My typical restaurant experience normally involves a food heavy with carbohydrates or a salad that only has lettuce, cheese and dressing. This is the norm for a vegetarian living in the South. I’ve learned to adapt to this lifestyle and tend to cook most of my meals, only relying on fast food or sit down restaurants when I’m desperate. This summer, I took a cross-country road trip for my senior internship. Although this was a wonderful experience, I had an extremely hard time finding food. Before the trip, I somewhat prepared with protein bars. I don’t typically rely on these because without proper exercise, protein bars can lead to major weight gain. I resorted to these because gas station food isn’t fulfilling.
The healthiest thing I can buy at a gas station is a pack of sunflower seeds and a bottle of water. The rest of the food options are chips, chocolate bars and the ready-to-eat food, which is mostly meat-based. My other food options on this trip were fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendys, etc. At McDonald’s, I am limited to breakfast food and fries. Since all locations offer the all-day breakfast, I am easily able to find something to eat. My go-to was an egg and cheese McGriddle, which isn’t on the menu. This item is around 350 calories and offers 13 grams of protein. I can’t remember how many times I got this and an iced coffee during the three weeks of my trip. At Wendy’s, it’s more difficult for me to find something. During breakfast, the only vegetarian food they offer is their breakfast potatoes and apple slices. At the locations I went to, they weren’t allowed to make any modifications to the sandwich to take off the meat. During their lunch and dinner hours, I tend to get one of their salads and a baked potato. These are healthy options for fast-food restaurants but are hard to eat when you’re on the go. On this road trip, I went through 18 states. Some of these were easy to find food, while others were difficult. The states on the west coast were the places I didn’t struggle. Washington, Oregon and California are all places where these lifestyles are extremely common. Restaurants are open and willing to take the meat off a dish and offer a variety of dishes that exclude meat and dairy products.
I wish all the places on the trip were like this. The roughest places to eat were states like Montana, Wyoming and the worst, Idaho. Idaho is known for their Idaho potatoes, but for the five days, I was there I couldn’t find any potatoes. I had two bad experiences in Idaho with my food. The first night, we went to a Mexican food truck close to where we were staying. Everyone else got tacos, burritos and nachos. When I got to the window, I asked if they had any vegetarian options. The man looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I believe now that I’m the only vegetarian to stay in that small town. He looked at all his ingredients and gave me a fried taco shell topped with shredded iceberg lettuce and ranch. I was upset but didn’t want to cause a scene. I was also hungry and took what was given to me. My second bad experience was at a five-star cafe during my last few days in Idaho. I ordered a grilled cheese with a side of french fries. When we got our food, my grilled cheese was warm on the outside, but the inside was like Play-Doh. During the three weeks of the trip, I lost approximately 20 pounds. It is extremely unhealthy to lose that much weight in that amount of time. When I came home, I had to slowly eat my way back to my normal eating habits. If not, I would get extremely sick.
Overall, food was only one part of the trip. I highly recommend going across the country. If you do have a different diet than most, take food with you. Make time to cook, if need be. I believe all restaurants should extend their menu to accommodate people who live these different lifestyles. According to CNBC news, “The Atlanta-based company is mulling over adding vegan options to its menu. Chick-fil-A’s chicken-heavy menu currently does not have any vegan entree options.” The vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are growing. These chains would make more money if they added an extra item or two to their menus. I would also love to be able to go out to eat with my friends without worrying about whether or not the restaurant we choose will accommodate to my needs.