How to Be a Small-Town Vegan (In a Big Way)
Barbecues, billboards, steakhouses and wing joints. Needless to say, living in the middle of cattle-country is not the easiest for a vegan. I’ve resided in a small meat-centric town most of my 29 years of life. While I’ve been vegan for only 3 of those, I’ve learned a lot in that time. The town I live in now is much bigger than the one I grew up in, but when I visit home in small-town Louisiana (fairly often), I’ve had to learn how to cope with my vegan lifestyle there. That’s actually an awful way to put it. I’ve learned how to happily live the vegan life in towns that don’t make it quite so easy to do – or so it seems on the surface. While it may seem frustrating to be the “lone vegan” in your town, it doesn’t have to be isolating or extremely difficult. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think, and totally worth it! Here are my top tips for staying true to your desires, even in Texas.
Learn to Love Cooking!
Before I went vegan and gluten-free, I absolutely HATED the thought of being in my kitchen, actually cooking. I purposely kept nothing in my fridge (unless it was leftovers), since at the time I lived alone and thought attempting to cook for one person (when the food would just go bad anyway, ha) was pointless. That, and I had NO CLUE where to begin. What I’ve learned is…. it’s ok to not be perfect and to experiment in the kitchen… profound, I know. We learn through practice.
I also watched lots and LOTS of videos. I spent many a night scouring the internet for recipes, and inspiration – which is now so easy to find. Oftentimes, I would find something amazing when eating out, and would then try to mimic it at home in an attempt to save money. Guess what? It worked. I now spend a lot more (efficient) time in the kitchen… and I love every minute of it (well, except the washing dishes part). With this lifestyle there is always something new and exciting to try – get creative! It’s SO worth the outcome – you can reward yourself with amazing food, AND know exactly what was put into it. Nothing is more satisfying. Except maybe munching on some dark chocolate while snuggling with kittens. 😉
On days you don’t want to cook, or aren’t able to, there’s always the inevitable quest for food. Where to start? Try that little roadside food truck that only locals know about. You might be surprised. When I started my current new job recently, I found myself surrounded by nothing but awful food choices – burger chains, chicken peddlers, wing joints, and more fast food. It was overwhelming. But with a little searching, I was able to find an authentic Taqueria (taco shop) truck, with really yummy nopales tacos. Fresh, local, and super tasty. You may have to make a few modifications, but in the end you’ll be glad you stuck with your commitment. It can be so exhilarating to find little places like this that you may grow to love and help support. We vote for what we want with our dollars. On that note, in regards to cooking, if your local store doesn’t carry something you need, you can always request it! Businesses would not exist without consumers, and they usually love to hear requests from their customers, like you!
That little foreign place down the road that you’ve never thought about going? Time to check it out. I’ve found that when we visit home, we always end up going out to non-American restaurants. If you’ve experimented with a vegan or vegetarian diet, I’m sure you’ve discovered that these places are more experienced in making diverse, non meat-centric dishes, unlike most American joints. While not every small town will have these options, there will usually be at least one Tex-Mex place (down south at least) that will allow you to make modifications.
We often visit Greek places (excellent hummus and grilled veggies, baba ganoush, dolmas, etc.), Indian (doses, chickpea curry, aloo gobi, etc.), Mexican (veggie fajitas, avocado enchiladas, guacamole street tacos), Vietnamese (veggie pho and tofu/veggie rice plates), Dominican (eggplant creole dish) and more. They may be hole-in-the-wall places, but they sure know how to make good food. Oftentimes these places will make you something “off the menu”… all you have to do is ask. And don’t be afraid of trying something new. You’ll feel like a vegan version of Anthony Bourdain.
Or visit the international section of your grocery store. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, you have a very powerful tool at your fingertips… the internet. Sometimes diverse foods, like jackfruit from Asian markets, can be delivered to your doorstep.
Support Farmer’s Markets
Saturday mornings in Spring have endless possibilities. I like to spend mine at the Farmer’s Market. Nothing feels better than supporting local, organic farmers and artisans, and you can even talk with them about how to prepare the vegetables they sell. You may find some things you’ve never tried and learn some new techniques. There’s no better way to get fresh, local produce. Seeing who grows your food, face-to-face, can give you the ability to appreciate it so much more, making you more likely to use what you buy and get excited about it! These are also great opportunities to sign up for CSAs, or farm sharing, in which you pay the farmers directly for a guaranteed quantity of produce every month. This is a great way to save money – and if an entire box is too much for you, you can always share/split your box with neighbors or family. Our market begins in the spring around April, when the weather’s nice. Farms will also usually offer cooking classes, or teach you how to grow produce yourself! Even better. This is also a great way to teach your kids good habits and to appreciate sustainable food production early in life.
You may be the only example in your small town of someone living a vegan lifestyle… represent well. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we did not start out perfect in the beginning, but coming to this realization makes it easier to deal when things get tough. It will help you to have patience with slower moving towns that have little options in regards to food. Not getting frustrated when something is made wrong, or a waiter/waitress just doesn’t understand what we’re asking for is not easy, but have faith that over time, variety will improve. If we show patience with people, we will be known as “that friendly, patient customer who really enjoys their not-so-ordinary food….” and more people may be open to try it. Every time you visit a local restaurant and order a plant-based option, you are supporting this type of food. I’ve seen some of the least-populated towns in Texas surprisingly offer a clearly-marked vegan dish, just because of one or two people who often order. This is how a movement begins! Doesn’t it feel good to be a part of it (without acting superior or hoity-toity about it)?
Know That You Are Not Alone/Find Your Tribe
When you feel alone, as if you’re the only vegan in the world (I’ve been there), just remember that there are many, many other people who share the same values and dietary choices as you, even though you may not see them day to day. The world really is a big place. Meetup.com is a very useful tool when it comes to finding local, like-minded people. And if your town doesn’t have a vegetarian group, you can always start one! You never know how many people are out there looking for support, just like you. We have about 200 people now in our local group, and we started out very small. Build it and they will come. Don’t have time or resources? Recruit help once you are established and hold a bake sale or fundraiser. Since ours was primarily comprised of broke college students, a group called VegFund (VegFund.org) has financed our (minimal) Meetup.com fees for the past two years. They will also fund any food sampling costs, as long as it relates to a vegan cause. There are many people out there willing to help.
The support, resources, and friendships you can find in a local group are priceless. I’ve learned so much and made some of my closest friends through our local vegetarian group. These groups are also a great way to get out and spread info about the veg lifestyle to your town through leafleting, potlucks, screenings, and whatever other fun events they’ve got going on.
Dealing with Friends and Family
Your friends and family may not understand, or may even berate you for your choices. But really, what business is it of theirs anyway? You are responsible for your own health, your own values, and your own choices. Do what you do, and don’t apologize for it. By all means, be respectful – I don’t believe anyone should consistently argue or try to push their ideas on others – it may cause them to tune you out completely. I’ve found that the best way to share is to lead by example – your health, energy and happiness are much more likely to lead others into wanting what you have. And if not, it’s their loss. Plant the seed, and then let others nourish it. Sometimes family can be the hardest, but don’t let it get you down. We all deal with it. When I feel frustrated, I write. Or I come up with a new yummy recipe, and share it, in the hopes that it will inspire someone else.
What are your tips for living in a small, maybe not-so-vegan-friendly town?
It’s fun to feel unique. Everything has it’s beginning – maybe you’re it. I meet inspiring people everyday – they’re my motivation. Stay healthy, stay happy, and keep saving animals in all that you do. ❤