During the last ten years my husband and I have been living a somewhat nomadic life and have visited 24 countries. While it has been a wonderful opportunity, and it may seem incredibly romantic, this lifestyle brings its own unique set of challenges. We’ve seen some beautiful places and had interesting and unique experiences but being on the move long-term is much different than going on a vacation.
Over the years I’ve learned that my travel experience is greatly enhanced if I take a more relaxed attitude to my diet. So generally I don’t try to eat 100 percent raw when traveling in between countries and this includes long flights. I just do the best I can and don’t worry if things aren’t perfect. Emotional stress can cause much more damage to your health than eating something you normally wouldn’t include in your diet.
Traveling as a vegan is no easy task. Trying to eat 100 percent raw is even harder in most cases. But when you are traveling by air it can be especially difficult to get what you need to stay healthy and satisfied.
Flying in itself can create a feeling of being ungrounded and traveling can often be a stressful experience for many people. In addition being exposed to the aromas of cooked foods combined with very cold cabin temperatures makes eating raw a challenge on airplanes. For this reason I will often choose a cooked vegan option on long-haul flights.
However, having said this there are lots of reasons to focus on raw food when you travel. It helps you stay hydrated, provides vitamins to support immunity and can reduce the effects of jet lag. I always make sure to eat fruit before a long flight and do my best to find fruit or fresh juice in the airport if possible.
Previously, the best choice on a long flight would be to pack a whole lot of fresh juice and take the opportunity to do a juice fast. Since the regulations have changed regarding fluids on the plane this is no longer an option.
There is still the possibility of packing your own fresh fruits and vegetables. This is something I have done in the past but personally I don’t like the idea of eating fruit after it has been through the x-ray machine, so these days I generally limit the amount of food I carry on board.
I am often surprised when people don’t realize that it is possible to order a special meal for their flight. Airlines offer a wide variety of meals to suit different dietary preferences and religions. Usually you can arrange this up to 24 hours before your flight – either online or by calling the airline directly.
While vegan airline meals can be hit-or-miss, it will generally enhance your comfort on the flight to be provided with a suitable alternative to the generic “chicken or pasta?”. Unfortunately I cannot guarantee that you will be completely satisfied. I’ve had some fantastic vegan food in the air and other meals that were inedible. But on the whole you will probably be glad you planned ahead.
To help you make the choice of special meal that will suit you the best I will outline the options for vegan airline meals that are available. Each meal has a code next to it to help ensure you order the correct meal.
Fruit Platter – FPML
The fruit platter meal is the safest option for those of you with food allergies or sensitive digestion. This is usually a plate of fresh fruits (along with the ubiquitous bread roll on the side). For some reason, no matter what type of meal you order, bread is always included. You will probably receive something like the tray below.
The one problem with the fruit platter meal is on long-haul flights when meals may only be served in six-hour intervals. In this case it is not generally enough food to keep you satisfied and could leave you hungry between meals.
If you take some dried fruit and bananas on board this could carry you over. If you are lucky enough to travel on Turkish airlines you can ask the flight attendant to bring you fresh squeezed orange juice whenever you need.
Raw Vegetarian Meal – RVML
The raw vegetarian meal usually consists of a large plate of salad along with a very small portion of fruit. Like the fruit platter this can be a great option if you want to stay raw but has the same disadvantages of potentially leaving you feeling hungry.
This is most likely going to be a plain vegetable salad with an olive oil dressing – no raw gourmet here – so you won’t get a lot of calories. However, if you can pack an avocado in your carry on bag you can turn this into quite a satisfying meal. Add some raw vegan snacks like sprouted pumpkin seeds or raw energy bars and you will be all set.
Vegan Meal – VGML
This option is a western style strict vegetarian meal – meaning it doesn’t contain dairy, eggs or honey. It isn’t that easy to predict exactly what you will receive with a vegan meal, but there is a pretty big chance that it will be pasta with tomato sauce. Depending on the airline this can vary a lot and it may also very likely be rice and (overcooked) vegetables. Along with the main meal you generally will have a small side salad and a portion of fresh fruit or a “healthy” dessert (and bread of course).
The photo at the top of this post is supposedly an example of the vegan meal on Turkish airlines. I’ve flown with Turkish several times and have never seen this exact meal, although once I did receive a mezze plate that was actually really delicious.
If you are avoiding wheat you are probably taking a gamble if you order the vegan meal. Unfortunately the airlines don’t provide a gluten-free vegan option.
Vegetarian Oriental Meal – VOML
This is a vegan meal prepared in Chinese style, which generally means rice or noodles with tofu and vegetables. Undoubtedly any soy products are going to be GMO so you will most likely want to leave the tofu on the plate. Sometimes fake meats may be used instead of tofu.
I’ve tried the vegan oriental meal a couple of times and have had mixed experiences. Once on Cathay Air they served a plate of gluey noodles with just a few mushrooms and a side salad of tofu skin. This was so awful I actually sent it back and asked the flight attendant if they had any other vegetarian meals available. Luckily they did so I didn’t go hungry.
Yet another time on Eva Air I had one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had on a plane. For breakfast there was a vegetarian congee, which is rice porridge, that came with an interesting and flavorful assortment of vegetable condiments. So you really just never know what you are going to get with special meals unfortunately. I also like Eva Air because being a Taiwan-based airline they have a really good variety of quality hot teas.
Jain Vegetarian Meal – VJML
Jainism is an Indian religion that prescribes a path of nonviolence towards all living beings. Followers adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and also avoid eating garlic, onions, mushrooms and root vegetables.
A Jain meal is prepared in Indian style so it will generally be a spicy combination of cooked vegetables, basmati rice and a legume like lentils or chickpeas. Sometimes Jain meals include Indian flat-bread instead of or in addition to the rice. This is probably the safest choice if you want a cooked vegan meal but prefer to avoid eating wheat.
The Asian Vegetarian Meal (AVML) is also prepared Indian style, however that meal differs from the Jain Meal because it often contains dairy products like paneer cheese or yogurt.
I’ve only tried the Jain meal once on Korean Air and didn’t find it to be very satisfying but I expect the experience will vary depending on which airline you are flying with.
If you don’t usually eat legumes the Jain meal might not be the best choice, since legumes are well known for being digestively challenging if you know what I mean! Not the greatest idea when in a confined space.
So there you have it! I hope this guide to vegan airline meals is helpful when you are planning your next trip.
Do you have any tips for raw vegan travel and staying healthy on long flights? If you’ve had experiences with raw and vegan airline meals I would love to hear about it.
In just a few days we are moving on again to our next destination and this time we are visiting our favorite place in the world – Thailand! We are really looking forward to the young coconuts and the amazing tropical fruit, which is some of the best in the world. The only thing is the trip to get there is quite a marathon – but it will be worth it.