amw (amw) wrote,

notes on veganism and eating out in america

Staying vegan while eating out in small town America is insanely difficult. I have gone to fairly great lengths to maintain it where I can - forgoing "regular" breakfast for coffee and corn nuts, eating trail mix and a gas station banana in lieu of lunch, ordering only fries and padding it out with salted nuts, since gas stations don't sell any other kind. Plain bagels. Oh yeah. Thank God for Burger King's vege burger.

But every now and then I have just given up. Sure, you can live off of apples, nuts and french fries, but at some point it gets frustrating that literally everything on every menu - including salads - is chock full of animal flesh and animal byproducts. So I have granted myself a few gimmes, just in the interests of not being that total asshat who asks the restaurant to substitute everything. My strategy has been to order food popular in the area, and favor meat over dairy since forcing animals into slavery seems more inhumane and less ecologically sound than just killing them.

Windsor, ON - egg (in homemade muffins)
Windsor, ON - milk solids (in chocolate eggs)
Austin, MN - SPAM-LT
Rapid City, SD - yogurt raisins (in trail mix)
Cheyenne, WY - chicken fried steak
Helper, UT - omelet with kielbasa and feta
Price, UT - slice of cheese (on vege burger)
Helper, UT - turkey sandwich with sour cream and cheese
Helper, UT - chili dog
Helper, UT - vanilla ice cream (given with free pie)
Winnemucca, NV - chorizo (in tomato soup)
Winnemucca, NV - carnitas
Winnemucca, NV - mayonnaise and chipped bacon (in cucumber/avo sandwich)
Winnemucca, NV - huevos rancheros
Winnemucca, NV - jack in the box spicy chicken
Battle Mountain, NV - chicken fried steak
Battle Mountain, NV - tacos with pork
Reno, NV - tacos al pastor y con chorizo
San Francisco, CA - tacos al pastor y carnitas
San Francisco, CA - tacos al pastor y chorizo
San Francisco, CA - tacos al pastor y carnitas
San Francisco, CA - spicy fish (small part of chinese meal)
San Francisco, CA - torta pierna
San Francisco, CA - spicy beef (small part of Ethiopian meal)

Sometimes I had to eat out of politeness - for instance in Windsor where R cooked me muffins and saved me chocolate eggs from Easter because she knew how much I used to love them. Or in Helper where I got a free slice of pie from the waitress, and it came with ice cream.

But I was also surprised a lot. I expected to be able to get a tofu scramble in Denver and all-veg Indonesian food in Madison. But I didn't expect vege fajitas in Rapid. Or a vege burger in Wall. South Dakota in general was an amazing surprise.

Out west of the Rockies? Meat, eggs and cheese are still ubiquitous. Outside of the gas station staples, vegans eating out are largely screwed.


In general I am pretty happy with how I did. I admit I was very lazy in San Francisco, where coming across vegan food is like shooting fish in a barrel. No excuses. We were staying in the Mission and I love tacos. Overall, though, over the course of a month where I traveled through some of the least densely populated and most conservative parts of America, over a month where I did not cook or prepare a single meal of my own, I only ate 16 blatantly non-vegan dishes and had a handful of other "slip-ups" due to shared meals or surprise ingredients. I can totally live with that.

Though, if I look back, there are definitely a few gimmes I regret. Obviously the chicken burger at Jack in the Box. That was a moment of desperation. I ain't apologizing for tacos because they are delicious. Or for chicken fried steak or the chili dog because that was straight up gonzo tourism - eat what the locals are eating. Or for SPAM on my pilgrimage to the SPAM Museum. But the various mediocre egg breakfasts, sandwiches with cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise etc... If I was going to break bad for those, I would have felt happier going all the way. Just give me some meat.

I never thought I would feel more negative toward dairy products than meat after eating vegan a while, but I do. Meat feels like something you may need to eat for survival out there in the prairie or the desert. Dairy just feels like bourgeois baby food.

So, since I left San Francisco - two days in Chicago, five days in Berlin - 100% vegan again. It's not hard in the big cities. And it's a piece of cake when you are preparing breakfast and dinner yourself. But the experience of traveling around and seeing what a barren wasteland it is for "alternative" dietary choices in the West, as well as analyzing my own threshold for breaking with my conviction... it's definitely been one of the more interesting takeaways of this trip.
Tags: food, travel

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