How to be a Vegan Away from Home

“OK, so let me get this straight. You want the veggie pizza with no cheese?” If I had a penny for every time I confused a server at a restaurant by asking for a vegan version of something on the menu, I’d be rich. We live in a meat eating dairy, loving world.

It’s one thing to be vegan at home, when you have a wide range of ingredients that you need to make tasty meals without meat or dairy, but it can be pretty tough to meet your nutrition needs and get good meals when you are away from home trying to eat in places where the concept of eating no meat or dairy is met with confused stares.

Friends often ask me how I manage to stay a vegan when not at home and since it is not easy, I am sharing some tricks that have helped me. To continue reading this post, click here…

- Dining Out - When I eat at restaurants I have what I call the “ask-twice-test-once” rule. Since servers in most places haven’t been working long enough to encounter a vegan, they aren’t likely to understand the concept of a non meat, non dairy meal. They will often tell you certain food on the menu has no meat or dairy when in fact it does. If you ask for a modification such as a no cheese burrito, the server may forget to confirm with the chef. So first I explain to the server that I can’t eat meat or dairy and ask what they suggest (I have heard that some vegans will say they have food allergies to get the servers attention). If the restaurant doesn’t have a set vegan dish, then salads, pizzas, and pasta dishes can easily be modified to exclude dairy. When my food arrives, I ask the server again if there is any dairy or meat in the meal. Lastly, since I can’t trust the server entirely, I do a quick check myself (I figure I still get non vegan about one in 5 times including just last night when a server brought my wife and I “vegetarian” mulligatawny soup…. that had big chunks of chicken in it). Beware of soups, even vegetable soups, as they are often made with chicken broth. The chef should know if you ask (hat tip to my wife for pointing this one out to me).

- Traveling - on business trips you are often surrounded only by fast food places and it can be tough to get something vegan (or healthy or that matter). There are few fast food places that are vegan friendly. Mexican, Lebanese and pita places have lots of veg choices without dairy. Pizza places can make a non cheese veggie pizza – just be sure to ask for a pinch of salt since cheese is salty and you may find a non cheese pizza bland otherwise. Salads with vinaigrette dressing are also safe, toast as well. When I am traveling by car I bring a tetra pack of rice milk for my morning drink (chicory coffee or herbal teas, which I also bring since hotels only stock coffee).

- Coffee Shops - most coffee shops carry soya milk these days and will replace dairy in your latte if you ask (I can’t wait until they start carrying almond milk – see Comparing Different Types of Non-Dairy Milk).

- Meals at a Friend’s or Relative’s House - this is probably the toughest situation to manage so you need to be real sensitive here. Few people know how to prepare a vegan meal, let alone a good one. Dairy and meat are usually integral to every meal they know how to prepare. Your host might feel self conscious that they don’t know how to cook vegan or guilty because they couldn’t make you a vegan dish along with the regular meal they prepared for everyone else. When a host asks in advance what I can eat, I usually try to make it simple and just say veggies. No matter what there is usually salad or bread available to tide me over in case all the other dishes are not vegan. Always be gracious as most hosts take it personally if you do or don’t like the meal they put great effort into creating.

I like eating and hate being hungry so I tend to always bring my own emergency food in case I can’t find anything. Trail mix or a meal replacement bars are my personal favorites.

Luckily the world is slowly getting more vegan aware and there are more and more choices.

  • http://www.openparenthesis.org/ jeckman

    Thanks Eliot – I also travel significantly as a vegan, and though it can be tricky sometimes (mostly due to Omnivorous / Carnist travel companions) it is definitely getting easier the more practiced you get.

    A few quick things I also find helpful:

    VegGuide (http://www.vegguide.org/) and HappyCow (http://www.happycow.net/) can help you find local vegan/vegetarian or even just veg-friendly restaurants around you.

    VegGuide even has an iPhone app – called VegOut – which uses GPS to find out where you are and show options on a map based on distance from you!

    Finally, even Yelp, which isn't otherwise terribly vegan friendly, often turns up interesting reviews by local vegetarians and vegans – try it out in the next city you visit.

  • eliotburdett

    Thanks for the suggestions John! I think my wife uses one or two of these apps, but I must download them onto my own iPhone and make my life easier.

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