How many times have you wanted to get in your car and drive away? Grab your best friend or your partner, or perhaps go solo, and hit the road, Jack Kerouac style? Driving across the country is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. And then, just like that, we were given our chance. Mariann, who teaches animal law at a handful of schools in New York City, was invited to teach for a semester at the prestigious Lewis & Clark Law School Center for Animal Law in Portland, OR. Since we could hardly leave home for six months without bringing our Vitamix, our podcast microphone, or our glorious rescued pit bull, Rose, air travel seemed out of the question. And what better way to really see America than to get in the Grandmamobile (our loving nickname for Jasmin’s grandmother’s 2005 Buick), skip the interstates, and hit the two-lane highways that go smack through the heartland?
Throughout our 19-day journey, we traversed New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Not bad for a couple of carless New Yorkers who consider a trip to Brooklyn to be a major commitment.
Just as we’d dreamed, while taking Our Hen House on the road, we got a sneak peek into vegan restaurants, microbreweries, farmed-animal sanctuaries, the homes of vegan cookbook authors, and animal-rights events—not to mention the opportunity to connect with folks everywhere working to end animal cruelty. Fortunately, we ignored advice from podcast listeners urging us to pack freeze-dried food (“This is not New York, girls! You will starve!”), and, as a result, our experience was anything but deprived. The proof is in the vegan pudding. Things are starting to change, and people are beginning to wake up everywhere you go.
With that, we bring you our top five highlights from traveling the country the vegan way, followed by tips for anyone interested in following our bread crumb trail and taking off on your own vegan gallivant.
5 Highlights from the Vegan Road
- Sanctuaries. Throughout our travels, we saw many—and were lucky enough to spend time at some great ones, including Washington’s River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary. The handful of sanctuaries we visited are, of course, just drops in the bucket of the ever-growing world of sanctuaries, which provide not only lifelong respite for animals, but a chance for activists to press “reboot” and spend time among some true ambassadors.
- Food. The vegan offerings at restaurants nationwide are growing faster than zucchini in August, and delectable dishes are not just reserved for the Big Apple anymore. Though there are way too many to name, some favorites include the very vegan-friendly Mizuna in Spokane, WA; Omaha, NE’s McFoster’s; Pittsburgh, PA’s Eden; and the all-vegan bakery in Kansas City, MO, Mud Pie.
- Drink. You can imagine our surprise when we were driving past Rockford, IL, happened to tap the VegOut app on our phone (don’t leave home without it), and found a just-opened, all-vegan microbrewery, Pig Minds Brewing, only two miles away. We made a U-turn and found our way to some of the most scrumptious vegan bar food and beer we have ever had. Finding this vegan wonderland in the most unlikely of places was perhaps the highlight of our entire trip.
- People. Vegans are everywhere, and we encountered a passionate bunch of them. Aside from the random conversations we found ourselves in while waiting for Sunshine Burgers (such as at Riverton, WY’s Wind River Mercantile), we caught up with the likes of vegan cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Brody’s Bakery owner Katie Olson, and outspoken vegan jewelry designer Bonnie Goodman (we refused to leave her store without earrings that said “Know Tofu”), to name just a few.
- Companies. More and more businesses are taking a turn for the greener, and frequently that means abstaining from animal products and animal testing. More often than not, we did not specifically seek out these ethically minded businesses. Sometimes, they just fell in our laps! While making a pit stop in Indiana, for example, we wound up in the same strip mall as the storefront for the cosmetic and skin care line, Joppa Minerals, which has a ton of vegan offerings including our newest favorite lip color, Rhapsody. In Bozeman, MT, we feasted on WayFare Foods’ delicious cheeses. And then there was the time when we were driving through Hood River, OR—so close to Portland that we could smell the soy curls—when we realized we were in Tofurky central! Naturally, we begged for a tour (and, eh-hem, some samples), and owner Seth Tibbott was more than happy to play host with the most.
As you can see, our big vegan road trip was full of ethically sourced surprises and delicious detours. For those of you planning your own road trip, here are some tips we picked up.
5 Tips for the Vegan Road-Tripper
- Stop at Chinese restaurants regularly, and order the tofu and broccoli. This was a staple for us throughout our 3,000-mile journey.
- Invest in a travel blender. We fancy the Tribest Personal Blender. Each morning, we would grab some fruit from the motel’s breakfast buffet, some ice from the ice-maker, and blend those up along with some green powder and protein powder.
- Get App-y. The #1 app you will need will be VegOut, powered by Happy Cow. ‘Nuff said.
- Take Two-Lane Highways. Driving on interstates is the equivalent of flying. What’s the point? There’s an entire country to see. Buy the book Roadtrip USA and take time to stop and smell the seitan (its prevalence might just surprise you).
- Stock Up. Be open to picking up interesting vegan finds along the way when you come across them and sticking them in your cooler in case you hit a dry spot ahead. Our favorite find for great, and unexpected, vegan shopping was Chadron, NE’s Natural Food Co-op, where we went to town.
As the story goes, we are now finally settling into Portland life—one that is full of healthy “bowls,” half-marathons, and, yes, rainy days. And though it’s hard to believe, it’s almost time to pack our Vitamix and our dog, and head back to New York City, on our second glorious road trip of the year. Taking a different route eastbound, we will yet again be venturing onto undiscovered terrain even better equipped than before and unable to contain our excitement about what the next bend in the road has in store.
Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan are the founders of Our Hen House, a multimedia hub of opportunities to change the world for animals, and the hosts of the popular Our Hen House podcast. Follow @ourhenhouse on Twitter.