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June 15, 2011

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A

This is such a timely post for me as I'm trying to plan a heart-healthy trip to New Orleans! I look forward to reading others' travel tips, too.

First, a huge yes when it comes to ordering veg meals for the flight! Whenever I have the option of getting a meal, I always order the veg or a fruit plate. I got in the habit of this when I followed the McDougall plan in the early 90s. It's rare now to have this option on domestic flights, but last time I did, I ended up with a pretty tasty Indian dish while others had something rather bland. Once I got a plate of chilled soba noodles and a salad, and the one time I ordered a fruit plate it was not bad. You will encounter questions from those sitting nearby though, so be prepared.

My husband is a late sleeper, so I try to locate a natural foods store or a veg-friendly cafe to walk to first thing in the morning. At the very least, I have a brisk walk in!

When I pack, I tend to bring a variety of dried fruits and nuts, as well as bars. On this trip, I'm also planning on bringing a ziploc of ground flaxseed (suboptimal for the omega 3s, I know, but still has fiber) mixed with cinnamon and dried ginger for sprinkling on fruit at breakfast. Just saw those Mary's twigs at my local store and will bring some of those, too!

Last thing - I also usually ask on the chow.com message boards for veg-friendly recommendations from locals. :-)

Barbara

Welcome back! I really missed your blog while you were away!

My husband and I went to Portugal in May, and we totally shared your experience. We don't follow a vegan diet--but eat heavy on the greens and whole grains, light on the oil, few animal products. Even trying to do that on vacation was really hard! I ate salads everywhere we went, and ordered vegetarian meals wherever possible. (Portugal is also very heavily meat-based and like you, we did have fantastic grilled sardines and other fresh fish. But it was hard to get any greens!) And here's the kicker: I got food poisoning! I spent the last 2 days of the trip really sick, as did 6 others who were on the tour with us. (Everyone else thought it was a virus, but it didn't arc like a virus--the people I was in closest contact with didn't get sick, it was all pretty random.) I guess the good thing was that I still had no appetite on the plane so the terrible airplane food on the way home wasn't even remotely tempting. I wish I had known about Green Leaf Grille, because we flew out of Newark, too.

We were both also pretty deconditioned when we got back despite lots of walking--but of course I spent the last 2 days not moving except to get to the bathroom. I find that airplane travel--even fairly short trips--sets me back in general anyway.

Congratulations on your son's graduation--and your grandson is beautiful! Hope you're feeling back to normal soon.

Carla Arton

My husband and I've requested vegan meals the last few times we've flown to England and they have been the best airplane food we've ever eaten. It was usually some sort of Indian meal with a great sauce, a whole wheat roll, salad and fruit at desert. We complained about not having a truly vegan breakfast snack and they brought us the fruit salad from 1st class. Amazing! This was all United Airlines though, so maybe they are just a great airline. We've been burned by British Airlines and had a horrible experience with their lack of customer service. Definitely recommend United or Virgin Atlantic for international travel.

Paul Myron

Missed not getting Happy Healthy Long Life updates but I'm so glad you had a great time. I guess I need to step up my diet to get your energy. I really enjoyed your comments on the Greek islands. Everytime you read about populations that have long life it is associated with physical exercise and a reasonable diet. The post world war II stories of people who were forced to work hard and eat little and ended up with clean arteries also bears this out. HDL has always interested me as so many studies have shown this to be a powerful risk factor. But modifying this risk factor with drugs has so far had very little success. I think that it will be proven that exercise is the key to high HDL. And HDL is a marker of another physiological process that results in reducing heart attacks. Recently another study was sited in the NY times about sedentary life styles and heart problems. Noted in this study was low HDL seemed prevalent in this group. As a practicing retail pharmacist for 47 years I have made it a point to interview patients over 80 as to their lifestyle. The things they told me..".I was always thin, I was always active physically, and they avoided "pills"." I think we get too caught up in the details looking for the complicated magic bullet but its right in front of us.

