Some may think the words “vegan” and “fast food” don’t belong in the same sentence… The fact is that my lifestyle and that of a lot of other people, requires eating on-the-go once in a while. Do I eat fast food every day? No. Many of my co-workers do, and I know it is the norm for a lot of people my age who “don’t know how to cook” or claim to not have time. I want to tell those people you don’t have to actually “cook” to eat vegan at home, and that there are things you can do with very little time, but that’s another topic. Sometimes it’s necessary to grab something on the road. And sometimes it’s just fun to go out for a bite with your friends! So I’ll describe my approach, which includes some good strategies for anyone trying to eat healthy, not just vegans!
I have my “go-tos” – things that are easy to find almost anywhere in America (that is on the Interstate Highway system at least). Subway veggie on white (their wheat bread has honey), load up on veggies and you can have a 12″ salad on a bun for $5 (most locations) and around 400 calories. Taco Bell bean burrito without cheese (and onions for myself). Less than $1, seriously, and 320 calories. Find your own go-tos.
I do some research – ahead of time or on-the-fly. I use an app for the iPhone called Vegan Xpress (Vegan Xpress iPhone app). It has a lot of fast food and chain restaurants (like Applebees, Red Lobster) with lists of vegan menu items. Most restaurants have nutrition information, including ingredients, online now. If you know ahead of time where you will be going this is a great way to find something suitable. Almost every chain restaurant will have allergy information – either online or in the restaurant. This can be tremendously helpful as eggs and dairy are common allergens.
Then you have local or non-chain restaurants. These are a little trickier. Again, if I know where I will be going ahead of time I try to find a web presence for the establishment. Hopefully they at least have a menu online so I know what I’m going into. It is rare that I find myself somewhere without a single item that is at least vegetarian (and therefore easily modified by omitting cheese, for example), but it happens. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the wait staff, and to request they relay information from the kitchen if they don’t know the answers. In this day and age, it’s common for people to have special diets and/or food sensitivities and allergies. Businesses need to know that 1) they need to educate their staff on these issues, and 2) they need to have options available. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to go to lunch with some former co-workers to celebrate a retirement. The retiree picked a local restaurant – Aunt Maude’s. I had trouble eating here when I was vegetarian, so I knew it was going to be a challenge. I looked at their menu online and as I had suspected, no vegan (or vegetarian) options. So I called the restaurant up during non-peak hours (before the lunch rush) a few days before the event. I explained my situation and they were very nice about it. They said it would be no problem to make a vegan entree for me and asked about my preferences.
I make the best of the situation. I’ve only been in a few situations where there was absolutely nothing I could eat. Honestly, I actively try to avoid establishments where I know there are no vegan or vegetarian menu items (local BBQ places, for example). If you are with your family or unsympathetic friends, this may not be an option. My advice would be to either make a special request or just get something to drink. If I’m going somewhere this may be a concern, such as a wedding, I try to eat a little something beforehand and stick a Larabar or a small snack in my purse. The bottom line is that you’re probably not going to starve. I also don’t like others to get the impression that being vegan is a pain in the ass, so I try to be as graceful as possible and not make a big deal about it. If you are out with your family or friends, or at an event, try to focus on the company and the moment itself. It doesn’t have to be about the food! You can still have a great time without it.
Sometimes, I stoop low. Most gas stations that carry snack food will have a few vegan options. Familiarize yourself with the I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan! food list over at Peta.org. My usual suspects are Wheat Thins and Twizzlers. Sometimes, you just gotta eat.
So there you have it, a few suggestions on how to eat vegan and/or healthy on-the-go. Some other links you might find helpful:
My Life as a Vegan – Fast Food Options
Happy Cow Food Finder
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