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Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Post: Veganism in the Wild, Wild West

A recent family emergency has kept me away from my blog these last two weeks. While I play catch-up (yet again), please enjoy this guest post from Jen, who blogs at This Woman Wanders and shares her beautiful photography here. See ya soon, the Hungry Vegan Traveler

When I began travelling and photographing the American West I departed believing that I was venturing into a land where vegetarianism was a foreign concept. I’d been told repeatedly that there were no options if I were to dine out and that for the next few weeks I would be eating my camp food and the occasional fast food burrito.
To be honest, I ate a lot of burritos and energy bars. I didn’t even bother looking for anything else to eat as I travelled cross country. I didn’t question the experiences of the vegetarian travelers I’d talked to.
In the Cedar Pass Lodge Restaurant in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, after four days and 1600 miles and more burritos and energy bars than I care to remember, I was able to order up a veggie burger. I thought that might end up being the high end of my options. Little did I know…
While hiking, camping and photographing in Yellowstone National Park I was able to cook more filling and nutritious foods, but I found myself longing for foods not cooked over my own tiny camp stove. In the city of Gardiner, Montana, just outside the park, was the Tumbleweed Café and Bookstore. With their offerings of fresh-made vegan soups, wraps and sandwiches as well as soy lattes and organic coffee, they became an almost daily destination. Their awareness of the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle was not the norm in my experience out west, but their sustainable and organic offerings were a trend I encountered often.
Later, while photographing Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado I discovered that Boulder really does live up to its reputation of being vegan friendly. And I found the trend of offering sustainable and organic foods was even more prevalent. I had similar experiences in Estes Park, Colorado (I highly recommend Notchtop Café and Poppy’s Pizza) and Denver, Colorado (which has nearly as many veg*n friendly restaurants as Boulder).
The desire of restaurants to provide sustainable foods meant more fresh fruit and vegetable ingredients readily on hand, making it less of an effort for restaurants to offer up vegetarian options. Not relying on processed ingredients meant that chefs were more easily able to create vegetarian options when there weren’t any on the menu.
I also had to learn to ask for what I wanted. Often, using the term vegetarian or vegan resulted in no response but a blank stare or an immediate denial of options. By not giving it a label and instead asking for food without meat, dairy or eggs, I found that people were less put off by my requirements and more interested in helping me find something I could eat. I think I’ve had more conversations with genuinely interested people about my lifestyle from NOT using the terms vegan and vegetarian.
I think, in the end, I was left with a better understanding of how to find what I’m looking for and a new appreciation for travelling without expectations or assumptions.

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