Thanks for your blog.
Lazy Almost Retired Pharmacist

Carolg

Next trip go to Paris!
Loads of veggie choices and Naturalia stores to buy organic fruit, bread, snacks
That town is in LOVE with quinoa.
Who knew?
And lentils of course and all beautifully prepared.
Fancy department stores like Printemps and Bon Marche even have veggie restos.
New York is way behind.
http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com/2010/12/paris-designer-fast-food.html

Jill W

Agree to always order vegan meals for intl. air travel! Airlines vary but the food isn't bad and usually there is "fresh" fruit. Happy Cow is a must for world wide travel. Even without a smart phone you can print out lists in advance. Being environmentally and animal conscious means I'll go the extra mile to find appropriate food, something I didn't do when I was vegetarian for personal health reasons only. I was thrilled to find in Greece the concept of fast days when they only eat vegetables (Fridays and religious holidays). The fact that there is a word for it meant it was much easier to explain what I wanted. By the way, some older Greeks have told me it wasn't just that they were poor, some of them were literally starving in the post WWII era. Many left Greece for other places, and those who remain fill up on olive oil and heavy foods now that they're abundant-- even though they're no longer starving. It's the Grandma phrase "Eat, eat!".

Jo M

When I requested a vegetarian meal from Air Canada for a flight from Toronto to London, they asked, "Which vegetarian meal?" and rattled off a list of at least six types. I chose Asian vegetarian and was served a delicious curry over (sigh) white rice, but nothing else good for you on the plate, just a lot of carbs, no salad, no fresh fruit. On the flight back, though, several hours after lunch, they brought three pieces of fresh fruit to each of us Asian vegetarians, and apparently to no one else. In England, I found M&S Simply Food stores, offering lots of prepared food, including a great green soup, bean and grain salads, fruits, veggies, nuts, and yogurt, at Heathrow and at the Oxford train station, near my hostel. It's generally easy to find muesli and whole-grain German rye breads in the UK.

Ann

Wonderful blog entry. We went on the same cruise itinerary last fall and I agree with the GI problems encountered when you lose out on beans, real greens and high fiber grains. I even brought along a fiber suppliment that I added to my daily oatmeal and still had to resort to a laxative. Misery. Keeping some oatmeal packs and I like to bring along a can or two of Eden's Organic beans and rice for plane trips where there is absolutely no veggie alternatives. One also needs to remember in certain countries eating raw veggies is just plain dangerous. We were very surprised last summer that our trip to China was nearly devoid of any raw vegetables. I had no idea they were so enamored with beef and pork and in the northern areas are much more wheat based in their diet than rice base.

Erica the librarian

Your observations about standing out because of your food choices were well put. I have also experienced this. I expect comments about my vegan diet. What throws me more is when people don't catch on that what I'm eating is vegan, but do comment on how "healthy" my dinner plate is. They either look at me with pity, as if I'm punishing myself, or they start in on how "good" I am an dhow "bad they are. All instances are awkward. I don't think of myself as eating abnormally healthy meals, but when I attend business conferences and such, I see just how different my preferences are from others. Thanks for the great blog entry - sounds like a fabulous vacation!

Michele (Betty)

If you want to be vegan on International Travel, you had better rent a house so you can do your own cooking. Then, of course, you have to resist all those delectable cheeses, sausages, pates, pastries, etc. etc in the market.
For me half the fun of travel is trying new and interesting foods or dishes particularly well prepared. For vacations and dinners out, I forget about being vegan. Where I live there are almost no restaurants with vegan dishes. There are lots of vegetarian dishes loaded with cheese and oil, though.
I am a vegan at home, but not on vacation or in restaurants. On the plane, if possible, I bring my own, but when returning from France two weeks ago, I forgot I couldn't bring produce into the US and was caught by a fruit sniffing dog! Really. A cute little beagle. So better eat all your fresh stuff before customs.

Nancy Stueve

For exercise on vacation overseas my husband and I try to find a daylong bike tour. A great way to give your legs a break from walking and you go places you'd never get to see on your own. And riding a bike is fun. Also, there's usually a volcano or mountain somewhere nearby, so we hire a local guide and spend a day or two climbing. Again, you get to see places most other tourists don't, and it's fun.

