Livin’ the all-inclusive life

2016-03-18 10.55.55

View from my beach chair in Montego Bay, Jamaica

I finally got a passport at age 33. This seems to surprise a lot of my friends and colleagues. Who doesn’t have a passport, right?

This has made me feel feelings about my race and economic privilege relative to my family. We never had passports growing up because we vacationed every three years and we went to Northwest Iowa to visit my dad’s family. On the rare occasions that international travel opportunities presented themselves while I was in school, my mother’s response was somewhere on the spectrum of “we can’t afford that” and “hell no.” (She’s maybe a bit overprotective — she still texts to make sure I made it okay when she knows I’m traveling.) In college I chose to spend a semester in Washington, DC instead of abroad, because it seemed more practical/attainable and after college I worked political organizing jobs with long hours and tiny paychecks for lots of years. Clearly, some of my friends and colleagues could afford to travel, but it just seemed liked something other people did.

The idea of international travel has only felt possible (financially, timewise) to me within maybe the last three years? And I didn’t need a passport for Puerto Rico when my friends and I went in 2014. But this year we chose Jamaica as our Spring Break destination (yes, adult spring break is a thing we do. Five of six of us live in silly cold places with long winters, so we travel in March to someplace warm and beachy).

2016-03-18 19.18.52

TBH, who cares how good the food is?

All of that context aside, I was holding onto a pretty major concern about international travel: what the hell was I going to eat? I’ve heard many stories about friends who try mysterious foods or compromise on vegetarianism  while traveling, and while that sounds fun, spending most of my trip holed up near a toilet definitely doesn’t. I was super relieved when my friends suggested an all-inclusive resort option (meaning all meals, drinks and activities are factored into the cost of your hotel room). Of course, familiar food isn’t necessarily ibs-friendly food, so I still packed in: two packages of Udi’s gf hamburger buns (8 total rolls, or enough to have one at lunch and dinner each day of the trip); eight single serving pouches of Justins’s nut butters; four NuGo bars; four Clif bars; and four packets of oatmeal. IBS has made me a light packer clothes-wise, since I always need room for food.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay, and while I have nothing to compare it to, my friends said it was pretty standard compared to similarly-priced all-inclusives they’d stayed at. Food is served buffet-style at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there are several “restaurants” (really just dining rooms that serve themed food) on site. Our package included dinner reservations at their Jamaican and Italian restaurants, and the rest of the time, we were buffet-bound.

2016-03-18 13.03.18

Carb city, population: me

Breakfast was the most challenging meal for me, and I leaned heavily on the rolls and almond butter, with fruit and usually potatoes from the buffet. The buffet was well labeled with both vegan and vegetarian items identified, as well as gluten free. This was super helpful, as my downfall is often eating the thing that looks least harmful, only to find out a few hours later that it was probably cooked in butter.

I took a couple of plate pictures from the buffet. This what a pretty typical lunch: Pumpkin rice, potatoes, a cooked vegetable (not delicious) and some kind of bean stew or salad). I only saw tofu on the first day of our trip and it was raw, cubed, and served over pasta. Odd. The highlight was the burger shack near the pool where we went for grilled cheese sandwiches (for my friends) and fries (for me) sometime between lunch and dinner. Most of my friends are vegetarian, and it was hard to stay full on the fairly limited protein available.

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Buffet dinner: rice and a bean/vegetable stew. Yum?

The “restaurant” dinners were a lot sketchier. We were assigned reservations at the Jamaican place the first night and they had one vegetarian option on the menu. It was a coconut curry that was more like a tiny portion of soup with a large plate of rice. We ended up paying for bottles of wine at dinner, because the free wine was the foulest substance I have ever willingly ingested. When we checked out, the front desk clerk through there was a mistake because we had so many wine charges on our bill. Whoops. The Italian restaurant was the best night for my friends and the worst for me. There was nothing I could eat on the menu, but a note indicated that entrees were served with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, so I asked for a plate of that. Pretty lame to be eating plain potatoes and steamed veggies while your friends get pesto gnocchi, but it was our last night.

Of course, the end of the story is that the vegetables were cooked in butter and I was pretty sick the next morning. The ride to the airport was stressful, but I felt okay by the time I boarded my plane.

