Vegan Food Travel: Normal, Necessary, Natural and Nice (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I explored how vegan food travel is normal and necessary. Specifically, I explored how it can be normal and necessary for vegan travellers especially if they are gluten intolerant or, like me, have been diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. If those around us use terms such as ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ to refer to a non-vegan diet, many vegans including those suffering from gluten-specific conditions may start to feel disconnected and alienated from the rest of the human herd. If you haven’t had a read or listen to Part 1, I suggest you do so by following the aforementioned link. Now, let’s get cracking to explore the final two N’s in this series – natural and nice!

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Vegan Food Travel is Natural

Once I started to observe a vegan diet, it didn’t take very long for my newfound diet to feel natural to me. Those who don’t follow a vegan diet would, and still, lament over how ‘hard’ it would be to change to a vegan diet. I experienced anything but hard from a food perspective. Though, what was hard for me was grappling with the lives lost as a result of my intake of animal products before switching to vegan. After going on quite a few overseas trips both as a non-vegan and vegan, it occurred to me that people all over the globe possess different perceptions on what foods are natural to eat. In some parts of the world, such as traditional Batak tribal lands in Indonesia, eating anything with a face or whatever moves is ‘natural’.

Once I started to understand animal agriculture and the practises involved, killing another for food started to feel unnatural and violent to me. I was no longer experiencing a need or want for meat and animal products; the dilemma in taking one’s life to feed another dissipated once I turned vegan. In Australia, approximately 600 million animals are killed each year in order to feed the Australian meat-eating population. Scarily, this number doesn’t include marine life. In addition, travelling to many parts of the world and seeing how animals are treated, not just in my own backyard of Australia, emphasised these feelings. Going vegan was therefore the only way to go. Having to go gluten free so I didn’t feel sick and tired all the time was an added bonus. No one wants to feel sick all the time – this is not natural, either.  

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Vegan Food Travel is Nice

In the context of food and travel, we can perceive the word ‘nice’ a few ways. Being nice when visiting new countries or regions, we are more likely to be open to new experiences, traditions that are different to ours. As a result, we build lasting friendships with locals and other fellow travellers. And what’s different in my life – that doesn’t match the local tradition – is more likely to be met with curiosity and enthusiasm. Being vegan means you can exchange a tradition that may not be the local norm, and the local meals I’ve experienced as vegan versions have been incredible. Locals are curious to adapt their traditions and enjoy the equivalent for a one-off meal.

The incredible meals I’ve experienced, such as the Batak tribe that lives in the highlands of western Indonesia where some locals are known to eat anything that walks or has a face, equate to this nice-ness. Without your meals tasting nice, there is little hope that you’ll stick to a vegan diet. Nice vegan options can be found anywhere and all it takes is a little ingenuity, encouragement and enthusiasm to make it happen in places where options may not exist.

If there is curiosity and acceptance, there is unwavering possibility.        

As an aside, it’s Coeliac Awareness Week in Australia from March 13 to 20. If you want to learn more about this disease, affecting 1 in 70 Australians, you can visit the Coeliac Australia website.

In the spirit of Coeliac Awareness Week, don’t forget to eat all the vegan gluten-free things!

Disclaimer: Fire & Tea does not have any existing affiliations with Coeliac Australia. I wanted to mention Coeliac Week and Coeliac Australia so as to bring awareness to the disease.

Vegan Food Travel: Normal, Necessary, Natural and Nice (Part 1)

I travelled to the outer south-east Melbourne for a family celebration a few weeks ago. Like any celebration, the time eventually came after lunch to celebrate the occasion with birthday cake. There were two cakes – one was decorated with glowing candles ready to be blown out, and the other was to cater for the vegan coeliac in the crowd (me). Once the candles were blown out, guests huddled, ready to receive their plate of cake. Some guests were unsure as to which cake to try.

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The matriarch of the family clarified the dilemma for any guests who seemed perplexed. ‘That one is a golden syrup cake. It’s vegan and gluten free. ‘And this,’ as she motioned to the birthday cake, ‘this is the normal one’. These are the types of conversations I encounter regularly as one who observes a vegan, and now strictly gluten free, diet. Yet, I try to meet these conversations with a neutral stance, without taking these comments personally.

