Vegan in… Bethel, Alaska?

If you haven’t heard of Bethel, Alaska, no worries — you’re not alone. Until a few weeks ago, neither had I. Located in the expansive state’s southwest coast, nestled into the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Bethel is 400 miles from Anchorage and feels worlds away from the tourist-filled hotspots of Denali or the Kenai Fjords. Inaccessible by road, the only way in is via plane. Some folks are lucky enough to get on a 737, but I made my way from Anchorage to Bethel on a prop plane. The clip-clip-clip of the propellers became background noise as I watched soaring snow-capped peaks give way to marshy, flat tundra, with a series of increasingly frequent rivers snaking their way through the Alaskan bush.

Flight from Anchorage to Bethel -- propeller over marshy tundraAlaska was not on my already-extensive travel list for this year, but when I had an opportunity to travel there for work, I responded with an immediate “Yes, please, when does the plane leave?” I won’t scoop my own story, but I was there to report on (and help with) our work providing vet services and supplies to three villages in the Y-K Delta. It was a surreal six days, easily the most unique and unforgettable week of travel I’ve ever had. We traveled by boat, by 4-wheeler, by large jet, by tiny Cessna, by our own two feet, and — once — by bicycle.

Because all groceries and supplies must be flown in to Bethel and the surrounding villages, you’ll pay a pretty penny for nearly everything, even more so than in locations closer to Alaska’s “big” cities. Plus, the villages themselves have only small general stores with limited provisions. So our team came prepared, with suitcases loaded full of veg-friendly staples. I personally packed my weight in bars: Clif, Luna, Lara, and all their friends. I fully expected to subsist wholly on processed proteins for six days.

"Be Healthy in Bethel" public artwork on a dumpster in Bethel, Alaska

But! Bethel had some surprises in store. While on a group food run at the local grocery-cum-hardware-cum-everything-else store*, I was flabbergasted to see not one but two brands of vegan yogurt: Daiya and, absurdly, Kite Hill. (I can barely find Kite Hill around here!) Next to the yogurt was a row of Daiya’s new-ish farmhouse block cheeses. A few rows over, we found Califia brand almond milks, along with the more common Silk and Almond Breeze. And there were two — two! — types of tofu. Yes, everything cost more than you’d pay in the Lower 48, but darn it if we didn’t buy a block of Daiya Gouda. Voting with our dollar, indeed. (One thing we could not find? Hummus!)

I didn’t snag a photo of the nondairy display, but you can use your imagination. Just include an image of me, jaw dropping Home Alone-style, and you’ll have an even more accurate picture.

So, vegans: If you’re heading to rural Alaska, you might just get lucky when it comes to nondairy delights. It never hurts to look!

*I can’t remember the name of the store with 100% certainty, but I’m pretty sure it was Swanson’s. It was definitely not the flashy, new-looking grocery store, though — that one had an “organic/natural food” section but did NOT have nearly as many nondairy treats!

Deer Run B&B Review: A Vegan Bed and Breakfast in the Florida Keys

I turned 30 in March. In August, my mom will turn 60. Two momentous birthdays in a single year required a special celebration: a mom-daughter vacation!

I asked my mom where she wanted to go, and after throwing around a few ideas, she was pretty decisive: the Florida Keys. She hadn’t been since her honeymoon 37 years ago, and I’d never been at all. I didn’t know much about the Keys beyond what I’d heard about Key West, but I was excited to explore both it and the less popular keys. And when we discovered that there was an all-vegan bed and breakfast on Big Pine Key, well, that sealed the deal. To the Keys!

Mom and me in Key West

Blurry Facebook photo of mom and me in Key West!

Deer Run Vegan B&B on Big Pine Key

Big Pine Key is 33 miles north of Key West, more than halfway down the stretch of 43 connected islands that make up the Keys. Besides hosting the only population of the diminutive Key Deer in the entire world (!), it also hosts a fabulous vegan B&B. Mom and I spent five nights at Deer Run Bed and Breakfast, enjoying the B&B’s private beach, astonishingly large and delicious breakfasts, and the occasional game of Scrabble when the weather didn’t cooperate.

