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The Vegan Experience, Day 27: Vegan Fast-Food Options

Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

Burger King's New Fries

Days 27: Thursday

Breakfast: A chickpea and potato empanada, some clementines.
Lunch: Homemade tofu (not the best), sauteed king oyster mushrooms, and a big salad.
Dinner: a bowl of 15-minute creamy tomato soup, some of Jim Lahey's excellent bread, and a bit of mushroom and eggplant massaman curry.

OK folks, this is my second to last Vegan Experience entry and I'm afraid it's gonna be a short one as I'm currently on the bus on the way up to Boston to a) stir things up a bit with Bottom Shelf writer Will Gordon and for one final, blow-out vegan tasting menu at Craigie on Main in Cambridge. Exciting day indeed.

I've been at this now for almost a month, yet I'm still learning something new every day.

Today's lesson: if you are traveling on a bus for 4 1/2 hours, bring your own lunch. I was in such a rush this morning that I accidentally left my cold sesame noodle salad (not many noodles, lots of cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables) sitting in the fridge. Luckily, the MegaBus makes a stop in Connecticut right around lunchtime. Unluckily, the only thing available on the side of the highway in Connecticut is fast food.

Fast food is not a vegan-friendly dining environment. We stopped at Burger King, arguably the most vegetarian-friendly establishment of the big three (if you include Taco Bell, BK comes in at number two), yet still my options were extremely limited.

The BK Veggie burger used to be vegan, but these days the soy-based patty from Morningstar is formulated with dairy, as are the bun and mayonnaise. Luckily, Burger King's new French Fries are vegan, as is their house salad with oil and vinegar dressing. Not the healthiest or most filling of lunches, but it was just enough to tide me over.

Had we stopped at a Wendy's or—god forbid—a McDonald's, my options would have been even more severely limited. Wendy's? French fries and a plain baked potato. The very definition of a balanced meal.

Vegan-friendly options at McDonald's? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Their salads all contain some sort of meat product (fried chicken, grilled chicken, bacon), their fries are formulated with animal-based flavorings. I could have ordered a salad without the toppings. Even their pies are made with animal-derived L-Cysteine, so no dessert from the clown.

Many higher-end fast food and fast casual chains are beginning to offer vegetarian or vegan options. Subway has their Veggie Deluxe, which is really just a meatless sub, but given the huge variety of vegetables they offer, it's not a bad option for a vegan on the go. (I still can't stand the smell of their bread).

Panera bakes their decent-for-fast-food bread on premises and offer a number of vegan-friendly sandwich and soup options. I'm arriving in Boston's South Station today which doesn't have a Panera, but has a Cosí instead. Their bread is made with milk, unfortunately. Salad for lunch it is.

Burrito mega-chain and socially-conscious fast food superstar Chipotle is a great option for vegans. Stay away from the meat, cheese, and pinto beans (cooked with pork), but you can rub their black beans, rice, any of the veggies, sauces, guacamole and dressings all over your animal-free body to your heart's content. (For those vegetarians who are selective about their cheese—Chipotle's cheese is made from vegetable rennet).

Of course, the best way to eat on the run is, once again, better planning. It was obvious to me from the start that being vegan was not going to be as easy as being an omnivore by sheer fact of choice limitations. It requires vigilance and planning on a daily basis. A single un-planned meal can mean that you end up eating undressed iceberg lettuce or french fries for a meal.

As much as I'd love to say that it's an easy task, it's really not. But that doesn't mean that the effort I've been putting into this hasn't been rewarding. Barring a few terrible vegan pizza and fast food incidents, I've enjoyed (almost) every minute of this month and the challenges it has brought. And it does get easier every day.

So what will tomorrow bring after this whole thing is over? I'm not sure, but it'll definitely involve plenty of vegetables.

Stay tuned next week for a big roundup of all the recipes I've published over the last month (plus perhaps a few bonus recipes!), as well as some last thoughts on the Experience.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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