Surviving a Family Vacation in a Non-Vegan-Friendly Location


A few months ago, my college roommates and I decided that we needed to get together. It had been 7 years since I had seen one of them, and almost 3 years since I saw the other. The two of them hadn’t seen each other since we graduated, which was (gulp!) 13 years ago! In order to accommodate everyone as best as possible, we decided that the most central location would be where we vacationed. It turns out, that central location was Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Probably one of the least vegan-friendly places you can go on a family vacation. However, I decided that in addition to having a bunch of fun with old friends, we could use the trip as a learning experience. Challenge accepted! And even though my children are only 1 and 3.5 years old, we definitely were presented with teachable moments during our stay.

As we drove to the house we rented (by the way, renting a house is the way to go when vacationing with young children), we passed several farms. Some of them had horses and most of them had cows. While it was nice to see cows roaming freely in their pastures, it still hurt my heart to know their fate. My son would get very excited every time he saw cows along the way. My husband and I didn’t think he was quite ready to know the details about what ultimately happens to them, so we just allowed him to experience the joy of seeing such beautiful creatures during our drive. He likely assumed they live a similar life to the cows we visit at Woodstock Animal Sanctuary.

Once we arrived at the house, we unpacked and started to settle in for the long weekend. Not knowing how much of a vegan selection the local grocery would have, we packed most of our food. To supplement our food stash, my husband went out to get a few things at the store. His shopping outing was a success. It is nice to know that even in non-metropolitan areas, you can still find soy milk, soy yogurt, and Tofurky deli products! I guess we didn’t have to pack more than half the car with food, but at least we were prepared. Not long after he returned, my two college roommates and their families arrived and the shenanigans began.

On our first full day we decided to go to Strasburg Railroad. Knowing that we weren’t going to go on a horse and buggy ride, eat local ice cream, or partake in other Amish activities while we were there, I had researched activities before we went to make sure we had things to do. My son loves trains, so the Railroad was a definite must-do. Everyone enjoyed the steam engine ride, adults included. However, during the ride, we passed a turkey farm, and the train conductor made an awful joke about how it’s a great place, but maybe not for the turkeys in November and December. Luckily, my kids did not understand the joke, and I just tried to focus on the experience itself, not the commentary.

desmond-and-colbieNext up was a visit to Root in Lancaster, a vegan restaurant! One of my roommates joined us so she could give a vegan meal a try with her 19-month-old daughter. The food was excellent! They even had kids’ meal options. My roommate’s daughter happily devoured her first vegan grilled cheese. By the end of the weekend, my roommate wanted me to share everything we made during our stay because she wants to try eating vegan once a week.

That afternoon we played mini-putt. While a fairly neutral place, they did serve ice cream. My roommate’s kids got some, and my son asked for some as well. I told him that they didn’t have our type of ice cream, but I would buy him a special drink. Luckily, he is still at the age where he doesn’t put up much of fight in these situations. He was quite pleased with his strawberry kiwi lemonade. I also came prepared and had bought a delicious blueberry blondie from Root for us to eat, so while my roommate’s kids ate their ice cream, we went to the car and enjoyed our vegan goodies. Also, there was a petting zoo next to the mini-putt, but my children did not notice it. That discussion was only postponed until later in the trip. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The next day was our trip to Hershey Park. Again, also not a vegan-friendly place since chocolate is everywhere. For obvious reasons, we chose to stick to the park itself and not go to Hershey World, where you watch them make chocolate and you can make your own chocolate bar. My children had a blast on the kids’ rides and in the water park. Finding vegan food was slightly difficult. Hershey Park does a great job of listing allergens on their website, so I was able to check what was in every food item at the park. One of the few items we could eat was the french fries from Tower of Fries. I bought the family bucket and that was our lunch. Don’t judge–we were on vacation. I didn’t want my son to feel left out that he wasn’t eating any of the sweet treats. Thankfully, Twizzlers are made by Hershey, so we bought a pack of those to share. We also got some kettle corn, which was amazing! To balance out all of the unhealthy food we ate, we also got a mango fruit smoothie. The sign for the smoothies even said vegan, which was helpful. That saved me from having to ask about the other ingredients. Overall, Hershey Park is very doable as a vegan family. I would just suggest you bring some snacks in with you. Even though the website and blogs made it seem like you can’t bring in outside food. They didn’t even open my bag when they “searched” it.

