There isn’t much to hate about a good vacation, but if there’s one thing I despise, it’s boarding the return flight and realizing that the airplane seat-belt needs to be loosened a bit more than it did on the way there. Preservative-filled airplane food, sodium-laden street fare and a daily fruit quota fulfilled by Pina Coladas can really put a damper on a healthy lifestyle.
With convenient Whole Foods locations, and USDA-certified organic labels at nearly every grocery store, it’s easy to choose healthy and organic food at home. Amongst wrinkled maps, foreign languages and packed itineraries, seeking out organic food while traveling presents a whole new challenge. The “I’m on vacation” mentality doesn’t have to mean settling for a fried platter of preservatives or refined sugar that you normally wouldn’t touch. Instead, treat yourself to organic, fresh and healthy options because travel is supposed to make you feel free and light, not weighed down and lazy.
What is organic?
Eating organic doesn’t necessarily mean making sacrifices or missing out on your favorite treat. There is such a thing as an organic cheeseburger, after all. Organic foods are those raised without conventional pesticides, petroleum-fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised organically are fed organic feed and are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and they are given access to the outdoors (check out the National Organic Program). Sewage sludge-based fertilizer – who doesn’t mind taking a vacation from that?
Google before you go.
You’re already scouring the internet for the perfect vacation home, least-crowded beaches and greatest adventures before you go – so why not throw a little organic knowledge into your vacation plans? What better way to mix with the locals than to seek out an organic farm or farmer’s market? Or, up the complimentary resort coffee to an organic honey latte at a local café. If you are traveling abroad, research what organic means to that particular country. Is there any sort of organic certification? How would you ask about organic produce in the language of that country? Is there an organic brand offered at grocery stores? Any organic restaurants you can try? These are all discoveries you can make with a simple internet search. You’ll be thankful you did before you leave – with internet access, online translation and a familiar keyboard at your fingertips.
I was excited to find out that the trend towards organic food in Panama, although in its infancy, is very much alive. CulantroRojo.com is a startup company that delivers fresh and delicious organic produce to homes in Panama City twice monthly. You could have fresh produce delivered right to your hotel room or Panama vacation home, guaranteeing fresh and healthy snacks all vacation long. The growing expat community in Panama also means that foreign organic standards are finding their way into local stores and restaurants, like Organica in the Paitilla Mall.
Take pride in the brown re-usable bag.
Just say no to airport and airplane food. It’s fast and therefore chocked with preservatives. Between the changes in time zone and air pressure, air travel already affects your body immensely. The last thing your body needs is to feel bloated and the discomforts of indigestion from un-organic, not to mention less-than-satisfactory meals and snacks. Fix a snack pack before your trip, and stash non-perishables in your checked baggage for the way home. Fruits, nuts, sandwiches and organic granola bars are all fulfilling options that will get you through the flight and have you feeling good upon arrival. Be sure to finish all fruit and veggies before you land though, bringing produce across borders is usually a huge “no.”
If organic restaurants aren’t prevalent in the area where you are staying, perhaps you can scout out organic produce at a local market. Grab a local bottle of wine and reload that snack bag for an alfresco dinner on the beach. Or perch on your vacation home balcony or a park bench and watch the world go by as you indulge in organic local flavors.
Local doesn’t always mean organic – but it’s a good start.
Unless you are traveling to see if the fries at your favorite chain restaurant taste the same halfway across the world, then stay away from mainstream restaurants you could frequent at home. Instead, fulfill your desire to be naturally and culturally stimulated by eating what grows locally.
Browse a local market and ask the people there how they grow their produce or raise their animals. If they don’t have an answer, it’s probably a bad sign. However if they mention a farm they are passionate about or pastures where animals can roam, then that is a great first step. In some countries or slightly off-the-grid destinations, there isn’t access to meat factories or money for expensive pesticides. In fact, in some corners of the world, farming is still being practiced like it has been for centuries – organically. Supporting these efforts while traveling is one of the best ways you could possibly spend your vacation dollars, not to mention that you get a healthy dose of culture, connection and local produce out of the deal.
If you find that the produce in the markets seems to be organic, then the local restaurants might be as well. After all, local restaurateurs probably shop and stock those markets. There might not be glossy advertisements or taglines promoting the organic nature of their cuisine, but if pesticide-free produce and grass-fed beef is the local standard, then it is organic nonetheless. While figuring out how to say “pesticides” in a foreign language is bound to present some challenges and funny looks, eating local while on vacation can be organic, rewarding and easier than you think.
Seek destinations with sustainability in mind.
For those truly passionate about preserving an organic lifestyle while traveling, there are plenty of sustainable destinations that will take the guesswork out of eating organic while you travel. On Isla Palenque, we have already planted our organic farm, so that by the time our Phase One Panama vacation homes are built in 2012, our organic tropical trees will be bearing fruit. The seedlings will be spread across the island, positioned to lean over the decks of our beachfront homes for an organic snack you can pick yourself. We look forward to supporting local farmers, organic coffee farms and other sustainable suppliers in the area. Whether you decide to dine on the beach, in our restaurants, pool side, on your back deck or even in a private nook halfway across the island, your meal will be fresh, delicious and full of flavor. After researching the challenges and benefits of eating organic, we take great pride in offering an organic and sustainable vacation home and resort option in Panama.
For seeking out natural attractions, farmers markets, natural and organic restaurants in other parts of the world, browse OrganicTravel.com. The international listings are a little sparse, but the list is sure to expand over time.