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HEALTHY TRAVELER

Some Fruitful Resources for Vegetarians on the Road

August 13, 2000|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Last winter, Davida Breier arrived at a B&B in England soon after dinner time. On the way, she picked up some rice milk from a nearby store for her breakfast coffee. A longtime vegan--someone who doesn't eat meat, fish, fowl, eggs or dairy products--she has grown accustomed to taking along food staples that many restaurants don't offer, and also toiletries products not tested on animals.

At the B&B, Breier and her best friend, a vegetarian, got a surprise. The host asked whether his guests would like omelets for breakfast. Breier told him she didn't eat eggs and would make do with coffee and toast. But the next morning, when Breier and her friend went to the kitchen, a breakfast of soy yogurt and fresh fruit awaited them.

As more people become vegetarians, vegans or part-time vegetarians, or as they grow concerned about animal products and testing, it's becoming easier to find what they need on the road. Travel agents and ever more guidebooks are helping them maintain their lifestyles while traveling.

About 2.5% of the U.S. population is vegetarian, according to a poll taken earlier this year and sponsored by the Vegetarian Resource Group, a Baltimore-based nonprofit educational organization. In 1997 the poll found that 1% of the population was vegetarian, defined as never eating meat, fish or fowl. A growing number of Americans are part-time vegetarians. In a 1999 poll by the VRG, 57% of respondents said they ordered vegetarian items when eating out at least sometimes.

Among those paying more attention to vegans, vegetarians and others who are environmentally sensitive to animal products is the hospitality industry, says Breier, who is the consumer research manager for the VRG. This category refers to people who are physically allergic or morally opposed to animal products in their environment.

Hotels in some countries, of course, are better than others in this regard. The B&B that Breier visited was in a country known for its support of vegetarianism. "England has the oldest recognized vegetarian society in the world," she says, so it's fairly easy to find vegetarian items on the menus there.

"If you are traveling to a country where vegetarianism is a matter of religion or culture, it is easier," she adds. Examples are India or locales where Buddhism is commonly practiced.

Among the countries where it might be more difficult to find vegetarian fare, she says, is France. During her visit to Britain, Breier and her friend took a short trip across the English Channel to the French port of Calais. "I had the hardest time explaining vegetarianism," she says. "I settled for greens, with close to toxic levels of vinegar, and bread." On the way back, she bought some nuts.

There are guidebooks to help travelers know in advance whether their destination has a good selection of vegetarian restaurants. Even junk-food havens, such as amusement parks, often offer choices for non-carnivores. If you're headed to Disney World in Florida, for instance, you can refer to the recently published "Vegetarian Walt Disney World and Greater Orlando" (Vegetarian World Guides, $14.95, telephone [888] 599-8880), by Susan Shumaker and Than Saffel.

The authors spell out exactly where to go for good veggie fare within the mammoth park, such as Mama Melrose's, which has pizza without cheese and grilled vegetable sandwiches on its menu.

A host of other city-specific or state-specific guidebooks is available; some are listed on the VRG Web site, http://www.vrg.org, which maintains a section devoted to travel, including a bulletin board for consumers to swap suggestions and complaints about food, lodging and related issues.

For travelers who want to find lodgings that are free of animal product furnishings, insecticides or animal-tested toiletries, there is "The Vegetarian Traveler," by Jed and Susan Civic (Larson Publications, $15.95, tel. [800] 828-2197). The book, published in 1997, could use updating, some say, but it's a good starting point and is one of the few resources on the topic.

Donna Zeigfinger, who runs Green Earth Travel (tel. [888] 246-8343, Internet http://www.vegtravel.com), says hotels usually comply with reasonable "lifestyle" requests. Many travelers, for instance, have allergies and request non-feather pillows, she says.

Escorted tours for vegans are increasing, usually offered by travel agencies such as Green Earth. Among its current offerings is a November culinary tour of Italy and Tuscany. Soon, Zeigfinger hopes to offer a vegan safari to Kenya and a vegan running camp.

Vegetarian Journeys (tel. [888] 559-3031, Internet http://www.vegetarianjourneys.com) plans fall tours to Maine and Egypt; earlier this year it offered a walking tour in Costa Rica.

*

Healthy Traveler appears the second and fourth Sundays of the month. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kdoheny@compuserve.com.

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