After writing last week on how, despite the opinion of some, vegan travel doesn't prevent you from experiencing the culture of different countries (Are You Missing Out On Culture By Not Eating Meat?), I got a note from one of my subscribers.
She was saying that she felt the same way about healthy eating when it comes to how to travel and be vegan. I thought she made such a great point that I wanted to elaborate and share this thought with you.
Picture yourself going out for dinner with friends, and they order steaks, rich cream soups, and maybe even a vegan dish, but one that's drowning in oil. Then it comes to you, and you order a salad. Now, it doesn't matter if that salad is loaded with vegetables and chickpeas, and actually comes out heaped higher than their plates.
They will often ask you why you are depriving yourself, if you're trying to lose weight or something (even if you're not), and you can sometimes hear them thinking "she thinks she's so much better than me just cause she eats salad."
Now picture another scenario: your vegan travel adventure takes you to Italy, birthplace of many amazing foods. There are lots of delicious vegan options - sorbetto, vegan baked treats, vegetable paninis, pizzas and pastas. Do you feel that it's necessary to eat as much of these foods as you can in order to have a good time? Not that you should feel that you can't, but if you wind up eating too much and feel sick, it's probably not the best use of your time and money.
My brother recently went on a trip to Spain and Italy for one month. He had been eating a fairly healthy diet for a couple of years, and was suddenly plunged into a month of restaurant meals. He was traveling with his wife and 2-year-old son, so they found it difficult to make their own meals. He told me that the first two weeks he felt fine, and figured his digestive system had become invincible.
Then in the second half of their trip, he started feeling tired, heavy and bloated. This isn't unusual. To a point, a healthy system can handle whatever you throw at it. If you let it go too far or too long, it will start to let you know it's not happy.
You should definitely enjoy yourself when you go out with friends or when traveling, but you shouldn't let yourself feel boring if what you really want is to eat something healthy. Healthy food doesn't, in the same way vegan food doesn't, prevent you from experiencing culture and having a good time. If you find yourself lacking energy during your vegan travel because of the food you're eating, that isn't really the best experience, is it?
An interesting effect of white sugar is that knocks your immune system out for and hour or two after you eat it. That makes you more vulnerable to any germs floating around, and during vegan travel you might encounter more of those than you're used to. The trouble is, white sugar is not just in cookies and sweet things - it's used in sauces, salad dressings, breads, pickled foods and lots of other things you wouldn't suspect.
Through all this, I'm not suggesting that you should be rigid or obsessive in making sure you eat only healthy foods during vegan travel. If you maintain an overall healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle, there's no problem with indulging. When you do have a treat, or something not as healthy as you might normally eat, don't feel guilty - be sure that you fully enjoy what you're eating.
You can find ways to have a treat that isn't as bad as other ways. For instance, rather than having chocolate cake for dessert in a restaurant, you can find a cocoa-sesame seed halva in a grocery store in Turkey. There's still sugar, but not as much and you get the calcium and other nutritional benefits of sesame seeds.
Rather than getting a big fat-filled cookie at a bakery, you can find some whole grain chocolate cookies in a grocery store in Florence like the ones we found in the photo and eat a couple of them with some fruit.
The important thing to keep in mind is not necessarily being a health nut, but being aware of what you're eating and listening to your body for its reaction so that you can keep yourself energized and in balance. That is the real way to fully enjoy a night out or a vacation, no matter how people look at you if you order a salad.