Life must be so easy for vegans who are lucky enough to live in Portland, where the streets are lined with nutritional yeast, or Chicago, where the clouds are made of Dandies marshmallows. For herbivores who live in small towns (and even some not-so-veg-friendly mid-size cities), keeping the vegan faith can be a little trickier. But before you throw your hands up in frustration and go for the bacon, take a moment to check out some advice from a few vegans who have been paving the meat-free way in their one-horse towns for years.
When dining out …
1. Call ahead.
Vegan food is everywhere. Sometimes it just takes a little work to find it. Before heading to a non-vegan restaurant, call ahead and inquire about ways to easily veganize dishes on the menu. A vegetable-topped pizza with no cheese or a plate of pasta with marinara are easy options, but get creative. Many chefs are happily up for a challenge. “Most [of the restaurants in my town] don’t have a vegan menu or many vegan options, but I’ve found most restaurants will make me something tasty if I ask nicely,” says Paul Jarvis, a vegan who lives in the tiny town of Tofino, British Columbia (population: 1,876).
2. Bring your own food.
If a cheese-less pizza doesn’t sound all that appetizing, bring some vegan cheese from home. That’s what Kohlrabi & Quince blogger Kelly Reckas of Auberry, CA (population: 2,369) does when she makes the 20-minute drive to the nearest town with a pizza parlor. “If I’m craving something melty on my pizza, they’ll put vegan cheese on it if I bring it in,” Reckas said. Tote along items such as guacamole, vegan sour cream, nutritional yeast, or even vegan deli slices to take a boring restaurant meal up three notches.
3. Fast food can be your friend.
This tip may not work in blink-or-you’ll-miss-them towns, but most mid-sized towns have a fast food chain or two. Where there’s a Subway or a Taco Bell, there is a vegan meal to be had. Check smart phone apps like Vegan Xpress or VegFast for a comprehensive list of vegan options at fast food joints and chain restaurants.
4. Go ethnic.
More Than Tofu and Sprouts blogger Marti Miller Hall lives in Graham, WA (population: 23,491), and although it’s not the tiniest of towns, Hall says there are no vegan or vegetarian restaurants to speak of. But she finds plenty to eat at ethnic joints. “I have closely, carefully, and politely questioned the local Mexican, Thai, and teriyaki places, and I know fairly confidently what I can order there,” Hall says. “Ask to see the carton or product label of sauces. They are usually willing to show you if you are polite.” Things to look out for: fish sauce at Thai joints, lard at Mexican restaurants, and ghee (clarified butter) in Indian and Ethiopian eateries.
When shopping for vegan groceries …
5. Get to know the owners.
Nothing beats a little face-to-face conversation with the owner of a restaurant or store when seeking vegan menu items or products. Hall prints out information on vegan products she’d like to see in her supermarket and hands them to owners and managers. She even convinced a local drive-through espresso stand to start stocking almond milk for her coffee, and it’s now requested by lots of customers.
6. Order vegan items online.
It’s easier than ever to be vegan in the age of the internet. Sites like veganessentials.com, foodfghtgrocery.com, and veganstore.com offer products from Teese cheese or Frozen Tofurky pizzas. Stock up to avoid frequent shipping charges, and sign up for the websites’ newsletters to receive coupon codes and sale information.
When you want to meet other vegans …
7. Make friends online.
Before Vegan Omaha founder and blogger John McDevitt started a meetup.com group several years ago, there wasn’t a sense of community amongst vegans in the mid-size, Midwest city. But through the power of the internet, McDevitt organized a tight social group that meets regularly at veg-friendly restaurants. “Search meetup.com or Facebook for any groups in your area,” McDevitt says. “Or better yet, start your own group. Chances are there are people just like you. Community is important when you’re going vegan.”
8. Spread the vegan gospel.
Perhaps the best way to make vegan friends in a non-vegan town is to make new vegans. Start by taking vegan cookies or treats to the office or share a vegan pie with a neighbor. Avoid being preachy, but let your friends know how great you feel on your vegan diet. Host potlucks and challenge your omni friends to make a vegan dish. Eventually, some of those friends may decide to follow in your footsteps and at least give up some (if not all) meat.
Bianca Phillips blogs at Vegan Crunk and is the author of Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South.