In Search of Food | The Challenges of Eating While Travelling

Sitting across a cafeteria table, my colleague unwrapped her packet of those crustless ‘peanut butter and jelly sandwiches’. She sheepishly smiled and remarked “don’t judge me”. Outwardly I smiled. Inwardly I cringed.

We were visiting a client onsite – something I do about ever other month. These trips always give me anxiety. Not about the client visit or even about my job (I actually really enjoy my job). My anxiety is about something much more rudimentary….what am I going to eat!?!?

This question may seem harmless enough. And you may be thinking to yourself what is this girls’ problem – there’s plenty to eat! But if you’ve read any of my other posts, including Wait, am I a vegetarian? or if you have simply dipped your toe into the endless pool of food production knowledge then you already know some of my concerns with finding good, clean food that I can actually eat (and not get a headache having to think about it).

It breaks down into something like this: I don’t eat meat on the road because there’s practically NO restaurants that serve organic, pastured meat. I avoid breads and pastas because many are drenched in chemicals. I avoid eggs because they likely came from a factory of caged hens fed God knows what. I avoid Strawberries, spinach, apples and other fruits and vegetables found on the ‘Dirty Dozen‘ list. I avoid Dairy since it too likely came from factory farms with cows treated with antibiotics and other crap (not to mention the poor living conditions of the animals). I avoid soy and soy-derived products since they are guaranteed GMO unless organic (and again, organic restaurants are far and few between) and I avoid chicken – for all the afore-mentioned reasons.

So, I ask again, what the hell is left to eat?!?!

This conundrum leaves my head dizzy with thought and worries about what I am feeding my body. Eating on the road is a constant game of compromises and making the best of a less than optimal situation.

This brings me back to where I started. Sitting across the table from my colleague. As you can imagine, the other challenge I face when eating on the road is also taking into consideration the preferences and eating habits of my co-workers. It’s one thing for me to be miserable about food. It’s another to impose upon my travel companions. I’m not about to go all food-preachy on them.

The solution? To simplify explaining to people my diet limitations (and to avoid sounding like a complete nut), I usually tell folks I am a vegetarian. This eliminates the issue of meat – the food group I have the most concerns about. I had done just this the night before with the co-worker I was now eating with. She had responded back “no problem – I’m a veg too!” Whew! I thought, one less thing to feel awkward about. What I later found out was that this translated for her into a diet full of processed foods, carbs and convenience food. Sitting now with her for lunch I alternated between biting my tongue and shouting silently to myself to mind my own business while she munched away.

To be clear, I didn’t think less of her or even feel superiority (even though it may sound like I do). She was in fact a very bright young women. Intelligent, well spoken and obviously compassionate for living things as evident by her choice to not eat – as she called it – “anything with a face”.

I applaud her. But (and you know there had to be a but here). I couldn’t help thinking about how the same system she was trying to avoid – the one that mistreats animals and exploits them for profit – is the very same system that churns out millions of acres of GMO, pesticide drenched, soil degrading monocultures that are transformed into the very same foodstuff she was now eating. This system is all one and the same and it has a name – Big Ag. And the problem with trying to isolate and avoid a single part of this system – such as meat – is that you end up exposing and amplifying another. For example, if I decide that high fructose corn syrup is bad for me (it is!). And then isolate this “badness” by choosing foods that don’t contain, but otherwise not altering my food choices – such as drinking soda made with sugar or other artificial sweeteners, I’ve only swapped one “bad” thing for another. Instead of eating HFCS, I’m now consuming more sugar or other sweeteners. One problem has been eliminated only to pop up in a new form. It’s a bit like whack-a-mole.

And it’s a very easy game to lose. With food – much like with nature – we have to look at the whole system. We have to consider all the inputs to make educated decisions. We can think of our food system like an ecosystem. Decisions and actions made on one branch will impact other parts of this food tree. It’s a constant balancing act.

So what then did I eat? Well, for lunch I had roasted carrots, herbed rice, plantain and broccolini. For dinner I had a wild mushroom pasta with herb sauce (at least wheat is not GMO….yet). Very likely the vegetables were conventional. The rice is suspect too. But given my menu, it was the compromise I made so I didn’t starve.

At least – I later found – those uncrusted rounds are absent of GMO and high fructose corn syrup according to their website.