When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.
-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America
Last week I turned 28, and while it’s long way from fifty-eight, the opening paragraph of Steinbeck’s travelogue gives me chills without fail. Yes, I am frequently moved by the written word (and by moved I mean devastated when I reach the last word of particularly delicious novel). Literature will forever be my first love (sorry to food, Louis Pug, and soon-to-be-J.D.). Much of that love stems from purely selfish reasons. Stories provide the ultimate escape, a way to cure that itch that Steinbeck describes so well. My younger self would often sneak books under desks during class and behind lunch bags during lunch.
When I first discovered road trip writing, I thought my head would explode with joy. When I took an undergraduate lit course entitled “Writing the Road Trip Novel,” my head did explode. Writers tend to be a bunch of wanderer-types by definition, so it’s fitting that so many of them (us) fantasize about life on the road. Much of what was written about driving this country became classic American stories of what America means and what it means to be American. Faced with hundreds of miles of empty road in front of you, with the promise of rest stops marking down the miles, you have a lot of time to contemplate such major questions.
As every road tripper knows, you rarely come to any profound conclusions, but you do end up with a collection of tidbits, pieces of the puzzle, stories to fill in your version of the American life. You might even get a sign:
That’s what I want to do with the Vegan Across America series: (b)log my travels as a vegan in our inspiring and often mysterious country. As a lifelong, largely liberal east coast gal, I’m not afraid to admit that I, like many of us, became ensconced in my views of what this country is. You’ve probably heard it all before, and you know where I’m going: we’re not just two coasts with land smashed in the middle — even if the news, the politicians, and the movies want us to believe that to be the truth.
Much has been written about traveling our country by road, and my meager exploration is really an ode to all the writers who came before. But there’s one area in which I have the greats beat: little (that I know of) has been written about life on the road as a vegan. Food is often how we distinguish our county’s varied regions. Name a state and you can probably name their culinary claim to fame. Food is culture. What we eat says a great deal about who we are, whether we like to admit it or not. As an American who came to a new sense of self-acceptance and awareness with the decision to go vegan, what I eat defines me now more than ever.
It was with such an astute awareness that I set off on a much anticipated cross-country road trip from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles this fall. My travel companion, Tommy Bean, and I were driven (ha) by a mission: understand what it means to be vegan in every state along the way. And when we couldn’t eat at a vegan, or vegan-friendly, restaurant, we vowed to pack makeshift picnic lunches in our trusty cooler. Not gonna lie. Some meals involved Subway and sad, sad veggies eaten while zipping through the glorious oddness that is Texas. Many meals involved burnt coffee from paper cups; coffee was lightened with our stockpile of coconut creamer. There were vegan desserts, sandwiches, kelp noodles, and a few naked children (products of a go-with-the-flow community that we saw at the bottom of Sedona’s red rocks, a backdrop so breathtaking in its fiery jagged edges that I sometimes can’t even believe it was real).
City by city, town by town, highway by freeway, I’ll try to give you an idea of what vegan looks like – from Asheville, NC to Laguna Beach, CA. I’ll recaps trips I’ve already taken and take off in my tired car (6,000 miles of United States highway will do that) in search of new routes. Though food and meal recaps will play a large role in this experient, I also plan to explore what it means to be from a town where McDonalds and Wal-Mart are literally your only options for food, as well as the ramifications of being the only vegan, or vegan-friendly, establishment in an entire town. I’ll probably do yoga, buy books, and wander around like the aimless human I am.
Whether I’ll come to any conclusions remains to be seen. I’m no Kerouac, Steinbeck or Thompson.
But I am a vegan, and I have an incurable disease to drive.
Hope you enjoy the ride.