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Would You Eat This Pig?

If not, you aren't alone. Vegetarians are finding a full plate of options in the travel world.

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page P01

At the White Pig Bed and Breakfast in Schuyler, Va., Norman was not on the breakfast menu.

The senior pig in the pen is, however, a main feature at the Charlottesville-area inn, even if he isn't served on a plate. Norman, the property's namesake, is the star of feeding time (look for the dirty white pot-bellied pig who hobbles around the yard like Pavarotti in stilettos). The innkeepers will gladly tell you about his tough childhood in urban New York and his move to spacious, green Virginia. After seeing his piglet pictures, I was thankful that the glistening "sausage" links crowning my pancakes did not have a name, except for Meat Substitute.

_____Vegetarian Travel_____
Main Story
Vegetarian Vacations, Travel Resources
Tips for Vegetarian Travelers

No need to starve yourself or eat dinner from the hotel vending machine when traveling. Here are some tips gleaned from frequent vegetarian travelers to help keep you sated on the road.

When making your plane reservation, order (and later reconfirm) a vegetarian meal. Options include lacto-vegetarian, vegan and Asian vegetarian. Some carriers offer religious and medical categories that work just as well for non-meat eaters. Caveat: Due to budgetary cuts, many airlines have phased out these (and all) meals.

Pack portable foods such as cereals, sports bars, trail mix, bread, fruits, nuts and raw vegetables. Bring small plastic bags and takeout containers for easier transport (grab cutlery and napkins from fast-food restaurants). If your hotel has a fridge, throw some perishables into the mix. Consider traveling with a cooler, or improvise with an ice bucket and a plastic bag.

If you're part of a package tour, let the group leader know pre-departure that you are vegetarian. If you're traveling independently, search for veggie-friendly restaurants before you arrive (see Resources, Page P7) or call ahead to the restaurant to inform the kitchen of your needs. At smaller places, you might be able to go into the kitchen and play show-and-tell with the chef.

For desperation dinners, whip up a batch of soup in your hotel room. Try a soup cup (add boiling water from the coffeepot) or a flip-top can of soup (cook it on the coffeepot warmer).

Learn to say "no meat" in the language of your destination. Also learn the words for chicken, cow, pig and fish, so you can spot them on a menu. Make or buy flash cards with pictures of animals and sealife so you can point at what you don't eat. The "Vegan Passport" includes translations in 38 languages, plus pictures (see Resources, Page P7).

Book a condo or hotel room with a kitchenette. White Pig B&B owner Dina Brigish seeks out apartments near health food stores (which she finds online), so she doesn't have to lug her groceries far.

For cruises, call before you leave and tell someone of authority, such as the dining room manager or the special services desk, about your diet. (Ditto for smaller hotels and inns.) It's best to speak to a crew member before the ship departs, in case they have to make a quick run to the health food store. Once on board, double-check with the purser or dining room manager to be sure your request has been heard.

Seek out cuisines that have veg-friendly options. These include Asian (in Western countries), Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian and Italian. Vegetarian- friendly countries include the United Kingdom (lots of Indian eateries), Kenya (ditto), India (big Hindu community), Belize (large Indian and Asian populations), Puerto Rico (many Japanese restaurants) and Costa Rica (lard is not a staple). Tougher spots are Asia, where it's common to cook rice and soups with chicken, fish and beef stock; Eastern Europe, slow in the health-food trend; and Germany, with wurst of every kind.

-- Andrea Sachs

Hal and Dina Brigish, the husband-and-wife proprietors of the three-guestroom hillside house, are strict vegans who take in pigs that are abused, abandoned or slated for the frying pan. Their 13 full-time boarders have the good life: The pigs loaf around in the leafy yard, roll in the mud when the sun heats up, chase each other with childlike glee and grunt with pleasure when scratched by human hands. Norman, in frail health, is not as playful as the others, but after 14 years of lugging around that belly, he deserves some rest.

The only made-of-mammal accouterment at the Brigishes' environmentally conscious retreat is a wool rug left behind by past owners. (Dina Brigish says she doesn't have the heart to throw it away and disrespect the sheep that sacrificed its coat.) All the toiletries, candles, blankets and cleaning products are animal-free, as are all the meals. For vegetarian travelers, that's like finding nirvana.

"What I hear over and over again from guests is, 'It's so nice to not have to ask what's in the food, or to explain myself, or to give you a list of my do's and don'ts, " says Brigish, 36, who is also a trained chef. "I opened the B&B because I wanted to serve an underserved, or a not-served, market."

That market could feasibly include 5.7 million people, the number of vegetarians in America for 2003, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, a nonprofit organization in Baltimore that educates the public about the veggie lifestyle. Of those, about half are vegans -- people who not only don't eat meat but will not consume, use or wear any animal products. Though there are no hard figures on vegetarian travelers, Donna Zeigfinger, who runs Green Earth Travel, a Cabin John vegetarian travel agency, estimates that 80 percent of those millions go off to explore the world, or at least the next state over.

"Most people travel at some point in their lives," says Zeigfinger, a vegan who started her business in 1986. "If [vegetarians] really want to go see a new city or country, they're not going to starve. They just might not get the best food."

But the vittles are definitely improving. Two decades ago, a vegetarian meal on the road might include such red-meat alternatives as chicken or fish -- equally forbidden foods for traditional vegetarians (some people use the label even if they still eat fowl and fish). Or, the hotel chef might simply pull the steak off the plate and fan out the vegetable sides. In addition, to track down veggie restaurants in new destinations, travelers would have to contact that region's local vegetarian or animal-rights group for suggestions.

All that is different now. Much like the industry's growing awareness, and accommodation, of smaller-sector travelers -- i.e., offering shared rooms to single travelers or low-carb menus to Atkins adherents -- the travel world is catching on to the needs of the non-meat-eating contingent.

"Vegetarianism used to be more of a fringe diet and not part of the mainstream. In the last 20 years, it's become a lot more acceptable and easier to be a vegetarian no matter where you go," says John Cunningham, consumer research manager of the Vegetarian Resource Group. "Cruise ships and other places like package tours are now pretty good at catering to vegetarians. There is even a whole section of the travel industry that specializes in vegetarian travel."

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