Part I: Donna Zeigfinger, Vegan Travel
Seasoned world traveler Donna Zeigfinger founded Green Earth Travel in 1997 with one mission in mind: to provide a wide range of travel options for people who crave adventure and care about the planet. Since then, the company has remained on the cutting edge of conscientious traveling and become the nation’s premiere vegetarian/vegan/eco travel agency.
Green Earth Travel lives up to its name by booking tours that promote sustainability, biodiversity and leaving a light footprint on the planet. Donna uses her own eco-travel experiences to meticulously plan each vacation package and turn fantasy vacations into reality. She specializes in creating customized Volunteer Vacation and Adventure Travelpackages for groups, individuals, couples and families.
Donna doesn’t do cheap cookie-cutter vacations. Instead, she consults with each prospective client to identify exactly what they want to get out of their trip, and then helps people choose from a menu of options. After that, she makes all the arrangements – taking the stress and worry of pre-trip preparation completely off of her clients’ shoulders. The personal touch Donna brings to vacation planning, as well as her attention to detail and outstanding customer relations, are all part of what make Green Earth Travel’s signature travel services special.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey, Everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for being here today. You know I get all riled up because just before this program is Nature Bats Last and I love their theme song, I just like start rockin’ to it and then we move into our show with a very different kind of feeling and anyway. I don’t know if you listen to that show. I don’t have an opportunity to, other than the last bits of it before this program comes on, but I definitely enjoy it, especially this song.
Okay. Here we are, we’re in January and are you sticking with your resolutions? I hope so. Have you made any resolutions? Well, anything I can do to help? Let me know. I am at email@example.com and if you need any inspiration or a tip or two I’m here for you especially if it has to do with eating more plants because that’s what I’m all about. That’s what my nonprofit Responsible Eating And Living is all about and we’re always trying to come up with new delicious ideas for you to make it easier.
I want to bring on my guest, she’s been on the program before, Donna Zeigfinger. She’s a seasoned world traveler who founded Green Earth Travel and we’re going to maybe take a trip today.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi Donna. How are you?
Donna Zeigfinger: Good. How are you? Yeah, I’m back on.
Caryn Hartglass: So, the last time we spoke, it was maybe springtime last year.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And you were planning some adventures in Italy.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Tell me, how did it go?
Donna Zeigfinger: It was fabulous. We had several great group leaders. We had Fran Costigan who came with us one week and then we had Miyoko Schinner who is coming back with us this year as well and Matt Frazier and let’s see who else, Dr. Ruby Lathan and then Carolyn Scott Hamilton. They all had a week where they lead us around and we lead them around but they did cooking classes and discussions and Jasmine and Mary Ann were there as well. I think you know them, the henhouse girls. So, it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun. It was such beautiful country. I will tell you now, there’s a new favorite vegan travel place for me and that’s Italy.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. Well, you’ve been a vegan for I think over 30 years.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yikes.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Yeah. 30 years plus and you’ve done a lot of traveling. Did you learn anything new about traveling this past year in Italy?
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, I didn’t know how vegan friendly it was. I didn’t realize why it’s so vegan friendly and the reason why in southern Italy especially the people many years ago were not wealthy enough to afford meat and cheeses so they had to be creative with what they had and they are very creative and I didn’t know you can get gelato. I’ve never had gelato before and it was amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: And what was it made from?
Donna Zeigfinger: I think it was soy, I don’t know, I’d have to ask. I think it was soy. It was just amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: Excellent. Okay. So, you’re going back, but you’re going to a different location this year.
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, we’re going back to the Amalfi Coast in July so that one’s still going in fact Julieanna Hever is going to be our group leader in the July trip and then Miyoko is coming back in the fall with us to go to Puglia and Matera. And that is like the olive and yeah that’s going to be a very cooking intensive kind of trip but, I can’t wait because I like have to hoard her cheeses whenever I can.
Caryn Hartglass: So, do people get to cook while they’re there or learn about cooking?
