Travel and veganism should not be mutually exclusive, believes vegetarian travel writer LYNETTE BOTHA
I used to be that girl who, when asked “Is there anything that you don’t eat?”, replied proudly “Everything, except Marmite!”. But over the last few years, my dietary requirements have become somewhat trickier … not for me as much as for those who are at times tasked with feeding me.
On the 30th of June 2015 I went cold-turkey vegan. I realize that’s a mixed-metaphor sentence but I became an instant vegan. Without ever having been vegetarian or pescatarian – or even flexitarian. I literally went from eating a medium-rare steak the one day to legume upon legume upon lettuce the following day. And I’m okay with that. I’d long grappled with my lifestyle choices and didn’t need to watch Cowspiracy or Earthlings on Netflix to be convinced. I anticipated that it’d be a hard change (no more cheese, like, ever?!) and that it would bring me my fair share of ridicule, but I never anticipated how wrong things could go when eating out – especially when travelling.
Don’t ask for soya or almond milk with your coffee in Paris unless you really want to confuse the waiter. I was treated to quizzical stares and a repeated “pardon?” when I tried. There are some fantastic plant-based alternatives in their supermarkets, but don’t even think of saying “pas de beurre, merci” (no butter, thanks), unless you’re after derision and disbelief. The cherry on the top in the city of lights was the most dreadful salad I’ve had in my life – piles of butter lettuce (they had to get the butter in somewhere!), shredded carrots, cucumber and tofu with the most godawful salty-soya and fish sauce dressing. Either somebody was having a laugh at my expense (apart from my sister across the table from me) or this restaurant had never had a vegan request in their life.
But it’s not only the Parisians who think that fish is a vegetable. The number of times I’ve asked if a spring roll is vegetarian – to resounding nods and smiles – only to bite into a prawn. I’ve learnt to stick to a Greek salad sans feta nowadays if the language barrier is too strong. But not all of my travels have left me hungry.
Besides falling in love with Finnish culture in Helsinki, I enjoyed many a good veggie meals in the quirky-cool city. They know their tofu from their seitan – and best of all, they know how to cook it. Not only is it a vegan-friendly city, but they’re all-round eco warriors too – from hosting the first 100% sustainable fashion week in the world in 2018 to producing a beer (aptly named Wasted) from food waste, they’re a pioneering force.
Thailand was another foodie highlight. Sure, they eat parts of animals I never even heard of in biology, but they know how to make mean veggie dishes too – and they’re not afraid of chilli. From vegan green curry and crispy-fried tofu to chilli-cashew stirfries and the tastiest salads, my belly and me were more than satisfied on our Southeast Asian travels.
And then there’s home. Cape Town has grown by leaps and bounds when it comes to vegan eateries in the last few years. We have Lekker Vegan for gatsbys and junk food, The Kind Kitchen for seasonal plant-based deliciousness and even Jessy’s Waffles – the herbivorous dessert bar we never knew we needed. And while I like to give these establishments as much support as possible, it’s sometimes the unlikeliest of restaurants who get a vegan dish spot on. Perhaps it’s the chef who likes a challenge (thank you, chef).
With the global plant-based food industry currently valued at billions of Dollars, and everyone from Bill Gates and Richard Branson investing, it’s a lifestyle shift that can’t be ignored. But I’m not here to preach from my soapbox and convince you to give up bacon. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a Parisian bakery, longing for a vegan croissant.
Writer and editor Lynette Botha has written for many local and international titles, specialising in travel, beauty and wellness.