The Small Town Vegan
By Veronica Rice, Guest Contributor
It’s tough being vegan in small-town USA. Specialty stores are few and far between, and forget finding restaurants with more than a side salad (hold the cheese, please) or chain grocers dedicated to healthy living. Focusing on whole foods and being creative in the kitchen isn’t just the healthiest thing to do, it’s the only thing to do when you’re a vegan living in the middle-of-nowhere.
I became a vegetarian in 2000. I know that doesn’t seem like that long ago, but at the turn of the century, there weren’t a lot of veggie options on menus or in stores, and the world was just becoming familiar with the internet, so catalogues became my best friend. I quickly discovered I could order new and interesting items, like spelt pasta, soy protein, and freeze dried soy “nuts”, from a handful of new-to-me companies that were more than happy to send me their catalogues. But, the items were expensive, there were no product reviews, and shipping was questionable – from charges to time. Remember, because we were dealing with snail mail, I had to send in my order with a check, wait for them to receive it, wait for the check to clear, wait for them to process and ship my order, and wait for it to arrive at my door. Fast forward a few years, and things are much more convenient – at least in the world of cyberspace. But what if you want to touch something before you buy it? Pick it up and look at it from different angles? Read the list of ingredients and scrutinize the serving size? Then, my fellow shoppers, you need to get thyself to a vegetarian/vegan friendly store. But what if you live in the Midwest where you’re surrounded by corn fields and cow pastures? Welcome to my world.
I made the leap from vegetarian to vegan in May of 2010. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I decided it was time to make the change I’d been contemplating for quite a while. My new lifestyle presented its normal challenges – finding time to prepare healthy meals and snacks, adjusting to life without cheese (Oh, the horror!), and dealing with the dreaded, “Where do you get your protein?” question – but living at least an hour away from even a small metropolitan area has been the biggest challenge of all.
I live at least an hour-and-a-half from the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Yup, I have to travel almost two hours north or south to gleefully spend gobs of cash at two of my favorite stores. And I do – but not without a giant cooler and a couple bags of ice. Every few months, I pack up the car, grab a friend, and set out for a vegan adventure. After hours of driving and shopping, I treat myself to a meal at one of the few vegan restaurants close to (another hour of driving is close, right?) one of the stores, and head home with a trunk full of goodies – and a bank account depleted of funds.
But, you may be wondering, do I do in the winter when the roads are covered with ice and snow? Or what if I run out of something and I’m between trips? Or what if I just have a plain ol’ urge to try something new? Thank goodness for the new-found interest in vegan living that has finally made its way to most grocery stores.
I can now find most of the popular vegan brand products at my local grocery, but they still don’t offer a very wide selection of grains, beans, or legumes, and forget finding things like nutritional yeast or chia seeds. So while veganism may be going a little more mainstream, it still hasn’t completely made it to Main Street. For now, I’m stuck with traveling to stock up on supplies or trusting the internet to offer the biggest selection of vegan necessities. Doesn’t everyone consider raw cocoa nibs a necessity?!
Photo: Veronica Rice