So you can imagine us, Mac and I, and our wonderful non-vegan friends, sitting around at dinner one night, marveling (or something like that...) at the eight enormous stuffed bull heads on the walls around us, when our waiter brought the gazpacho we had ordered. Mac and I looked at it, then at each other, then back at the dish. I asked the waiter, pointing to the chunks of meat (chorizo? bacon? pork belly?), "?Que es eso? ?Carne?" "Yes, meat, that is bacon!" he replied proudly. Our companions were kind enough to de-bacon the traditionally vegan dish for us, but we still couldn't quite bring ourselves to eat it.
That was not atypical of our experiences. There were, of course, a few veg-friendly places we found, and our friends were good sports, coming along and trying Spanish tofu and such. (Actually, the veg places we found were very good, and everyone was happy.) But for the most part, when you are in a new place, when you want to experience a culture, the local cuisine is one of the most obvious ways to do that. So, here's the question: where do you draw the line between eating well (and vegan) and experiencing your surroundings?
I had been to Spain (lived there for a while, actually), eaten all the meats and cheeses and fishes and octopi. I didn't feel the need to do it again, but I did want to be part of the group I came with. Mac and I came prepared, with greens bars and dried fruit, protein powders (and shakers to make them in) and mixed nuts. But it was really hard to find time to go to the market and prepare snacks (much less whole meals) and still be part of the group we came with, which resulted in eating a lot of tapas (fried peppers and potatoes, olives, and more bread -and almost all of it plaster-white - than I had eaten in the last five years combined, I think). Fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, were hard to come by. One day in Barcelona, on the way to the gorgeous Palau de Musica, we stopped at a local shop for some lunch.
Me: Do you have any sandwiches with no meat? Just vegetables?
Shop Girl: Sure, we have that. (I followed her finger, excitedly, to see she was pointing to a Tortilla Espanola (egg) sandwich.)
Me: Yeah... Um, also no egg.
Shop Girl: Yes, there. (Pointing to a tuna sandwich.)
Me: Right. Also no fish. (She's looking confused now.)
Shop Girl: We have a cheese sandwich with vegetables and mayonnaise.
Me: Excellent! But can we get it with no cheese and no mayonnaise, please?
Shop Girl: So, bread and tomato and lettuce?
Me: Yes! Perfect. Thank you!
Shop Girl: (Staring, still confused, for a moment, then walking away.)
After that I was more clear with what I wanted from the beginning. ("Hi, I'm a crazy American and I don't eat anything that comes from an animal. I'm what you call a "vegana." Now I want you to try to feed me - good luck! Remember, no meat, poultry, fish, cheese, dairy, squid or eggs. That includes mayonnaise! By the way, is there any chance that you could find me some spinach? I'd kill for spinach if I wasn't ethically against killing...")
So, as Mac and I look to the future, and to more travels, I wonder, how can we travel, absorb the local culture, and still stay true to our vegan way of life?
Stay tuned, I have some ideas, I will share them next time...