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes. On both trips you can. I think Miyoko will be a little more intensive with that, but, yes, they get to cook hand on if they want. They don’t have to if they don’t want because I am not a cook I just like to eat what everyone else is cooking.
Caryn Hartglass: What kinds of foods did you eat when you were there and you’re probably going to have something similar this year?
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, you know with the Fran’s trip, which by the way, we’re looking into some things. Sicily might be on the horizon as well, but I ate a lot of chocolate and a lot of gelato. You know, and I had some wonderful pasta dishes, a lot of veggie dishes. It was just a lot of quinoa, just really good healthy stuff. I liked the fact that I could drink and not get hung over because the wine don’t have the sulfur in it, I guess is what it is, so you can drink more and not get a headache. Sulfites, excuse me not sulfur.
Caryn Hartglass: Interesting.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah. I love their wines there and I’m not a big drinker.
Caryn Hartglass: Now the places that you went to aren’t normally vegan are they?
Donna Zeigfinger: I’m sorry, say that again?
Caryn Hartglass: The places where you went to for lodging and for most of the meals weren’t normally vegan.
Donna Zeigfinger: No. We had rented a villa last year and so we were able to do all of the cooking or Tierno Tours was doing all of the cooking so the dinners and such and the first couple of nights we’re going to be staying in and around the Amalfi Coast. We’ll be in Sorrento in a hotel so you’ll be able to go out to eat if you want for a couple nights, couple days anyway. They’ll be one dinner. That will be in Sorrento, but then the rest of the time’s going to be in a villa in the Cilento Coast and Tierna Tours will be doing the cooking as well.
Caryn Hartglass: And who is that?
Donna Zeigfinger: Tierno Tours is the tour operator and I had kind of partnered up with them and are working with them. We have a company name, it’s called Vegano Italiano and we’ll be doing other tours as well not just Italy.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmmm. What else, what is in there?
Donna Zeigfinger: I don’t know. There could be a lot. There’s a lot. We’re just brewing with a lot of things because there’s a lot of excitement. I would like to see France that would be my next trip but we’ll see what happens. There is another company I’ve started working with called Vegan River Cruises and they do river cruising in Europe and it’s all vegan they charter the whole boat out so a lot of exciting things happening.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice. Well, I recommend France. I lived there as a vegan in the early ‘90’s and I never went hungry .
Donna Zeigfinger: Really, because it was very hard when I went there. There was a gentleman who wrote, I don’t know if you know who Alex Bourke is he writes all of these vegan travel guides and one of the first things he would say to you is when they look at your vegan passport in France they would turn you away.
Caryn Hartglass: Ah, well, it definitely helps to speak the language and I speak French fluently and the other thing was to really stay away from Paris. But things have changed tremendously since I’ve been there. I mean it’s been like 15 years or more 20 or 25 since I’ve been there and it’s incredible, but what I’ve found in just since you were mentioning in Italy with some of the traditional foods in the south of France especially they have many dishes that are vegetable based with olive oil, no butter no cheese. One nice thing that I’ve always liked about France is that if you have a name for a dish you know how it’s going to be made there’s no variation on a theme. If you have Ratatouille you know what’s in it. They’re not going to stick chicken broth in there. It’s just not done.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right. I’m going to back track a little bit. Paris has really come around. I mean, they even have a vegan Paris day so It’s really changed a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well after I left I went back for one of the first Vegan Pride Parades in Paris and I was just like, Oh, my goodness this is heavenly.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right. Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So, things are changing. That’s great, because I think Europe is a natural place for lots of vegan activity. It just makes sense all over.
Donna Zeigfinger: Oh. It does.
Caryn Hartglass: It makes sense all around the world of course, but it’s one of the areas that are known for their culinary expertise to just get their vegan thing on already.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right. Well, you know, there’s an area and there’s another area that I want to check out. I was just looking at Happy Cow, Germany and Berlin in particular. I was looking at their list and they have 245 vegan and vegan friendly places to go to in Berlin alone.
