People often equate vegan food with healthy and organic. While it’s true that many vegans are health-conscious and that organic food is probably better for your body and definitely better for farmers, there are times when healthy and conscious aren’t the primary drivers of our eating decisions. So if you find yourself famished on a long road trip and have only a convenience store at which to shop, or if you’re attending a family gathering that’s not receptive to your usual vegan potluck offerings, here are a few things you might be able to eat without breaking your vegan commitment.
Note: This article covers U.S.-based products. Ingredients may differ around the world. It’s always wise to scan the ingredient list before purchase — formulations occasionally change.
Related: 12 surprising things that aren’t vegan
Vegan savory snacks
So you’re driving through the middle of Texas when you run out of organic carob energy bites. Now you must resupply from a truck stop snack aisle. What do you do? The ordinary vegan will head for plain tortilla chips, salted peanuts and cashews and hope for a desiccated apple or a brown banana by the checkout. But the savvy vegan who’s not afraid of the junkiest of junk food can branch out. How about a bag of Cheetos Twisted Flamin’ Hot? You didn’t think “Cheetos” meant cheese, did you? If you don’t mind some MSG, this snack will still fit within vegan confines. The same goes for many potato chips, including Lay’s BBQ, Pringles Texas BBQ and several Kettle Brand Chip flavors: Backyard Barbeque, Country Style Barbeque, Korean Barbeque and Maple Bacon. Grab some crackers, too. Both Keebler Club and Ritz are made without animal products; that butter taste is an illusion.
While you’re in a convenience store, cruise the cookie aisle. Many ordinary cookies are also vegan. Oreos are easy to find — and vegan — as are Nutter Butters and Nabisco animal crackers. Famous Amos sandwich cookies in chocolate, oatmeal macaroon, peanut butter and vanilla are also fair game. Check for vegan pies, too, like Krispy Kreme fruit pies in cherry, apple and peach.
If you’re fortunate enough to be at a Trader Joe’s instead of a truck stop, you’ll have lots of vegan cookies to choose from, including Joe Joe’s (similar to Oreos) maple leaf, cinnamon schoolbook and speculoos cookies. Of course, if you’re in a Trader Joe’s, you’ll have lots of quality and healthy vegan snacks to choose from and probably won’t need this article.
In the candy section, best bets for vegans include Jolly Ranchers, Skittles Chewies, Red Vines and most of the Twizzler line-up. If you need some jokes to liven up the car trip, vegans can safely eat Mini Laffy Taffy (okay, maybe not safely, as it’s mostly made of corn syrup, sugar, palm oil, hydrogenated oil and chemicals). However, Laffy Taffy Stretchy & Tangy and Laffy Taffy jelly beans contain animal products, like beeswax and egg albumen.
Ironically, one of the best vegan candies was made to look like meat. The Texas-based Atkinson Candy Company manufactured Chicken Bones, a candy made primarily of peanut butter and toasted coconut. But in 1955, they changed the name to Chick-o-Sticks because another candy company had the rights to the name Chicken Bones. Chick-o-Sticks aren’t so common these days, but they are one of the tastier vegan candies and contain more easily understandable ingredients than Skittles or Laffy Taffy.
Now, keep in mind that some vegans won’t eat white sugar because it is sometimes processed with animal bones. If this is you, double-check that you’ve packed enough organic kale chips before you leave home, or skip the convenience-store sweets and opt for savory instead.
Now let’s switch our focus to another potential vegan minefield: family gatherings. Is your family still mocking you for that tofu-based pumpkin pie you brought to Thanksgiving 10 years ago? Or the Stevia-sweetened brownies with the consistency of asphalt? If your relatives are suspicious of anything you bake, consider bringing something you made from a mix. Yes, it lacks your special touch. But that’s the point, at least from your family’s perspective.
Duncan Hines is your friend when it comes to a birthday cake your non-vegan family will love. The mixes are vegan-friendly and come in a wide variety of flavors, including dark chocolate fudge, carrot, pineapple supreme, German chocolate, classic yellow, fudge marble and strawberry supreme. All you need to do is swap out the butter or eggs for oil. If you want to cut calories, you can use sparkling water instead of oil. Top your cake with Duncan Hines frosting. Again, there are lots of vegan flavors to choose from, including butter cream, vanilla, coconut pecan, strawberry cream and dark chocolate fudge.
Frozen pies are an even better choice for the skeptical family. Bring a Sara Lee apple or cherry frozen pie or a Marie Callender’s apple pie and heat it up at the gathering.
If your family is eating sundaes, you’ll need to bring your own non-dairy ice cream. But you all can share the Hershey’s chocolate syrup.
Vegan fast food
Vegans also occasionally find themselves faced with the need to eat something at a fast food joint. Contemplating Mac, Jack, Carl or the King can lead to a vegan meltdown. But don’t worry. A few chains can reliably feed you.
Taco Bell is probably the best choice, with a highly customizable veg menu. Right now, your veg source will be beans, beans and more beans, but next year when the chain plans to add plant-based meat, you’ll have even more options.
Chipotle is another reliable fast-casual chain with lots of things for a vegan to eat. It’s also a healthier option.
Subway has more than just salads for vegan folks. You can order the Beyond Meatball Marinara on Italian bread. Just be sure to tell them to leave off the provolone and Parmesan.
Panda Express resisted vegans for a long time. But after pressure from PETA, the fast food chain finally introduced a few things for vegans: chow mein and eggplant tofu, vegan spring rolls and Super Greens.
Fast food dining has come a long way for vegans. Nowadays, you might even find a delicious vegan dessert while on a road trip. DQ offers the tri-colored Starkiss, which looks like a patriotic ice pop. Better yet, Baskin-Robbins has introduced some vegan flavors, including Chocolate Extreme and Coffee Caramel Chunk.
But remember, just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Think twice before making truck stops and fast food joints a regular way of life. Pack plenty of healthful snacks before you leave home, lest you reap the health consequences later.
Images via Robert Sebastian Gusoi, Thomas B., Stock Snap, Jodie Walton and William Brinson / Chipotle