Travelling vegan and zero-waste? Yeah right!

“Have you got any mind games for this?”, asks Ryan, a 30-something Kiwi. We are circling around 500m off the Fijian coast on board one of today’s ‘Island Trip’ boats. Ryan has been handed a fishing line, trolling 25m behind the boat, and is concerned that even though yellow-fin tuna have been bubbling up around us for the past 15 minutes, while birds wheel overhead, none have taken his squid lure.
“Well, I’m vegan,” I say, “Possibly not the best person to ask.”
“I’m going vegan too”, Ryan responds. “Got all the stuff in my suitcase ready for it.”

Quelling curiosity about what Ryan’s luggage contains, I clarify how more accurately, I classify myself as ‘Manaakitarian’. “If I come to your place”, I explain,”and you’ve cooked a chicken casserole specially, not knowing I’m vegan, then I’ll happily enjoy it with you.” What follows is a discussion around my understanding of ‘manaakitanga’ to Ryan whose spent the past ten years in Fiji helping out his dad, who has a resort up the coast, along with a piece of land near Okiato. “It’s about raising the ‘mana’ of the other person”, I suggest. “For me this means that our relationship is more important than my sticking rigidly to my principles.” While I first heard the combination word ‘Manaakitarian’ from Whangarei’s Green Party candidate, a while back, it has always felt right to me, syncing with the value I place on Nonviolent Communication.

After 15 more minutes, not a single fish has taken either of the 2 squid lures – perhaps unwittingly my ‘mind games’ are working? We head to the island for the bbq. The menu stated chicken, sausages and fish, and while it was suggested I could ‘just eat salad’, I’ve requested a plant-based burger.

I’m keen to use opportunities this year to validate options for plant-based food. And though the breakfast buffet has almond and soy milk, it seems clear that plant-based options for a bbq are a new departure for the resort chef. Today he’s prepared a vege patty, but seems he forgot to tell the Island crew how to cook it in a way that makes it edible. Along with a green coconut, salad and bananas provide plenty of energy for snorkeling over the reef to be a joy.

On the return, Ryan and I are reallocated to the ‘non-fishing’ boat. I hear later that ‘eight decent-sized’ fish including 3 tuna caught by Ryan’s brothers and in-laws as they returned are now being readied for their supper. Im curious whether Ryan joined them, or did he check through his suitcase?

‘The Projects’ cafe 100m down the driveway sells locally made crafts, home-baking and excellent coffee. Talk turns to the price of plant-based milks in Fiji, a challenge now increasing numbers of their customers ask for non-dairy options. The arrival of a local adds to our discussion: his friend on the island is making rice milk, though not yet on a commercial scale. Talk turns to coconut milk as another obvious local option, and I share how add-your-own water plant milk pastes, which save transporting 80% water-filled tetrapacks, could be anoption here. Another visitor mentions the increasing popularity of oat milk, both homemade by friends and barista-grade commercial…

… I settle to enjoy my coffee in the comfortable octopus bean bag outside. We haven’t solved the pricing issues, yet it is clear that here in Fiji too, the concept of ‘normal milk’ is shifting. “Do you want cow’s milk or plant-based?”, I hear the next visitor being asked.

Walking the beach in the early morning, I watch a time old scene of a local man pulling in his fishing net. He tells me fish are still plentiful, however I still feel sad if unsurprised to see plastic flotsam and jetsam littering the upper shore. My small contribution to his ongoing fish stocks is to return to the beach the next morning with the rubbish bag from my room. It’s my chance to collect plastic so at least this sackful doesnt end as microplastics in the ocean, killing his fish.

“Was that you on the beach this morning?”, the chatty resort owner asks me later. A fleeting ‘what have I done?’ guilt, as when a police car pulls behind one in traffic, is soon assuaged. “I saw you collecting rubbish. I’ve noticed it too. It’s too much for one person, I’m sending the boys down this afternoon to pick it all up.”

The resort’s chef is outside my cabin later, harvesting leaves off a rather attractive 3m high tree in the garden. “Curry leaves”, he explains, for chicken curry he plans for the evening menu. “Will there be a plant-based alternative?” I ask gently. It wasn’t something he’d considered. I mention how more and more Kiwis choose non-meat options. That evening in addition to chicken, the menu has a ‘chickpea curry option. It proves delicious: probably those ‘curry leaves’.

Im sporting a repurposed rubbish bag as I reluctantly take my leave of this delightful resort. The bus hasn’t arrived yet, an hour later than scheduled. My rain jacket is inaccessibly packed so even I have resorted to ‘disposable’ plastic.

As a ‘zero waste granny’, I aspire to travel in line with my values. Tiny blocks of shampoo and conditioner bars, fit into a recycled tiny honey jar, obviating the need for water-based hair products. There’s a joy in neither carrying shampoo bottles nor using the tiny single-use ‘free’ bottles offered in my bathroom.

My reusable ‘Cuppa Coffee’ cup fits in my backpack, supporting my principle of refusing coffee if it means using a disposable cup. (A smile from the Fiji Airways steward, before my coffee is poured).

Yet today, in the rain, I’ve succumbed. Im using a ‘single-use’ black plastic rubbish bag. Hopefully I’ll find a new use for it later….

A dateline quirk sees my flight which departs Nadi at 10pm arriving in Vancouver at noon today. Upright and uncomfortable though it is, sleep will be essential. I benefit from my vegan meal selection: not only is my meal junk-food free and full of healthy greens, ‘Special’ Meals are served first.

By the time meals arrive for the majority of passengers, soothed by memories of relaxed hours in a hammock and the sound of the reef, I’m fast asleep.


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