Thursday, June 30, 2011

Making Life Easier - Part Deux

I live in Barbados but I’m from Portland, Oregon, so “going home” takes a full day of air travel. I took my first trip as a vegetarian in April and enjoyed every minute of it!

Before the trip I checked out the annual airport guide that’s published by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (2010 Report). I was flying through Dallas and was happy to see that DFW ranked fairly well in terms of vegetarian fare. The guide gives a few suggestions but mainly it’s helpful to know where the airport ranks – do I have to pack a bunch of food or not! Surprisingly, Detroit ranked as the healthiest airport in America for 2010. Shocker.

My flight departed at 10:10 a.m. so I had plenty of time for a good breakfast before heading off to the airport. Even if your flight is ridiculously early, take the time to eat a substantial breakfast OR pack a breakfast sandwich, etc. for the wait at the airport. Nothing says “poor decisions” like an empty stomach in a fast-food-filled-food-court.

In my carry on I packed some cashews, three Luna bars, two servings of Rosemary Triscuits, my thermos, 10 tea bags of various flavor and a tube of NUUN. I’m a big eater so this treasure trove is really just a tiny meal. I banked on the Dallas airport to come through big! And it did…

I had a 90 minute layover in Dallas that turned into 3.5 hours so I had plenty of time to check out my food options! Au Bon Pain was the clear winner in my wing of the airport – veggie burger on whole wheat ciabatta with roasted red peppers and guacamole spread. YUM. The sandwich at Au Bon Pain was so good that I bought another one as "food insurance" for the trip from Dallas to Portland. They also had two clearly marked vegetarian soup options. This is SO helpful as I’ve discovered that most soups that don’t have obvious meat are still made with chicken stock. You may have read my rant about Progresso Soups in a previous post – of their 11 Vegetable Classics Soups – only 1 is vegetarian. What is UP with that?

As I walked around checking out the airport restaurant menus I found a lot of decent options – not just salad. A good veggie burger at a sports bar, vegetarian pasta options at a nicer restaurant. Chili’s has the Guiltless menu with at least two meatless options, and then there’s always a bean burrito at Taco Bell. I’ve confirmed it six ways to Sunday – Taco Bell no longer uses lard in their refried beans. If all else fails, you can hit the magazine store and cruise the packaged snack wall. This is really last ditch as the sodium in those bags just adds to the flight bloat your body is already experiencing. Combat the bloat with plenty of water – rivers of water.

Next up was my absolute delight at flying Alaska Airlines. I am a big believer in the airlines not handing out meals anymore. Just think of how much unnecessary waste and waistline those meals produced over the years – sodium anyone?! Now we're able to do a rarely remembered thing in this world called “taking care of ourselves!” The best way to do that is to make us pay for what we want. Let us show you what we want with our precious dollars. Or not! We have options and responsibility! Top 3 ways Alaska Airlines made my day:

1) 100% of plastic service items are recycled in an initiative proposed by the flight attendants. They came through the aisles with big ol’ rubber gloves on and sorted the recyclables as they went. It made people SEE the effort and by the time the flight attendants got to my row, people had it DOWN and had sorted their own crap. Happy.
2) Alaska offered both a vegetarian AND a vegan meal right alongside the turkey club and Angus burger. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Mediterranean Tapas Picnic Pack - $6 USD
(Vegan and gluten-free)
Food Should Taste Good® multigrain chips, Mario® snack olives, Wild Garden™ sun-dried tomato hummus dip, Madi K's almonds, Stretch Island Fruit Co.™ fruit strip, Harry London dark espresso chocolate

3) The flight attendants were happy, well-dressed and fully amenable to filling my thermos as many times as I asked without the “harried flight attendant” look. I couldn’t ask for more.

One last tip - When you arrive at your destination, log on to Yelp and Happy Cow and enter the city or zip code + vegetarian. This will give you a base of information that comes in handy throughout the trip. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants crop up in the strangest places! Remember to pay it forward and submit reviews on Yelp and Happy Cow if you enjoy a restaurant or (better yet) if you find a great vegetarian dish at a regular restaurant. I found those types of reviews very helpful along the way. If you feel like taking a look into the face of Vegetarian Heaven – type zip code 97205 into Yelp and behold the wonder of Portland, Oregon.

I can't tell you how many times a day of bad travel eating has led to a vacation of unhealthy eating. It is the ugliest of chain reactions. Travel doesn’t have to knock you off your game. While you can’t control the weather, flight delays, slow walkers, militant stroller moms or air turbulence – you can easily take control of your food and your health while traveling.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have vegetarian travel tips to share? I’m all ears!

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