Prepare to Give All Food Control to God
Johannah Bogart is a world traveler and an all-around A+ human. She teaches online literature courses for middle school students and makes a killer raw vegan strawberry tart. The first time we met—at a potluck dinner, as it were—she mentioned to me that she loved seeing people nourish themselves. Hence, she is my soul model. These days Johannah is traveling all over the globe. Lucky for us, she is taking meticulous field notes and is always happy to share her thoughts on the wider world of gustation.
How long have you been traveling? How's the eating?
I have been traveling since October 2015, about a year and a half. The eating is a dream, and it is making me aware of the USA's polarity with food—the States have a big health food culture and yet an equally big legacy of fast food, which makes it hard to learn how to eat in a way that is balanced or flexible because everything feels either "good" or "bad".
Before I traveled, I lost the forest for the trees—foregoing homemade banana bread from a coworker to eat a Clif bar, or leaving out milk in my coffee to avoid dairy while eating at least two bowls of greek yogurt a day. I'm better at going with the food flow now instead of getting rigid about little things. That being said, going with the food flow in countries with lots of fresh veggies on the side of the street is very different than the USA Big Slurp corporate food flow.
You're veg-forward but not vegetarian at this point in your life, right?
On the herbivore-carnivore spectrum, I'm a reluctant meat eater.
In five words, how would you describe your relationship with food?
Gonna borrow a Mexican saying about how to evaluate food: bueno, bonito, barato (good, pretty, cheap)...and add healthy and generous.
What is the weirdest or newest thing you have eaten?
The weirdest thing I've eaten is 7-11 sushi in Vietnam that the workers warmed up in the microwave before serving. Second weirdest thing is fufu in Ghana—it is a big doughy ball made from cassava. It has the texture of gum and you aren't supposed to chew it, just take a piece with your hand and swallow. The newest thing I've eaten—blue rice! I had it yesterday in Bangkok. It was shaped like a 3D star, and I'm not sure where the color came from.
In general, my taste in food is basic: I ate a lot of tacos in Mexico, a lot of Pho in Vietnam, a lot of Pad Thai in Thailand.
How has your attitude about plant-based eating shifted over the years?
I was vegan for four years and vegetarian for a couple more, but living with three meat lovers in Brooklyn made me wonder what bacon wrapped dates and pulled pork sandwiches taste like. I prefer plant-based meals, but traveling forces flexibility. Being vegan and spending a little time being raw taught me about tons of plants and veggies and food combinations that the meat eating world doesn't seem to explore or offer.
So even though I eat meat now, I feel like I have more culinary options at my disposal because I've seen what is possible with plant based diets. Traveling has also opened me to tons of new culinary options, like drinking the water used to boil corn or putting carrots and basil in basic sandwiches.
What is the biggest priority for you this nomadic stage of your gustatory life?
When I first left New York, my priority was finding to-go coffee and healthy snacks. That was actually at odds with the Ecuadorian sit and sip culture, so I gave up after a couple months. Now my priority is embracing the street food culture and learning how to recognize all the herbs, like thai basil and lemongrass.
How have your views about food vis a vis culture been challenged over the past year?
It's funny to discover some things that I assumed were universal are not. For instance, sweet potatoes are used mostly as a dessert in Mexico, while I've only eaten them as a main. Soup is a popular hangover dish in Mexico, and—according to Mexicans—bread is a self-destructive hangover cure because you're just drying out your system even more.
My boyfriend, who is Mexican, told a friend I'm vegetarian while I was eating chicken tacos. Apparently I don't eat "enough" meat to be considered non-veg. It is very tricky to get to know a culture, honor heritage, and eat ethically and intentionally at the same time. So many foods started out with the goal of piling on the calories in order to save money, which has led to many creative, delicious, original iterations on pork fat fried rice.
In what country has it been easiest to eat healthfully?
Vietnam has the most greens and raw plants that I've seen, but it depends on the region. There is still plenty of barbecued and fried food. (I'm pretty sure every country I've been to thinks it invented barbecue.)
It is possible to eat very healthy and vegan in Peru, but mostly if you've got a big budget and small travel itinerary. There are many places that cater to the vegetarian/holistic/hippy traveler prototype along backpacker trails. Costa Rica's caribbean is just a long line of juice shops (the veggie based kind) and kale salads. Stay out of Nicaragua. Well, go, but prepare to give all food control to god.
What do you miss about US eating?
I miss the healthy-on-the-go food culture. In New York, there are so many ways to eat fast and healthfully, and it isn't socially alienating if I snack on raw almonds or don't want sugar in my coffee! I miss Kombucha on tap. I miss Kind bars.
What country does breakfast best?
Wowwwww me in my old kitchen in Brooklyn. Thanks for asking. I have never met a bowl of granola, fruits, and yogurt as good as my own. Unfortunately, it's hard to find the ingredients on whatever street corner of the world, so I've laid my dream to rest. This morning I put smashed up Nature Valley dark chocolate bars in a yogurt cup with a side of nescafe instant coffee, for example.
With that said, I love "paquetes"—breakfast combo options available in Mexico if you get out of bed before 10am. Usually it comes with chilaquiles (which to me are like breakfast nachos) and coffee and fruit. Colombian arepas—thick sweet corn pancake with salty cheese and butter—are incredibly satisfying. Colombian coffee also does the heart good.
I'm not a big fan of fish soup in the morning, shout out to Southeast Asia.
What is your spirit vegetable and/or fruit?
Apple because I'm reliable and pair well with fall. However, Passion fruit is my "aspirational" fruit because it is both tart and sweet and so versatile.
Live (and eat) vicariously through Johannah on instagram @johannahbogart