky eating habits, tasting the food from different places was one of my favourite parts of the trip!
I’d count down the hours until being able to eat restaurant food every single night. However, I became a vegetarian last November, and in February further transitioned into becoming a vegan. If you think it’s difficult finding good veggie food when eating out in the UK, you may be very surprised when you leave the country.
Since giving up meat I’ve been abroad twice, and I am writing this from my hotel room in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, for said second holiday post-veganism, which is split between here and Los Angeles (LA). I am here along with my family, who are all omnivores, and as any fellow herbivore will know, finding decent vegetarian food is particularly difficult when with others who don’t share the same eating habits.
At first glance, LA seems like a ‘vegan Mecca’ with coveted places such as By Chloe and Veggie Grill. This would probably be true if I had been travelling with fellow vegans, but pigs will fly before my 74-year-old grandma goes on a full veggie trip. If you stray from the specifically plant-based restaurants and cafés, LA is similar to any city in England – you’ll find one or two vegetarian dishes per menu, maybe a vegan one if you’re lucky, and can always have some type of off-menu salad in the worst-case scenario.
Outside of the western world however, the picture is very different, and much worse. While my family has been singing the praises of authentic Mexican food, I’ve been stuck with the same sad quesadilla and rice at every place we go. During our one week stay, besides the abundance of salsa I have consumed, I’ve not had a single vegetable besides some grilled asparagus and the odd jalapeño. It’s been a weird experience for somebody who usually gets their 5 a day every single day.
Luckily, I speak a bit of Spanish and the phrases ‘sin carne’ and ‘sin queso’ have become my new best friends, and yet, I’ve had to eat cheese a couple of times because there simply aren’t even any vegetarian options available, let alone vegan. I’ve had to order off the appetisers as either the waiters struggled to understand my English or I struggled to understand their Spanish, resulting in wrong orders and more chips and salsa than any human being should eat in a week.
When I finish my trip here, I’ll be heading out again to explore Europe, and I know I will face the same issue with Spanish paella, French escargot and Italian fresh pasta, not to mention parmesan, which isn’t even vegetarian.
This article isn’t meant to discourage anyone, – I’ve had the most amazing time in Mexico and can still enjoy tequila – and I know Europe will be great too, but if like me, you travel on a plant-based diet, you have to be prepared for what’s to come. It’s not great and I long for the day vegan food is available in every corner, but it shouldn’t have to ruin your trip. I can live with bread and potatoes for a while if that’s what is required for me to explore the world, but one thing is certain: I actually can’t wait to get back to cooking for myself.