Anyone who has tried to travel while minding a serious diet probably has had to compromise. After being offered only risotto or pasta at several restaurants in Italy, a vegetarian friend ordered "steak and baked potato, but hold the steak" in self-defense.
The road isn't always a happy place for a diet. And yet, it was travel that transformed my diet for the positive over this year. For starters, two resorts' amazing cuisine helped inspire me to make the meat-to-veggies leap.
Travaasa Hana in Maui, Hawaii (888-965-5890, travaasa.com/hana): Like Dorothy in the 1996 film "Jerry Maguire," this resort "had me at hello."
Travaasa Hana serves up paradise with five "pillars of experience." As it says: "adventure, culinary, culture, fitness and spa/wellness."
All guests receive pillar experiences whether their stay is a la carte (from $350 per night) or all-inclusive with three meals and a $125 daily resort credit (from $600 per day). At least four vegetarian dishes usually are available daily.
But the culinary options extend off the property, including a picnic on Hamoa Beach and a fruit-tasting tour of Ono Organic Farms.When I visited I was still clinging to meat, so I went primarily pescetarian (mostly vegetarian but with fish), enjoying shrimp, ono and other freshly caught seafood while savoring the locally grown fruit and vegetables.
The BodyHoliday in St. Lucia (800-544-2883, thebodyholiday.com): "Give us your body for a week, and we'll give you back your mind" is The BodyHoliday's slogan. That will cost you from $450 a night on up. But after four days there, neither my body nor my mind wanted to leave because of the food and an unrelenting list of physical activities.
The all-inclusive resort offers full service to the body, from diet to all manner of sports and recreation to workouts, all included along with three meals a day, most alcohol and standard treatments.
But it all starts with body fuel. The BodyHoliday welcomes many vegans (no animal products) and vegetarians (some, such as dairy or eggs), said marketing director Andrew Barnard.
On arrival, guests can meet with a chef and nutritionist to determine meal plans. I bypassed the chef but wanted to try a healthier regimen, so I had the wait staff steer me to the daily vegetarian options in the buffet.
I dined vegetarian the first night but succumbed to bacon at the next morning's breakfast buffet. My brain promised "mind-blowing bacon," but it wasn't, so I focused on the healthy buffet for the next three days. As I savored hummus, stuffed grape leaves and other meat-free dishes, I realized nutritious food can taste fantastic.
OK, enough with the resorts. Those are easy pickings for living with a diet. Yet, there are whole cities that re-enforce the idea: Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Los Angeles; and New York, to name a few superstars. Broad veggie swaths along both U.S. coasts, plus points in between, are thriving, and the trend extends into Canada, next on my vegetarian odyssey.
Toronto is what clinched it for me. The rich, savory vegetarian cuisine there persuaded me to kick my carnivorous habit and go vegetarian this summer. Ironically, the first night there I had a perfectly cooked filet mignon at Epic at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. And it was good enough to be the last piece of meat I ever eat.
Over the next four days I discovered that creatively prepared vegetarian food has more taste and texture than I ever noticed with meat. And gone was the worry about whether the cow was humanely treated or filled with antibiotics.
The Toronto Vegetarian Association lists 26 vegan restaurants, 39 vegetarian restaurants and 42 with vegetarian options.
Live was Toronto's first gourmet raw and vegan restaurant when it opened in 2002. Vegetarian Haven opened in 2003.
Friends and I shared plates so we could sample more specialties. Our favorite raw dishes were the manicotti and tostadas, and I also relished the cooked pulled burdock burrito that features guacamole, sweet potatoes, kimchi, tempeh, spinach and cashew sour cream.
At Haven, we again shared plates, such as seared dumplings, spicy Bali stir-fried rice noodles and the spicy coconut curry "seafood" souper bowl, in which seafood flavors are replicated.
Info: Toronto Vegetarian Association at veg.ca
Then there's Canada's mother lode. Southwestern Canada could make you forget Canadian bacon forever. Unfortunately, I found out most of this after my last trip there, when I had just scratched the surface. Several cities in the region, such as Richmond, Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler, are teeming with vegan and vegetarian cuisine. In fact, Victoria claims the highest vegetarian food sales per capita in North America.
"Especially in the past 10 years, our options have really exploded, " said Linda Montague, a museum program assistant who has been a vegetarian for more than 40 years. "For me, having lived my whole life in Vancouver and Richmond … it's a celebration of all the amazing cuisines and cultures we have."
Here's a peek at just a few options in the area.
In Victoria, I enjoyed a vegetarian bite and handcrafted cocktails at Veneto Tapa Lounge (venetodining.com) at Hotel Rialto, the eco-friendly hotel where I stayed while on an adventure trip, and fellow vegan/vegetarians touted Rebar Modern Food, Cafe Bliss and Venus Sophia Tea Room & Vegetarian Eatery.
Rebar (rebarmodernfood.com) began as a juice bar in 1988 and helped pioneer Victoria's vegan/vegetarian culinary scene. Manager Shamus McDougall said the almond burger and Three Sisters enchiladas are the most popular dishes on Rebar's "Seed to Table" menu.
Cafe Bliss is a raw-food bar that specializes in superfood smoothies, energy elixirs and innovative desserts. And Venus Sophia (venussophia.com) is a tea room in Victoria's Chinatown. Tea readings and live music also are on the menu.
Richmond is home to the Vancouver International Airport and a large Asian population.
You can seek out Buddhist temple cuisine, such as lunch at the Taste of Zen cafe at the International Buddhist Temple (buddhisttemple.ca). It features vegetables freshly harvested (in season) from the temple's 8-acre farm next door. The suggested donation for a meal is $15.