08 May 2015

Want to Go Vegan? Eating In Restaurants

A friend asked for advice on going vegan. So this is the first of a series of posts in an attempt to answer some of her questions.

Eating vegan in restaurants can be a challenge. When I can choose the restaurant, I'm good to go; Indian restaurants almost always have good vegan options, and Chinese and Japanese restaurants also usually do.

At diners and diner-like restaurants, I usually do pretty well off the list of side orders, combining a couple of vegetables with some baked beans and a salad, for instance.

But sometimes you get stuck with a plate of wilted lettuce and tasteless tomatoes with salt and pepper out of little paper packets. Maybe some bread or home fries, if you're lucky. Then what?

If you know it's coming, you can plan ahead. I often carry a bag of almonds or cashews, as they make great vegan snacks and are also good to supplement an inadequate meal. If it comes as a surprise, I drink a lot of water and then go in search of more food. Even vending machines and gas stations will almost always have something vegan -- potato chips, pretzels, peanuts.

It gets easier. Around home, I've learned which restaurants have at least one item on the menu that I'm happy to eat, as well as a few with enough great options I actually re-read the menu each time I eat there.

If fast food is the only option, Wendy's salad bar can work; Taco Bell will sell you a tacos or a burritos with just beans and vegetables, and if you add enough of their tiny packets of sauce, they're not bad.

And I try not to be too hard on myself. The tofu and the chicken wings get deep-fried in the same oil, and the Vietnamese soup might contain fish sauce or chicken broth, but I try not to make myself crazy, particularly when traveling.

Hiking in the Dolomites and staying in mountain huts a couple of summers ago, I was getting really low on protein; day after day, I was eating polenta or potatoes and not much else, after I ran out of nuts and dried fruit. I was going to have to quit hiking or eat meat. so I chose the meat. I had to retreat to a corner of the bunk room and choke it down without anyone watching, and it still grosses me out to think about it, but boy was I strong the next day.

I try to learn from mistakes: When I went to the Lake District for a hostel-to-hostel hike a few weeks ago, I brought along a huge bag of TVP: dried soy chunks to reconstitute with water. Much lighter than nuts, so pound for pound, it goes much farther, and thus lasts much longer.

But also, I try not to beat myself up over the lapses. I'm never going to be perfect, so I just do my best and keep on moving.