A comment I often get is that it’s easy to be vegan in a city, but in a small town it’s a lot harder. Over ten years ago I was also a vegan in a small town. This small town has grown considerably over the last 10 years and more stores have opened with the result that many more products are imported now. When I first became vegan, though, there was hardly anything available. So, how do you do it? How can you be vegan in a place that has few to no vegan products and where the majority of people are not vegan?
It can be done. I always say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, but sometimes that path can have a few obstacles. So, how can you do the following in a small town?
- Replace certain foods you sometimes crave (for example chocolate or cheese)
- Get certain ingredients that are not always available at ordinary stores
- Not finding yourself limited
- Eat at local restaurants
Replace Foods that You Crave
When I first became vegan, cheese was never a problem for me. As a non-vegan I hated cheese, which is due to an unpleasant incident in my childhood. As a result of that childhood event the smell and texture always made me want to gag. The only cheeses I learned to like were mozzarella, goat cheese, and Parmesan. Cheese on pizza had to be melted, if it became cold and hard I would stop eating the pizza … my disgust with cold cheese was that bad …
So, when I chose to be vegan, I had absolutely no problem with cheese. There was nothing to miss for me. I would get the occasional vegan mozzarella which I used for pastas, tacos, and quesadillas, but it wasn’t something I absolutely had to have.
My Name is Christine, and I’m a Chocoholic
What I really craved and missed was chocolate. I am a chocoholic, 100%! I absolutely love chocolate! I remember those first weeks as a vegan when I walked through those isles at the local supermarket and I was wistfully staring at the chocolates which I could not have, because every single one of them had milk. For some reason, there wasn’t any dairy-free chocolate … and it drove me mad, but I had my principles. I could not and would not eat it.
I had chosen veganism for ethical reasons, and I would not go back on it. I knew about the horrors of the dairy industry and I wasn’t going to give in to my cravings. I didn’t want to sponsor those horrors anymore.
I would find a way to get chocolate. Remember, where there’s a will there’s a way, 😉 and so I started doing research. I was not going to give up on chocolate, so I decided to learn how to make them myself.
Soon after, I learned to make raw, vegan chocolates which tasted absolutely divine – and believe me, when it comes to chocolate, I am very critical – I am from Belgium where the world’s best chocolate bars and pralines are sold, and consequently, concerning chocolate I am incredibly spoiled.
Although Switzerland may perhaps be more famous for its chocolates, Belgium still holds place number 1. You can’t go to Belgium without tasting chocolate.
So, those were a lot of sentences with the word “chocolate”, but as you can see, I solved the problem quickly and soon I also bought a few dark, bitter, and dairy-free chocolate bars that were available locally. Luckily, online shopping is always a nice option too. If you’d like to know the recipe to make your own vegan chocolate, please click on the link below.
So, that was one huge craving taken care off.
As for most food items that were not available, I learned how to make them. My motto concerning food is: “If I can’t buy it, I’ll make it.”
Being a huge fan of sausages, I also learned how to make vegan sausages. ==> Click here <== if you would like to know the recipe.
Ordering Online or with Local Chefs?
But what if you don’t like to cook or you just don’t have time for it? Then, I suggest that you order food items online, such as vegan sausages, ham, jerky, or whatever else you would like to eat. Amazon offers a lot of great vegan foods. I will add a few recommendations here.
Amazon Disclaimer: as an Amazon associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you. This is how I maintain my website.
Another great option is ordering prepared meals with a local vegan chef (if there is one in your area). In my hometown, vegan chef Maria Amore (who also published an amazing cookbook) sells ready-made meals at affordable prices. Only last week I ordered a lentil loaf (which tasted divine!), homemade sauerkraut, and chocolate truffles. I guess you’re not surprised that chocolate had to be included in my order 🙂
Find Special Ingredients
Some ingredients are hard to find in small towns. I know, I’ve been there. It took a few years before nutritional yeast made an entrance here, and when it finally did, the health stores sold it at a high price.
Since nutritional yeast lasted me a long time, I did buy it sometimes, since I figured it was worth the investment, but for me it is cheaper to get it online. In bigger cities where there are more health and vegan stores, food items like nutritional yeast will probably be more reasonably priced.
Is Vegan Food Expensive?
The previous paragraph leads me to the next complaint I often hear: “vegan food is expensive.” I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. As a teacher in Mexico, my salary is not great, and despite that I have managed to be vegan for more than 10 years now.
I never had the feeling that I spent exorbitant amounts of money during my grocery shopping. Carrots and potatoes are cheap, and whether you’re vegan or non vegan we all spend more money sometimes on occasional splurges. Honestly, I often observe non vegans spend a lot more money than I do when I am waiting at the grocery store checkout.
What Foods are Vegan at the Grocery Store?
The following foods are vegan and none of them will cost you an arm and a leg: vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, plant-based milk, soy chorizo, tofu, lentils, beans, rice, dairy-free chocolate, salt chips (and there are many vegan chips brands as well), fresh popcorn kernels (not the microwaveable one, that one contains lard …).
Flax seed bread or other breads that have no eggs and dairy, plant-based bread spreads, peanut butter, canned artichokes (or in a jar, which I prefer), vegan ham, vegan bacon, vegan cheese, vegan wine and beer, egg-free pasta, Hellman’s veganaise, mustard, and so on, and so on.