Caryn Hartglass: We were talking about Europe and Germany in particular and I feel that I really need to get back to Europe because so many wonderful things have happened and we’ve had a number of different German animal rights activists on this particular show and it’s always been exciting to hear what’s going on. I think Germany is a very progressive place. They are very progressive when it comes to human rights, animal rights and sustainability. I’m not talking about the entire population. I’m just talking about pockets of activism that are going on. It’s very encouraging and as a result you have people that are interested in supporting restaurants and market. Germany has the first all vegan supermarket and it sounds like they’re going to be coming to the United States as well. Donna, you’re back!
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes, I am. I went there as one of my first trips as a travel agent in the mid 80’s I think it was with my mother and we found one vegetarian, I don’t even think it was vegan, restaurant and it was in Munich. And there was like nothing basically at that time I was eating at Chinese restaurants a lot when we were traveling around we were laughing about it we were eating Chinese food in Germany. So, it’s really, really changed and it’s very exciting what’s going on there so very excited to hear about Germany being as vegan friendly as it is I’m going to have to get back there soon. There’s over 245 vegan and vegan friendly restaurants in that area that I was looking at on Happy Cow and I think out of that there’s like 50 or 45 vegan restaurants alone and probably like 100 that are vegetarian and that’s crazy.
Caryn Hartglass: It is crazy. You said that a long time ago maybe in the ‘80’s you went to Munich and you went to one vegetarian restaurant do you remember what is was called because I was talking about Prinz Mishkin, that Munich restaurant.
Donna Zeigfinger: I don’t know. It was like some African. I don’t know. It was something different. I can look it up. I don’t remember the name of it. I’d have to ask my mother. She might know.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, It’s very different now.
Donna Zeigfinger: Very different. You don’t have to eat Chinese food the whole time like I did.
Caryn Hartglass: And you know even Chinese food, if you’re not speaking the language you don’t know how clean it’s going to be.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right. Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Donna Zeigfinger: So, there is another area that I just really started looking into and there’s a company I started working with recently and it’s Peru.
Caryn Hartglass: Ooh.
Donna Zeigfinger: Which is South America. Yeah, there’s a company called Veggie Peru that I started working with and I hope to work with them a lot more in the near future. So, all vegan Peru. How about that?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there are vegans everywhere. There are vegans everywhere doing wonderful things and we need to find them and we need to connect and I think if we go to other places and discover more people who think like we do that’s only going to be good for moving the planet forward.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah and I’m starting to do some local stuff again. I used to do a local trip every year which people loved, but I didn’t have the time for it in the past year or two and I’m getting back into it.
You know, I live in the Maryland/D.C. area so the Potomac River is right there so we used to partner up with the D.C. vegetarian society and do a vegan rafting trip and it looks like we’re going to be doing that again. It’s just a day trip, but it is so much fun. Yeah. It’s a lot of fun to do that. There are a lot of exciting things going on.
Caryn Hartglass: There are a lot of fun things going on, but it never ceases to amaze me that some people still are clueless. I got an e-mail today, just like an hour ago, from a listener and she wanted to vent and she knew that I’d pick a good place to send her frustration to, so she was looking for a spa to go to because she lives in Texas and normally goes to Lake Austin Spa and she thought she would try something new and she checked out a place in California and had this conversation that I can’t believe people are still having, where she said, I’m vegan, are you able to accommodate that? The person on the line said, “Yes, do you eat yogurt and eggs? You eat yogurt and eggs, right?” And then said, “Yeah, but if you’re going to be working out a lot you’re going to need protein.” It’s like wait a minute this is California. Haven’t you gotten the message?
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah, excuse me, this is California. I would say. You know, if you’re not willing working with your travel agent who usually works with you on this kind of stuff you need to speak to the chef directly. That’s what I do you know because the res agents don’t know. You know they don’t know. I shouldn’t say that. A lot of them do know, but a lot of them don’t know.
Caryn Hartglass: I am surprised the spas still don’t know. That’s all.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah. No. A spa especially.
