It took three weeks and 5500 miles, but yesterday, I hit the unofficial halfway point of my book tour — Seattle, Washington.
Fun place, by the way, with tons of vegan-friendly restaurants. And as I head down the west coast and back across the southern half of the country, I’m looking forward to more food options than I’ve had so far.
And believe me, when you’ve spent most of the past week driving long, barren stretches through states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Nebraska, you appreciate options.
To be honest, I’ve never found eating vegan while traveling all that difficult. But the constraints of the past three weeks — owing to the fact that I’m in a car — have made it more challenging. The three big ones:
- I’m in a new hotel every single night, always without a kitchen and often with no fridge or microwave.
- The car is packed so tightly that there’s no room for a cooler.
- I’m without my beloved Blendtec — I left it for my wife and kids — or any blender, for that matter.
Finally, this is all on a budget — I’d go broke if I ate out at restaurants for all or even most of my meals. Selling books has helped to offset some costs of hotels, gas, and food, but this tour is a labor of love, not something that’s financially profitable by any means. So I’ve really got to keep an eye on my food cost.
Yet at the same time as I’m trying to keep costs down, it’s extremely important that I eat well. The book tour has been far more exhausting than I had prepared for, and if I weren’t eating better than ever, I think I’d have crashed long ago.
Yes, you read that right — even under all these constraints (in fact, because of all these constraints), I’m eating as healthily as I ever have, perhaps even more so.
The Real Way to Eat Vegan While Traveling
Traditionally, the advice about eating plant-based on the road has taken only two words to dispense:
And it really is all you need — assuming you’re on a short trip, and you don’t mind paying restaurant prices in exchange for getting a taste of the local vegetarian and vegan scene.
But that’s not my situation. In most places I’ve driven through, there is no local vegetarian and vegan scene. So instead my focus has been on practicality, value, and health, rather than on fun or fancy or exciting food — and that has made all the difference. (See what I did there? Robert Frost, road, less traveled, etc. :))
The Key: Foods Over Meals
Recently I’ve started learning from Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who advocates a plant-based diet entirely for health reasons.
A big idea I’ve learned from Dr. Fuhrman is that “the salad is the meal.” Interpret salad loosely here … the idea is that instead of worrying about eating a traditional “square” meal and getting your vegetables on the side or in a salad, you do far better by basing your entire diet on the foods in that salad.
And that’s the trick that has helped me not just survive on the road, but thrive, by eating fresher, more whole, and more raw.
Forget the square meal. Forget about identifying the protein, the carbohydrate, and the fat. Fill up on the handful of foods that you consider to be the healthiest on Earth. And redefine “meal” to mean exactly that.
For Dr. Fuhrman (at least, in my interpretation), these foods are:
- Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
- Nuts and seeds
- Fruits, especially berries
Fuhrman uses the mnemonic acronym GBOMBS (greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, seeds) to remember these foods.
This is how I’ve eaten over the past three weeks. Combine whole, fresh foods, focusing on the GBOMBS. Do it in a way that fills you up and that you don’t get sick of, and you win.
What this means, for me at least, is that I end up eating a nearly raw diet until noon each day, and many days even longer than that.
Here’s the procedure I’ve fallen into, and it works.
a) Stock up on raw trail mix (raw nuts and seeds and raisins) and fresh fruit, especially oranges, bananas, apples, strawberries, and raspberries — foods that can last a few days without refrigeration. Eat this stuff for breakfast in the mornings, and snack on it throughout the day. (And really, what else are you going to find for breakfast that’s plant-based and not just a bunch of wheat? Certainly nothing in the hotel spread.)
b) Whenever you’re near a Whole Foods, stop at it. Head to the salad bar and make a gigantic salad that includes dark leafy greens (usually kale), chickpeas or black beans, whatever seeds they have (usually sunflower and pumpkin seeds), and whatever other veggies you’re in the mood for — for me it’s usually cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, and roasted mushrooms. I’ve stuck mainly to Whole Foods’s oil-free dressings, though I’m not anti-oil by any means.
