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Plant Based Traveler – This One Is All About Food

I understand that when 11 people go on tour, each person has a different vacation experience. It all depends on the traveler’s focus. Consider that while one person is keenly aware of large mammals, another is watching out for birds. Someone else is attentive to the temperature, or mosquitoes, or the landscape. Another is in a constant state of annoyance because their significant other is embarrassing themselves. Still others are judging and comparing the local culture to how they live back at home. This was true of my trip to Kenya. Every tourist had a different perspective, and their safaris a corresponding angle. My angle was definitely people and food.

As I said several posts back, before I started this trip, one of my biggest concerns was what I would eat while I was in Kenya. 

Following a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet takes some commitment, no matter where you find yourself. It is challenging enough in the USA, where you might think it would be easy to get wholesome, delicious, and well prepared vegan meals. So, let’s just say I was really nervous about the WFPB prospects in Kenya.

In my very first conversation with the trip organizer, I made it clear that I was worried about the food choices. She told me not to worry. She said, “We’ve had vegetarian travelers before, and they never had a problem. Besides, I’ll make sure the lodges know your preferences.” That, my friends, was a yellow flag. I know that the difference between WFPB and vegetarian is a subtlety that is lost on most people. But, “Ok,” I thought, “Maybe I won’t be able to eat anything but beans and rice, and I’ll drop that 15 lbs I haven’t been able to lose!” So, with that thought, I settled myself down, almost happy that this would be a weight-loss trip. And yet, just below the surface, I expected that the trip organizer would communicate my eating habits to the lodges as she had promised. MmmmHmmm…sure…

   Well, I get to Kenya. I arrive at the first breakfast in the first hotel. The offerings were excellent, plentiful, really, and it was clear from that first meal that my diet preferences were a mystery to the kitchen staff. When I spoke to the lady responsible for replenishing the buffet, she was both surprised and embarrassed that 1) they weren’t aware of my dietary preferences, and 2) they didn’t have something prepared especially for me. She called the kitchen manager and the chef to talk to me about it. We had a great conversation about how I eat….and like magic, the clouds lifted!

  I realized right in that moment that WFPB traveling means there are three available paths. One is to stay quiet and grumble/suffer/be a martyr for the cause. The second is to let someone else try to explain my dietary habits to the kitchen crews, and then grumble/suffer/be a martyr for the cause. Both of these paths would likely leave me angrily eating salad every meal, and 10-15 lbs lighter by the end of the trip.

The third option is to talk to the kitchen staff at each lodge/camp/restaurant/hotel, myself. It means I would have the pleasure of meeting the people responsible for preparing my meals. It would allow me a few minutes every day to speak with, and be grateful for, the kitchen staff. It could give me time to thank them, appreciate their work, and honor their efforts. I could give to them as they gave to me. 

I chose the third path. That choice flipped the switch from me being at the effect of, to me being at cause in the matter of what happened with my meals. Boom! I went from being a victim to being my own hero! The realization that I could connect with the people who generally get no acknowledgment from the people they serve was the beginning of a beautiful thread that ran the length of my trip. Actually, it is the part of my trip to Kenya that I value the most.

  From my first meal forward, I made sure I met and spoke with the kitchen manager and at least one chef everywhere we ate. Sometimes I talked to up to five people in any one lodge about WFPB eating. The conversations were always engaging, rewarding, and respectful. Sometimes they were also humorous or touching, but, regardless of the tone, they were always worth the effort.

After speaking to the chef in any location about my dietary habits, a couple of things usually changed:

  1. Some, if not all, vegetables were prepared so that I could eat them. They were either steamed, stewed, roasted, or fried, but no butter was used during, or added after, cooking.
  2. Unique versions of the meals were made for me and kept in the kitchen until I arrived in the dining area. At one lodge, this even included vegan pastries .
  3. My relationship with the kitchen and dining hall staff blossomed to one of appreciation, joy, and laughter.

Breakfasts were usually oatmeal or granola with almond milk, nuts, and fresh fruit and honey. Often there were potatoes and beans, too. I usually had a choice of fruit juice, tea, or water to drink. 

