Monday, October 15, 2012

The Healthy Vegan Traveler: Quest for Protein

Like all vegans, I get sick of hearing "Where do you get your protein?"  The correct answer to this question is "From food."  All food has protein in it.  Most of the calories in broccoli are from protein.  If you ate nothing but potatoes, like this guy, you would still get enough protein to survive.

There's "enough to survive," though, and "enough for a specific person to function optimally."  Last winter I consulted a vegan nutritionist.  I don't follow all of her recommendations, but one thing I did learn was that I wasn't eating enough protein.  In order for me to feel good and not get light-headed or overly hungry between meals, I need to consume about 14 grams of protein at each meal.  That's the equivalent of a cup of cooked beans, or a small serving of tofu.  This is not at all a big deal when I'm at home.  When I'm travelling, though, especially away from a major city, getting enough protein -- and enough calories, for that matter -- can be a challenge.

The problem is compounded for me because I have an eating disorder, and many easy-to-find vegan foods -- bread, pasta, peanut butter, nuts -- are like crack to me.  If I eat a grain that's any more processed than plain oatmeal, I get in trouble.  Trying to rely on nuts for my protein is a recipe for disaster.  Besides, nuts are super high in fat, and I have diabetes, so even if I could handle them it wouldn't be healthy for them to be my main protein source.

That leaves me with beans, soy, and hemp, which totally saved my ass the last time I traveled.  Hemp is my new favorite travel protein.  It's great if you're staying someplace that has a continental breakfast, because you can use your blender bottle to mix it into the free orange juice.  Then you've got your protein covered, and you can use instant oatmeal to make up the rest of your calories.  And you can pretty much always find an apple or a banana to round out the meal.  I've bought apples and bananas at 7-11 when traveling, and I've seen them in gas station convenience stores too.

A small electric kettle is another travel must.  You can heat up water for your oatmeal, and for your split pea soup.  The soup is high in sodium, but it's high in protein and easy to carry and to eat.  It doesn't need to be refrigerated.  If you forget your electric kettle, you can probably find some hot water at that continental breakfast we were talking about.

The last time I traveled I found aseptically packaged beans at Whole Foods -- lighter and easier to carry than cans, and you don' t need a can opener.  One night I was at a restaurant where the only vegan item on the menu was plain salad (for reals -- they put shrimp broth in the ratatouille! -- but that's a rant for another day).  The box of emergency beans I was carrying in my hoodie pocket saved the day. (They also gave the non-vegans something to chuckle about.  All part of the service.)  The only problem I found with these beans is that they are packed in water, just like regular canned beans.  So to eat them you need to fish them out of the liquid, and then figure out what to do with the liquid when you're done.  Still, they were a big help and I'd probably buy them again.

This is all on my mind because I'm getting ready to go on a trip for work.  I've been to the town and to the conference hotel before, and neither is vegan friendly.  So I'll be packing my protein, and some starches too. If I'm stuck someplace where the only acceptable food is salad -- and I can pretty much guarantee this will happen at some point -- I'll be prepared.

What are your favorite vegan travel tips?


  1. My tip? Bring a light weight, collapsable, insulated lunch bag! The kind that can fit into a large purse or a book bag. That way if you have access to a refrigerator, cooler, or grocery store, you can pick up and keep some refrigerated items cooler for longer on your person. Hummus, soy milk, yogurt, guacamole, baby carrots, left overs, wraps, et c. Then when you're done with the food, the lunch bag won't take up tons of room.

    1. That's an excellent tip, thanks. Hummus and carrots were important on my trip, too. I'd forgotten about those.