I’m a vegan, I travel a lot and therefore, I find myself hungry…a lot.
Everyone faces some kind of challenge while traveling, be it language barriers, harsh terrain or navigation, it’s part of what makes traveling a great adventure. For me, the challenge is food.
Traveling as a vegan provides it’s own special kind of hellish challenges. I am no stranger to the preparation and use of bars, snack mixes and to-go veggie dip combinations as meal re-placers or on-the-go fuel. The too-big bag I carry stuffed full with water and various snacks, is a testament to this habit even in my non-traveling life.
The issue is, as much as I love fruit and nuts, I need a meal every once in awhile! A hot, plate full of real, steaming food that will fill my belly and give me the energy to navigate through foreign airports, customs and crabby airline attendants.
Sadly, unless, I find myself connecting through San Francisco, Portland or even a big airport like Chicago, I am usually left in the odd MacGyver-like situation of trying to piece together a meal out of side dishes, convenient store fruit and bags of salty, empty calories. I can only hope the concoction will tide me over until the promised “complimentary” airplane meal. This is assuming that: one, they actually serve said meal, two, it is indeed complimentary (read; free), and three, they have actually gotten and recorded my vegan meal request.
I can’t tell you how many times I have booked airline tickets and marked that elusive little box stating my request for a vegetarian/non-dairy meal only to be told “We have no record of your request ma’am.”
At moments like this, of which there are many when traveling, that old saying “It isn’t the man who delivers the first blow who starts the fight, but he who strikes back.” by Chretien de Troyes from The Knight with the Lion, comes to mind.
Though I have not been physically assaulted by the airline or their personnel it feels as though I’ve been provoked. I am hungry and I am anticipating a meal just like everyone else. I was under the dream-like impression that there would be no problem. But there is.
I am hungry. I am angry.
I remind myself, it is not this person’s fault that my meal request has vanished and if there is any hope of salvaging the situation they are now my only life line. It would be in my best interest to work with them, not against them. I do not want to start this fight, I do not want to strike back and I do not want to antagonize the people in charge of the food I will eat, so I take a deep breath and do my best to calmly explain the problem.
The whole process is infuriating to say the least and I think that it should be noted that my capacity to remain rational would be much easier if I wasn’t so stinking hungry!!
I have to point out here that airlines overseas are much more accommodating and friendly than their American counterparts, hands down. In general, they are far more likely to have a record of my request and if they don’t they do whatever they can to amend the situation. In the States, I find myself just getting yelled at, as though my right to eat the meal I requested and paid way too much for (and incidentally is part of their job to correctly distribute) is a huge inconvenience.
It’s funny, those vegan meals. What vegan means to the world has not yet reached a consistent definition and though I am forever grateful just to get a meal, the strangeness of things that pass through can be down right baffling.
For instance, they did acknowledge and come through on my vegan request on my last flight from Chicago to Tokyo. However, they were clearly at a loss as to what to feed me for the last portion of the meal service.
I excitedly pulled back the hot tin foil hungrily trying to guess what might be underneath. As I tried to assign names to the odd selection of food my excitement faded into confusion. Upon further investigation, the meal appeared to be several chunks of pineapple, dried apricots and one half of a canned pear microwaved to lava-hot and sprinkled with shredded coconut. As I dug a little further, I discovered an odd cake-shaped mound of, what looked like, cream of wheat freckled with raisins.
For a moment, I drifted off, consumed by thoughts of steaming spiced lentils and rice, black bean burgers with hummus, tofu scrambles, beans, avocados, veggies and salsa rolled into one delicious breakfast burrito, and hearty salads 12 shades of green, bowls of vegetable soup, and colorful stir fries…Alas, this day dream would have to wait.
I am brought back to reality as I picture the person tasked with the composition of this meal and their probable puzzlement at such an assignment. Happy to have something in my belly, I giggle to myself, sit back and dig into a piece of hot pineapple.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum