Trail Town Snack: Earth Balance Vegan Cheese Puffs

Julia with our new snack

I’m not usually one for hyper-processed vegan foods, nor do I regularly eat vegan cheese or fake meat. However, I recently had a chance to try the new Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs from Earth Balance. They are delicious. They’re basically corn puffs with a powdery flavored coating, sort of like a vegan version of Pirate’s Booty (I do love the vegan Veggie Booty from the same company). Just to cover my bases, each bag is 4 ounces, has 520 calories and 12 grams of protein, but that’s probably not why they’re a good snack food.

I can’t say that I expect hikers to regularly find these along the Appalachian Trail. But Earth Balance is a pretty big company, which makes me think that once they catch on, we’ll find them more and more in natural food sections in regular grocery stores. I don’t think it’s realistic to consider these puffs to be a regular trail food, but they are great for a special treat in town. We took a bag on a recent day hike in Connecticut, and they were perfect for a salty snack.

Once again, the nature of vegan hiking is that we are generally bound by what foods are accessible and need minimal preparation. That means that I end up eating a lot more processed, corporate-produced foods than I eat in regular life. The only options for eating home-cooked foods are often impractical, especially for long hikes. Cooking, drying, and sending drop boxes of meals ahead of time is intriguing (and something I would like to try more of), but it takes an extensive amount of time and preparation. As I’ve mentioned previously, part of my goal for this blog is to highlight accessible vegan options that make good trail foods.

I love that the vegan-specific food niche seems to be exploding with new options. We can hike and avoid animal products at the same time, whether for animal or environmental reasons, there’s no need to eat dairy or meat on a backpacking trip.

So that’s where we end up today, with a post that endorses another specific vegan product. Oh well, go forth and eat! (and hike!)

Yum

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Book Review/Response: Last Child in the Woods

A valley in VirginiaGreetings hikers, today for something a little different: a book response! A large part of my veganism is political; I am trying to live responsibly and challenge the intersecting oppressions and destruction of the meat and dairy industries.

When I was a child, my parents frequently took myself and my siblings on car-camping trips. I was encouraged to play outside, to ride my bike in the neighborhood, and explore the patch of woods behind my house. The summers after seventh and eighth grade I was lucky enough to go to an outdoor adventure-style camp that included plenty of backpacking, hiking, and climbing. I personally credit these experiences with sparking my interest in outdoor activities, protecting the Earth, and hiking.

Since its original publication in 2005, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv has become a classic of the movement to reconnect children with nature. Louv makes a powerful argument for the need of children to have regular, unstructured, outdoor play time in undeveloped “fringe” areas of nature. He connects childhood outdoor playtime with development, disease, and cognitive abilities, as well as a healthy appreciation for the outdoors. He writes of the declining amount of time that children spend in the outdoors, and the negative impacts on society. His argument is compelling and we should all listen.

Despite my general agreement with the arguments made in the book, I have one main critique: Louv does not acknowledge his privilege as a white, middle-class, male, nor does he make efforts to explore how his background has shaped his ideas. He discusses suburbs, parents’ play time with kids, access to parks, as if these are universal. His few discussions of non-white folks, especially in the urban environment, come off as dismissive and patronizing.

His only examples of diversity are in describing programs for troubled urban youth that he introduces as “boyz of the hood become boyz of the woods” (pg. 55). The boys in question are part of a California program called Urban Corps, but he calls their leaders “Anglo” instead of white, and transcribes quotes from the boys while preserving the slang and dropped syllables in their language, something he does not do in other stories. This diminishing of their lived experiences is part of the problem in the environmental movement. By describing them as “boyz” instead of just boys, and emphasizing their way of speech instead of their discoveries in the outdoors, Louv reinforces the dominant white history of environmentalism, that it is “new” and “foreign” to young people of color and must be taught by us. This is an unfortunate and problematic way to describe what sounds like a good program.