For a more detailed list, you can check the following article about vegan grocery shopping on a budget as well.
Easy on the Wallet?
Yes, some brands are expensive, but the same can be said for some non vegan brands. You got cheap and expensive items everywhere, but living on a vegan diet is not expensive.
Even when I went through financial tough times – and I’ve had a few in the past – it never occurred to me to drop my vegan diet to “save money”. That wouldn’t have made sense to me. Regardless of what diet you follow, when the wallet is temporarily squeezed tight, you end up buying cheaper items to make your meals or you maybe eat less than you usually eat.
Besides, following a plant-based diet is a great boost for your health, and you will feel the positive changes in your body. A healthier body will result in fewer doctor’s visits and less money spent on medications. So, if you think about it, you’ll end up saving money.
A Vegan Diet is not Limiting
On the contrary, it is finger licking good! So often, people approach me, thinking that as a vegan I am making a sacrifice when in fact I am not. The vegan cuisine is delicious and it is one of the best foods I have ever had. I was raised by a father who loved to cook and who in fact was the best chef I have ever known. He would spend hours in the kitchen and he could make anything taste incredible.
My father was also a wine connoisseur, so I learned to appreciate good food and wine. Nonetheless, I still find vegan food among the best I have eaten in my life. So no, there is no sacrifice; on the contrary, I always enjoy my meals.
It is true that some vegan food brands may have a bland taste, but they do not define the vegan cuisine. We should also bear in mind that every one of us has different tastes and expectations. If you think about it, have you never come across a non vegan food brand that simply tasted disgusting or just really bad?
Every day more and more people are changing to a vegan lifestyle or diet.
Rappers like Will.i.am, Snoop Dogg (who has invested in plant-based companies Beyond Meat and Outstanding Foods), Russel Simmons, Erykah Badu, and others are embracing a plant-based diet. Hollywood stars such as Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo di Caprio, Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman, Brad Pitt, and many more have been vegans for years; Paul McCartney, Moby, Morissey, Sinead O`Connor, and a whole list of singers as well.
Eating at Local Restaurants
It might be difficult to find vegan food options at some restaurants in small towns. Many years ago, that was the same case here where I live. Now there are some vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Los Cabos, but ten years ago, I don’t remember there being one.
Obviously, you still want to accompany your friends when they invite you to a restaurant, and you don’t want to make it awkward, but you can ask the waiter or waitress nicely to veganize some dishes by simply removing certain ingredients such as cheese or butter for example.
You could also check the menu online before your restaurant visit. If there are no options at all, call the restaurant and ask if they can accommodate you.
Ethnic cuisines such as Indian, Thai, and Mexican also offer vegetarian or vegan options. Especially Indian food has a lot of vegetarian/vegan meals.
Accidentally Vegan Items on the Menu
The menu often also offers accidentally vegan meals such as guacamole and chips, brusschetta, olives, bean salads, pizza with no cheese (you could bring nutritional yeast and sprinkle it on it if you want to have a cheesy flavor), grilled artichokes, grilled onions (not onion rings, the batter may contain milk and eggs, but it’s best to ask the chef to make sure), a vegetarian burger without cheese and/or mayonnaise, fried potatoes or French fries, salad, …
Don’t expect too much either. Many restaurants will be happy to accommodate you, but I have been in several situations where the chef simply didn’t know what vegan food entailed. At a restaurant in a 5 star hotel I was given simple pasta with pesto as my vegan option.
I had called ahead to ask if it was possible to get a vegan meal, and I was disappointed when I got it. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but my homemade pasta tasted much better, and pesto isn’t vegan because it has Parmesan …
To avoid a situation like that, it is best to explain beforehand what you would like. You could give them an idea for a specific dish such as pasta, lasagna, pizza, or any other easy meal and ask if it’s possible to make it vegan. If it’s not – which I doubt, but just in case it is not – then there is one more solution, which is my next point.
One last option I sometimes resort to when I am invited to a restaurant or a dinner/barbecue at someone’s home where only or mostly meat is served, I eat in advance, so I won’t go hungry; and at the dinner party I just nibble on some plant-based side dishes.
Nothing is impossible. It always surprises me how some really strict or crazy diets are often rigorously followed, but a healthy vegan lifestyle/diet is frowned upon. It is probably due to the fact that the change to a plant-based diet and eliminating animals from your food may seem frightening, a “sacrifice”. And then, there are the movies who somehow always portray vegan food as “ew” and “tasteless” and vegan people as hippies … yes, thank you very much, Hollywood, …
Last night, I started watching a new series on Netflix, called “The Good Witch”, and I really enjoyed it. Then, in episode 2 or 3, the characters talked about an event where food was served, and of course all the pies and other foods were delicious, but some woman’s “special” vegan muffins were described as absolutely “horrible” and the main character only bought them to spare the poor vegan woman’s feelings. She’d throw them away later.
It nettled me, because it was the umpteenth time I saw this in a movie or series, and – in my opinion – those false portrayals grossly contribute to people’s misconception about vegan food.
We’re not really missing out on anything. If you haven’t tried vegan food yet, please do so and stop missing out. 🙂