I was lucky enough to acquire a signed copy of Will Travel for Vegan Food, by Kristin M. Lajeunesse from my co-worker at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Emily. Knowing of my passionate love for veganism, Emily thought of me when she came across the book.
There are countless warnings in the beginning of this book that tell the reader this is not a book of reviews of vegan restaurants. It is the story of author Lajeunesse’s journey to eat at all of the vegan restaurants in the United States. She completed her journey over the course of two years in an old van she named Gerty. In spite of that disclaimer, I was still anticipating more foodie talk than the book provides. However, once I accepted the format of the book, I was happy with the balance of internal dialogues, personal details, and travel stories.
Until I picked up this book, I had been unfamiliar with Lajeunesse’s blog, wtfveganfood.com. I am so happy this book introduced me to the plethora of vegan restaurant reviews that are available there. It was, however, a little disappointing to learn that Kristin has since decided not to finish writing reviews of restaurants that she traveled to, basically excluding the west coast (at least for now).
In any case, here are some of the valuable lessons to take from this book:
- Self-discovery and introspection are valuable tools for growing, and can come in different forms.
- Getting out of our comfort zone is often worth the new experiences we encounter.
- It is possible to live the life we dream of with hard work and determination.
Self-discovery is a huge part of the book. In fact, at times it felt quite a bit like reading a diary—a little too much so for my taste. At first, I found this quality pretty annoying. I think I was so critical of the book’s diary-esque characteristics because I tend to write the same way (and I’m often critical of myself!). When we start reading someone else’s deep thoughts, it’s often easy to dismiss anything we don’t agree with, or to disregard a thought as something we may have already mulled over and so do not feel we need to think about anymore. I find that being open to listening to someone else’s perspective is valuable when I catch myself being dismissive.
One common theme Kristin kept coming back to was her tendency before this trip to jump from one serious, committed relationship to another. Throughout her mostly solo journey, she learns to wean herself from needing that kind of relationship and even discusses her newfound positive attitude toward open relationships. This portion of the book did not resonate with me very much. Someone looking at my life from the outside could diagnose my relationship history as similar—I was a serial monogamist until I found my forever life partner. Happily married as I am, hearing about Lajeunesse’s conviction to break her relationship addiction didn’t convince me to leave my marriage or start swinging. It is valuable, however, to be reminded of the separation between our connection to others and our own self-worth or happiness. It is also a nod to an alternative way of living, just like veganism is considered to be. I read some reviews of this book that felt Lajeunesse discussing her sex life was TMI. In the end, I found myself disagreeing with that assessment. I thought that her treatment of sex was relevant and well-written throughout the book.
There were some times where I felt the introspection emphasized so often in the book bordered on gratuitous self-obsession. In those moments, I usually found that I was grappling with the privilege underscoring the text. Kristin completed her journey via her own funds and donations via a Kickstarter page. Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t help but be irked by that. I see her experience as valuable not only to herself but to the vegan community. She uses the book to explain how she came to veganism and how her views on aspects of her life have changed since she became vegan, especially her equestrian past. However, it was hard for me to not see her experience as a privileged white female (I say as a privileged white female) traveling and eating at vegan restaurants, sometimes with the aid of others, as a semi-negative thing. I found myself imagining the funds Lajeunesse used for her travels going toward animal welfare charities. On the other hand, I can dismiss my own criticisms by seeing the value in the publicity this book brings to the vegan community. For me, being a vegan who prepares most of my own meals, eating at restaurants is a luxury I cannot afford most of the time. I can set aside my view of eating out as indulgent and appreciate that so many people working in the food industry are now trying to push the general public toward an animal cruelty-free diet. By putting cruelty-free eating in the forefront of restaurant culture, the vegan restaurant community can ultimately make vegan food accessible to those who can afford it.
“I found myself imagining the funds Lajeunesse used for her travels going toward animal welfare charities.”
Putting my criticisms aside, I enjoyed reading about Kristin’s journey. The impact of the trip on her life and on those she encountered along the way was evident. Her descriptions of food painted vivid, delicious pictures of the restaurants she visited. In her travels, she covered an impressively broad spectrum of vegan cuisine. The hiccups of the trip served to make the narrative relatable and showcased Lajeunesse’s determination to complete her goal. Kristin’s discussion of her own self-doubt and her experience of feeling discouraged and worn down will be relatable to any reader, especially those of us who have ever gone outside of our comfort zone to accomplish a goal or dream. I admire Kristin Lajeunesse for persevering and continuing to spread the message of how awesome it is to be vegan.
Will Travel for Vegan Food: A Young Woman’s Solo Van-Dwelling Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love is available on Amazon.com and at most major book retailers.