Surviving as a Plant Eater on the Alaska Marine Highway

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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On my journey from San Francisco to Seattle, I had pretty much stuffed my face with amazing vegan food. I’d searched Happy Cow for the best restaurants and grocery stores to try, and visited as many of them as I could. I knew, though, that eating on the ferry would be a very different experience. I was heading to Alaska, the land of fish.

As we boarded the boat, I could hear other passengers excitedly talking about how much salmon they were going to eat. I avoided these conversations. Before leaving Seattle, I’d made a dash around Wholefoods to pick up some hemp milk, protein powder and gluten-free snacks. I wasn’t going to starve.

On board the boat, there were two options for eating. I could have gone for the buffet in the restaurant, but it seemed a waste of money to spend $19 when all I would eat was rice and vegetables. The other option was the snack bar. They offered the standard American diet of burgers and pizza. And, of course, some fish. There was a vegan burger on the menu. I couldn’t eat it anyway because of the gluten, but I did wonder how vegan it was when the chef informed me that he cooked the fries in the same fryer as the chicken.

I went for the safe option. The snack bar had some pretty good fresh, raw veggies and fruit. It wasn’t exactly a gourmet meal, but teamed up with my emergency snacks (which I topped up when we stopped in Ketchikan) it was enough to keep me going  for 3 days.

It Must Be Courgette Season Again!

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We had a bumper crop of courgettes at Plasnewydd Community Garden this weekend:

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After what felt like weeks of eating only courgettes last summer, I didn’t think I could come up with a new recipe involving them. However, using some vegan pesto, mushrooms, olives and gnocchi, ta daaaaaa…

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Cardiff to Sacramento

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Although it sounds miles away from Cardiff (another capital city in another country!?!), Heathrow is actually only a two hour drive from where I live. Even at peak times, the M4 is never anywhere as crazy as the M25 (otherwise known as the London orbital car park). Unfortunately, although getting to Heathrow is easy, you have to tack an extra hour on to your journey to find the long stay car park. I swear if you follow the road signs you double back on yourself at least twice and end up somewhere close to the motorway exit you just came off.

Note to car battery – please, please do not die during the four weeks you are parked at Heathrow airport.

When did the Virgin Atlantic check-in procedure suddenly get more complicated than your passport application? I love flying with Virgin (especially if the option is them or British Airways, who I only fly with when walking is my only other viable choice), but having to give them my mum’s contact details and a brief summary of my planned trip seems a bit extreme just to board a plane.

My early morning start was soon forgotten when I popped into Pret for breakfast. Oh my god I love those guys! Soya milk decaf latte, gluten-free and vegan porridge (yes!!!), fresh fruit salad and a protein salad. What a great healthy meal to start my trip.

If only my plane food had been as successful as my breakfast. I’d contacted Virgin Atlantic via email the previous week and asked if they could provide me with a vegan and gluten-free meal. They’d replied no, I had to choose one or the other. I chose the vegan option in the hope that there would be something I could eat. Other than the fruit snack, there wasn’t. It was all pasta, sandwiches and wraps. I’d taken my own food on board, so I didn’t go hungry. And the cabin crew were very understanding, giving more of the things I could eat and even offering to make me a jacket potato. I was annoyed when one of them told me you can pre-order a bespoke meal, so if anyone finds themselves in the same situation I’d recommend pushing the subject with customer services before you travel. And take some food with you just in case.

When I was at school, we used to argue with our maths teacher that the subject was useless. On the off chance that he might be reading this, I’d like to apologise. I have found a genuine use for GCSE maths – trying to buy a ticket for the BART in San Francisco. The Bay Area Transit is a great mode of transport, but I don’t remember it being so weird to use. Never before have I seen a ticket machine where you have to find the fare you need from a list, put in what money you have and then subtract off what you don’t need. But hey, as the lady next to me who was also having trouble with the machine pointed out, people from San Francisco probably find the London Underground strange.

I caught the BART to Oakland, and then dashed through the city (as much as I could dash with 2 backpacks on) to the Greyhound station. Oakland looks nice, I’d like to go back some time and see it properly.

The Greyhound I travelled on from Oakland to Sacramento has the slipperiest seats I have ever been on. I’m glad I’ve been keeping up with pilates training recently because it took all my core strength just to stay on the damn thing. I also heard the funniest introduction ever from a bus driver – ‘I don’t like to be called Driver, Miss or Ma’am. My name is Nesha, if you can’t remember that then just walk up to the front of the bus and start talking.’