Lunches and dinners consisted of salads, potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables of all colors, chapati flatbread, curried vegetables, fruit. Fruit juices, tea, and water to drink.

We had two boxed lunches. One consisted of eggs, cheese, and yogurt, caused by a communication failure on my part. The other lunch was perfect.

We had two breakfasts on the plains at Masai Mara. One after a hot air balloon ride, and the other at the hippo pool on the river. Both were amazing!

I also took two cooking classes. One was taught by the wonderful chefs at Sweetwaters Serena Camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The other was taught by the chefs Mara Serena Lodge in the Masai Mara Preserve. I will talk about these in my next post.

Breakfast

Granola with almond milk and raspberries. Potatoes and Masai beans, watermelon, passion fruit, and cucumbers.
Oatmeal porridge with honey. Tea.
Fresh fruits and vegetables featuring red cabbage and avocado salad.
Sliced melons, and oranges and pineapple chunks

Lunch

Vegetable sushi, capers, wasabi, ginger and cucumbers.
Regional dish. Curried vegetables, whole wheat chapati, and white rice.
Red cabbage, carrots, green beans, potatoes, chapati and rice.

Dinner

Salad  with carrots and beets. Mango-passion fruit juice.
Seasoned rice and vegetable stir fry with curried shredded cabbage.
Stir fried vegetables with peanuts and white rice
Curried vegetables. Green beans, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and salad.
Broccoli soup
Apple strudel with raisins

Breakfasts on the Plains

Mimosa with mango juice, stewed plantain, samosas, chapati, veggie egg roll, beans.

Breakfast at the Hippo Pool

His beautiful beadwork adornments
Our Hippo Hosts
The grill area.
Fruits, yogurts, juices and water
Mango juice and mimosa. Pineapple spears and whole wheat bread.
Stewed plantains, arrow root, Masai beans. Mimosa and tea.

Boxed Lunch for a Picnic

Watermelon, banana, apple, orange, Masai beans, water and apple juice.

On more than one occasion, one or more of my fellow safari-ers would lament, “I can’t find anything that looks good to eat!” By the 5th or 6th day, they were asking me, “What did they fix for you this time??” every time we sat down for a meal. I do believe they were a bit envious of the food I was eating, the attention I was receiving, and the relationships I was forming. LOL! Never saw that coming!

OK… Now, about the last funny meal in Kenya…
On our final day in Kenya, we made our way back to Nairobi so we could catch our flights home. The last meal we ate as a group was in a restaurant called “The Spur.” Decorated like saloon from an old, John Wayne western movie, they played dusty, country-western music to boost the ambiance. Bottom line: it was a meat bar. I call it a meat bar because, well, their specialty was meat. Inside, the restaurant smelled like piles of raw and grilled cow, chicken, and pig. After the beautiful meals I had been eating during our safari, the odor about turned my stomach. I tried to laugh it off. I told myself, “Whew! How ironic! Of all places for my last Kenyan meal! OK…settled down. Just chill the heck out! You’ve smelled meat before!” but, as I sat there, my sense of revulsion and overwhelm only grew worse. Here’s the menu.

Yipes… and then this….I had never seen a restaurant that offered more meat as a way to upgrade the order…well, here it was.

Needless to say, between the smell, the ambiance, and the carnivore’s delight for a menu, I was through. My fellow travelers were looking at me and sort of jokingly asking, “What are you going to have? Not much in the way of veggies here!”
I have to admit, I thought I had met my Kenyan Waterloo. I was just about to walk out when the waiter came to take my order. I told him the same thing I had been saying to the kitchen crews for the whole safari, “I don’t eat animals. No chicken, no fish, no cow. No pig. No goat, no lamb. No milk, no cheese, no butter.” Given the situation, I added, “I am a vegan in a meat bar. Is there anything here that I can eat, or should I just leave?”
Delighted, he replied, “Oh! You are vegan! Well, yes, of course! We have the Mexican platter! Look here, I think this will work for you.” I read the description, trusted, and the clouds lifted one more time.

Veggie fajitas with salad, guacamole, tortillas, and salsa.

I hummed happily and ate while my envious fellow-travelers looked on in amazement, again, one last time.

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