filed under Vegan Food

How to Eat Vegan Even in a One-Stoplight Town

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Photo by Christine Moran

So you don’t live on the Upper East Side. Perhaps you live in small-town America. Instead of skyscrapers and specialty restaurants on every corner, you have lush green fields and Piggly Wiggly. But just because you can’t choose between gallery openings every weekend doesn’t mean that you can’t still eat grub like the city folk. Here is a small-town girl’s guide to eating vegan wherever you live.

At the local mom-n-pop place: There’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned comfort foods. Sit on the porch, sip some lemonade, and play checkers while you enjoy a vegetable plate loaded up with favorites such as corn on the cob, green beans, carrots, baked potatoes, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, and asparagus. Most restaurants have moved away from cooking veggies with lard or bacon, but you can ask just to be sure. Finish with a big slice of watermelon and of course, have a seed-spitting contest.

At the brunch spot: Gather your friends for some juicy gossip over a mixed-fruit platter, muffins, hash browns, bagels, oatmeal with maple syrup, and whole-grain toast with local preserves.

At the Italian restaurant: I could quite contentedly bury my head in a bowl of pasta and never come up for air. Italian restaurants have more vegan options than you can shake a breadstick at. You can easily turn many of the pastas on the menu vegan by asking to trade out the meat in the dish for a vegetable (I always go for zucchini). Or simply order your favorite pasta topped with a wine, olive oil, or tomato sauce and your choice of veggies.

At the sandwich shop: Enjoy coffee and a good read over hummus with pita bread and fresh veggies. Or opt for a soup-and-salad combo with a steaming bowl of tomato or vegetable soup.

At the sports bar: I’m fortunate that my local sports bar actually has one of the best veggie burgers I’ve tried. If yours hasn’t made the leap yet, you can still find snacks to wash down with beer while you catch the game. Stuffed mushrooms can often easily be made vegan, as can veggie quesadillas and potato skins. And, of course, there’s typical bar fare, such as chips and salsa, guacamole, and onion rings.

At fast-food restaurants: Many of the major fast-food chains are now including vegetarian or vegan options on their menus. Burger King offers a veggie burger, and Subway‘s menu includes Veggie Delite subs and salads with sides of apples and chips. Tim Hortons has three vegan soups: hearty vegetable, minestrone, and tomato with whole-grain pasta, to pair with several breads.

Chains such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and Chipotle Mexican Grill let you build your own Mexican favorites from a huge selection of ingredients, so you get your own custom vegan meal. And Taco Bell has a plethora of choices that can easily be made vegan by leaving off one or two ingredients, including the 7-Layer Burrito, Fresco Bean Burrito, black-bean burrito, veggie-cantina bowl, crispy potato soft taco, black beans and rice, Mexican rice, and chips paired with guacamole, Pico de Gallo, or corn salsa. Wash your meal down with a Limeade Sparkler and have some cinnamon twists for dessert.

On road trips: When I’m on the road, I can’t stand to waste time by stopping to eat. I’ve become a gas-station vegan, filling up on fresh fruit, nuts, Clif Bars, unfrosted Pop-Tarts, chips, pretzels, Triscuits, Wheat Thins, and always, Oreos.

With so many options, it’s pretty easy to be vegan wherever you live. Of course, one of the benefits of small-town life is that everyone knows everyone else, so don’t be afraid to ask your pals who own and work at the local joints to start offering items such as veggie burgers and faux-cheese pizzas. If someone won’t oblige, you can always tell his mom — who graduated with your mom, briefly dated your uncle, and plays church-league softball with your in-laws.

If you’re interested in making the switch to vegan eating, PETA offers menu ideas and vegetarian recipes to get you started.

  • DaveMiller135

    You don’t think the filling in Oreos is made from lard?

    • Michelle Kretzer

      Nope! Oreos are purely vegan, and thank goodness or I would be faced with a dilemma of epic proportions.

      • Terry Vourantonis

        Your dilemma should be wear natural renewable fur or pollute the Earth with FAUX everything unthinking one.!

  • EvilArdo

    Is it the frosting on pop-tarts that contains gelatin?

    • Michelle Kretzer

      You got it. The frosting contains gelatin, but the unfrosted varieties are vegan.

  • Beet-Eating Heeb

    Michelle, great post, but BEH has a question:

    Isn’t it the case that Italian restaurants usually use eggs in making their pasta?

    • Michelle Kretzer

      The pasta at many Italian restaurants is vegan, or at least some of it is, including Pizza Hut, Uno, Carrabbas, Olive Garden, Carino’s, Fazoli’s, The Old Spaghetti Factory, Zio’s Italian Kitchen, and many more.

  • Lisa

    not many muffins are vegan…

    • Michelle Kretzer

      True. But in a one-stoplight town where everyone knows everyone else, it’s a little easier to ask the restaurant owners to make something that you would like.

  • Excalibre

    What the hell restaurant offers watermelon for dessert? What the hell is a vegan quesadilla? And where the hell are you going for pasta where you have sauce that you are certain is vegan?

    And Jesus the Christ, stop eating Oreos. The only thing worse than how they taste is what they do to your arteries.

    • Michelle Kretzer

      Well, I’m from the south, and we’re pretty big watermelon fans down here. Many places incorporate chunks of watermelon into a fruit dish, but even if it isn’t watermelon, several restaurants (even the Cheesecake Factory) offer fresh fruit for dessert. Veggie quesadillas could be made with any vegetables you prefer, just omitting the cheese and sour cream. And most Italian restaurants offer a white wine/garlic sauce or marinara that is or can be made vegan. And I do try to ration my Oreos.

  • Amy

    Do your research!! So many errors here, I don’t know where to start. Vegan muffins? Tim Horton’s vegan minestrone? Vegan veggie burgers at the sports bar? No. You’re eating eggs, pork, and eggs and/or cheese if you eat those things. Which is fine. Just don’t write an article about all the amazing vegan food you’re eating.

    • Michelle Kretzer

      Some restaurant veggie burgers do contain dairy products, but many don’t, such as the ones at Bennigans, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Cheers, Flamers Grill, Hard Times Cafe, Johnny Rockets, Kelsey’s, and many more. I was given some wrong information about Tim Horton’s, and I appreciate you pointing it out. In order to keep readers as accurately informed as possible, it is correct that only the hearty vegetable soup is purely vegan there. Thanks for catching the error and making sure that we are putting out the best information possible to help people make informed choices.

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Michelle Kretzer learned about factory farming while pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Kentucky. She immediately stopped eating meat and dedicated herself to the cause of animal rights. When she is not writing for PETA, Michelle enjoys doting on her German shepherd mix, Hannah, traveling, collecting Beatles memorabilia, and finding great cruelty-free shoes and bags.