In my daily routine, I eat no animal products, but on vacation, instead of eating bland, overcooked oatmeal for breakfast or something sugary, I'll opt for an egg white omelet filled with whatever vegetables are available. Eggs are ubiquitous, so this is generally not a problem. It's a compromise for a vegetarian, but you gotta get some protein into you since beans and lentils probably aren't available.

It's just a personal preference, but I'll choose grilled fish over vegetables or rice that are cooked in oil. When eating out, I always consider the amount of fat and protein in a dish, not just that it's vegetarian. But before going on vacation, I do check for local vegetarian restaurants.

In my experience, it's almost impossible to find any healthful food at an airport overseas. At U.S. airports it's getting easier to eat plant-based, but it's still hard to get anything that hasn't been cooked in oil. I bring lots of snacks.

On the airplane, if I travel in Economy class I bring all of my own food. St. Dalfour makes ready to eat meals that are tasty and convenient. And at least you know the nutrition of what you're eating. In Business class, I don't bother with a vegetarian meal. You get a decent amount of vegetables and fruit with the regular meals, and they're usually quite good. Whatever meat or fish that comes with the meal is so dry and overcooked that it's easy not to eat it.

When traveling my attitude is to compromise and make the least worst choice. And when I get home, I'm always so grateful to get back to my normal way of eating and exercising.

Anna SKinner

We are a vegetarian family with 3 children. Last year we spent nine months traveling round the world together. We found vegetarian / vegan fare very difficult to obtain in many places and also definitely recommend the vegetarian options on long haul flights, although some didn't appeal to our pretty adventurous eating children.

In Kenya we ate nothing but rice and cabbage for a month, supplemented with avocado from a roadside stall. Definitely got our greens - but very little protein, we found some nuts to use for this but they were not so fresh.

Cambodia was a treasure chest of peaceful buddhist food with delicious options in the local cuisine and also an array of other cultures represented inexpensively in Siem Reap.

In Egypt often only pizza or pasta could be made vegetarian, although we found some delicious hummus and tabouli type salads in Hugharda. Practically everything was deep fried in most restaurants. Hotel breakfasts did have good fresh fruit that we filled up on.

In the UK we could find amazing fresh produce and also many preprepared salads in supermarkets. Campervanning through Europe this was somewhat hit and miss, sometimes the produce was great, but often the foods marketed to travellers are the breads, meats and cheeses. We had a brief Pain au Chocolat interlude in France that was far from our usual diet!

Our eldest (10) took great delight in being able to order his own meals and ate exclusively Indian curries when they were found and Macaroni Cheese when they weren't (he was impressed to get home to our vegan home and find his spots completely disappeared when the mac and cheese left his diet...).

Our last few weeks were in San Francisco and Los Angeles and we were still able to be amazed by American portion sizes and fat content even though we were forewarned! There was also a lovely organic grocer down the road from where we stayed and we ate kilos of fresh fruit from there.

Sushi is a staple airport vegetarian food for us and recently I even found it made with black and brown rice in Sydney airport, although usually it is white. We often grab a couple of extra lots of sushi to feed hungry kids on the plane. We also stock up on individual packs of dried fruit and nuts for flights. We tend to not pack fresh stuff so much as we are always worried about forgetting to finish / bin it before customs - getting 3 small people and assorted gear through immigration is enough of a challenge!

The Healthy Librarian

Thank you everyone who commented on the blog--or through email with your FANTASTIC travel tips & commiserations! You are truly an experienced, well-informed, & generous group!

Why didn't I ask you all for advice, BEFORE I left for my trip?

A, Barbara, Carla, Carol, Jill, Jo, Ann, Erica, Michele, Nancy, Anna, & Law Prof--your advice & shared experiences will be so helpful to me--and surely to others--on future trips.

What a well-traveled group you are! I loved reading about everyone's far-flung adventures. Anna, I was in awe of your far-flung travels!

Hope to summarize these tips to share with the "email gang" (& myself) who often miss out on the web comments.

To Paul, the pharmacist: Thanks for sharing the lasted HDL pharm flops! It's so interesting how we're now realizing that artificially raised or lowered HDL numbers--that aren't "earned" through life style modifications aren't always indicative of positive change in heart health.

