After being on trail for a few months, I found that one of the most difficult parts of being vegan was actually while in trail towns. Like most thru-hikers, I eventually got sick of trail food and would be often dreaming of the next place to have some real coffee and different food that couldn’t be cooked on an alcohol stove. And though I frequently found coffee (which made me very happy…) it was a constant challenge to find decent vegan options in many towns, and worse was going out to eat with friends and watching them wolf down pancakes while I had toast.
There is a big range in the size and kind of town along the Appalachian Trail, some are large college towns with plenty of vegan options, and then there are plenty of resupply points that are nothing more than a convenience store and a diner (sometimes in the same establishment). There are a few main things I’ll comment on:
Diners: Though at home breakfast is my favorite meal, diners in general are not very vegan friendly and notorious for putting dairy in everything. Unfortunately there were lots of towns where a diner was the only option to eat. I usually would just eat french fries, plain toast, and coffee. I could deal with it because I love french fries (and I didn’t have to cook or carry them!) but I eventually became very sick of finding nothing but french fries. I don’t have any good tips for eating in diners, sometimes that’s your only choice. I embraced them as a place to sit inside and drink coffee, and thought of them less as a restaurant.
Chinese Restaurants: In general, slightly larger towns were a lot easier to eat in. I always sought out Chinese restaurants and found them to be some of the easiest (and often cheapest) places to eat in. Plus they cook with vegetables and aren’t afraid of tofu. Though Chinese buffets seem enticing I often would only find one or two vegan options (even at the huge one in Waynesboro, VA). At most buffets you can also order food, so I would do that and not pay for the buffet, and then have my friends sneak me fruit and such.
Other restaurants: Other restaurants can be a real challenge to eat in. We found a few Mexican restaurants which were a good option. Though sometimes it felt weird eating rice and beans from a restaurant when that’s what I was eating on the trail! But they often had some vegetable dishes (be sure to ask for no cheese or sour cream). I’d also fill up on chips and salsa.
There are other places to find vegan options, the same rules apply as eating at home. You can order cheeseless pizza from most pizza places, as long as you’re real hungry or have a friend who doesn’t mind eating vegan. Many italian places can make pasta without butter, but be real specific when you order and ask about dairy in the sauce.
Grocery Stores: Embrace grocery stores! Often they were the best option to eat out of and are almost always cheaper than eating out. Some of my grocery store staples were fresh bread and hummus, chips and snacks, juice, sometimes you can find vegan ice cream (usually Tofutti brand) in random places, soymilk and cereal (I love raisin bran), fruits and veggies, like bananas, avocados, apples, pears, baby carrots, bagged spinach and more. Obviously that’s mostly cold stuff. Sometimes if there was a natural food section I could find Amy’s brand canned chili which is pretty good. Heating it up on your stove is no big deal, and it’s even good cold. I love snacking and was often happy with what I could find in grocery stores.
In a way, eating in town sometimes could become stressful: being forced to eat snacks while everyone else has a real meal. But if you’re creative and don’t let it get to your head it’s possible to find good food, stay happy, and stay vegan even in trail towns. Also, you’re never more than a few days from the next town, so if one town is too small, find some hot coffee and french fries, and stay positive until you get to the next one.