Travelling With Veggies

I am trying to do two almost incompatible things at once: drive up the east coast of Australia, stopping where and when the fancy takes us, while trying to switch to a healthier diet.

A Lovely Liver For A Goose

My doctor tells me my liver is enlarged. Or as he put it, “If you were a French goose I’d say your liver was amazing.”

I need to increase my activity levels, lose at least 10% of my body weight (slooowly), and change my diet. This is not a matter of choice: it is imperative.

Lots of fruits and vegetables, high-fibre plants like legumes and whole grains, very little added sugar or salt, no trans fat, refined carbohydrates, or saturated fat, and above all, no alcohol

All processed and refined foods (white flour goods like breads, cakes, pasta are out). This is a bit harder, since I love bread, lollies and cakes. But its not really that taxing. I can still have chicken, turkey and fish (just not fried), potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggs…

However, finding dishes that fit the criteria in restaurants is not easy.

Self-catering versus restaurants

Shopping and cooking for ourselves wouldn’t be too much of a problem, except… we’re travelling. For several months. Staying in motels and AirBnBs.

Let’s start with motels. In most, you might get a toaster, kettle, fridge, and maybe a coffee machine. But microwaves are becoming rare. As are tables and chairs you can sit at to eat. The best most will offer is a “breakfast bar”, with rock hard bum-numbing stools.

A couple of plates, coffee mugs, maybe a couple of bowls, knives, forks and spoons. If you’re happy with toast and cereal for brekkie, fine. Except most breakfast cereals are stiff with salt and sugar – even the ‘worthy’ ones – and artisanal wholemeal sourdough breads are as rare as hen’s teeth in most Aussie towns. And you can forget about preparing any kind of lunch or evening meal, except salad. But remember – no deli items.

Café food

The alternative is café food. Most cafes do now offer one or two veggie breakfast options. They tend to substitute fried halloumi slices for bacon (fried, plus salt galore), or include feta cheese (better), and two, three or more of the following: seared tofu, roasted pumpkin, beetroot, kale, quinoa, mushrooms (roasted if you’re lucky, otherwise fried), roasted red peppers… you get the picture.

The same items turn up with monotonous regularity in lunch and dinner options, too, either on the burger menu (described as a ‘stack’), or (in Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and the like), dropped into the sauce of your choice.

For example, your “Curry” might come as either Beef / Pork / Chicken / Prawn / Fish / Veg & Tofu. Three times now – in one Chinese and two Thai restaurants, in different cities – my Veg & Tofu option has arrived with the vegetables still raw. ‘Al dente’ I do not mind, but not raw, please. In one instance it arrived with chicken: the waitress said she thought I must have made a mistake in asking for tofu!

On another note may I add that since leaving Canberra I have not eaten a single dish claiming to include chili that was anything more than very faintly warm. Even when I specified ‘hot’.

In Batemans Bay the supposed “Best Thai Restaurant” (according to Trip Advisor) even had a whole page headed “Dishes Without Any Chilli”, which should have been fair warning.

One last point: a hell of a lot of restaurant food is fried. For example, try asking for boiled or mashed potatoes instead of fried in almost any cafe.

AirBnB

So, motels make good eating very difficult – and our husband grumpy, as I will explain. The alternative to motels is short stay apartments, with fully-equipped kitchens (and laundry appliances!).

Here you have a choice between fancy agencies on, e.g., Booking.Com, or AirBnB.

So far, we’ve had one superb, sleek, black leather and chrome high rise inner city, spacious, with great views, but fairly expensive (Booking.Com). And one “living in your mum’s basement with grans old furniture”, which is cheap, but a tad gloomy and musty. Fortunately, our hosts are super friendly (“We’re just going out for the day, we’ll be back at five, feel free to use upstairs while we’re out”).

The problem here is that we are now self-catering, and neither of us wants to spend every mealtime cooking. I’m certainly not going to bake my own bread, as I normally do at home, or lay in my usual extensive stock of herbs and spices to make pulses etc yummy. Which takes us back to restaurants again.

Grumpy man

The problem is compounded by a grumpy husband who has no wish to change his diet at all, demanding steaks, and refusing to enter any 100% vegetarian/vegan restaurants. In fact, he refuses to choose any restaurant at all.

You’re the one who wants to change your diet. It’s very irritating when I pick a restaurant and you go, ‘but there’s nothing I can eat’. Fine. From now on, you pick a restaurant that sells something you can eat. And I’ll eat around you.”

Useless to point out that my change of diet isn’t a matter of choice, but of medical necessity. Useless to suggest that perhaps he could research some restaurants where we are staying and make suggestions. No. So it’s up to me.

Breakfast like a king

Just one more complication to add to the mix: because I also have diverticular and reflux, I am advised to ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper”.  Hubby, however, has no appetite in the morning, and wants a big meal at night.

We will work it out, as we always do. But right now it’s hard.

Diet ins and outs

These are the basic for a fatty liver diet,

Must include

  1. Coffee
  2. Cruciferous Greens
  3. Tofu
  4. Oily Fish
  5. Wholegrains
  6. Walnuts
  7. Avocado
  8. Milk
  9. Sunflower seeds
  10. Olive oil
  11. Garlic
  12. Green tea

Luckily, I already enjoy most of these.  

Must exclude

  1. Alcohol
  2. Sugar, especially candy, cookies, sodas, and fruit juices
  3. Fried foods
  4. Salt
  5. White bread, rice, and pasta
  6. Red meat
  7. Processed meats
  8. Animal fats

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)