So what did I learn? First, that I can leave the country and eat and not be terribly sick the whole time. Baby steps. Second, that I have actually learned how to take care of myself pretty well and I just need to do what I already know how to do.  Third and finally, next time I go the all-inclusive route, I will pay more for a child-free resort. #notsorry

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The saga continues

My 2016 has been off to a chaotic start. The new job I started in November turned out to be a terrible fit for me, and I resigned earlier this month. I took a work trip in January that introduced me to an epic cold virus and I was coughing and congested for four very long weeks. Oh and the Supreme Court decided to take up a very historic abortion access case, and since I work in the reproductive rights/abortion access field, things have been busy.

Somehow in the midst of this, I realized I needed a new primary care provider, since I have moved and switched insurance companies in the last year. Given the stress of the job and the long illness, my ibs symptoms were not as controlled as they once were and I was struggling with anxiety and depression. I go to One Medical in DC, which is a sort of concierge practice (they charge a membership fee, but in return the care and access to doctors/appointments is so much better than anywhere else I’ve been in the city). And I chose a PCP in the office near my house who has experience working with LGBT patients, because it’s just a lot easier to work with a doctor who isn’t uncomfortable talking about my personal life. (You’d be surprised.)

I made and cancelled two or three appointments because of last-minute work things before I was able to get in to see the doctor. By this time I was pretty sure I needed anti-anxiety medication and/or anti-depressants, and probably an IUD because my period pain has also increased and nothing but muscle relaxers can tame it. I’ve been resistant to to all three of these things because I know that ibs is at the root of my problems, but also that doctors don’t generally know what to do with ibs except throw drugs at it.

And this is where things take an unexpected turn because this PCP happens to be a holistic doctor who specializes in helping people find the nutritional roots of their medical problems. This is the doctor I have been looking for since at least 2011, when my ibs started getting bad. And I found her exactly when I had given up on taking a holistic approach and just wanted someone to whip out a prescription pad and put a bandaid on my problems.

This was the first doctor I’ve worked with to talk about ibs beyond “eat more fiber” and “try meditation.” That’s the good news. The bad news is, I’ve been feeling surprisingly ambivalent about this development. Finding a solution to ibs requires work. And adjusting to new supplements. And possibly making some real exceptions to my 21 years of vegetarianism. Would all this be worth it if I actually got past ibs? Definitely. I’ve had symptoms for so long, I can’t really imagine my life without it.

So far, I’ve started taking a new multivitamin, an intestinal repair supplement, a new probiotic, and a liver support supplement (and to be honest, by “started taking” I mean “inconsistently taken for a couple weeks”). I’ll try an elimination diet after my trip to Jamaica in a few weeks. And hopefully, I’ll be using this space to keep track of my progress.

 

#2015TopNine

Well, 2015 happened. And I didn’t blog very much. So I’m sharing my top nine posts from Instagram as a sort of recap in hopes that I’ll get inspired to pick up the blog again in 2016.

2015-12-31 06.47.22Top row, left:

My lady and I took an epic winter holiday trip (flew from DC to Charlotte, drove to South Carolina, drove to northern Florida and back, and then flew again from Charlotte to DC) involving lots of family time, kid time and time spent in the car. It was fun, but by the time we made it back to Sout Carolina on the 27th, we were ready for a little downtime. Enter Good Life Cafe in Columbia. This place is all vegan (sweet!), gluten-free (score!) and raw (oh, okay). No judgement of people who do the raw food thing, it’s just a little tough on the ibs belly. Also, Good Life was having a pretty rough night of it. We arrived about 6:30 pm and learned they’d had a rush earlier in the day and were out of quite a few menu items. And everything was served cold – like refrigerator cold – which muted a lot of the flavors so the food seemed really salty. Without anything carb-y on the menu, my stomach suffered a LOT from this meal.

Top row,  middle:

We stand with Planned Parenthood around here. My partner and I both work in reproductive health/abortion rights and it’s been a shitty year. But our cute selfie was famous for a couple days. Fun!

Top row, right:

I went to Vegas. I already posted about this, but the gist is, i couldn’t find anything to eat, but I found a vegan boozy milkshake. I still don’t like Vegas, but I liked this milkshake.

Middle row, left:

I started a new job! And attended a fancy gala for the Texas Freedom Network in November. I LOVED this gala, because their vegetarian entree was vegan and gluten free. And delicious. But seriously, I spend a lot of work events hungry and/or slightly tipsy, because I had a glass of wine and couldn’t eat anything. It was really nice to be able to eat and drink like a normal person.