You see, a vegan gluten free lifestyle may not be understood by everyone. It is assumed that vegan gluten free goes against everything we’ve been born and brought up to understand as truth; how to eat and live our lives so we can thrive. But, what happens when we question these beliefs then take the opportunity to shift to a new way of living? Rather than ask the question why, 'why shift to a vegan diet, why take the gluten free option', I think we should all be asking the question why not? By reframing the question, we can become more curious about our beliefs and what new possibilities can give us.

Research was conducted by the University of Lancaster in the UK into the justification of eating meat and why humans do eat meat. In that research, it was found that people eat meat because it’s normal, it’s natural, it’s necessary and it’s nice. ‘Necessary’ was found to be the common response.

What I’d like to do, over two parts, is to explore these four N’s from a vegan traveller’s perspective.     

 

Vegan Food Travel is Normal

Let’s look at the meaning of normal. Normal is to conform to a standard; what is usual, what is typical, or what is expected. For my meat-eating family, consuming animal products is the ‘normal’. I was born and raised this way, and I didn’t start to question this until about five years ago. Feeling tired, feeling heavy and feeling sniffly or stuffy were all intense symptoms I was feeling before going vegan and I was questioning how I could feel better. After research, along with a conscious pull from my inner self, I came to the conclusion that vegan was the way to go. How does this relate to travel? Food is how we all relate and bring ourselves together – over a meal at the dinner table for example. This is a concept that’s found globally.

I’ve discovered that travel is vital when it comes to learning new concepts all the while educating others in my ‘normal’. It’s one thing to be born with particular beliefs, so we all have the ability to question the status quo and take a new path in our life journeys. Through vegan food travel, it is possible to still feel a sense of connectedness and security as we exist and learn from one another.       

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Vegan Food Travel is Necessary

Now, back to those pre-vegan feelings of tired, heavy and sniffly or stuffy, I have experienced allergies my whole life, specifically eczsma and hayfever. My mum has told me repeatedly how many different milks I was given as a child in order to alleviate the pain and irritability. It wasn’t until I probed her further did I discover that the milk that gave me the most relief was soy milk. It was at this lightbulb moment when I realised I made the right choice by going vegan. All the nutrients I need are also readily available through a vegan diet and it’s a matter of living as healthily as I can in order to live and thrive at my utmost potential.

Yet the tiredness was still an issue. After a series of tests and doctors’ appointments, I discovered in mid-2016 that I had Coeliac Disease. Again, this was another lightbulb moment. I immediately cut gluten out of my diet and almost immediately started to feel the benefits. In the context of travel, I find it thrilling to travel to new restaurants and destinations only to discover the local vegan and gluten free options available. It’s an opportunity to explore further and again, question the normal. Through vegan food travel I’m also creating a demand for vegan gluten-free options.   

This wraps up the first in this two-part blog post so look out for the second instalment in the next couple of days where I’ll be exploring two more N’s – natural and nice.

Travelling for Edible Native Plants and Weeds around Melbourne

Not too long ago, a lady was picking weeds out of my front garden. When I approached her, she paused and quickly backed away in embarrassment. I stopped her with a smile; encouraged her to take what she needed. In her very limited English, she pointed to a young weed and blurted: “Tea!” I had no idea that these leaves could be picked to make tea. With my encouragement, the lady continued scouring my flower beds for the best tea-brewing leaves, picked what she needed and headed for home.

Travel edible native plants weeds walking tour Melbourne Australia Victoria

I’m grateful to live in Melbourne, home to exciting restaurants and cafés that specialise in or feature amazing vegan dishes. Though, I’ve been left to wonder where I could travel to, beyond my front yard, in search of edible native plants and weeds. Here are a couple of tours that specialise in walking edible native plants and weeds tours around Melbourne for those looking at expanding their botany knowledge while getting some curious travel in at the same time.

Hello Edible Weed offers walks through Melbourne and the Yarra Valley so you can learn about which weeds you can eat. Hello Edible Weed also offers books, workshops and talks on the topic. Three-hour walks/workshops are run by author Doris Pozzi from $35 per person. It’s a great opportunity to learn about which weeds can be eaten and/or added to your cooking. Bookings can be made via the website or phone 03 5962 5982. 

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Eat That Weed is another weed walks provider, run by those who hold qualifications in horticulture and permaculture – self-confessed ‘plant nerd’ Annie Raser-Rowland and permablitz movement founder Adam Grubb. Tours are held mostly around the Brunswick East area along the Merri Creek wanderings to help you find what’s edible and what’s not.  