 

 

 

Nothing like some RBG on the beach. 👌🏼👑 🌴

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Proprietors Jen and Harry have created a true vegan oasis in the Keys. Mom and I shared the Eden room, which might not be oceanfront but does have a private, secluded garden. The entire beach and yard is a wildlife-friendly habitat, and I loved having surprisingly good wildlife-watching right outside our screened-in porch. The redwing blackbird who was making a home for his family greeted us loudly every morning, the tiny lizards scurried through the trees, and I caught a glimpse of a shy resident iguana high-tailing it away from me when I walked around the corner one afternoon. The aforementioned endangered Key Deer (which grow only to about waist-height) roamed freely over the beach, and I couldn’t get enough of their tiny selves.

 

 

I'm pretty curious about you too, little one.

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Not only are Jen and Harry true-blue animal advocates (they’re both involved in all sorts of vegan and animal-friendly causes in the Keys), but they’re also environmentalists. To that end, Deer Run is kitted out to be super eco-friendly, with composting toilets, water-recycling systems, and compost bins for guests’ plant refuse. They also supply bulk shampoo, conditioner, soap, and body wash — no tiny plastic bottles here.

Out on the beach, Harry and Jen are working to restore and replant mangrove trees. They form a natural barrier against erosion but have typically been ripped out to make way for development and long stretches of sandy beaches.

 

View for the next five days.

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It’s good for the soul to stay in a place where the owners share your values and don’t compromise on them. Deer Run is that place.

Delicious vegan breakfasts at Deer Run

Deer Run is also the place to go if you want massive vegan breakfasts that feature multiple courses and take you at least an hour to eat. This is not an exaggeration, and I have to admit that I didn’t finish my breakfast even once during the five days we were there. (Don’t worry, plates and aluminum foil are at the ready so you can save your leftovers for later.)

At first, I wasn’t thrilled when I realized that the 8:30 breakfast call meant I’d have to get up early during my vacation. But it was totally worth it. It meant that Mom and I made the most of our days, and we started with super hearty breakfasts that kept us going. Plus, there’s copious coffee and tea if you need a caffeine kick!

Breakfasts typically included a baked good to start, followed by an incredible fruit smoothie, and then a ginormous main dish with fruit and another side. For example, one day we had almond scones, tropical smoothies, toasted oat waffles, and slices of cantaloupe. Another breakfast featured a to-die-for mocha muffin, a southwestern frittata, roasted potatoes, and a pineapple spear. And we had the absolute best vegan bacon I’ve ever tasted on our last day — I’m salivating just thinking about it!

Words not good enough? Check out the visuals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? I wasn’t joking about the ginormous breakfasts. You will leave full!

I can’t recommend this place highly enough. If you want a relaxing vacation where you’re immersed in gorgeous nature with wildlife all around, go. It’s pricy, but it’s worth it.

IF YOU GO…

  • Be sure to visit nearby Bahia Honda Beach, located just a five-minute drive away. After driving past the entrance kiosk, turn left to hang out on a world-famous beach, or turn right for a chance to walk out on a portion of the old Key Highway system, which extends over the absurdly blue water and offers great views (photo below!).
  • Borrow a bike from Deer Run and take a ride to one of the nature trails on the island, or just cruise around enjoying the sun.
  • Order a custom-made key lime pie from Jen. It’s the only (!) vegan key lime pie in the Keys, and she’ll deliver it to you in a picnic basket with silverware, plates, and coconut whipped cream for your dining pleasure. Mom and I split one and finished it in two days. #noregrets
  • Be aware that the B&B attracts plenty of non-vegan guests, so you might have to field the standard “curious omnivore” questions. Think of it as an opportunity to educate and inspire!
  • Ask to meet the cats (if you’re not allergic, of course)! They’re sweet and super friendly but don’t interact with guests unless their presence is requested.

View from Bahia Honda

Pretty sure that’s a photo of paradise right there. ;)

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Deer Run Vegan Bed and Breakfast // govegga.comDeer Run Vegan Bed and Breakfast // govegga.comDeer Run Vegan Bed and Breakfast // govegga.comDeer Run Vegan Bed and Breakfast // govegga.com Deer Run Vegan Bed and Breakfast // govegga.comSave

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