To build an accessible, universal appreciation of the living world around us, we should heed Louv’s call to emphasize childhood outdoor play. But we should also work actively to take down the barriers to the outdoors that keep so many from the experience. It’s time to talk about why outdoor recreation and adventures like thru-hikes are predominantly white activities. Until we recognize the issues of class and privilege that have shaped historical outdoor activities and the dominant environmental groups–and challenge them–we will never be able to reverse nature-deficit disorder.

What do you think? How can we address diversity and equity in the outdoor world?

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I did an interview with Sierra Magazine’s Explore blog

I did an interview with the Sierra Club’s Explore blog about vegan hiking and the Appalachian Trail! Check it out here.

I chatted with Mackenzie Mount about my motivation on the trail, the food I ate, and the half-gallon challenge.

As readers of this site will surely know by now, my main goal is to make vegan hiking more accessible by providing stories, tips, and inspiration! As always, I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or experiences with vegan hiking, or if you have any questions about an upcoming hike!

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by | February 13, 2013 · 10:38 am

Protein for a Vegan Thru-Hiker

A bald near the NC TN border, near Overmountain Shelter
Well, it’s time to tackle the age-old debate around veganism and protein. For most folks who are vegan, when it comes up in conversation we are inevitably questioned about getting enough protein (As if animal products are the only source of protein, or that I can’t take care of myself without their helpful insights into what it takes to be vegan, oh well).

The simple reality is that for most people, if you eat a variety of vegetables and legumes, you probably get enough protein. Few vegans suffer from protein deficiency, and it very easy to meet protein needs if you eat a variety of foods. Ginny Messina, the Vegan R.D., writes about meeting protein requirements, and recommends two servings of legumes (beans, peanuts, soy foods) a day.

Obviously, meeting vegan nutrition needs while on the Appalachian Trail can be a little challenging (hence this blog!). As regular readers will know, I ate a lot of peanut butter on my hike, which is a fantastic source of great things for hikers like protein, calories, and fat. I also ate tortillas and bagels on a near daily basis, both of which are good sources of protein. An everything Thomas’ bagel has 10 grams, and a whole wheat Mission tortilla has 4 grams (I usually ate two per day).

I also made my own gorp on trail with peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, and sunflower seeds. The latter are very high in protein, similar to peanuts.

All of these are in addition to protein bars and my dinners, which were usually bean-based. At some point, the sheer amount of food that a thru-hiker eats will be enough to meet the nutrition needs of a hiker. But of course, the big challenge is that I don’t eat anywhere near this amount of processed food when I’m at home.

For a more detailed discussion of protein needs for vegans, I strongly recommend checking out the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, both are respected Registered Dietitians. Besides detailed chapters on the main nutritional needs of someone on a vegan diet, it has a very good section for vegan athletes.

Figuring out what works for you is the most important thing, this strategy worked for me. What is your eating strategy on trail?

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A new year for vegan hiking

Somewhere near Shenandoah National Park

It’s a new year again and that means it’s time for a new commitment to vegan hiking! I have been vegan for almost eight years now and I’ve been reflecting on what that means. In my daily life I don’t much think about it. After a while, eating vegan becomes less about “foods I don’t eat” and becomes more about just “food.” I don’t walk into the kitchen and think, hmm, don’t eat eggs, don’t eat bacon, what can I make?? In reality, I don’t even think about those kinds of things anymore, it’s become normal.

Planning for my thru-hike in 2009 was a real challenge, and one of the only times when I seriously considered whether staying vegan for the duration would be possible. I did my research and found woefully few online resources for folks like me; I wanted to hear that it was possible. (As readers of this blog know, that lack of web presence and encouragement is why I started this website!). By March, right before I set out to Springer Mountain in Georgia, I resolved that I would try as hard as possible to stay vegan but that I would have an open mind and be willing to compromise if it became too difficult.

That was a really tough decision and one I didn’t come to lightly.