We pulled into Sacramento on one of the hottest days of the year. I decided to power through and walk to my hostel, which in hindsight probably wasn’t a good idea. Don’t listen to the directions on Hostelling International’s website. They are for the old Greyhound station, which was really close to the hostel. The new station is miles away. After sweating out what felt like half my body weight, I arrived at my first proper bed and vowed to take a cab back to the bus station when I left Sacramento.

One of the reasons I love staying in hostels is that each one is unique. Sacramento HI is housed in a beautiful (rumoured to be haunted) old mansion house. It is an incredible building to stay in, made all the nicer by the super friendly, welcoming staff. Plus, they have free use of towels, great kitchen facilities and cheap laundry facilities.

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Useful Info:

BART San Francisco airport to Oakland: $8.95

Greyhound Oakland to Sacramento: from $7.00

Dorm beds at HI Sacramento: from around $30 per night

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Anyone following me on Twitter and/or Facebook will know that I arrived in the US safe and sound yesterday. I’ve decided that, whilst I’m actually travelling, I’m just going to post highlights of my day. Once I get back to the UK and have a chance to sort through my photos properly, I’ll write more in-depth posts about each destination. That way I won’t miss anything. Plus, I know a lot of my family and friends are now following this blog because they want to see what I’m up to while I’m away. They’ll hear all the stories from me anyway, so all they want to see on Sasieology is photos 🙂

With that in mind, here are my highlights from my first day in Sacramento:

I started my day with an epic all-you-can-eat vegan brunch at Garden to Grill. Hash brown, tofu frittata and, my favourite, gluten-free waffles. This is the first time I’ve been able to eat waffles since I went gluten-free and they were amazing. I also ate some fresh watermelon and pineapple to balance out the waffles (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works).

DSC_0207     While I was in the area I popped to the Gluten Free Speciality Market, where I met Melanie. She’s trying to start a blog to connect local food producers, so she’s a useful person to speak to and super nice.

I spent the rest of the day in Old Sacramento, including an underground tour and river boat cruise.

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Vegfest Brighton 2015

Brighton is one of my favourite places that I’ve ever visited. Known for being a lively, gay-friendly beach resort on the south coast of England, it’s also like the mothership for vegetarians and vegans. I would move there, but the huge selection of vegetarian restaurants and shops would lead me to eat too much and be in a lot of debt. However, I need no excuse to visit Brighton. So, when I found out that I was free the weekend of Brighton Vegfest 2015, I immediately booked my train ticket. And, the two day extravaganza of everything vegan you could ever imagine all under one roof did not disappoint.

Due to it’s location on the south coast, Brighton is usually one of the few places in the UK to get some sunshine. Unfortunately, that was not the case on this visit. This was the ‘sea view’ from outside my hostel on the Saturday morning…

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That blurry, vague shape that you can see in the background is Brighton Pier by the way! Booking a hostel right on the sea front also suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea when I had to traverse along the edge of the building to get anywhere due to the incredibly strong winds. Lucky for me, and the other 12,000 people who attended, Vegfest was entirely indoors. My one piece of advise would be to get there early, or chill out in Brighton for a while and wait for the queue to go down as it was very long…

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DSC_0107When we did eventually all make it inside, it was definitely worth the wait. Hundreds of stalls advertising, selling and advocating everything from the world of veganism. Loads of charities and other great causes spreading the word about how we can save the world by living plant-based/vegan. A comedy festival with back-to-back vegan comedians for the whole two days. Two rooms with back-to-back presentations about lifestyle and nutrition. An entire room of fresh, tasty, vegan food. Performances, kids’ activities, vegan wine and a pedal-your-own smoothie station. Basically, heaven for vegans all under one roof. Here are my highlights from the weekend.

By far the best thing about visiting Vegfest was all the lovely, interesting and knowledgeable people I got to meet. Where I live in South Wales, we are lucky to have vegetarian restaurants and I live in a vegan-friendly neighbourhood, but I don’t often get the chance to mingle with so many people who have the same beliefs as me. I pestered nutritionists, charity workers, activists, chefs and many other experts with soooooo many questions. And they all patiently listened to me, answered what they’d probably already been asked a hundred times and expanded my knowledge.

