Vegetarian Fare Comes of Age


Eight years ago, when Tamara Richter became a vegetarian, she had a difficult time finding restaurant meals that measured up to her standards, especially while traveling.

“Often, I had to eat appetizers as the main course,” recalled Richter, 23, who works for the Vegetarian Resource Group, a Baltimore-based nonprofit educational organization.

But no longer. “Every restaurant you go into now has at least one or two [acceptable vegetarian] choices,” she said.


Driving the vegetarian-friendly trend is the increasing number of confirmed and part-time vegetarians. About 1% of the U.S. population is vegetarian, defined as never consuming meat, fish or fowl, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, and about 500,000 of those are vegans who never consume meat, fish, fowl, dairy products or eggs. Much more common, however, are the part-timers, who for health or other reasons sometimes pass up meat, fish and fowl.

Now, new guidebooks have appeared to alert travelers to vegetarian-friendly restaurants, hotels and other accommodations. Some travel agents specialize in booking trips for vegetarian travelers. And vegetarian entrees have become more plentiful on the menus of airlines and cruise ships.

Vegetarians Jed and Susan Civic used to run Environmental Travel, a New York City travel agency. But they’ve switched their efforts, at least temporarily, to writing guidebooks for their fellow noncarnivores. Their first, “The Vegetarian Traveler” (Larson Publications, $15.95), details accommodations that cater to vegetarians in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Australia, India, Israel and Sri Lanka.

The book includes a range of options, from expensive spas to moderate hotels to inexpensive bed and breakfasts and retreats. Included is information on how much of the menu, in percentages, is vegetarian and vegan. The Civics also note whether lodgings stock toiletries that are not animal-tested, whether pillows and other furnishings are of animal origin and whether insecticides are used on the premises. (The book is available in bookstores for $20 from Larson Publications, [800] 828-2197.)

Another option is the “Vegetarian Journal’s Guide to Natural Foods Restaurants in the U.S. and Canada” (Avery Publishing Group, $14), a 295-page paperback compiled by the Vegetarian Resource Group ([410] 366-VEGE). In it is a list of more than 2,000 vegetarian and natural foods restaurants in 50 states. There also are telephone numbers for vegetarian tours, camps and organizations.

More and more travel agents are fielding requests from vegetarian clients, but only a few specialize in that area. Donna Zeigfinger of All Ways Travel in Bethesda ([800] 783-8990) provides specific advice to vegetarian clients when they book a trip. Among her tips: Travelers or their agents should try to order the type of meal preferred when booking the trip. “When you reconfirm [a flight], be sure the meal you want is there,” she said. “When you check in at the gate, tell them again.” For cruises, make the request when reserving, she advised. If that is not possible, “At check-in, see the maitre d’ and tell him [about the special diet needs].”


Cruise lines are expanding the number of vegetarian options. For example, on Holland America Line, “we have a vegetarian selection or two at every dinner,” said Janis Goller, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based cruise line. The expanded options, she said, reflect consumer demand. “A travel agent can phone in the [vegetarian] request,” she added.

Airlines also are adding choices for non-meat eaters. “We have just phased in, in February and March, some new vegetarian meals,” said Bill Dreslin, a spokesman for American Airlines. Among the new choices are a falafel sandwich, a vegetarian burrito and a vegan burger. Passengers on Northwest Airlines are offered three types of vegetarian meals, including vegan, spicy Asian vegetarian or traditional vegetarian, according to Kathy Peach, a spokeswoman.

And more help for veggie travelers is on the way. The Civics are planning a sequel to “The Vegetarian Traveler.” Until then, travelers can telephone the Vegetarian Resource Group and ask for the name of a vegetarian group in the city that they plan to visit, said Richter.

The Healthy Traveler appears the second and fourth week of every month.