I am a vegan who travels on business frequently… In case you’re not quite certain what a vegan is, here’s the official definition: a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products. (Thank you, Merriam Webster). That’s right, no greasy burgers, no chicken fingers, no milkshake with whipped cream, and to top it all off, that means good-bye to my favorite and yours — cheese! I sometimes still can’t believe I made the decision almost 3 years ago, but I gotta tell you — there’s absolutely no lookin’ back!
Here’s all the questions that I got when I announced my decision to be a vegan. Did I make my decision because of a strong conviction to be kind to animals? No. Was I doing this to be more environmentally conscious? Nah. God’s honest truth? I was 30 pounds overweight, I travel frequently for my job, and one night, I ran from one terminal to another (with the Tram in-between) at the Atlanta airport and missed my connecting flight home. Sweating, frustrated, dragging my laptop case, a roller bag, and busting out of my suit, I sank down into the seats at the gate, and put my head in my hands. Something had to change.
I put a toe in the water, and tried a little bit of modification to my eating habits. I had flashbacks of that airport run and used that bottom of the barrel moment to motivate me. But I was definitely no expert. I didn’t realize how many products at the store are filled with some type of animal byproduct — for cryin’ out loud, even Worcestershire Sauce has anchovy something or other in it. And I really,really wanted to try being a vegan and to be healthy. To be an educated eater — I wanted to throw all caution to the wind and see if I could do it… at least for a month… No chicken or red meat, no eggs or cheese. But someone please tell me how I was supposed to travel for work and pick out something vegan to eat??
My timetable was a month to try it out, and throughout every business trip where I would go out to a restaurant, I learned more and more how to adjust my order requests to make it easier, but most importantly tastier. But I will be honest. My very first time was no walk in the park. I was meeting with co-workers at a fancy restaurant (Nightmare # 1, I have to dress up??). I expected something vegetarian on the menu, and that I would be able to simply ask to take the sour cream out, or 86 the cheese…but nope. So in my vegan virgin stupidity, I ordered the iceberg wedge salad… minus the bacon, the two different types of cheese, and some type of fish… but keep everything else. The waiter looked at me, blinked a few times, and repeated my order back. I confidently nodded, and handed my menu back to him to close the deal. The waiter walked away, my co-workers at the table teased me incessantly, and when my dish finally appeared, I realized I should have analyzed my food choices (or lack thereof) a little better… because (Nightmare # 2) essentially what sat before me was a single wedge of iceberg lettuce and peanuts. I had ordered rabbit food.
So I learned how to order (and really cook at home — I searched online recipes for everything that I liked to eat, but I just added “vegan” to my Google search..) When I went to a restaurant with clients and co-workers, I took chances and asked for pasta with veggies in the sauce (make it extra veggies while you’re at it, please). And I was surprised to learn how even at a franchise family-run restaurant, sometimes the chefs enjoy giving it a whirl and going off the menu.
But when you travel, the primary place you eat at is: the dreaded airport.
Counters and counters of highly processed and overly fat-filled food await you. How to pick what’s the best to eat? A simple secret — it’s easy to know how to pick healthy food for me as a vegan. With this definition, I have my road map on how to eat, so here’s what I eat at the airport because I learned that when I travel, I never go to the airport starving. Instead:
— I pack Lara Bars in my carryon. (SO good, particularly the Cashew Cookie bar…heaven).
— I go to the juice bar and get a banana and granola. Heck, maybe an apple, too.
— I order Starbucks coffee and ask for soy milk (some even have oatmeal available, and I order that with brown sugar — yum!)
— And oh my, strawberries in a salad are freaking awesome
— Fresher is sooo much easier!
So at the end of the day — do I like that my nutritional choices are kind to animals? Absolutely. Am I surprised that I’m doing a little bit of good as it comes to the environment? Sure. Do I feel better, breathe easier, and my skin is clearer? Oh yeah! Ultimately, I was surprised (not to mention, smugly proud) that I learned that what I truly needed was to draw the line in the sand and make a true and honest commitment — to myself. And let’s be real: Am I absolutely stoked that I lost the 30 pounds that kept me sweating to catch my next flight and my suits fit better? Daggone, absolutely, flippin’ heck yeah.