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Vegan and Plastic Free travelling!
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Vegan and Plastic Free travelling!

As Marloes Reinink, Director at Solid Green, travels through the USA on her way to the Living Future Unconference 2019, she shares some of her experiences as she endeavours to remain faithful to her vegan diet and plastic-free principles.


The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) will hold its annual conference, the Living Future Unconference 2019, from 1st to 3rd May. This event leads me to Seattle, USA, a city that I have wanted to visit since I became aware of the Bullitt Center – the very first FULL Living Building Challenge certified commercial building. As an LBC ambassador in South Africa, I regularly present on this case study, and am really looking forward to actually visiting this truly regenerative building – a building that gives back more to the environment than it takes from the Earth. And, as an eager traveller, I have used this opportunity to plan a 3-week trip with my husband.

The Bullitt center

I have been vegetarian for more than twenty years and fully vegan for the last two years. I have made this choice on principle as I do not want any animal to suffer or die just so that I can eat dairy or a piece of meat. Also, due to not eating or buying any animal products, my footprint on this earth is considerably lower (about 1/3) than that of a meat eater. And, provided you eat a balanced wholefood diet and stay away from unhealthy processed vegan fast food, a vegan or plant-based diet is generally much better for your health.

Another thing that I am quite obsessed with is reducing the amount of plastic that enters our lives and ends up on landfills. At home, we recycle (although most plastic in RSA is not even recyclable), but also try to actively reduce the amount of plastic that we purchase. I try to avoid supermarket chains as much as possible, as everything is wrapped in plastic at least once, if not twice. So, our weekly shopping takes place at Carreira Fruit and Vegetables Centre in Randburg. Not everything is plastic-free, but a lot of vegetables and fruits can be bought with considerably less plastic packaging.

Our USA travel plan included a flight from Johannesburg to New York where we stayed for a couple days with friends before flying to the West Coast; then a road trip from Phoenix (Arizona) via Las Vegas to San Francisco, Portland and, finally, Seattle. While booking my flights – a really good deal via Nairobi with Kenya Airways – I obviously ticked the box for vegan meals and did not give the matter another thought until check-in time. But, for some reason, vegan meals had only been booked on the way back to Johannesburg, not on the way to NYC. Aaarrrggghhh!! Luckily, I had bought ready-made vegan meals at one of the supermarkets that I usually try to avoid.

Avoiding plastic on the flight was a difficult experience. For every beverage, you are supplied with yet another plastic cup. I tried to re-use the one cup that I accepted as much as possible, every time I needed a refill of water – this did raise some eyebrows! If you accept a cup for every drink on a long-haul flight, you can easily end up with 8 cups. Plus, there is so much plastic on the food tray that I really had to admire Bea Johnson, author of ‘Zero Waste Home’. If you have not yet read this highly informative and inspiring book, please do so!

New York City is easy for vegan and plastic-free obsessed people like me…if you do not opt for too many takeaways. When we do buy takeaways, we have developed the habit of bringing our own bag and asking servers NOT to add napkins and cutlery. This saves a lot of unnecessary single-use plastic.

After NYC, we fly to Phoenix, where we meet the architects, A-I-R Inc, who are working on our Living Building Challenge projects in Cape Town. And then we move on to the Grand Canyon. We decide against stopping at Trader Joe’s, which turns out to be a big mistake. Trader Joe’s is a great, affordable supermarket where you can get everything you need including a lot of vegan foods. So, while we are staying in a little town close to the Grand Canyon, all I can eat is potato-based stuff! No fresh vegetables to be found within a 100-mile radius – seriously! Steakhouses, on the other hand, are plentiful, so I eat potato wedges, potato fries and potato hash browns. Despite this, the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring and so worthwhile, even on a potato diet.

Some interesting things that I have noted in the USA:

  • There is no littering. Every street is clean. This might be partly due to the 1000 USD (ZAR 14000!!!) littering fine if you get caught!
  • San Francisco is a very vegan-friendly city and has a wide range of options to eat or takeaway. Even on the road trip along the West Coast towards Portland, most of the supermarkets, even in the tiniest towns, have vegan options available.
  • Plastic is abundantly available, and everything is covered in plastic. I was obliged to relax my obsession in order to preserve my sanity.
  • Very few fast food chains have vegan options. I believe that Burger King has introduced the ‘Impossible Whopper’ with the Impossible Burger (vegan meat alternative) but, sadly, this has not yet reached the cities we visited. In this respect, Steers’ vegan burger is a front runner. In NYC, we had some Beyond Sushi which is a plant-based sushi brand (LOVED IT!).
  • America has a very consumer-oriented lifestyle, which is very heavy on the environment. It was especially clear in Las Vegas, which has a “consume as much as you can” attitude.

As we continue through Crescent City (Redwood Forest area) on our way towards Portland via Crater Lake, I am overwhelmed by the amazing natural beauty – which might even be able to match some parts of South Africa!

For more on the Living Future Unconference 2019, stay tuned…. to be continued…!

1 Comment

  1. Michelle Ludwig says:

    Trip looks amazing! Super nice pic of the Grand Canyon.
    Well done on sticking to your principles (as much as you can and where you can).

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