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There were so many talks and presentations, it was impossible to attend all the ones that I was interested in. So, I decided to divide my time between subjects that I already had some knowledge of and subjects that would push me out of my comfort zone, surprise me and help me to move closer to living completely vegan and be more environmentally conscious. As a result, I listened to experts on children’s nutrition, vegan body building, hunt sabotage, eating raw and the Vegan Society.

After all the listening, asking questions and shopping (lots and lots of shopping), the food court beckoned. There was so much delicious food to choose from, but it was so busy in the Brighton Centre that the queues were massive and lots of vendors quickly ran out of food. In fact, that would be my one criticism of Brighton Vegfest in general. From listening to people who had attended n previous years, this year’s festival was a lot bigger and a lot busier. It was overwhelming, especially on the Saturday.

Whilst in Brighton, I also found some time to visit the North Laines. This is my favourite part of Brighton, and I filled up on some yummy food at vegetarian restaurants Wai Kiki Moo Kau and Iydea.

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I would definitely love to go back to Brighton Vegfest next year, by which time I’m sure I’ll have a hundred more questions. I’m also seriously considering dropping into Bristol Vegfest to see some of the talks I missed.

 

Plant-Based Pause No 50: Make a Pledge

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Life is an echo. What you send out — you get back. What you give — you get.’ – Anonymous

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So, you’ve been reading my posts about living plant-based and it’s got you curious. Maybe you’ve read or heard other things about converting to a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. If you’re still not convinced, making a pledge could be a good idea for you. Pledging to cut animal products from your diet for a week, month or year is a great way of trying the lifestyle and experiencing the benefits without having to commit to anything long-term.
I’ve pledged with The Vegan Society, and their website has lots more advice and guidance about living a healthier and more environmentally friendly existence. What about taking the pledge for Christmas and experiencing a cruelty-free Christmas?
Don’t want to go the whole hog (excuse the pun)? Meat Free Mondays ask you to pledge to give up meat for just one day a week. If everyone made just this small change, it would drastically affect our impact on the planet and prevent many unnecessary human deaths. A friend of mine recently joined the Meat Free Mondays movement with his family, and amongst the many benefits they have happily noticed they are much more creative in the kitchen and are eating a much larger range of food.

Plant-Based Pause No 49: When Life Gives You Lemons…

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.’ – John Kenneth Galbraith

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Or, in this case, when life gives you squash you’d better think of something to make with it. I’m very proud of the squash that we grew in the community garden this year, but when it came to harvesting it we had an awful lot of veg to use up. One of the joys of eating seasonally is that you’re not always sure what you’re going to eat until you know what’s available to you.

With the help of some fresh carrots, also grown in the community garden, the squash soon turned into some delicious soup and pumpkin muffins.

Plant-Based Pause No 47: Spread the Word

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’ – Antonie de Saint-Exupery

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There’s nothing more annoying than a vegetarian who’s constantly trying to convert the world. As much as I would love it if everyone lived plant-based, they even annoy me. Having said that, I do spread the word about the advantages of living plant-based whenever possible, I just don’t shove it down people’s throats.

When I meet someone for the first time, I don’t announce myself as a plant-based vegetarian. I find that I don’t have to, because most of the time they ask me questions about my diet and lifestyle when they start to get to know me. They’ll notice that I’m not eating the same meal as them, or I’m choosing not to get involved in an event for ethical reasons. I receive their questions with a smile, answer them the best I can and share my knowledge.

There are also other, sneakier, ways that I convince people that living plant-based isn’t all eating lentils and drinking soya milk. In the office where I work during the day, I am quite often asked to bake. My chocolate brownies are a particular favourite amongst my colleagues. When I first started making the brownies, I was a regular vegetarian who ate dairy and eggs and I baked the brownies using eggs. Now that I no longer eat animal protein, I also don’t want to cook with it even if it’s not me who’s doing the eating. However, I don’t like to disappoint people. So, I made a few changes to the recipe and had a go at baking plant-based brownies. When I first presented them to my colleagues, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like the changes. However, all I’ve received are compliments that my chocolate brownies taste better than ever. Switching the eggs for xantham gum makes them denser and stickier, and people are loving them. My chocolate brownies are one of my most powerful weapons in convincing people that plant-powered is the way to go.