Caryn Hartglass: A spa is usually a groovy place that is more health conscious than other places and you think they would have heard of the word vegan.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah, they don’t understand it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now that I am on the subject of spas, I don’t know if you’ve seen this or if you’ve looked into it, it has been awhile since I’ve had a massage, but when I would go, some places use massage products that weren’t vegan like an oil with lanolin in it which I didn’t want on my body.
Donna Zeigfinger: I haven’t seen lanolin oil in massage. That’s weird.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I am sure it’s still there. It’s probably at that place in California that my friend just checked into.
Donna Zeigfinger: There you go.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You have to ask. That’s the key thing. You can’t be shy.
Donna Zeigfinger: You do have to ask and ask them to look at the product and they usually will show you if they have any inkling of what you’re about.
Caryn Hartglass: For those of you who are wondering lanolin is a sheep product it comes from the oil on their coat.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Anyway, they create an oil and it’s on their skin and their coat and we harvest that, probably not in the most loving way, and put it in bottles and it’s in a lot of interesting products and I don’t like it.
Donna Zeigfinger: No, I don’t either. I’m trying to think if there are any other products offhand that would be in oils that would make it non-vegan, but most of the spas especially when you go to the higher end spas like Canyon Ranch and maybe somebody can prove me wrong, but all of these higher end spas typically have eco-friendly and vegan products. You just really have to check though before hand or bring your own. That’s the other option.
Caryn Hartglass: Or bring your own. I do that a lot when I go to a hair salon. I bring my own products.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right. Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And I want to empower people because the world is only going to change when we make people aware of what is not quite right and we don’t have to do it in an argumentative or confrontational way. It can always be done in a polite manner requesting to have products that are more compassionate and vegan.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah. I actually used to take groups of people out to Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary and afterwards we went to kind of a spa-ish type of place out in Zion National Park and because I was taking so many people that were vegan or vegetarian there they actually put permanently on their menu a tofu scramble so they would have a vegan option.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, that’s smart.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah. Yeah, it is smart. They realize there’s a need for it. So, the more it’s asked for the more they’re going to do it.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Donna Zeigfinger: Don’t be shy. I’m not.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t be shy. Thank you for not being shy and for finding places people can travel comfortably to and discover wonderful things and eat wonderfully, too. Anything else we need to know about you and Greener Travel and where you’ll be going.
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, as I said we’re going to Italy in July, July 2nd through July 9th with Julieanna Hever and then Miyoko Schinner in the end of September, September 24th through October 1st and we would love to have you guys out there with us.
Caryn Hartglass: And where do people find out about it?
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, you can go onto my website at GreenEarthTravel.com. Actually, I’m updating my website in the next month or so. it’s going to be beautiful but in the meantime you have to deal with my ugly old website. I’ll be putting up the cruise as well as the vegan rafting trip and hopefully Peru in the next couple months. So, just be patient.
Caryn Hartglass: Very nice. Well, updating websites that’s always a fun project.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And you always have to keep updating because the Cyber world is always changing.
Donna Zeigfinger: I’m looking for interns. .
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, for help.
Donna Zeigfinger: For help. I’m always looking for help.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So, anyway.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah, but it will be a beautiful website once it’s done. I’m really happy with it so far.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, looking forward to that destination.
Donna Zeigfinger: And Caryn, you should come with us.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, well, maybe. We’ll have to see about that. Okay, well Donna, thank you for taking us on a little journey around the world of vegan possibilities.
Donna Zeigfinger: Anytime.
Caryn Hartglass: We look forward to learning more about it all on your new website: GreenEarthTravel.com
Donna Zeigfinger: GreenEarthTravel.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Great.
Donna Zeigfinger: All right. Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Take care!
Donna Zeigfinger: All right, bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye. Bye. That was Donna Zeigfinger founder of Green Earth Travel. So, if you’re interested in that, those luscious sounding trips, go to GreenEarthTravel.com.
Transcribed by Nanette Gagyi, 1/20/2016