Looks like the only way to know if your HDL is good or bad is by having its efflux capacity measured--but that's not yet "ready for prime time".

Would love to hear more about your thoughts on diet/exercise vs statins for heart health.

BTW--this week's article in the Archives of Neurology on the benefits of a low fat/low GI diet to protect against Alzheimers comes right out to say that high fat can raise HDLs--which isn't the way you want to raise them.

Carol

Welcome back! We all missed your posts, but it was great to hear about your wonderful time away. I was looking forward to hearing how it felt for you to be out of the electronic world for awhile, but with an itinerary like that, I have a feeling you might not have noticed! I'm especially impressed with your restraint on the cruise. I've only been on one, to Alaska, and adopted the "well, it's only for a week" mentality. (I was vegetarian at the time, not vegan) I managed to gain about 5 pounds that have never left. So, congratulations on a job well done. And thanks for letting us enjoy your trip vicariously.

linda mandel

We just returned from 2 weeks in London, so could really relate to your experiences. Although with some walking we could usually find cafes with vegan choices, it wasn't always easy. The lack of fiber caused digestive problems, as with you. In retrospect, since we ate breakfast at the apt. we rented, I probably should have made us smoothies (with spinach, no kale to be found) every morning. Since we were in business class on the plane, just ate around the meat and cheese (so much cheese!) choices, but it made for rather unhealthy meals, heavy on the white bread. So I will bring more food next time, and will definitely pre-order vegan.
Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. We liked the food choices on Celebrity better than Princess--you chose a good cruise line.

Gael in Vermont

Wait a minute! How about those beautiful pics of you guys in front of the most picturesque places on earth? Santorini...OMG!!!! You both look so incredibly happy. I am so happy that you had an amazing trip and came back to a joyous graduation! I must agree with you and Erica the Librarian. No matter how inconspicuous I try to be on my plant based diet, there is always a comment. I don't like getting into a discussion about my reasons because it only makes the meat eater very defensive and sarcastic about my choices. I really don't want to get into defending myself all the time. If I feel someone truly is interested and genuinely wants to know, I will engage, but mostly people say: "How can you eat that way... Hell, you only live once, have some pork belly!" Just like you wanted YOUR regular routine back again, I missed my regular Healthy Librarian routine! It's great to have you back, Deb!

Mitzi

I went to Spain for a scientific conference a few years ago with a lacto-vegetarian Hindu boss. In Spain, a vegetarian sandwich means "fish". I had to explain, "no pesca" at every establishment. He was hungry sometimes, as he did not know any Spanish. I can speak enough to get by. I found a corner market and bought a loaf of whole wheat bread, fruit, vegetables, and juice for my stay. Breakfast was easy, if not my usual oats. But by the end I was prowling for a good bowl of arroz y frijoles.
Working for and with Indians, they totally understand and support my food choices. Other people look at me with pity, yes, but when I state why my choices are different, they tend to understand. I was reared by conservative Christian parents who taught me that when people look at you strangely for not participating in behavior you know to be self-destructive, you are doing something RIGHT. You've no need to feel defensive. You are simply not willing to harm yourself to make others more at ease with their behaviors. I was reared to be weird. It helps.

Judy in Portland

I just returned from 7 weeks in Brazil, Argentina and Chile, and yes, it was hard, even impossible to find healthy vegetarian food sometimes. It's a meat culture. I rented apartments in Brazil and Argentina for some of the time and that made breakfast and dinner somewhat more healthy as long as I resisted my penchant for pastry. Lots of the delicious fruit juices in Brazil also have sugar added. I found that I missed brewers yeast - they just don't have it. But the "per kilo" restaurants in Brazil, where you fill your plate from a buffet with a lot of salad and veg selections, were a real find.You only pay for what you take.
I haven't had any luck with airline veg food - cheese and pasta. Perhaps vegan would be better.
I was so glad to be back in the land of farmers markets and berries!