Every new thru-hiker is grasping for something in those first weeks. They are looking for an affirmation of what they hoped a hike would be like, or for a confirmation that this crazy adventure is worth the undertaking. Everyone is scrambling to hand out and be offered a new trail name, to make it real, to live up to the image of being a thru-hiker. Many will leave with the trail, but many will push on, accepting that the trail is nothing like we imagined.

By a few weeks in to my hike I quickly discovered that not only was it possible to stay vegan, but it became important as well. To think so much about the food I ate and then decide to consciously renege on my commitment and effort was no longer an option. I remember a change of heart, staying vegan on the trail became more than just important, it was part of my identity as a hiker.

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Nutritional yeast is great backpacker food

It definitely qualifies as a vegan/veggie/healthnut food. But I really love nutritional yeast, and many people have never heard of it. As a quick introduction, nutritional yeast is yeast, it’s yellow and flaky, and tastes vaguely cheesy. It also happens to be very high in nutrients (both natural and fortified)!

At home, the classic way to eat nutritional yeast is sprinkled liberally on popcorn. It’s also possible to use it in vegan cheese sauce or vegan mac and cheese. I enjoy it sprinkled on pasta, or just on toast with earth balance.

Two tablespoons of Red Star brand nutritional yeast contains eight grams of protein and four grams of fiber. It is also high in B vitamins, including B12, B6, B2, and B1. (Source and source)

It is incredibly lightweight and a little goes a long way. When I hike I carry a half-size sandwich bag full, and put a spoonful on every dinner as a way to increase flavor and boost vitamins.

Nutritional yeast is difficult to find in anywhere but natural food stores. It also is greatly more economical to purchase from a bulk section than in containers (In bulk, it should cost $7 to $9 a pound. If it’s more than that, look elsewhere). Due to it’s rarity, as a backpacking food it is best in maildrops or when packing from home. I never counted on finding it along the Appalachian Trail, but I did put some in every maildrop.

Have any of you taken nutritional yeast on your hikes? Or come up with creative recipes for it?

As an aside, here is an obligatory note making excuses for not posting more! Here it is: I recently started grad school, and I’m super busy. But this project is really important to me so I’ll be continuing to write! As always, if you have experience as a vegan hiker and are interested in writing a guest post, please contact me!

 

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What’s in my pack

Well, here is a classic hiker gear post. Almost everything I’ll be carrying on my upcoming hike on the Appalachian Trail. Total base weight for everything in my pack (including crocs that aren’t pictured) is 16.5 pounds. Not so bad!

 

What’s in my pack:

  1. Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2
  2. REI Raincoat
  3. Osprey Atmos 65, brain removed
  4. Sea to Summit Pack Cover, medium
  5. Thermarest RidgeRest
  6. Lafuma 600 45° synthetic sleeping bag
  7. Bear line and mini carabiner
  8. Petzl headlamp
  9. Wire pot stand, wind screen, lexan spoon
  10. Homemade pepsi-can alcohol stove
  11. Titanium pot
  12. Denatured alcohol in plastic soda bottle, wrapped in duct tape
  13. Silnylon stuff sack for food, bandana
  14. Platypus Big Zip 2 liter water bladder
  15. Platypus 4 liter water carrier
  16. Aquamira
  17. First aid kit, lemon eucalyptus bug spray
  18. Rain mitts from ULA (no longer available…)
  19. Mosquito net
  20. Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers)
  21. Umbrella
  22. Clothes and stuff sack: ultralight boxers for sleeping, patagonia long underwear bottoms, EMS long sleeve shirt, REI fleece camp socks, extra pair Darn Tough hiking socks
  23. Ultralight fleece hat
  24. L.L. Bean hiking poles
  25. Crocs shoes (not pictured)

What’s on my body:

  • A. REI running shorts with mesh liner
  • B. REI sleeveless shirt
  • C. Buff
  • D. Darn Tough socks
  • E. New Balance trail runners with Superfeet green insoles
  • F. Ipod mini
  • G. Hat from Monson, Maine General Store, picked up on my thru-hike in 2009!

