Going vegetarian was a painless transition for Kim Giovacco. At age 22, she vowed to abstain from meat, fish, and fowl for ethical reasons. In the three decades since, she’s held fast — never once swayed by such temptations as a medium-rare porterhouse or a crispy chicken sandwich.
“I don’t miss meat at all,” says Giovacco. “Becoming a vegetarian was the easiest thing for me.”
But when she tried to make the leap to veganism (a lifestyle that eschews the use of all animal products, from dairy to gelatin to leather) about 10 years ago, she faltered.
At home, eliminating animal-derived foods from her diet was easy enough. The problem was traveling, says Giovacco. As a hobbyist globetrotter, she would often find herself in some far-flung corner of the world where chefs basted all their veggies and protein in butter. She often ate bread as dinner.
Finally, in 2015, Giovacco had an “a-ha” moment: What if she organized food tours centered around the finest vegan fare in the world? Veg Jaunts and Journeys, a plant-based travel agency, took root from there.
Giovacco’s first tour — a weekend-long excursion from Boston to Manhattan — was a fever dream. The city’s heat index flirted with 113 degrees, she recalls. It was the kind of heat where mirages take shape in Times Square and Central Park turns into a sultry jungle. “But people loved it,” Giovacco remembers. “Everything went so well.”
As she began planning the next tour — a longer expedition to Europe — her 9-to-5 at the Singapore Economic Development Board in Boston came to a halt. For 18 years, Giovacco’s duties had included putting together itineraries for visiting Singaporean officials and “making sure everything was perfect.”
The agency now had plans to shut down the Boston outpost and move Giovacco to New York City. Instead, she took her severance package and ran for the hills of Western North Carolina — an area she knew to be tiny house- and vegan-friendly (Giovacco lives in a 400-square-foot home in Mills River). That’s when she decided to turn Veg Jaunts and Journeys into something more than a clever side gig.
“In 2017, I made the business into my full-time job,” she notes.
Since then, Giovacco has led small groups to places like Glasgow, Scotland, and Reykjavík, Iceland. During each of these voyages, patrons are treated to a distinctly epicurean experience. Rather than pick at half-hearted hummus plates, for example, sightseers might dine on cruelty-free delicacies like plant-based haggis in Scotland, vegan huevos rancheros in Arizona, and even French croissants made — amazingly — without butter.
Other culinary marvels include “steak” medallions made from a gluten-based meat substitute called seitan and sharp cheddar cheese made entirely from cashews. “In most cities, we can’t even visit all of the vegan restaurants in one week,” says Giovacco. “There are just so many tasty options.”
But finding these plant-based eateries requires a fair amount of reconnaissance. So much so that Giovacco has started partnering with locals who know all the secret spots. For an upcoming trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, for instance, a native tour guide has asked a village “nonni” (grandmother) to serve vegan dinners from her very own kitchen. “We’re definitely going off the beaten path,” says Giovacco.
For those who prefer to stay closer to home, Giovacco offers walking tours of Asheville. She also partners with private chef Mark Cerkvenik to offer whole food, plant-based, no-oil tours in nature-centric places like Asheville as well as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Sedona, Arizona.
After watching his loved ones succumb to lifestyle-influenced diseases like cancer and hypertension, the Chicago native, raised on red meat, decided to take a long, hard look at the food he was eating. Cerkvenik adopted a diet of unprocessed whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes. Nowadays, he doesn’t even cook with oil.
“I’m still going to die,” Cerkvenik says wryly. “But eating this way is like driving with my seatbelt on. I’m giving myself the best shot.”
Since it can be pretty challenging to find a vegan restaurant that doesn’t dredge veggies and meat substitutes in oil, Cerkvenik whips up über-healthy eats during domestic trips. Meals run the gamut from pub nachos with nutritional yeast “cheese” sauce to fancy meringue made with aquafaba — the viscous liquid from canned or home-cooked beans, usually chickpeas.
“My favorite thing is to prove that vegan food doesn’t have to be boring,” says Cerkvenik.
Giovacco agrees. “There’s a lot of creative vegan cuisine out there,” she says. “You just have to know where to find it.”
Veg Jaunts and Journeys, Mills River. For information about 2024 tours, see .