Inconveniently Vegan

*written at the Omni King Edward Hotel in Toronto and finished at Charlotte Douglas International Airport during a long layover

One of the questions I keep hearing is, so you do all this traveling and you’re vegan… how do you eat? I’m not exactly wasting away, people. Sure, it’s not easy in the South (it was worse twenty years ago). It’s extremely easy in places like San Francisco. But. It’s never easy in the airport, a bastion for bad food (and taste, but that’s another subject altogether). While I can assure you that generally, yes, I do eat, quite well in fact, on my travel days I have to do a lot of snacking. With so many layovers, many of them involving barely enough time to get from gate to gate, I’m not going to have time for a sit-down in a restaurant that may or may not have an acceptable overpriced salad.

I try my best to bring my own healthy snacks, but there are only so many Pro Bars one can eat without feeling sugar-sick. I love nuts, but I can’t control myself, eat too many and then feel kind of ill they get old, too. I’m totally prone to giving in to crap like Corn Nuts and my dastardly Kryptonite, the mini red can of Pringles. This stuff is available at every turn in all airports! How do I resist? I am weak! Some places started having “healthy” stuff available to grab & go, like Sabra hummus and Pretzel Crisps packs (these can make anyone feel like they are actually a fourth grader). I despise Sabra hummus and Pretzel Crisps, anyway. It’s yet more junk food and not that tasty at that. Might as give in the lure of the red can.

I’m happy to report there are some exceptions. Off the top of my head, T5 at JFK has a few healthy outposts with insanely expensive– but I expect nothing less– healthier snacks. The other night in Charlotte, I discovered Smart Fries and perhaps the holy grail of healthy salty snacks: LesserEvil. Their kale and roasted garlic bean snacks are just incredible. So incredible, I was immediately plotting my return to this stand on my layover back home. Hey, it’s the little things (and Louis Armstrong International Airport could stand to learn a thing or two in this regard). But snacks don’t always satisfy. Take right now, I’m stranded for a few hours and won’t be able to eat something that didn’t come out of a wrapper until I land in NOLA after 8pm. Why am I in these situations often enough that I can write about it, yet not plan better?

In my wildest fantasies, I land at a reasonable hour in any given city and find a decent hot meal conveniently located near my hotel. So, this is like, never. Typically I’m landing in cities that do sleep and their restaurants close by 9 or 10pm. So, room service. I know most people love them some room service, but if I can avoid this, I do. I can’t turn off my parents’ voices in my head: It’s a ripoff! And over the years, I’ve come to realize my parents were right. The food is never good enough to warrant the outrageous prices and ridiculous fees, and it’s not vegan-friendly, even in places like the Westin where they pride themselves on having a menu featuring an array of superfoods (ie the beef tips come with a side of quinoa). Even when I’m not personally paying for it, I rarely order room service unless I’m desperate. The other night I didn’t have time for dinner until 11:30pm. There wasn’t much in the way of anything open near my hotel in Toronto, so I ordered what turned out to be a 30 dollar (with all of the mysterious fees) grilled vegetable sandwich with the tiniest side salad and lousy dressing. It was merely OK, people! Sure, it arrives with pomp and circumstance and the promise of something special, but I just wanted some damn good food. The silver dome only covered expensive mediocrity.

You may be overjoyed to know that I wrote part of this while ensconced in a mostly empty stodgy old hotel bar at the Omni King Edward with a glass of Chianti. Yes, I love these types of bars that don’t possess an ounce of hipness because I’m secretly a grumpy old man who wants everyone off my lawn. Gimmie my cane and my Chianti, bitches! These old fogey bars often offer up a complimentary small bowl of nuts and crackers and I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes this can count as my evening provisions – nuts and sesame sticks, along with flax seed crackers. That’s some good plant protein, people.

Good snackin' and much cheaper than overpriced room service!
Good snackin’ and much cheaper than overpriced room service!

Try not to die of envy. All of this and nary a loud mouthed fool to be found. It also included an interesting bit of culture shock: the bar was closed down by 10:30pm (Grandpas have to get to bed on time) and I also received a personal escort to my room because Canadian law (? might have been city?) prevents people from carrying open containers from the bar to their hotel room. Pushing aside all inappropriate urges of saying “would you like to come in for a night cap” out of my head (I didn’t actually want this, but I’ve always wanted to say it), I allowed the bartender to carry my glass of Chianti, which had to actually be covered with a piece of plastic wrap, as we traveled down one floor to my room.

And yes, I resisted the urge to take the leftover bowl of snacks, because I’m classy like that.

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