Finally, a discussion of the only non-vegan gear that I use: Darn Tough merino wool hiking socks (As with most “technical” wool socks, these are actually a blend: 65% wool, 35% synthetic). These are the best hiking socks. They are ultra comfortable, extremely durable, and do an amazing job wicking sweat and preventing blisters. I replaced my socks once on the whole trail, some other hikers went through many more pairs of Smartwool socks. I’ve tried the synthetic version that Darn Tough makes and found them to be scratchy, moreso than I’d like. So for now, I use wool socks. Though I try to avoid all animal products, for now I’m ok with using them! One day hopefully there will be a non-animal sock available that works just as well… If you have a vegan sock recommendation that’s worked great for you, let me know!

Check back soon for updates from the trail!

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Planning resupplies on the Appalachian Trail

This summer I will be heading back out to the Appalachian Trail for a 320 mile section hike! This is a technical post on how I planned my resupplies:

First of all, I used two resources to determine the best resupply points along the trail. First is a copy of AWOL’s 2012 AT Guide (Which I’ll be carrying on the trail), and second are Baltimore Jack’s AT Resupply Information posts on WhiteBlaze.net. Though the latter are a few years old, they list every popular stop for thru-hikers and everything in between. I use the AT Guide for up-to-date information on the towns.

The next step is to use both resources and map out potential towns and the miles, looking for points about forty to seventy miles apart. As a long-distance hiker I want to minimize weight by carrying only as much as I have to, but I also don’t want to waste time going into town constantly. Two to five days in between resupplies was the average on my thru-hike.

To resupply vegan, I’m primarily looking to figure out which towns have big supermarkets and which might be better served by a mail drop to the post office.

This is the list of towns I came up with for this section, their mileages, and guide book pages:

Beginning from Duncannon, PA I’ll carry four to five days of food. What this often means for me is carrying four dinners and five lunches, with enough to stretch to a fifth dinner if I have to. As this will be my first long hike in a while, I’m not totally sure how fast I’ll be able to hike, so I’m working in some flexibility!

The first resupply will be Port Clinton, PA. This town is on the trail, and very small. It’s possible to hitch into larger Hamburg, PA and find a grocery store, but I’m going to send myself a mail drop here to the post office. In the box I’ll include enough dinners to get to Delaware Water Gap, but only enough lunch to make it to Palmerton. I’ll discuss exactly what I put in my mail drops in another post.

As Palmerton, PA is only forty miles from Port Clinton, I expect to make it on the third day out. Palmerton looks on the small side, which is why I’ll send dinners in the last mail drop. It has a grocery store where I’ll resupply lunches and breakfasts.

Next up is Delaware Water Gap, PA. There is not much in the town, but there is a hostel, an outfitter, and a small store. Nearby Stroudsburg has big markets, but I’ll send myself a mail drop to avoid the trip. From here I’ll take three and a half days worth of food to make it to Vernon, NJ.

Vernon has a large grocery store, so I expect I’ll be able to find some good food options here. Looking for three days to make it to the Bear Mountain Bridge. Most hikers will resupply in Fort Montgomery, NY near the bridge, but this happens to be near where family lives, so they will pick me up. When I pack food for my mail drops I’ll get enough to leave there. From here I’ll carry about four days worth of food to get to Kent, CT.

I planned like this because this section is so relatively short. For a thru-hike, it probably wouldn’t make sense to do this kind of planning ahead of time for the whole trail. Before you get out there, it’s difficult to know how fast you’ll hike, how much food you need, or what your future trail friends will want! Before my thru-hike I roughly mapped out resupplies, only to determine where to send the three mail drops for the first half of the trail. The rest of our resupplies we figured out during our hike.

