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Veg guiding light { June 10 2001 }

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June 10, 2001
Guiding Lights for Vegetarians

THREE of our grandchildren eat no red meat and one of the three is a vegan, who eats no animal products at all no fish, milk, butter, eggs or gelatin. We have lived with vegetarian children for so long that traveling with them is usually no problem: they can read a menu in a window and know if they can manage. But staying nourished with Jennifer the Vegan, 17 years old, involves what we might call inconvenience foods.

When she was on a visit to New York, we took her to Zen Palate, a vegetarian restaurant, for lunch. Jen could barely contain her pleasure, knowing the staff would understand her questions without treating her as a teenage pest. So I hoped to replicate that delight when we took her to visit the University of Florida in Gainesville. Uneasy about breakfast after a late flight in, I packed a quart of soy milk and some snacks a couple of tofu spreads, crackers, an Asian apple and some chocolate bars labeled kosher for Passover.

With the motel's cold cereal, juice and coffee, Jen was fine at breakfast. And, as I should have realized, Gainesville, a university town, had an extensive health food store, Mother Earth Market, where a sushi chef was cutting up avocado and celery for takeout. We put together an appetizing picnic lunch for several of us. For dinner at a seafood restaurant on the banks of the Suwannee, Jen returned to the monotony of baked potatoes, iced tea and many trips to the salad bar.

Numbers May Be Growing

All of this played back recently when I read of the lawsuit that developed when a Hindu engineer in Seattle learned that McDonald's was putting beef flavoring in its French fries, despite a 1990 announcement that it had switched to vegetable frying oil. Vegetarian advocates have estimated that there may be as many as 15 million vegetarians in the United States; a poll conducted for the Vegetarian Resource Group by Zogby, a research company in New York, put the number at 4.8 million adults. Whatever the number, the total appears to be growing, which may explain the rising pile of travel books for vegetarians on my desk.

The earliest book in my stack is "The Vegetarian Traveler" by Jed and Susan Civic, published in 1997 by Larson Publications in Burdett, N.Y. Subtitled "Where to Stay if You're Vegetarian, Vegan, Environmentally Sensitive," this 296-page paperback mentions such organizations as Green Tortoise Adventure Travel in San Francisco and the Maho Bay resorts created by Stanley Selengut on Saint John in the United States Virgin Islands.

About a third of the book, which touches on 300 places ashrams, guest houses, hotels, tour sponsors covers Canada and the United States. The Caribbean, Central and South America, Britain, Europe, Australia, India, Israel and Sri Lanka are also included.

Paul Cash, Larson's director, says that although the book is still in print, there are now a lot more places and a new edition is likely soon. The book, organized by locale, is densely printed, with small pictures, but packed with information, including whether the furnishings feature leather or wool. The descriptions, unfortunately, parrot information provided by the proprietors, which includes turnoffs like "superb views" and "warm welcome." But basics can be grasped. It costs $15.95 plus $4.50 shipping from Larson Publications, 4936 Route 414, Burdett, N.Y. 14818; (607) 546-9342; the Web address is

Last December, Hunter Travel Guides published "The Artichoke Trail, a Guide to Vegetarian Restaurants, Organic Food Stores and Farmers' Markets in the U.S.," by James Bernard Frost.

It cites 1,000 restaurants, and the author awards artichokes one to four rather than stars to places that get major reviews because he or a colleague has eaten there. About 100 places are reviewed at length. Mr. Frost, who lives in San Francisco, gives New York itself an out-of-date review ("streets are dirty, people are crass, crime rate is high") but he seems to have the restaurant scene in focus. He includes 40 restaurants in Manhattan, a quarter with full reviews. Of the Zen Palate, the reviewer, Simon Dang, says: "After sampling its tasty Pan-Asian menu, you will easily see how this restaurant chain manages to keep all three Manhattan locations bustling."

The listing of farmers' markets is organized by state but because markets are alphabetized under name rather than locale for example, the Union Square Market in New York City is under "U" the reader must either browse or know what to look for.