Walking Tours of Melbourne can take you on a personalised ‘living wild off the land’ expedition. Choose from some of the native areas of Melbourne and suburban surrounds, while learning about the native edible plants that indigenous Australians local to these areas have known about for generations. Medicinal plants, sustainable species and harvesting techniques are all covered, as well as seasonal species and traditional tools used for harvesting. Choose from former wetlands from Elster Creek to Elwood Beach, craggy beachfronts of Half Moon Bay and Black Rock, and the 500-year-old St Kilda Corroboree Tree and gathering grounds of Albert Park. Grab a group of mates, decide on what and where you want to explore and let Walking Tours Melbourne sort you out with a guided journey. Bookings are by arrangement and can be made via the website, email at melbwalks@gmail.com or phone 03 9090 7964.

Weekend Beach Food Hangouts at Phillip Island in Victoria

Day-trippers and weekend wanderers travel to Phillip Island to get away from Melbourne for some beachside travel time. This naturally rich location on the southern coast of Victoria, easily accessible by car, offers travellers all the nature experiences one can hope for – back-beach seascapes, lush bushwalking spots and day-trips to view native koalas, little ‘fairy’ penguins and fur seals in their natural environment. Phillip Island is visited by travellers all year round, yet best experienced during the summer months from December to February. Another appeal of Phillip Island is that you can hop on and off the island by car to explore quaint townships in between. During a big day of exploring each corner of Phillip Island, you must keep your energy levels in check. Here are three beach food hangouts to fuel your day while exploring Phillip Island.        

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Island Wholefoods for Brunch

Cowes is the main community hub on Phillip Island. Before you head out to your big beach trips for the day, a brunch stop at Island Wholefoods is my tip. This is an organic, raw and superfoods café where you can fuel up on fruit-filled acai bowls, fresh green smoothies and turmeric lattes. As much as the bowls are filling and fulfilling, their scrambled tofu on gluten-free toast and sided by a wedge of lemon is a yum-in-the-tum brunch choice.

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The tofu is seasoned with turmeric, and veggies like capsicum and spinach are folded through for added nutrition. As you wait for your meal, order a turmeric latte with a dusting of cinnamon and take in the calm beachside aesthetic within this café – from the raw floorboards to the local artwork adorning the walls.     

Island Wholefoods 4/75 Chapel Street, Cowes Victoria 3922 Australia (no phone number)

 

Sweetly Sweets and Ice-cream for a Cool Summer Treat

What’s summer without an icy-cold gelato? A pretty boring one! Australia tops the list as the biggest consumers of ice-cream in the world. This means that Phillip Island has plenty on hand to meet the summer demand.

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Sweetly Sweets and Ice-cream is a gourmet ice-cream café that stocks up to six dairy free and vegan sorbets and coconut ice-cream, all homemade by local provider Prom Coast Ice-cream and Sorbet. My favourite flavours to try are the banana coconut cream and mixed berry. Traditional lemon is pretty good, too! Sweetly is located in San Remo, the township before you cross the bridge to get to Cowes.

Sweetly Sweets and Ice-cream, 8/157-159 Marine Parade, San Remo Victoria 3925 Australia Phone: 0418 349 489

Island Burger Bar for Dinner

A massive day at the beach calls for a just as massive meal to restore energy levels. After surfing, ocean swimming, hiking or bushwalking, the body demands a nourishing meal to satisfy the hunger. This is where Island Burger Bar at Cape Woolamai steps in. This classic strip-shop takeaway melds classic Aussie chip shop with a laid-back surfer hangout feel, all stitched together with alternative music vibrating overhead. Tummies will zone in on the big burger menu here and vegans are welcomed into this fold.

Phillip Island Cowes San Remo Cape Woolamai Victoria Australia penguin parade travel vegan gluten free food daytrip weekend
Phillip Island Cowes San Remo Cape Woolamai Victoria Australia penguin parade travel vegan gluten free food daytrip weekend
Phillip Island Cowes San Remo Cape Woolamai Victoria Australia penguin parade travel vegan gluten free food daytrip weekend

One to get the teeth into is Island Burger Bar’s homemade lentil and sweet potato burger, all layered on a fresh bun with bright salad and a smooth layer of hummus. Gluten free buns are thankfully available here, though I narrowly missed out during my dine-in visit. That’s what happens when you dine here during peak season! Still, the chilled out staff take this all in their stride to deliver a bountiful plate version – the salad acts as a side to two burgers topped in hummus. When there’s a will, there’s a way, and Island Burger Bar is happy to accommodate.

