The Intrepid Herbivores

A vegan TV show about Travel and Food

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Where this whole thing came from

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The idea for this project was many years in the making. More accurately, the idea was made a long time ago, but was many years in the coming-together.

I (Sadie) had the idea to write a series of travel guides about vegetarian food tourism in 2007, after a very memorable visit to Japan. The experience left such a strong impression on me that I felt that spinning it into a series of books to help others like me avoid my pitfalls and trump my enjoyment was something that trip taught me I was supposed to do. I was really excited about the idea, and then I sat on it. For several years.

I met Joe at a vegan barbeque two weeks after I had moved to Portland, in late summer of 2010. We hit it off on every level, but one of the very first conversations we had that afternoon, sitting in the grass as the scent of  grilling Tofurky wafted through the evergreens, was about traveling. We immediately glommed on to the fact that we had both had nearly as many adventures as the other, and seemed to seek and take away most of the same things from every exploration. He mentioned his idea for a documentary about a vegan chef touring the world to learn how to cook (or something like that), I mentioned my idea for a series of books about a vegan traveler touring the world learning how to eat (or something like that), and I think we tucked those independent but compatible ideas into each others pockets to explore later.

By the end of the year we were ready to put the ideas into action. Which is why I say “The Intrepid Herbivores” was not so much years in the making, but years in the coming together.

It so happens that back in 2007-08, while I was at the height of infatuation with my guidebook idea, I actually started writing one. I hadn’t realized how much I had actually gotten down on paper (I have a whole journal full of illustrations as well, which will NOT be seeing the light of day today) until I happened to find this document yesterday!  After having spent the past year fleshing out the idea with the partner I hadn’t realized I was waiting for, finding this introductory chapter from a past life was thrilling because I realized I am making the dreams of the past the realities of today…or something silly like that.

Sadie's journal with illustrationI am sharing the introduction to my previously-untitled-work-in-progress here, so you can see one portion of the story of where “The Intrepid Herbivores” came from. Bear in mind this was written approximately four years ago. Looking back I am somewhat ashamed to publicly admit some of the things I did on that trip. However, I think of it as kind of my dietary Rumspringa. I have been vegetarian since I was 12 (I’m now going on 32), and the episodes documented herein were an opportunity to leave the fold for a short time and empirically decide that, YES, vegetarianism is where I belong. Since writing this I have actually fully transitioned from being ovo-lacto vegetarian (I was for  years and years) to being a full-on committed vegan. I’m not publishing all of it here, but there are also pretty healthy chapter outlines documenting a subsequent visit to Italy in 2008, but those are other stories for other times. What you are about to read is un-edited and dates from 2008. Like I said, I was really excited about this project but then, like so many ideas, I sat on it. Luckily I realized I was just waiting until I found the person and circumstances to drag it out from under the cushions and onto location.

Here you go, Intrepid companions. Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting this project–the future #1 TV travel show about vegan and vegetarian food!

 

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In the spring of 2007, happily and excitedly, I visited the beautiful country of Japan.

(illustrations)
    (oooh, mountains!)
    (oooh, cherry blossoms!)
    (oooh, video games!)

I spent three and a half weeks in this beautiful island nation, based in Tokyo and spending a leisurely and unforgettable week traveling by train from Kagoshima through Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara. Three and a half weeks is a short time, but is almost long enough to feel like you’ve had a pretty good run and gotten a decent sense of what a new place is like. It was my first visit and besides having shakily memorized the katakana (one of three Japanese alphabets, the one which is used to spell out non-Japanese words, the only words with which I was familiar), I did not speak, read or understand the language.

Japanese food is very famous for its quality, freshness, variety and aesthetically delightful presentation. I love food and when I travel I am always keen to experience my destination’s specific regional specialties. I had been very much looking forward to losing myself in the endless culinary delights of Japan.

However, after the first five days or so of ecstatically gorging myself on umeboshi onigiri (seaweed-wrapped balls of rice with sour plums inside),(illustration: Yummy!) I quickly began to feel frustrated and challenged by the fact that while the possibilities were seemingly infinite, very, very few of my choices were vegetarian, and the very idea of not eating meat seemed to be regarded as highly unusual. In fact, I realized that now that I thought of it, I really hadn’t been eating much besides those onigiri. (illustration: endless row of onigiri)

My companion had gradually talked me into the idea of trying fish. I hadn’t eaten any animal flesh-derived products in over a decade, so the idea took me a lot of getting used to, but I figured that if there was one time in my life that I would compromise my vegetarian principles, eating fish in Japan seemed like the time to do it. I mean, the cuisine is legendary. I would be depriving myself of a key facet of Japanese culture if I refused to eat the food that defined it, wouldn’t I?

