It’s time to celebrate, as 2021 marks my 30 years as a vegan! When I changed my diet, I had already been a vegetarian for many years since I was four. This lifelong calling was motivated by compassion for the animals. Later in college, I learned about the health and environmental reasons to avoid dairy, eggs, and all animal products and quickly transitioned to a vegan way.
Some people find the lifestyle limiting and certain vegans too preachy. But that is evolving as climate change and health concerns have moved to the forefront, putting the plant-based diet into the spotlight. The world of herbivorous options has expanded incredibly in these three decades. Fast-food chains are selling vegan burgers, pizza, burritos, and more, and some restaurants have vegan sections of their menus.
It’s also a joy to see all the advances in food products. In the 1990s, non-dairy cheeses were wet and unappealing; today numerous tasty brands and varieties exist. Plant-based ice creams have totally transformed from strangely-textured rice-based products to creamy coconut and soy-based wonders available in dozens of flavors. Mainstream grocery stores and natural foods retailers carry everything from great vegan cookies and delicious milk and meat alternatives to non-dairy mac and cheese.
Besides enjoying the health and other benefits of the diet, being true to myself has been rewarding and there have been heartwarming moments over the years. Recently several young people have given me wonderful compliments and even bowed in front of me for the discipline it has taken to be vegan for so long and for being a trendsetter. Over the years, many friends and family members have made my day contacting me with news of their transition to meatless meals. The growing cultural acceptance of veganism is uplifting!
Playa del Carmen in Mexico’s lovely state of Quintana Roo has become a travel favorite for us. Even with the humid heat, mosquitos, and occasional sargassum (thick seaweed in the ocean), it is an attractive and fun place to visit. While the pandemic was slowly improving, the bustling city had mostly returned to its usual state, with hundreds of businesses to explore. I had fun discovering various new veggie-friendly restaurants and stores, along with relocations and changes to existing favorites.
Vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians alike can have a blast taking a tour of the several health-conscious places all within walking distance of each other. Basic Foodie, which makes delicious sandwiches and vegan pastries, moved to a nice indoor/outdoor space on Avenida 25. If you are seeking soy products and dairy-free cheeses, a new store called Diosa Vegana is steps away.
Bio-Organicos, a tasty Playa hangout, added a bright second location with the “Bio-Organicos Light” store on Avenida 25, offering nutritious products and a scaled-down version of their restaurant menu. A few doors away in the cute Mercado 30 building, vegans rejoicing at both Peace and Bowl and Bajo Café can also cool down from the tropical heat with a drink from Diosa Organics Kombucha. An additional highlight on Calle 30 is Naia Gourmet, selling bread, almond butter, chia seeds, cacao nibs, and the like. Farmers Market Playa (on Avenida 30 across from DAC, another good site for healthy groceries) also offers fresh produce and vegan cheeses and burgers. Dessert lovers must not miss Panneria on Calle 34 for an excellent array of vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free cakes, cookies, and other treats.
When in the north part of Playa del Carmen, Olio Mercado Vegano on Calle 38 is a worthwhile stop to purchase desserts, protein powder, snacks, and such. Not far from the beach are some great eateries for herbivores, such as La Cueva del Chango on Calle 38, which not only has a vegan portion of the menu but a beautifully dreamy tree-filled ambiance. For high-quality plant-based burgers, omelets, soups, cookies (pictured), and beyond, The Pitted Date on nearby Calle CTM is a must. When on Calle CTM, look for Aryan, a newer Indian restaurant dishing up flavorful foods.
Be sure to use Happycow.net and Google to find veggie favorites, and ask other travelers and locals about additional places. There are many more eateries than what I have listed here!
It is worthwhile to take advantage of any techniques that help us slow down and savor the moments in our fast-paced lives. Whether we twist ourselves into unimaginable yoga poses, walk along a beach, or sit still for a few moments of peace, self-care is always beneficial. For thousands of years across the world, sipping on a cup of tea has been one way that people have relaxed. Teas also offer many herbal properties that I love to put to use. Mint and ginger soothe stomachaches, lavender and chamomile calm our nerves, and African rooibos (a red bush) gives a little buzz without the side effects of caffeine. Modern life even has instant water heating devices that make boiling water incredibly easy and fast.
Also, tea can have sentimental meaning for some people. Over the years, my sister Blair and I have added a personal touch to our letters by inserting tea bags into the envelopes sent across the country. When my other younger sister Tara moved to London she sweetly gifted me with a wooden box, and I immediately filled the little sections with various flavored tea bags. Now, something as simple as drinking a cup of the hot beverage feels like a special ritual. Tea, anyone?
I will travel miles for quality chocolate and vegan food, even through hordes of pedestrians, fruit and vegetable vendors, and a zoo of honking cars. So yesterday my love and I made our way through the center of Tijuana near the famous and bustling Avenida Revolucion because surprisingly that’s where you’ll find a peaceful and charming family business. The minute you walk it feels like a retreat from the craziness outside, as you are welcomed by the friendly Mexican owners and taken by the colorful art and hats all around.
