Hey! Do you know what is a great way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to be packing/cleaning? Blogging. So great! Also, DC, like much of the Eastern US, is a frozen hellscape and I never want to go outside again.
Flashback to last week when I attended the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center’s conference in Las Vegas and it was gorgeous and sunny and perfect outside. Of course, conference means I was inside during the days, but I managed to sneak outside for a few minutes each day and feel the sun.
So the weather was amazing, but the food part of the week was hard. I don’t remember whether the conference registration asked about dietary needs, but there was definitely no consideration given to vegans or other restrictions either at the hotel where we stayed or by the conference organizers. I’m hoping this posts comes off as more like, “here’s how I solved by problems” than really cranky, but I’m still really irritated, so that might show a bit.
Anyway. My standard conference survival kit is honed down to: a pack of Udi’s gf burger buns (softer and less dense than their bagels), Chex brand gf oatmeal packets and 2 boxes of granola bars (one high-protein and one more of a snack bar), plus fiber supplements and a daily probiotic. Usually I don’t need all of the food I bring, but it helps to know I’ve got an emergency stash in case things get weird. My travel to Vegas was okay; it’s always tricky to time meals and fiber supplement with flights and layovers, but it worked out and I found a Qdoba in the Dallas airport that had shockingly fresh-tasting vegetables for the middle of winter. Normally, I don’t get excited about Qdoba, but traveling with dietary restrictions has given me a massive appreciation for chain restaurants. I feel much safer eating somewhere that I can google beforehand.
The conference started mid-day the day after I arrived and I spent the morning working in my hotel room, assuming I would just head down around noon, grab something to eat and pick up my name badge. Except that the hotel had literally nothing I could eat at either the restaurant, cafe or mini market; I didn’t leave enough time to go exploring a nearby casino for a buffet or foodcourt; and the nearest Chipotle was 1.8 miles away. <cue sad trombone>
I ended up buying a “protein box” and a bag of potato chips from the hotel Starbucks. The box was about $5 and included a hard-boiled egg, a multigrain roll, a packet of peanut butter, some cheese, half an apple and some grapes. I ditched the roll and cheese, supplemented with my own bread and a granola bar and managed a pretty filling lunch. (I do make occasional exceptions to veganism to eat eggs if there aren’t other protein options available. 18 year old me is making a super judgy face right now.) Anyway, I only learned of the existence of these boxes at Starbucks in December but it’s a pretty rad thing to know about when you’re in an unfamiliar place and trying to feed yourself. Starbucks is literally everywhere except the moon these days.
After conferencing all afternoon, we were invited to a “poolside happy hour” with a hosted bar (that means free!) and heavy appetizers. And they really went all in on the appetizers. They had a table full of sushi, a mashed potato bar, a kebab station, some sort of animal chops…and nothing vegan. I actually asked one of the hotel staff, in case there was like, a secret vegan table I hadn’t found yet, but no, they just didn’t order anything. He kindly pointed me in the direction of some vegetable kebabs which had been hiding under a warming dish and said sympathetically that it was very unusual for a large event like this one not to have anything vegan at all. But as Eric Gordon in Billy Madison says “Well, sorry doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach, now does it, Carl?”
So first of all, my stomach behaves waaaaaay better when I start a meal with a carbohydrate of some kind. A glass of red wine followed by grilled veggies is basically taunting my IBS. Secondly, I always feel really awkward when there’s only one thing I can eat at a social event, because my instinct is to take more of that thing, since everyone else has more options…and then I worry that other people are looking at me like, why does she think she gets all the veggie kebabs? Save some for the rest of us, jeez. So there’s no way I’m getting a full meal out of this event. And now I’m hangry and surrounded by strangers that I’m supposed to be mingling with when all I want to do is stab them with my little kebab swords.
Since the event was a bust, I left with some friends to check out the Cosmopolitan casino near out hotel and look for vegan food. Of course, since we were in Vegas, the first thing we did was locate the Chandelier bar at the center of the Casino. The photo does not do this thing justice. It’s a three-level chandelier that you hang out inside, surrounded by strings of crystals and lounging on plush sofas and drinking fancy cocktails. They don’t serve food (of course) but I had a drink with butternut squash puree and bruleed marshmallow foam, which is like a snack, right? After drinks we went to a place called Holsteins, where the only thing I could eat was fries, but at least I could eat them. We got two orders for four people, and I’m pretty sure I polished off an entire order by myself. Sorry guys. Holsteins had really good fried pickles, and they also had this:
a vegan raspberry coconut milkshake. With coconut whipped cream and a toasted vegan marshmallow. And vodka. I didn’t really want another drink, but boozy milkshakes are a thing that I have never experienced, since I never saw one till after I’d given up on dairy. This is when I started to forgive Vegas for being awful. Or maybe that was just the vodka.
In any case, the following day of the conference was equally frustrating. The lunch they served was beef, salmon, and mozzarella cheese sliders. When I asked about a vegan option, I was told they could “whip something up for me,” so I asked that it also be gluten free and they brought out a plate of spaghetti, took it back and brought (eventually) some gluten-free noodles and sauce. This is the part where I should mention again that the hotel staff was awesome and I really appreciated their responsiveness. It just sucks to pay a couple hundred bucks to attend a conference, plus the cost of a cross-country flight and three nights in a hotel, and give up three days of work and then not be served food that won’t make me sick.
This is why I’m a little, um, intense when it comes to hosting trainings and conferences for my job. I have asked hotels to change catering menus, to add vegan proteins or gluten free bread products…we even had a chef in Atlanta go out and buy some tofu because the event manager failed to communicate our menu requests in time for him to add it to the weekly order. But here’s the thing – no hotel has ever refused to meet our needs. Some are better than others at the execution, but as a conference organizer, it’s on me to do whatever I need to do to make sure no one goes hungry, and it’s not that hard. And now I have to go back to cleaning.