Middle row, middle:

Vegan. Tomato. Pie. With a gluten free crust! My lady continues to recreate awesome recipes for me to eat. This was a mix of red and green tomatoes and it was weird and also really good.

Middle row, right:

Do you have Isa Does It? Because this cookbook changed our life. So many awesome, easy recipes that we both love. This is her malai kofta recipe, and even though it wasn’t the prettiest dish, it was one of the most delicious things we cooked all year.

Bottom row, left:

We moved! (Seriously. Lots of things changed in the 2nd half of the year.) And we love out new place. So we got a ridiculously huge holiday tree to celebrate. And then we got in trouble for bringing it in through the lobby instead of the basement. Sigh.

Bottom row, middle:

This was the year of weddings – I was invited to six and made it to five. This one was the day before my birthday in Lyons, Colorado. Amanda and Hayes are cutting their wedding ice cream sandwich. Also, my amazing friends made sure I could eat at all of their weddings. Yay love! and yay eggplant!

Bottom row, right:

New job required me to spend two weeks in Texas for orientation and training. I had a great time, ate some awesome food, and learned not to start a meal with chips and salsa (ouch). My coworkers and I found Licha’s Cantina by accident, and this was my best meal in Austin. This is a black bean-filled blue corn masa cake topped with avocado and some other veggies. Also, Licha’s was so cute, the margaritas were delicious and the service was awesome. Love.

Vegas equals terrible

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.

Shut up, Vegas.

Shut up, Vegas.

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.

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

Concrete picnics are the best picnics

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.

That's right bitches, I am eating ALL your kebabs

That’s right bitches, I am eating aaaall your kebabs…but not the mushrooms.

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.

The Chandelier from the outside

The Chandelier from the outside

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:

Cue choir of angels

Cue choir of angels

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.

Zoom, zoom, zoomin’

Oh hi.

This morning, I accidentally got a caffeinated latte at Peet’s by my office. I mean, I ordered decaf, and the barista said “decaf” when he handed over the latte, but about fifteen minutes into my workday, I started feeling like this:

This is your brain on drugs

I gave up caffeine over a year ago, since it really aggravates my IBS. And today was a really bad day to test out my caffeine tolerance. My day job is in reproductive health, and 2015 is not the friendliest time to be doing this work. Last night, Congress, who had been planning to “celebrate” the anniversary of Roe v Wade by voting to ban all abortions after 20 weeks, decided that they didn’t really have the votes to do that. Instead of taking this as a sign that banning abortion is just a bad idea, they decided to try banning abortion coverage for everyone who gets their insurance through Medicaid and other federal programs.

Jerks.

My team had prepped our student activists across the country to call Congress about one abortion ban and suddenly, nothing we had prepped was usable. And the vote was supposed to start at 10:30 am.

Anyway, we got all new materials prepped and even sent out an action alert out by 10:17 am. But I was buzzing all over the office and feeling really self-conscious about it. Not cool. It’s now 8:12 pm, and I finished my work day, went to the gym, made dinner, and I’m still more awake then I’ve been in years.

Mashing chickpeas can be therapeutic

Mashing chickpeas can be therapeutic

So what does one make for dinner while supremely caffeinated? Nothing that requires a long attention span. I’ve been meaning to try this ‘Chickpea of the Sea’ Salad Sandwich, and since the prep was only chopping, smashing and stirring, it seemed like the right choice. I LOVE the vegan tuna sandwich at Busboys and Poets in DC, but they don’t have gluten-free bread, so I haven’t been able to eat it in a while. Fortunately, I picked up a giant loaf of Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain bread at the Costco this weekend. Seriously, this thing is huge. I’ve had a sandwich every day and barely killed half of it.

This is a pretty good approximation of the coveted Busboys sandwich. I used hummus instead of vegan mayo and added some Nori Krinkles. I’d make this again, but with mayo and I’d crush up the Krinkles before I stirred them in.

The whole situation took about 20 minutes to put together, not counting the time I spilled all the chickpeas in the sink and had to pick them up and re-rinse them. This may be related to the fact that I was putting this together as though I was a contestant on Chopped, instead of a regular human making herself a simple meal at the end of the day. Thanks, latte!

Sorry I neglected you. Here is a Zelda selfie.

Sorry I neglected you. Here is a Zelda selfie.