Casa Cacao features the beloved food of Mexico’s Oaxaca region and honors the health benefits of cacao, full of antioxidants and known for lowering blood pressure, improving digestion, lowering the risk of heart disease and stress, and beyond. The menu includes some vegan options such as tamales with mole negro, a hot artisanal chocolate chai drink, and delicious coffees. We loved chatting with the owner Jose Luis, who recently became vegan as part of his efforts to improve his health and lose weight. I can’t wait to go back; it looks like a great place to have a celebration with a group of loved ones.
After more than a year of the pandemic, we were ready to explore new sites rather than feeling cooped up at home. Once the sunny spring hit, we chose an overnight journey to the Southern California desert with its expansive mountain views. Our road trip to the Desert Hot Springs area entailed several hours of driving but was worth it for the getaway to some relaxing and beautiful mineral hot springs. We also did a bit of sightseeing in nearby Palm Springs, a special family hub where my dad and grandparents lived for years and I often visited as a child.
To add to the fun, I usually support any veggie businesses possible when visiting a new city. Chef Tanya’s Kitchen makes a tasty meatless Chupacabra Chick’n wrap, which hit the spot. Those who go to the Palm Springs location (pictured) can take their food to go or grab one of a few tables outside, along with enjoying a small vegan grocery store with unique products.
For those exploring the north end of Baja California, Valle de Guadalupe is a must-see wine valley approximately an hour from coastal Ensenada or about a two-hour drive from San Diego. There are over 100 wineries in the region, but you don’t have to drink alcohol to soak up the sun and enjoy the beautiful mountain landscapes. Fellow plant-based friends and I found cauliflower steaks and delicious pizza at the lovely, open-air Coraza Restaurante. Later we watched the sunset and walked around the attractive property at Casa Frida, which has various mostly outdoor restaurants/ bars. Getting a dose of nature, tranquility, and local culture is worth the drive.
Rescue Chocolate is not only organic, vegan, and fair-traded, but the company gives 100% of the net profits to animal rescue groups around the U.S.! Each delicious flavor represents a different rescue issue, and the chocolate bar names are creative, such as Foster-iffic Peppermint, educating people about the need for pet foster homes. Or try Forever Mocha, a bar highlighting that pets require a lifetime commitment.
Within the eco-friendly packaging, you’ll find some crafty snacks. The Mission Feral Fig bar has big, beautifully visible pieces of almonds and dried figs. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Rescue Chocolate can cater baby showers, weddings, or other events. Buy the products online or contact the company regarding mail orders. You can even have the tasty products shipped to Canada and some countries in Europe. Sarah Feoli, the founder of Rescue Chocolate, also actively plans vegetarian events around the U.S.
Updated January 5, 2021:
Playa del Carmen, a hot and humid city in Mexico’s Riviera Maya known for gorgeous beaches and its buzzing La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue), is like a vegan utopia. One could go out to eat regularly and find meals, snacks, and drinks to enjoy, whether in fully-veggie eateries or at mainstream restaurants and cafes designating vegan meals on their menus. Many tasty spots are within walking distance of the center of town.
There are places with vegan pizza, tamales, tacos, homemade bread, Thai food, gluten-free waffles, and smoothies galore. Cafes regularly offer alternative milks (“leche vegetal”) from coconut to soy to almond as well as acai and other fruit bowls.
Note: as of January 2021, there have been various changes to the veggie-friendly eateries in Playa del Carmen. It’s best to check with the businesses directly, but here are a few updates. Clorofila Green & Vegan has shut down. La Senda Vegana and Madre Milpa, its successor, have closed. Visitors can enjoy Panneria at its new location on Calle 34, and the establishment has started serving pizza along with a range of delicious vegan keto treats. Ta’consciente is only selling packaged products to go for the moment.
These photos represent a sampling of all the great spots in the area! Also check out Bio-Organicos, The Pitted Date, Fresco Habito, Jonny Como Pizza, Basic Foodie, Bajo Cafe, Ah Cacao (for Mayan chocolate treats), Sushi Playa, and Fritxs (delivery only), along with many other places listed on HappyCow.
Mexico is highly enticing. Not only are the people warm and the landscapes beautiful and diverse, but the tasty food is famous worldwide. The colorful, vibrant streets and plazas are just some of the charms the country offers.
There aren’t words to describe the outstanding scenery in Kauai, Hawaii!
Even after having been there numerous times because my Los-Angeles based family made the island home many years ago, it is always incredible to see a rainbow and the lush green mountains pouring down into the sea filled with colorful fish. It just brings calm to your soul and is so much more than what it seems in the movies.
One of my favorite places to eat on the island will always be my parents’ Postcards Restaurant (formerly Postcards Cafe) in Hanalei on the island’s North Shore, not far from Princeville. They serve international dishes, many with fish, and the place is very veggie-friendly; just ask the server for options.