Have you ever been the only vegan on a road trip with five hangry friends? Have you ever left a late-night shift and realized you never got to break for lunch? Or maybe you’re just hankering for some fast food, because the world is hard, and the drive-thru is so, so easy.
Yes, fast food can be the answer to a prayer, but what if those clasped hands belong to someone who doesn’t eat cheese, meat, or even Big Mac sauce? Allow me, a vegan researcher at a plant-based PR and SEO firm, to play angel and help you stay true to your dietary morals while stuffing your face in a parking lot, or on the open road.
When I became a vegetarian, Taco Bell was my new best friend. Quesadillas, 7-layer burritos and — the holy-grail — cheesy potato griller. When I made the switch to veganism, I assumed Taco Bell would still be there for me. While Taco Bell is good at meatless, they seem to rely on melted cheese and sour cream. There are a few tasty vegan options, but only if you modify your order a bit.
Option 1: Blackbean Crunchwrap Supreme. No nacho cheese, no sour cream. The crunch wrap isn’t the same without some type of dip, so I would recommend adding guac. I’m a big fan of this one, especially after you get one of the diablo hot sauce packets running.
Option 2: Veggie Power Menu Bowl. No cheese, no sour cream, no avocado ranch sauce. You can add potatoes and onions as well if that’s your thing (it’s mine). This one is a bit tame to me, but you can’t go wrong with beans and rice.
Option 3: Spicy Potato Taco. No cheese, no chipotle sauce. If this is all you’re ordering I would recommend getting at least two or three of these bad boys.
Taco Bell claims you can make any of these options vegan-friendly by telling them you want it “fresco.” When I tried this I was met with a stony silence that made me want to crawl under a rock and never come out again. If you want to give it a go, I admire your bravery.
Stop. If you are in line at a Mcdonald’s drive-thru throw that Prius in reverse, because vegans are not welcome here. I know what you’re thinking, fries? They’re the best fries I’ve ever tasted. Well, the fries are not vegan. They’re not even vegetarian because they’re fried in vegetable oil with beef flavoring. Unless you live near one of the seven lucky U.S. locations currently testing out the new Beyond Meat-McDonald’s partnership, for now, you’ll have to avoid this classic stop altogether.
If you’re looking for a classic fast-food experience, Burger King is your guy. While they only carry a few vegan options, there is pretty much only one thing you’ll want.
Option 1: The Impossible Whopper. No mayo. This plant-based burger tastes so real I sometimes freak out a little. This option doesn’t include cheese unless you ask for it — praise be.
Option 2: Fries. Yay! No beef flavoring in these bad boys.
Option 3: Side Garden Salad. No cheese. Fast-food salads don’t ever turn out great, and BK doesn’t offer any vegan dressings, so you’ll have to BYOD. It is nice to know you can snag some leafy greens if needed, though.
Ah, Subway. They don’t have a drive-thru, but I still count them as fast food. The only non-vegan bread options they carry are jalapeno cheese and parmesan oregano, which are easy to avoid. They have a lot of great options, and you can do anything you want with these sandwiches, so here’s my preferred order.
My Order: Veggie on Italian bread, no cheese, guac, extra spinach, tomatoes, onions, pickles, olives, and brown mustard.
Sauces: Their vegan sauces include brown mustard, mustard seed spread, yellow mustard (I hope you like mustard), sweet onion sauce, fat-free Italian dressing, oil and vinegar, and Subway vinaigrette.
Tips: If you’re looking for some extra substance in your sandwich they also have veggie patties. When I don’t get the veggie patty, I always make sure to ask for extra spinach, or else it’s not enough to fill the sandwich. If you’re getting guac ask for it before they start putting the toppings on. One time I forgot to do that and my sandwich artist would’ve thrown the guac spreader at my neck if we had been alone.
Bring Your Own Supply
I’ve been burned one too many times on road trips where the group wants to stop somewhere with no vegan options, or there aren’t any options period. It’s always a good idea to have snacks on hand so you don’t have to resort to eating soggy iceberg lettuce and a tomato slice off your friend’s Big Mac.
Option 1: Plant-Based Jerky. There are a ton of jerkies out there made of mushrooms, coconut, soy, and even eggplant. It’s a nice filling snack that should satisfy any meaty fast-food cravings you may have.
Option 2: Pretzels and hummus have been there for me so many times. I’m always trying new hummus but my current favorite is Trader Joe’s dill pickle hummus. It kind of tastes like tuna salad if you’re into that type of thing. For pretzels, I always go with Snack Factory’s everything bagel pretzel crisps. I love them, and they don’t even have to pay me to say it.
Option 3: Vegan desserts. It may not be a proper meal, but sometimes you have to live a little. I love Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. The peanut butter is organic, and the chocolate is Rainforest Alliance-certified. Health food stores such as Whole Foods or Sprouts have fresh-baked vegan cookies. Of course, there are always Oreos, which you can find pretty much everywhere.
Wherever you end up, don’t let your lifestyle get in the way of some good classic fun. You can make fast food work for you! Now hit the open road and make the vegan’s drive-thru dread a thing of the past.
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