So I always feel like I ought to say words about long absences from my blog, but I’m not sure how to strike the right balance between “sorry, I was busy” and trying to write some sort of update post that summarizes everything since October. And also I should mention that I’ve been kind of depressed and not doing very much that’s exciting, in the kitchen or otherwise. This actually is IBS-related, to be honest. I’m feeling really fed up with the dietary restrictions and limits on what and when I can eat and planning my life around fiber supplements AND even with everything I’m doing, I’m not entirely symptom-free. And I feel like a bad partner to my ladyfriend, since my IBS frequently restricts our activities. Anyway. I’ve started seeing a therapist, so I’m hoping some of this will get better in the months ahead. And I’m adding blogging to the list of things that I should make time for because they me feel better about my life.

xo

Hello, Gluuteny

Once upon a time, I went to Pittsburgh. My lady has extended family there, and it’s only 4-ish hours away from DC, but she hadn’t been able to visit since she moved here a year ago. So we planned a weekend road trip over Memorial Day.

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The view outside Panorama at the Peak, Berkeley Springs, WV

I wouldn’t necessarily think of Pittsburgh as a destination for gluten-free or vegan food, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised in a lot of random cities, so I was excited to explore a new city. ALSO, my lady had planned our route to include a stop at Panorama at the Peak in Berkeley Springs, where we had dinner on New Year’s Eve. Our second visit was just as good as the first – the staff at Panorama at the Peak is so friendly and accommodating, even though we didn’t have a reservation and I had forgotten to call ahead to ask them for a gluten-free and vegan meal, their chef was able to put together a delicious stirfry with brown rice and vegetables. (For the record, they have both gluten-free and vegan menu items, but nothing on the menu was both.)

After Panorama, we drove to Cumberland to spend the night and then headed toward Pittsburgh the next morning.

So, Pittsburgh is awesome. I totally loved the rust belty feel, and having so many rivers and bridges and tunnels through the middle of the city is awesome. We had excellent tour guides who made sure we saw a lot of awesome parts of the city and found vegan options every day.

I also met my gluten-free bakery soulmate at Gluuteny in Squirrel Hill. Oh my word. Gluuteny is a small storefront, but it’s packed with amazing things to eat and everything they make is also dairy-free (but not everything is vegan). They have donuts. And brownies. They have amazing hamburger rolls. And they sell mixes you can bring home to recreate the goodness at home. The woman who was working the counter was so friendly, answered my many questions and gave us recommendations. She also shared that she is working on her gluten and dairy-free scone recipe, because at a previous job where she worked with gluten, she was known as the Scone Queen, and is ready to take back that title. So now I want to move to Pittsburgh and apprentice myself to the Scone Queen.

You can bring Gluuteny home with you! You can also order things online.

You can bring Gluuteny home with you! You can also order things online.

Oh! and the best part – Gluuteny is an affordable gf bakery. I get a little overwhelmed in bakeries, because we don’t have one quite yet in DC and I want to buy all of the things. I picked out several treats (a donut with raspberry icing,  a ginormous brownie, a cupcake for my lady, a loaf of cinnamon pound cake [omfg – so delicious], a pack of rolls for our dinner later and a hamburger bun mix to take home. Nothing had a price on it, and we admitted to each other after we left that we were both holding our breath while the total was calculated. Sarah assumed I was about to spend at least $50. I was expecting even more than that.

The actual total? $27. No, really. I’m moving to Pittsburgh.

And this weekend I finally got around to making the bread rolls from the mix I purchased. Inside the package, they had thoughtfully tucked a packet of yeast, so I only needed to provide 2 egg whites and some lukewarm water. I forgot to take a photo of the ingredient list, and it doesn’t look like it’s available online, but this is a super soft, finely ground mix of flours.

Behold! Soft peaks have formed!

Behold! Soft peaks have formed!

Bonus points for being really easy to assemble. All you do is beat the egg whites, combine the mix, yeast and water in a separate bowl and then add the egg whites to the mix. I did have to break out the electric mixer for this one, because I tried to whisk the egg whites into soft peaks and I kind of wanted to die.

I did screw up the forming of the buns, so my end result was not nearly as attractive as the photo on the package. My situation looked more like drop biscuits than burger buns, to be honest. What you’re supposed to do is oil your hands and smooth them out before they rise and then oil them again before they go in the oven. I just really hate having stuff on my hands, because I am a giant baby.

In any case, they still rose and they baked up to be light and delicious and chewy and almost as god as the ones I bought in May. I was inspired to make marinated tofu and sauteed zucchini and hummus that evening, so I could put together a sandwich worthy of these buns. No really. They’re that good.