The book, a 436-page paperback, costs $16.95 in bookstores. It may also be ordered from the publisher: Hunter Publishing, 130 Campus Drive, Edison, N.J. 08818; (561) 546- 7986, fax (561) 546-8040; on the Web at

The 15th edition of "Vegetarian Visitor," edited by Annemarie Weitzel, is a small directory for lodging and eating in Britain. Its 104 pages list 150 cafes, restaurants and pubs recommended by readers but not necessarily checked by the editor; the descriptions are supplied by proprietors. The book, which is intended for distribution by tourist boards in Britain and overseas, also includes paid listings and ads for guest houses that cater to vegetarians. British tourist offices in the United States may have free copies; if it is bought from a tourist board in Britain, the cost is 2.50. It is also sold for $3.50 plus $5 shipping by Lantern Books, (800) 758-3756;

The Vegetarian Resource Group, a nonprofit educational organization in Baltimore, is a major source of guidance. It publishes its own books and distributes others, maintains a Web site, at, and puts out a magazine, Vegetarian Journal.

A Look at Fast Food

Several of its publications say that McDonald's acknowledged in February 1997 that its fries were not vegetarian. This statement appears in the $4 booklet "Guide to Fast Food," which was updated late last year. A formidable piece of research, it covers 100 chains, from Applebee's to Whataburger. It reports that many of the listed companies in the current edition did not respond to requests for up-to-date information, and that others, like T.G.I. Friday's, refused to participate while saying that information the Resource Group had used earlier was out of date. As a result, no information is given on these companies. The entry for the Subway chain, which operates in 74 countries, notes that there are options for vegetarians and vegans and that the company's Web site, at, provides nutrition information.

The group is selling "Vegetarian Europe," edited by Alex Bourke and published by Vegetarian Guides in London last October; in 288 pages it covers 300 eating places in 40 cities, for $17. The detail in the information varies from contributor to contributor. The book has the sound of a hosteling guide written for the young person traveling alone. Honestly, I was not influenced in this judgment by the ad inside the front cover, which is for condoms approved by the Vegan Society.

The Resource Group publishes "Vegetarian Journal's Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the U.S. and Canada." It briefly lists 2,000 restaurants, juice bars and takeout places, with comments and sometimes a leaf symbol indicating outstanding quality. Mercifully, the entries include telephone numbers, since, as the editor indicates, vegetarian restaurants tend to appear and disappear like mushrooms. If I had had this comprehensive volume in March, I could have gone directly to Mother Earth in Gainesville, rather than asking around. This 372-page paperback costs $12.95.

According to Davida Gypsy Breier, who compiled the organization's most recent book, "Vegan and Vegetarian F.A.Q.," the group began in Baltimore in 1982 and soon became national. The Web site includes articles from the group's magazine, as well as recipes, a bulletin board on travel, links to other organizations, dining guides for particular cities, nutrition data and even an article encouraging vegetarians to tip above the norm because their restaurant meals are cheaper than others'.

Vegetarian Resource Group, Post Office Box 1463, Baltimore, Md. 21203; (410) 366-8343,

Since many travelers rely on Zagat's Surveys for quick help in new cities, I was curious to see how many vegetarian restaurants were identified in the New York edition. Because the table of contents for "special features" in the front leaped from "Transporting Experiences" to "Visitors on Expense Accounts," I assumed that there was no vegetarian breakout; Tim Zagat set me straight. There are 23 vegetarian places listed on Page 219 under the "cuisines" listings, between "Ukrainian" and "Venezuelan."

Mr. Zagat stressed in the interview what his book said, that many restaurants not dedicated to meatless cuisine are prepared to offer a vegetarian meal if asked. "Almost any top restaurant and any Asian restaurant can offer vegetarian meals," he said. "One of the biggest problems with restaurants today is that customers are put off a little about asking."

Some of the places that are indexed under vegetarian in Mr. Zagat's book likewise do not confine themselves to nonanimal products, and despite his admonition, I am frankly not eager to interview the waiter at Cafe Boulud about what went into the fries.

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