If it’s meal time (even breakfast), I eat about half of this salad immediately and half for my next meal. If it’s not meal time, I still get the salad and save it until next time I’m hungry.
c) For hot meals, usually just dinner but lunch if I’m lucky, it’s one of three things:
- A burrito or bowl from Chipotle, with brown rice, black or pinto beans (they’re vegan now!), onions and peppers, guacamole, tomatoes, and medium or hot salsa.
- Something from the Whole Foods hot bar, or one of their built-in restaurants at larger stores. You’ve got to be careful here, because even though it’s Whole Foods, there are plenty of prepared-food options that are less-than-healthy. Mostly I stick to cooked vegetables and grains.
- A meal from a local vegetarian- or vegan-friendly restaurant, found either via Happy Cow or recommendation from friends on Twitter or at my book tour events.
That’s it. I can think of almost nothing I’ve eaten that doesn’t fall into one of those three categories, except for the fruit, trail mix, and salad.
I can anticipate a few:
How can you say Whole Foods is cheap?
I can get a huge salad, including beans and seeds, that will last for one or two meals, for 10 bucks. This isn’t cheap, but not that expensive either for a meal (or two meals) on the road. It’s entirely organic and I consider it the healthiest meal I eat each day, so it’s worth it. Sometimes I get the fruit and trail mix from Whole Foods too, but you can also get these (and even the salad, though not often with so many organic veggies) at most regular grocery stores.
In all, breakfast and lunch of fruit, nuts, and this mega-salad cost $12 or so, total. This is less than half of what I’d pay to sit and eat at a restaurant, and these meals are as healthy as they come.
Trail mix, fruit, and salad doesn’t sound like a breakfast.
No, it doesn’t. But it’s almost exactly the same ingredients as what’s in my smoothie when I’m at home. Eating this way took only a few days to get used to, and I love how it feels. So I’ll likely take this “raw until noon” habit home with me.
Do you really think Chipotle is healthy?
I do, if you get a bowl and avoid the white-flour tortilla. It’s beans, rice, and vegetables, which is a lot like a typical dinner I’d eat at home. The vegetables aren’t organic (as far as I know), but on the road, I’ll take it.
As for variety, if I were eating at Chipotle every day, my diet would be lacking. Thankfully, I’ve only eaten at Chipotle two or three times per week. I try to vary the contents of daily Whole Foods salad tremendously, by changing up the vegetables that I get in it each time, as well as buying different fruits and making different trail mixes from the bulk sections of stores to add to the variety in my diet on the road.
The Secret: Inconvenience is a Great Thing
That’s really all there is to eating on the road. It’s affordable, practical, and really not that hard, once you get used to it.
The key, of course, is throwing out your preconceived notion of a meal, and accepting that combining fresh, whole, and often raw foods in a way that fills you up is just as good as any hot, “square” meal. In fact, I think it’s better: as I alluded to above, I truly believe that being so constrained in my choices is a tremendous blessing in disguise. And I’ve noticed this even when I’m not traveling: having to plan and prepare is the major reason I eat far better as a vegan than I ever did as an omnivore or even a vegetarian.
PS — A Special Fall Deal on any No Meat Athlete Roadmap!
(This program is no longer available)
This tour has been an incredible experience, and it’s hard to believe it’s only halfway done. I’ve met so many people, many of whom are longtime fans of the blog, but also so many who had never heard of No Meat Athlete until the print book came out.
And so for everyone who has bought the print book as their introduction to NMA and this lifestyle (and are hopefully inspired to do something special with it), I wanted to make it easy to go deeper and train for a big race — whether that’s a half marathon, a marathon, or a triathlon.
From now until Wednesday, October 30th, I’ve made each of the three Roadmap programs available at 35% off the regular price. I only do these sorts of deals once or twice a year (last time was for the first day of spring, over seven months ago), so if you’ve had your eye on the Roadmap systems, now’s your chance to grab one on the cheap!