To eat vegan on the trail takes some planning, but it’s not much more than the average thru-hiker!

(Look out for some posts from the trail this summer!)

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Beans and Rice

An easy and very accessible trail meal option are dehydrated packs of beans and rice. You know, the “authentic New Orleans style” ones that are in every grocery store? With enough salt added for a week? Well, many of them are vegan–some even include vegetables–and are an easy dinner option. They can generally be found in any grocery store, even many small markets will have some version. They’re usually cheap and there’s often a store brand that’s even cheaper. A word of warning, many varieties have meat in them, so read those tiny ingredients lists carefully!

This style of cheap, lightweight dehydrated food is very typical of a thru-hike. In some ways, it’s more typical than some of the other foods I’ve recommended, and that’s intentional. During my thru, I didn’t want to rely on food drops too much, or to be carrying tons of extra weight in order to eat vegan. That was a big challenge sometimes, to find that sense of “normalcy” that made a standard thru-hike. But in the end, everyone got sick of their food. There isn’t some magic diet that makes someone enjoy foil packets of tuna for six months, I promise. Eventually, nobody eats the same stuff they ate in the beginning, everyone adapts and looks for something new and interesting within the confines of the grocery store. By realizing this, and seeking out the few vegan options, I was a thru-hiker just like everyone else, but I happened to eat vegan.

The two brands that you’ll find everywhere are Vigo and Zatarain’s. Vigo comes in sealed bags, but only buy the Red Beans & Rice. The Vigo black beans, and the yellow rice, have chicken. Zatarain’s comes in a packet inside a small white and red box. There’s often several flavors and usually no meat in the standard bean and rice mixes. Red beans, black beans, dirty rice.

These mixes are very very salty, but they’re high in protein, are available almost anywhere, and are pretty tasty. I often would include one or two of these each resupply for the later days out of town, so I could eat any heavier meals first.

They do require a longer cook time than many of my other meals. The best way to overcome this with my alcohol stove is to boil and cover, after it sits for 10ish minutes, boil it again, and it should be ready! If you have an insulated pot cozy you may be able to get away with boiling and then letting it sit for 15 minutes.

I usually ate these with a tortilla or two, plus chili powder and sometimes nutritional yeast.

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Technically Vegan Part 2

During a thru-hike, you will be carrying an insatiable appetite with you into every town. As we got closer to our next resupply we couldn’t help but talk about where and what we wanted to eat when we got to town. Needless to say, we often went straight for the Pizza Hut hoping to make it in time for their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Most of the other folks dining would have a couple slices of pizza and a drink. But when thru-hikers show up, each of us could easily down a whole pie. Plus, there’s a salad bar.

Having not eaten in one of these places since I was a kid, I was skeptical when we first went, but then discovered that you can request pizzas for the buffet. I would make a request for a pizza with lots of veggies and no cheese. The first time I did it, I would just take a few slices at a time back to our table. Every other visit, I would just bring the whole pie to my seat…

The general agreement amongst the vegan blog world is that the “Thin & Crispy” style crust is vegan, while the regular crust is not. I think it’s safe (read: vegan) to get this style crust with veggies and no cheese.

Apparently there has been controversy surrounding the ingredients that this company uses. Natural? Not natural? There have been no recent disclosures. The company provides an ingredients page on their website that shows some wholly unhelpful images of food and no actual information. However, they do have a page of allergen information. There is also an old pdf (last updated in 2006) that has ingredients, though I can’t find anything more current.

For your information: Pizza Hut, formerly owned by PepsiCo, is now owned by Yum! Brands, a huge corporation that also owns KFC and Taco Bell.

Here we are again: chasing another big chain restaurant for vegan options (I much prefer cooking for myself, and I hate big corporations).

Sometimes, along the Appalachian Trail, we eat where is most accessible.

Check out Part 1 about those ubiquitous, tasty, and technically vegan cookies.

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