There are some people who inspire you. There are vegan people who inspire you. There are vegan projects and adventures that inspire you. Sometimes you see some of your dreams being realized by other people and it makes you happy. I feel all this by reading the articles and following the Will Travel For Vegan Food website and Instagram.
I do not remember the first time I stumbled across Will Travel For Vegan Food but I think it was when I read this interview on the Vegan Backpacker site. Traveling for vegan food is basically combining two of my favorite things: travels and vegan food, of course. I am not sure if many vegans have the same adventurous spirit as I do, but I see a big travel in my future plans. Until then, me and my family will keep doing our short travels, meeting friends, enjoying vegan food and showing our mini-vegan the world.
Back to WTF Vegan Food. In September 2011 Kristin Lajeunesse decided to do a road trip across the United States. In one year she would visit all 50 states and eat in every single vegan restaurant she could find and share her experience on her website. Almost two years after, we’ve talked to Kristin to get to know her a little bit more and to talk about her trip and the WTF Vegan Food brand:
Who is Kristin Lajeunesse? Could you tell us more about you and your life?
Born and raised in a very small town in upstate NY, majored in equestrian studies at Cazenovia College, studied Integrated Marketing Communication at Emerson College, went vegetarian with my mom, dad and brother in 1999, became vegan in 2006 because of my parents, a closet sci-fi and movie-going nerd, loves to dance more than almost anything, unreasonably passionate about marketing and helping others learn how to do what they love for a living, wishes to remain location independent, went skydiving once, spent 18 months living out of a van and off of donations in an effort to eat at and write about every vegan restaurant in the United States, founder and owner of Kale Media (marketing consulting), Rose Pedals Vegan Weddings (resource guide), and Will Travel For Vegan Food (travel blog).
What inspired you to become vegan?
My parents, and then George Eisman, and then my parents again.
Please check out the full story by clicking here and scrolling down to “my vegan story.”
Do you remember the exact moment when you thought about starting this project?
If I remember correctly I believe I was sitting at my desk at my 9-5 job—after having spent months reading about nomadic living and lifestyle design, and toying around with various business ideas and blogs—when the name “Will Travel For Vegan Food” just kind of flashed across my brain. And then it all came rushing in: the fact that I had been talking about wanting to travel but hadn’t done anything about it, that I was already that annoying vegan friend taking and sharing photos of food both when out at a restaurant and cooking at home, and that I hadn’t read about anyone really doing anything quite like what came to mind. I immediately composed an email to my parents to tell them about this idea. The months of research and discussion, about the idea of the trip, that followed brought me to the point of no return: I just HAD to move forward with this crazy idea.
What has changed from the beginning of your project until the end of your almost 2 year long road trip?
There were a few changes from what the trip looked like at the start and then what it looked like at the end. I started with a friend on the road with me. He spent the first three months traveling around, primarily the northeast, until we got stuck in Illinois for about six weeks due to family circumstances. Then, his time on the road ended and it kind of felt like I had started over once I was traveling alone for real. Which ended up being a good thing because I had intended to go it alone in the very beginning and my friend joined in rather last minute. But I do believe now that I was supposed to go alone so everything kind of righted itself, in a way.
Also, the community that developed around Will Travel For Vegan Food was vast by the time I reached the west coast. I was spending less time sleeping in Walmart parking lots and on side streets, and more time on couches and in guest rooms thanks to generous vegans that I met along the way. It feels like the brand itself kind of became it’s own thing – outside of me – which is pretty cool.
At this point – in the last few weeks of the journey – I would say that Will Travel For Vegan Food is pretty well known among the vegan community that frequents social media (like Facebook and Instagram). Plus, the trip has been featured on numerous blogs, radio shows, podcasts, and one of the most notable recent events was my interview on The Lisa Oz Show (which will be airing later this summer). In addition, I’ve signed a book deal with Vegan Publishers and will be writing a memoir about the trip. Very exciting stuff!
I see the blog and community continuing to grow and hope to launch a 2.0 version of the trip by early 2015.
Which changes do you see in yourself after all this time on the road?
This is always a tough question to answer because putting words the emotional shifts that took place seems nearly impossible at times. But, at the very base level I feel as though I have a much better understanding of who I was before the trip, and who I want to be going forward. I’ve learned a lot about my character flaws, weaknesses, and strengths; about how I had been living in silent desperation regarding what I wanted my life to be like; that I had been relying on external relationships to feel competent and content; and that spending so much time alone and meeting new, complete strangers on a nearly daily basis taught me more about my ability to be independent, and about the kindness of strangers, than I had ever read in a blog post or in a book. Experiencing first-hand life on the road and the lives of others across the nation not only created new opportunities for self-exploration, but also to how awesome this country and its inhabitants are. The real question now is: what do I choose to do with this information? I hope the answer will continue to be: to share and grow.
My family and me, including our little vegan who is now 18 months, love traveling and we always think about food first. Did you get to know many vegans who also travel for vegan food?
I did meet a few people who travel often and are also vegan, but most of the vegans I met were stationary – though when they do travel they typically plan ahead with food in mind.
Are you able to come up with a top 5 restaurants list after all your travels?
It’s way too hard to pick just five. But how about I write down the first five that come to mind (among my favorites)..haha.. ready aaaaannndd…. GO! –> Vedge (Philadelphia), Gracias Madre (Los Angeles), True Bistro (Boston), The Chicago Diner (Chicago), and Cinnaholic (Berkeley).
How did WTF Vegan Food develop from an adventure to a brand?
The nature of the abbreviation “wtfveganfood” really helped launch the brand as an entity outside of what I considered a personal passion project. Even though I have a love of, and background in, marketing I honestly wasn’t consciously thinking about brand positioning when I first started the project. But after I learned how many people were digging the name itself, plus the perceived traditional definition of “WTF” (which often caught people off guard and made them look twice)—and began to receive requests for “Will Travel For Vegan Food” branded shirts, stickers, and more—I realized that it was time to take the brand itself more seriously and grow with it rather than ignore the fact that it had become a “thing.”
What are your plans for WTF Vegan Food? Can we expect a European adventure anytime soon?
In order to celebrate the close of a successful cross country journey I’m hosting a party on August 22nd (click here to learn more).
All event proceeds will go to benefit one of my favorite non-profit organizations: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Immediately following the party I’m buckling down to finish writing my first-ever book – a memoir about the road trip, to be published by Vegan Publishers. And THEN (fingers crossed) I’m hoping to launch a web series showcasing vegan finds around the world. *wink*wink*
In March we launched the first international Vegan Package Swap project (and it’s the first to include non-food items). What top 5 goodies would you love to receive in a swap box?
Because I go out to eat a lot I’d love gift certificates to restaurants! Some other things I’m always on the look out for are: unique vegan makeup items, cool vegan jewelry, easy to travel with snacks (like protein bars and chips), and introductions to bloggers or vegan business owners that I didn’t know existed (like, maybe a short written interview with someone).
(Photos courtesy of WTF Vegan Food: First two pictures by Allison Wilkins McPhail of 5 A.M. Creative and the last photo by Christopher Zahka)