Chris O'Keefe

So glad to hear from you again and your trip looked wonderful! I really appreciate the links and tips, like the Sticks & Twigs idea! I totally agree with the comment that, unlike Paris, New York is WAY behind! But with the tips I've learned from you, and other readers, I'm now on month 4 of the oil and fat free diet - per Dr. Esselstyn.
I have "fallen off the wagon" a few times, but pretty much because I was stuck in a situation where, exactly like you, the BEST option was an oily pizza! Sad comment on our restaurants - and this was in Connecticut! But I feel better knowing I'm not the only one, and that the world won't spin off its axis if I, occasionally, have a bit of oil or fat in a meal!

Thanks, as always, for your invaluable information and I'm going to do research on Ireland, where we're headed this summer. It's a very meat and potatoes place, so any tips from readers will be welcome!
Chris in Connecticut

The Healthy Librarian

Carol,

I loved being unconnected to the internet and phone-in spite of the fact that it was a busy vacation. I didn't get the same kind of benefits I would if I was backpacking or in a cabin--but it gave me a chance to know how nice it is to turn off the darn devices!

I really had no urge to turn on my phone or computer when I got home. It really does use up a lot of free time. I didn't miss it one bit. Thank you so much for your warm welcome back.


Linda,

So interesting how so many of us experience "digestive slow down" on European food. It's comforting to know it wasn't just me. Good to know that Celebrity beats Princess for healthier & more accomodating selections. Law prof agreed, too.

Gael,

Thanks for all your enthusiasm--those pics weren't even the tip of the iceberg. Even with my cheapo-falling-apart-on-its-last-legs camera, I've got some spectacular shots. It makes me feel better to hear that you, Erica, & others feel defensive/awkward/uncomfortable when asked about why we're eating the way we do. You're right--you know when someone really wants to know--and then I'm happy to talk.

Mitzi,

I can't thank you enough for sharing your parents words! So simple. So commonsense. Yet, so powerful. Definitely a keeper--that will now change my whole reaction. I was very surprised about Spain, too. And their veggie options were in lots of olive oil. I'm grateful that Indians have introduced their wonderful vegan curries & dal around the world.

Chris,

I agree with you. It was nice for me, too, to hear that we've all had similar experiences, and that things don't fall apart when we have a little oil or fish or cheese occasionally--we do the best we can.

I've heard from a plant-based professor in Ireland who says she goes to some great veg restaurants. I'll email her and see what recommendations I can get for you.

When I was in northern England a few years back, I was surprised to see veg options at even the smallest of pubs--but that was during the Mad Cow scare. Not sure if things have changed. Have a wonderful summer vacations. Please do read through all the comments--lots of good info here!

Judy,

OMG--what an fantastic adventure. Good thing you had an apartment & could cook. Know exactly what you mean about being glad to return to farmer's markets & lots of fresh food!

Anna

Welcome back! On the vexing topic of other people's reactions: I find that being a vegan (or even just eating healthily) just seems to get up people's noses. Sometimes they react in a hostile way (which I just never would if someone told me their food preferences). Their responses usually make me feel that I'm being awkward or a nuisance - definitely not making the party go with a swing! The worst response is "well, you've got to die of something!" or "Life's too short to worry about all these ridiculous pronouncements on diet - every day they find something else that's going to kill you" etc etc.

In the UK I have found it unusual for people to take veganism in their stride - they seem to get really worked up and anxious as if you are asking them to come up with some gourmet meal. I just long to say well, just cook what you want and give me the vegetables! It's not that difficult. In other people's homes, I usually just give in and eat what they want me to eat (weak, I know!) In other situations (as on holiday), I just try and keep a low profile - but people seem very attuned to what one is eating! I find that strange as I simply don't question other people's food choices.

Penny

You are so lucky to have so many plant strong family members, friends and coworkers. My list of such eaters is exactly 4 and I am going on 4 years of eating vegan! I've learned to bite my tongue most of the time about why I eat this way because if I ever find an interested ear I tend to get overly enthusiastic and give TMI.

The tips in this post will be so helpful for future travel. We're planning a trip through Wisconsin, Michigan, and up to Tornonto and I'm making lists of restaurant and market options to help us stay on track.

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