So America is the home of meat, dairy and full-fat. It’s the land of excessive consumptions, extraordinary portion sizes and where smothering everything with layers of three types of cheese is normal. When you’re a vegetarian or vegan, the concept of eating at an American restaurant that isn’t designed for you can be quite daunting. The biggest question is always: will they actually have anything for me that isn’t chips? And by chips I mean french fries for all y’all US English speakers. I managed to survive – even thrive – during my four weeks there last summer, and I aim to again in two weeks time when I’m cruising up the West Coast.
Stocking up on snacks makes you a total winner in the “vegetarian trying not to go hungry” game. Hit the snack aisles whenever you pass a Walmart or stop at a gas station and raid the shelves for anything and everything. With a stack of healthy snacks and a ton of water you’ll keep yourself full and hydrated and less likely to binge on fries and waffles and foods that aren’t going to sit well. It’s also a good idea to visit a market along the way to stock up on cheap fruit and vegetables that you can add to meals and snacks on your journey.
Whole Foods is my one and only. It’s the holy grail for veggies. It’s my happy place; the place where vegans and veggies alike can frolic amongst aisles of health products and superfoods; where you can stack your take-away salad bowl high with spinach, kale and tofu without fear of ridicule from meat-eaters. They weigh it by the pound, so don’t go too overboard as the boxes are huge – a friend of mine managed to spend $25 on one salad. Just one salad – but they have so many options there it’s hard not to get carried away. They even do freshly-cooked pizza and pasta dishes, burritos and tacos and many other hot dishes that can all be catered for different dietary requirements.
Another handy hack is to order side dishes over mains. A lot of sides in restaurants are salads, veggies or other vegetarian/vegan dishes and cost a lot less than the main meals – and they are often not much smaller. You can make up great, relatively healthy meals this way that will often cost you less than a main meal.
Watch out for hidden dairy and meat in meals. Especially in the South, people have a habit of throwing small meat and dairy products into their local specialities. A lot of refried bean recipes and the like contain little chunks of ham, and veggie burgers often come with cheese cooked into the patty itself. If the menu doesn’t list out all the ingredients in a dish and it’s one that you’re not familiar with, ask the waitstaff what it contains. Better to ask than to be disappointed.
When you can’t find anything at all on the menu and you can’t stand another plate of chips, just ask them for something. Request a salad that’s made using foods that they have in other salads; ask for roasted vegetables with bread or get a simple pasta and tomato sauce. A lot of restaurants won’t mind too much if you explain your situation to them – I often just say I don’t eat meat and I’m lactose intolerant rather than just say I’m vegan as that often elicits scoffs and complaints (even in this day and age).
Vegans and vegetarians aren’t properly catered for in American society, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. Be prepared for having limited options at restaurants, but remember that you’re benefitting the environment and your health. It’s worth it.