Oooooooooh

Um, yum. They actually don’t look gluten-free at all.

Rumor has it that DC’s first proper gf bakery will be opening in Adams Morgan this summer. You can follow the adventures of Rise on facebook. In the meantime, I will happily order delicious things from Gluuteny. I’m really excited to play with their brownie mix, and they also have a general baking mix available, which seems genius. I really appreciated the accessibility and community vibe of Gluuteny. While I love Mariposa in the Bay Area a lot, they are definitely working the artisanal angle and their presentation is maybe a little more pretentious? It’s a Bay Area thing, don’t worry about it.

 

N-O-P-E nope, nope, nope

I don’t even want to talk about my trip to Atlanta last weekend. It was definitely one of the worst travel experiences I’ve had recently.

When in doubt, Mellow Mushroom is a good bet. Their gluten-free crust is now vegan, they have vegan cheese and their bbq tempeh is baller.

When in doubt, Mellow Mushroom is a good bet. Their gluten-free crust is now vegan, they have vegan cheese and their bbq tempeh is baller.

My colleagues and I were running a conference for students from several Southern states, and we had a difficult time finding a hotel that could accommodate our needs that was near downtown Atlanta. Unfortunately, the Hotel Capitol Park was not the right choice. I’ve had some amazing vegan and gluten-free meals in Atlanta, and I have learned not to make assumptions about any region of the country.

Hotels are a different story. I have had so many miserable meals in hotels – I don’t know where these chefs are trained, but it seems like they are universally confounded by the concept of non-animal protein. Also, seasoning a vegetable seems to be entirely beyond their ability.

Case in point: when we talked with the staff of the Capitol Park about our need for some vegan and vegetarian meals, we were told that they could offer these meals, but couldn’t give us any information about what the meals might be, because that is at the “discretion of the chef,” so.

Not having control of my food options for an entire weekend is a recipe for disaster. Being responsible for about 20 other people’s food as well adds an extra level of stress. And the hotel managed to screw up nearly every meal, but most especially the vegan ones.

It's like playing "What's the difference?" Meal #1...

It’s like playing “What’s the difference?” Meal #1…

The photo at left is the lunch they served on Friday afternoon, and the photo at right is the dinner. Notable similarities are the lack of any carbohydrate or protein. And that they’re basically the meal. Awesome. Thanks, guys. I mean…do we not have access to a food pyramid? Or the internet? Or a dictionary? Vegetarians don’t just eat vegetables! And if you’re going to charge $25 per person for these meals, maybe you could do a little research?

I also made some food suggestions during the planning process, and specifically said I wanted to make sure that the vegetarians got more to eat than vegetables.

And this is Meal #2!

And this is Meal #2! Are those apples? Sweet potatoes? I’m still not sure!

But I guess…at least they were cooked? (I’ve been served raw tofu at more than one hotel.) The story the banquet department gave us is that they never heard about our needs or requests and were totally unprepared to feed vegetarians or vegans on the first day. For day 2, the chef personally went out to purchase tofu and made us a stir fry with onions and peppers. It was a really nice gesture, even though the quality of the food wasn’t good.

It is really hard to stay focused and get work done when you’re not being adequately fed. And it was so frustrating to watch the vegetarians and vegans feel like they weren’t being taken care of throughout the weekend. I always travel with oatmeal packets, bagels and a couple boxes of granola bars, and this weekend, I actually finished off my entire stash of food, because this was so terrible.

We were promised vegan desserts...we got a martini glass full of raspberries...

We were promised vegan desserts…we got a martini glass full of raspberries…

There were other screw ups over the course of the weekend – and even though the staff moved quickly to try to make up for them, all of them could have been prevented.

I was also sick the entire weekend; I’m pretty sure at least some of the vegetables were cooked in butter…and I wasn’t always able to get upstairs to grab a bagel to make sure I had soluble fiber with each meal. And I shouldn’t have had to. Seriously, you guys. I organize a lot of conferences – like three or four every year. And this was the worst hotel I’ve worked with. I guess I’m just venting…but I really can’t understand why my dietary needs are so confusing for someone who ostensibly has culinary training. Especially when I manage to feed myself three times a day, 365 days a year for waaaaaaay less than $25 per meal.

Anyway, if you’re headed to Atlanta in the near future, stay anywhere but the Capitol Park. And if you have any tips for working with hotels to accommodate dietary restrictions, I would love to hear them.