|Bianca from Vegan Crunk|
Hello! I’m Bianca from Vegan Crunk, where I blog daily on what I eat in the Dirty South. But today, I’m dropping by the Preppy Vegan because Ensley has graciously asked me to do a guest post on survival tips for small-town vegans.
I live in Memphis, which isn’t exactly a small town, but we’re also not known for being the most vegan-friendly city either. Let’s face it — most of us aren’t lucky enough to live in Portland (a.k.a. Vegan Mecca). Though Memphis has gotten one all-vegan restaurant in the past year, it can still be a struggle to find vegan options on most menus here. I’m sure the same goes for many of you living in small towns across America and beyond.
Additionally, some folks in small towns might have trouble finding vegan specialty items, like vegan cheese or mayo. But never fear. There is hope! Here are a few of my top tips for surviving as a vegan in a small town:
1. Call ahead to restaurants or check out the menu online — This rule is pretty much common sense, but I have to say it. When family or friends are planning an outing, always scan the restaurant’s online menu for vegan or easily-made-veg options. If the restaurant doesn’t have a website, pick up the phone and give ‘em an old-fashioned phone call. Let them know a vegan is coming and inquire whether or not they have anything that is either accidentally vegan or can be made vegan by leaving off cheese or butter. You might want to explain what “vegan” means to be clear. Also, as a general rule, any Asian or Mediterranean restaurant should have ample veg options.
2. Ask the chef — If the menu is loaded with non-vegan crap, politely ask your server if the chef can create a special vegan dish just for you. Don’t feel like your being a pain-in-the-butt. You have a right to delicious vegan food, and maybe the chef will consider adding the dish to the regular menu. If the chef agrees to make you a special dish, be sure to let him or her know how much you liked it. And tip your server well.
3. Consult vegan apps and websites before dining out — Don’t forget that HappyCow.net can be a valuable resource for locating veg options in your city. The data at Happy Cow is user-driven though, so be sure to send the website info when you stumble on an unlisted vegan-friendly place. If you have an iPhone, Happy Cow’s database of restaurants can be easily accessed through the Veg Out app. Also, Vegan Xpress makes a great iPhone app for locating veg-safe fast food. Did you know Taco Bell’s bean burrito fresco is vegan? Or that Pizza Hut’s Thin ‘n’ Crispy and Hand-Tossed crusts are safe? All this (and more) can be found on Vegan Xpress. VegFast, another iPhone app, also has a similar list of fast-food vegan options.
4. Decide how vegan you want to be when dining out — I may catch hell from militant vegans for this one, but I’m not a crazy question-asker when I dine out. Especially if I’m dining with non-vegans. I will always ask if a soup is made with chicken stock or if a veggie burger contains eggs. But I’m not going to throw a fit if my bread arrives buttered. I’ll eat it, but next time I’ll know to ask for that butter to be left off. I think being a super militant vegan makes our lifestyle look too hard for an omni. I don’t want to turn any omnis away from a possible vegan future.
8. Help local restaurateurs develop vegan menu items — Confession: I’ve never actually done this. But I recently sat on a panel at Vida Vegan Con with John of The Laziest Vegans in the World blog, and he shared stories about how he and girlfriend Isa Chandra Moskowitz had helped a local Omaha restaurant add vegan menu items. This would work especially well if you’re friends with any local restaurant owners.
9. Form a club — Though most of the above tips deal with dining out, no vegan wants to dine solo all the time. Make other vegan or vegetarian friends so you’ve got a strong support network. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, this shouldn’t be too hard. Start a Facebook group for local vegans, and set up potlucks and outings. There’s strength in numbers! When I moved to Memphis in 2002, I didn’t know any other veg folks, but nearly 10 years later, I’m a member of a 100-plus strong local vegetarian club that I helped start through leafleting and word-of-mouth (this was in the Dark Ages before Facebook, mind you).
10. Order your essentials — You can find every vegan item in the world on the internet, and although you will have to pay shipping costs, sometimes it’s worth the extra $10 to enjoy some tasty blue cheese Sheese or melty-melty Daiya. Favorite websites include Vegan Essentials, Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe, and Food Fight Grocery.
Thanks for being awesome, Bianca!
Readers: what are your thoughts on vegan survival outside of the big city?