Before leaving on our last day, we walked around Kitchen Kettle Village. I bought some yummy jams and we enjoyed some butter-free soft pretzels. However, the only place to sit was in the middle of a playground combined with a petting zoo. At first I thought about just going to the car to eat to avoid the petting zoo, but, instead, my husband and I decided to use the petting zoo as a learning experience. We asked our son if he thought the animals liked being in such a small place, with nowhere to run around. While he was so consumed with playing and going down the slide, he may not have absorbed much, but I think he realized to some degree that the animals we saw there were treated differently than the ones at Woodstock Animal Sanctuary.

We ate all of our breakfasts and dinners at the house. It’s a sanity-saver when you have young children, and it also saves money. I value those two things very much, especially when on vacation.

While most of the weekend was filled with fun and excitement, I did actually get very emotional while on a morning run. During a mere 15-minute run, I passed several horse and buggies, a sign saying “puppies for sale,” and, the thing that got to me the most, three calves in separate huts, alone and away from their mothers. What I realized during my run, which is when I often do a lot of thinking, is that to most people, they are just three cute calves hanging out, but I know there is more to the story. It’s times like that when I sometimes wish that I didn’t know, that I could just focus on how adorable they are, but I can’t because I know they were taken away from their mothers so their mothers can make milk fordesmond-twizzler humans, not their own baby calves. As a mother who breastfeeds, it hits me especially hard. To think some other living being would take my milk away from me and my own child for the unnecessary benefit of another species—ugh–it just pains me. And then to think the fate of those little calves is likely to become veal that will be consumed by humans. I wanted to jump the fence and reunite those calves with their moms. But being a law-abiding citizen, and not wanting to put a damper on our roommate reunion weekend, I took the higher ground and returned to the house.

Would I go back to Pennsylvania Dutch Country? Quite possibly. It is kind of like asking, will you go shopping at a grocery store, even though they sell meat and cow’s milk? As an ethical vegan family, we try our best to live as compassionate of a life as we can, doing the least amount of harm as possible. At the same time, there are times when you need to be exposed to the realities of life and find ways to educate yourself and, especially, your children. After all, we did have an amazing weekend, and we were able to maintain our vegan lifestyle without too much effort. The other thing is that there are vegan gems in unseeming places. For instance, Root in Lancaster. We would never have gone to that place if we decided that we wanted to avoid Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

I don’t think it is wise to completely shield your children from what goes on in the world. There is a time and place for every discussion and exposure to certain things. My children need to see why being a vegan is so important to our family. While my children were still a little young on this trip to fully appreciate what they saw, I would like to think that at least my 3.5-year-old learned a thing or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees a horse in a few weeks and says, “It’s not nice to make horses pull people around when it’s hot out.” (Side note–I do not want to offend anyone who is Amish by saying their way of life is wrong; however, it is one thing to drive around in a horse and buggy as part of your religion and culture, but it is entirely different to offer horse and buggy rides to tourists in 90-degree weather with 85% humidity to make a profit. Sorry, that’s not cool at all.)

Thirteen years and 6 kids later, my college roommates and I finally all reunited! We have already planned our next vacation together–Daytona Beach. Perhaps Daytona Beach will be a little more vegan-friendly. But even if it’s not, we will survive and still have a fantastic and unforgettable time, just like we did in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Posted in Family Life

Ashlee is a mom to three vegan cuties, lawyer, and animal advocate. She has been vegan since 2010. She and her husband are in the process of starting a microsanctuary for farm animals in Orange County, NY. You can send her your questions via email.