My suggestion is to order a couple of potato cakes (or sweet potato if available!) to make this burger meal even more of the holiday hunger pleaser that it is. Just be sure to pull up at a table outside to eat this tasty burger meal as the sun sets over Cape Woolamai for the day.  

Island Burger Bar, 9 Vista Place Cape Woolamai Victoria 3925 Australia. Phone: 03 5956 6552.

This post was inspired by the mouth-watering article on burgers titled 'On a Roll' found in February Issue 23 of Vegan Life Magazine.
You can check out their website for digital or print subscription details.

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Disclaimer: I was supplied with a free digital copy of Issue 23 of Vegan Life Magazine. All opinions expressed in this post are mine.

What’s Gluten Free Got to Do with Fire & Tea?

On the back of tennis star Serena Williams’ win at the Australian Open in Melbourne over the weekend, I have been drawn to her sister Venus’ personal win to conquer her auto-immune disease and return to professional, top-level tennis. As Venus stood at the podium to deliver her speech as the runner-up, her words brought a tear to my eye. Both Venus and Serena are well-known vegan athletes, yet it was Venus’ story that drew me in the most.

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You may have noticed in recent posts that I’ve been documenting my food and travel with a sprinkling of references to gluten free. ‘Gluten free’ has launched into the blogosphere in recent times and #glutenfree is achieving an explosive presence on digital platforms worldwide thanks to the gluten intolerance movement. My choice to report from a gluten free frame of writing, alongside my vegan mission, is based on medical merit. I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease mid-last year.

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According to Coeliac Australia, Coeliac Disease is a heredity auto-immune disease occurring when “the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats), causing small bowel damage”. What I’ve come to learn is that Coeliac Disease is “one of Australia’s most commonly under-diagnosed conditions”, and affecting only 1 in 100 Australians. The common symptoms, as I’ve experienced, are fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes and severe dermatitis. The effects are debilitating, with the potential to bring daily life in general to a sudden halt. Family life, relationships, work and basic day-to-day functioning are all affected. There were times I couldn’t cook dinner, go out with friends for a meal, work at optimum level, check out bands, new restaurants and new destinations with my husband or even embark on meaningful travel in my own city. Blogging and writing stood still for a while there, too, as much as it pained me.

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Just as an example, my hike through the Three Capes Track in Tasmania early last year was my first multi-day hiking trip, a ‘bucket list item’ if you will. The trip was a physical struggle for which I had no explanation why at the time. , Despite extensive training, at the end of each hiking day my knees and feet were swollen and sore as I hobbled around camp and I went to bed unusually early each night so that I could keep my energy levels up for a day’s hiking by next morning. My pre-packed meals weren’t fulfilling and I was constantly hungry and losing weight. While I enjoyed the trip immensely, the excruciating pain dampened the experience for me internally; feelings I kept within myself. I hid it all, and celebrated my reaching the finish line with an exuberant, though fatigued and exhausted smile on my face as I hobbled down the last few steps into Fortescue Bay. I stayed positive though and I assured myself: ‘This is definitely not the finish line for me and hiking.’

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Since my diagnosis my food choices have whittled down dramatically, yet I have found options at every vegan establishment I have visited and reported on. The benefits heavily out-weight the new choices in food mapped out for me. I’ve built strength within myself physically and emotionally, I’ve gained control of my energy levels and the fatigue has been set to idle so that I can enjoy all the vegan food and travel I can welcome into my life. I’m now looking ahead to more trips, and my husband and I have even been invited on a tempting hike across the southern rim of my home-state, too. If we take that invitation up, it will definitely be completed without pain and fatigue, but with loads of energy fuelled by a backpack crammed with vegan, gluten free hiking foods! 

With correct diagnosis, proper management and the benefits of a vegan diet, I’ve rewarded myself with my personal gains; the gold after the personal battles I experienced. I’m well and truly back to doing everything I love – travelling, eating, writing and blogging in particular. I’ve just had to reframe the narrative a little. Change is always a good thing, one of the valuable lessons I’ve learned thanks to my travelling ambitions. I hope you continue to enjoy Fire & Tea as much as I enjoy writing and blogging it all for you.