Plant-Based Pause No 46: Plant-Based Travelling

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.’ – Optimus Prime, Transformers

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I don’t think it’s a secret that I love to travel. I love exploring new places, especially those off the beaten path, and experiencing as much as I can in the time I have there. In my head I have a list of destinations that I still want to go to based on articles I’ve read, things I’ve seen on TV and stories that other people have told me. One thing that does annoy me when others are telling about countries they recommend is the phrase ‘But it would be no good for you because they eat a lot of meat’. As a plant-based vegetarian who is allergic to gluten, there may not always be the biggest selection of meals for me to eat, but I will always find something. And I usually find a lot more than people expect. Let me put it another way. I’m not a churchgoer. Therefore, when I visit somewhere new I don’t generally pay much attention to how many churches there are or where the nearest one is. However, if I were looking for a church I’m sure there would suddenly be lots.

Eating vegan food on the road can sometimes be difficult, and many times is interesting, but it is definitely possible. Here are my top four tips to help you on your travels:

1. Yes, it’s my number one tip for everything – BE PREPARED. Plan ahead and do your research before you travel. HappyDSC_0147 Cow is one of my favourite sites of all time. Simply enter the name of any major town or city in the world, and they will give you a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and shops in the area. The internet is such a valuable tool these days. I went on holiday to Spain when I was sixteen, before the internet was widely used, and I lived off chips and salad for a week. There are some really good vegan travel guides on the market now too.

2. Book self-catering accommodation. Not only is it generally cheaper, but it means you can have total control over what you eat. I travel on my own a lot, and I choose to stay in hostels whenever I can. For the most part they have great kitchen facilities when I can prepare plant-based food and chill out with a glass of wine after a long day exploring.

DSC_02033. Eat what you can. Unless you’re lucky to find a local vegetarian restaurant, you’re unlikely to have more than one or two options to choose from in restaurants. So, if that’s all that’s available to you then that’s what you should eat. You never know, you might even discover a new favourite food. Eating vegan has definitely made me less fussy.

4. Learn the word for ‘vegan’ in the local language of wherever you are travelling to. If you’re not very good with languages, google the word and write it on a scrap of paper or type it into your phone and carry it with you. Then, when you’re desperately trying to explain to a waiter what you can and can’t eat, you can whip it out and sit back and relax.

Plant-Based Pause No 45: Don’t Be Afraid of Where Your New Lifestyle Will Take You

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘My body will not be a tomb for other creatures.’ – da Vinci

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The lifestyle I live now is radically different to the one I was living before I committed to becoming a plant-based vegetarian, and certainly totally different to the one I thought I would be living. About 95% of my meals are now cooked from scratch at home, with fresh ingredients that I have bought locally. Every action I take, from choosing an item in a supermarket to throwing away plastic wrapping, is done with the question of how ethical and environmentally friendly I am being in the back of my mind. It’s a far cry from the days when I survived on whatever convenience food I could get wherever I was, and I produced over twice as much waste without a second thought. I feel ashamed of how I used to live. It feels like my eyes have been opened to the real world that we live in, and I want to help others see that too.

Although I was vegetarian, albeit an unhealthy one, for many years before I switched to plant-based, animal welfare wasn’t something I got involved in. I considered myself someone who cared about animals, which I realise now was hypocritical as I still ate dairy and eggs. I knew there were people out there who campaigned for animal rights, and although I didn’t always necessarily agree with their actions I always thought it was good that someone was doing something. Since becoming plant-based, animal welfare is something that has become more and more important to me. To be honest, I don’t think you can avoid it when you decide to stop eating animal protein. Things that I once accepted as fact now seem ridiculous. I read an article the other day written by a man who’s transitioning from omnivore to vegan, and one of his eye-opening moments was when he realised that cows only produce milk when they’re pregnant. That’s basic biology, so why do we believe that cows just pee milk for us to consume?

I’m still not at the stage where I’m actively campaigning for animals, although I’d definitely consider it in the future, but I now keep animal welfare in mind. I was horrified to learn that a lot of charities here in the UK waste thousands of pounds of our money on unnecessary animal testing. I’m not talking about testing that results in saving human lives here, this is a whole industry based around experiments that are never expected to get any useful results. This year, I have refused to donate money to any of these charities. Instead, I choose to support charities that don’t test on animals instead. Animal Aid produce a really helpful list of charities that do and do not experiment on animals, and you can also contact charities direct and ask them if you are not sure.

Who knows what kind of lifestyle I’ll be living this time next year, or in five years time. Maybe I’ll even be the one stood out in the street leafleting and educating others about animal welfare. I know one thing, though. Wherever this life takes me, I want to embrace it with open arms.