So I did, and for a while, though I felt guilty and a little weird, I won’t lie to you–I enjoyed it. Fresh, well-prepared sushi is, in fact, incredibly delicious. (illustration: Tasty!) I also decided to let my ideals slide when it came to eating noodles—they were available everywhere, they were good, and they almost always came in a broth that I had no idea and usually no way of finding out what it was made of.  I got tired of constantly finding reasons to make a fuss, so I ate it anyway. (illustration: slurping noodles with shifty eyes)

The thing was, I didn’t speak the language. I couldn’t read ingredients lists or menu items, so I really felt in the dark about what I was eating. And even when my patient and increasingly put-upon friend, an American who is fluent in Japanese, could translate and ask questions about my food or ask for specifications for me, there was very, very, surprisingly little that seemed to be made without meat, fish or broth ingredients. If we asked for no meat I would often be offered chicken. If I asked for no animal ingredients, I would often be offered octopus or some other creature that, while inarguably something that was once a living being and was now dead on a plate, was not culturally considered to be “meat.”

I continued to convince myself to eat fish and broth by just eating it and not thinking about it for about two weeks, until, walking down the street one day, I had an emotional breakdown. (illustration: POW!) I felt sweaty and dizzy, I looked at my arms and had a physical hallucination, overwhelmed by the sensation that my body was now made of dead fish. My arms, in my mind, felt slimy and in the early stages of decomposition. I felt like my very pores were exuding a pungent odor of rotting sea life. I felt palpably nauseous and listless for the remainder of the day and evening. I knew I could no longer eat this way.(illustration: rotting fish arms)

The following day I visited a Spanish restaurant with some friends in Tokyo, eager for a respite from the traditional cuisine of the region. The menu was printed in English and I ordered the one thing on the entire menu that I was certain would be safe for me to eat, “sautéed artichokes.” I was excited for the opportunity to eat a simple, basic vegetable that I knew and loved, and not worry about hidden ingredients that my body no longer recognized as food. The artichokes arrived on my plate sautéed, unexpectedly to me, in pork fat and laced with pieces of bacon. I nearly wept out of frustration as my stomach clenched into a knot of fresh nausea and guilt, but I was so tired of making a big deal about my food every time I was out that I just pushed the bacon aside and ate the artichokes anyway, pig drippings and all (illustration: pig drippings). The following morning I was violently ill and literally had no appetite for anything, nothing at all, for several days. I had lost all trust in food. I just couldn’t eat, not even the onigiri that I had loved so much when I arrived. Nothing was palatable anymore. I was becoming undernourished. I got really cranky and was behaving like a picky four-year-old. My friends were getting annoyed. (illustration: These fishies are delishies!) I was losing weight rapidly and couldn’t keep up the energy for our busy and ambitious tourist schedule. I began to resent Japan and everything about it, dreaming of the day I could just pick up a piece of food, recognize what it was, not be challenged by it, and eat it without feeling guilty and disgusted.

This issue is unfortunately my most vivid memory of my otherwise fantastic trip to Japan. After returning, I found that every time I would look back, show a photo, or regale a story to a friend, it was tempered with my memory of being totally wigged out by Japanese food. And it shouldn’t have been that way.

I realized that, had I done more research and planned a little better, I could have navigated my way through Japan’s rich culinary landscape with quite a bit more aplomb. I could have learned more about what specifically is available and indigenous to the culture that inherently contains no meat. Onigiri are great, but there are certainly more items that, had I educated myself about looking for, I could have sought out rather than be turned off by hacking through bowl after bowl of ambiguous broth and coming face-to-face with glazed over fish eyes in restaurants, to the point that I no longer trusted any food that was available to me and was tired of looking for something different. I could have and should have educated myself more about the language and alphabet symbols, to where I could identify certain non-negotiable ingredients by sight or at least know how to ask in Japanese for “no pork” or “only vegetables.”

So that’s why I wrote this book. When you travel you need to experience local food traditions—if you don’t, you are really missing out. And being vegetarian, despite what a lot of people may tell you, shouldn’t really prevent you from doing so. In most places you will still find plenty of opportunities to be adventurous while dining and still keep your vegetarian principles unravaged. (illustration: angelic carrot) This book is designed to help you prepare for what food culture of another destination is like and things you should expect and know to look out for. When you go to Italy you will never be at a loss for chances to eat, and it’s not all prosciutto and salami, lemme tell you.

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2 Comments on “Where this whole thing came from

  1. Pingback: Hanami time! | The Intrepid Herbivores

  2. Pingback: Where in the World Did You Find This Vegan Food? Fonio in Senegal! | The Intrepid Herbivores

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2012 by in origin.

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