Vegan Las Vegas!

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Apparently, I’m one of those annoying people who starts a blog and then never updates it. Well, anyway, let’s recap highlights from the last year:

  • Finished my Dale Carnegie course without getting kicked out for excessive amounts of sarcasm (I actually started looking forward to the weekly meetings).
  • Voted for and then celebrated the election of President Obama.
  • Got pneumonia. Slowly recovered from pneumonia after a couple of months.
  • Got married to my best friend after 6 LONG YEARS of cohabitation. Ya, we’re exactly the same post marriage as pre marriage.
  • Went Vegan.
  • Presented at IgniteBend 2. I was 2nd in the 2nd half. “How cupcakes inspired a conversation about pregnant cows & milk at my wedding party; or the joys of a Vegan (plant-based) diet.”
  • Got sick of Twitter about the one year mark. Kept tweeting anyway.
  • Started exercising again.
  • Started yoga.
  • Started hanging out with the Bend VegNet folks.
  • Survived having my step-kids for the entire summer.
  • Climbed a mountain (South Sister).
  • Recently went to the SharePoint Conference 2009 in Las Vegas with my pal Jen.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of exciting stuff, I know, but hey, I had to get some work in there too. And I’ve probably forgotten quite a bit.

The SharePoint Conference, Las Vegas was the hardest test yet of my vegan life. I blogged about the techy-geeky stuff last week, but I promised a few people I’d also blog about the food side of it. And what better day to blog about it, than on World Vegan Day.

In short, finding food sucked, and I was hungry and unsatisfied all week. I used to travel a fair bit for work, but it was to Seattle and usually at Microsoft campuses. So even before I was completely vegan, I could easily find vegetarian or vegan meals either at Microsoft or at many other restaurants in the area. The Microsoft cafes are very good about labeling all the food with vegetarian or vegan signs and providing easy to find ingredients lists – and some of the cafeterias actually have an entire vegan section. So I guess I assumed that a Microsoft conference would be the same, especially when they listed “vegan” as one of the choices on the registration.

Uh. I was wrong, very wrong. (I want to say upfront that every request I made of the catering staff was polite and respectful – I was not interested in giving anybody a hard time. I just wanted to eat according to my preference – a preference that I had chosen during registration. As I repeatedly stated, I would have made other arrangements if I had known that vegan meals would not in fact have been available.) The first day of the conference at The Mandalay Bay I arrived for breakfast. There were buffet lines of breakfast foods – fruit, pastries, bread, etc. Nothing was labeled. Teas and coffee with creamer and milk were set out (but no soy milk or other alternative). I loaded up a plate with fruit, a peanut butter packet, some jam, and a whole-wheat looking bread that I hoped might be vegan. Then I asked my server what the vegan option for breakfast was. She said she’d check with the kitchen. At least 15 minutes went by. I asked another server if they knew what happened to server #1 and again explained my request. That server disappeared. Eventually server #1 came back. She said there was nothing vegan available. I asked her if she could at least please let me know if there were dairy products in any of the bread (there were several types). After disappearing for another long while, she came back and told me that the bread I had chosen did in fact have dairy in it. At this point, it was time for my first conference session, so I ate a little more fruit and some of the peanut butter, and then went on to the conference, hungry. Then I tweeted about it.

Lunch was no better. Upon arriving, I immediately asked my server what the vegan option for lunch was. He disappeared for a while. I went through the line and chose some salad and a wrap that was labeled “vegetarian.” The server checked in with me frequently. I must say, the catering staff were at all times very friendly and polite with me, and busted their butts trying to figure out if, in fact, the kitchen had any plans at all for vegan options. They even suggested that I go ahead and eat the wrap contents if I wanted, but not the tortilla, as they didn’t know the tortilla ingredients. My server eventually came back to tell me (at least a 1/2 hour had gone by since I had arrived for lunch) that he could not get the kitchen to provide me anything for lunch. He was clearly mortified at his kitchen. Then he introduced me to the head honcho guy with the microphone who was coordinating the catering. That guy apologized profusely and said that the next day I was to see him personally for my meal. I left very hungry and frustrated, made a quick polite complaint at the main conference desk, and then went back to my room to eat a raw vegan bar, some nuts and dried fruits, and some Primal Strips vegan jerky that I had brought with me from Whole Foods. These saved me during the conference. I love this vegan jerky, by the way! – Although its texture is freakishly close to what I remember real jerky being like, which I’m not sure is a good thing. I began to think that I must be the only vegan in the approximately 7500 people at the conference. Then I tweeted about it.

Tuesday I arrived to find “special meals” signs held by conference staff at strategic locations. Catering staff pointed me to a special area. There I was brought my first vegan meal personally by the server from Monday’s lunch. They had really tried. It was a lovely arrangement of an assortment of lightly steamed vegetables with no seasoning. No bread, no rice, nothing filling. I didn’t meet any other vegans that day, but I did eat lunch with some other “special meals” folks – a vegetarian and a person who eats Halal.

Wednesday they again brought me a meal – THE SAME ONE FROM THE DAY BEFORE. The same vegetables, the same arrangement, the same blandness. The weird thing was, there were things on the buffet line that it looked like I should be able to eat – and upon inquiry, sometimes they were vegan (like white rice, potatoes, etc). But often, they had butter in them or something. I could only find this out by asking catering staff – and then waiting 15 minutes for them to find out.

By this time, I was resigned. At night, I was able to choose vegan options on the menus of the Asian and Japanese Sushi restaurants we went to. I was even able to get the Haufbrauhas to fix me up something later in the week. Thursday morning I was offered oatmeal (finally, some carbs). And there were always more veges available as hors d’oeuvres at the evening events we attended. In fact, funny I should mention, because Thursday’s box lunch was THE HORS D’OEUVRES TRAY FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE. I kid you not. Minus some of the most popular items. That last lunch I did meet another vegan from (Venezuela?) who was quietly waiting for his box lunch. He agreed with me that the week had been very frustrating and the quality of the food not so great. But he didn’t seem the type to speak up about it.

Overall, the experience was both frustrating and entertaining. And the week was so fun and full of good geeky information that I didn’t have time to dwell on the food too much. I was glad that I was vocal about it and that I stuck to my convictions (except for eating a few bites of that toast on the first day before I knew it had dairy), but I was disappointed in the ignorance shown for what vegans actually eat. I wanted to shout, “Vegans eat more than asparagus and carrots – ever heard of beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, or root vegetables?” And of course, my dietary choices made for some good conversation and vegan education at almost every meal. I even had vegetarians and others come up to me during the week, recognizing me from Twitter, and asking me if I was getting my meals and how it was going.

One other cool thing – I wore one of my vegan t-shirts on the last night and day home and had a kind of cool experience at the airport. The young girl checking me through security took one look at me and said, “Oh my God, VEGAN! You guys are so awesome! I read Skinny Bitch & I was vegan for a while, then I had to move home.” I didn’t want to hold up the line, but I assured her that she was awesome herself, and that when the time was right she’d be able to act on her convictions as well.

When I arrived home I was never so glad to cook some satisfying meals for myself!

A side note: I checked Happy Cow before I went and there are a few vegetarian or veg friendly restaurants listed. They were off the beaten track though, and I was unable to seek them out. I really wanted to go to the vegan donut place! Also, after I returned, I happened to see a tweet that the Vegas Hilton has a vegan menu. Not sure if they’re located anywhere near the strip.

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