Alabama Eats: Vegan in the Deep South and Responding with Compassion to Questions of Veganism

Tomorrow, my father begins his two-day trek on the road to Alabama where his parents, seven siblings, and 22 nieces and nephews congregate for Christmas each year. Unfortunately, this year my father has guilt-tripped my mother and I into accompanying him to bayou country, ignoring our petty excuses (that had convinced him so well for the past three years!) to spend Christmas at home in Madison while he visits his relatives. Don’t get me wrong here—I adore my southern family, especially my dear old Gran from whom I garner my prized baking genes. However, my Midwestern-girl liberal philosphies have always clashed with those of typical Alabamans, and I expect that the animosity will only intensify as I make my first voyage to the deep south as a vegan.

Anxious for the questions from my curious relatives, I expect to answer many forms of “Where do you get your protein?” “Aren’t you a little too skinny?” “Isn’t vegan food expensive?” and of course “So what CAN you eat?”

Instead of getting offended that my family even fathom doubting my veganism, inspiring animated rants about the inhumane treatment of animals, disease-causing components of the standard American diet, and misconceptions about vegan sources of protein, calcium, iron, etc., I plan to approach their inquiries with compassion—for isn’t that the backbone of a vegan diet? Besides, a vegan activist can alter far more opinions with a willingness to educate and proof of their lifestyle’s success (can you say vegan baked goods, anyone?), than with forceful lectures disapproving and criticizing all other diets.

That said, how do I suppose to respond to these questions with love and kindness? Perhaps the holidays do not serve as the best time to mention slaughterhouses or the rapid obesity epidemic. For now, I can content myself with planting the seeds of veganism’s benefits in the hearts and minds of my southern family.

  1. “Where do you get your protein?” From the bounty of vegetables, legumes, and nuts I eat everyday! Protein from vegetables is not inferior to that of animals and is indeed plentiful on a wholesome, balanced vegan diet.
  2. “Aren’t you a little too skinny?” My weight is within the healthy range for my height. More importantly, however, I feel energetic and happy an vast majority of the time—sure signs that my diet can effectively sustain my body and active lifestyle.
  3. “Isn’t vegan food expensive?” Considering that the staples of my diet—vegetables, beans, and grains—rank among the cheapest items at the grocery store (not to mention at the farmers market—how’s $3 for a ginormous bunch of kale?), I’d argue that veganism inspires some of the lowest-cost eating habits. Besides, I’d rather pay more for nourishing food now than for future diabetes medication or chemotherapy harbored from an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
  4. “So what CAN you eat?” Everything except animal products! After going vegan, my diet became infinitely more varied as I explored the wide array of plant foods out there, discovering new whole grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet), vegetables (kabocha squash, lacinato kale, purple potatoes), and meat substitutes (tofu, tempeh). I honestly never eat the same thing two days in a row.

While I remain optimistic about my relatives’ acceptance of my year-and-a-half long passion for a plant-based diet, I’m quite confident that Alabama will offer absolutely no vegan-friendly food. Thus, I’ve hauled out my trusty cooler once again to pack full of animal-product-free eats and ensure that I don’t starve during my three-day southern adventure. I’ll send the cooler along with my father in the car while my mother and I fly and meet him at my grandparents’ house.

Cooler chock-full of goodies.


Pre-made breakfast smoothies.


Non-refrigerated items.

For breakfast, I’ve prepared four smoothies, packaged in Tupperware and frozen (I expect that they’ll thaw by the time they reach Alabama): Raspberry-Fig (pictured above), Mango-Coconut, Wild Blueberry, and Beet-Carrot-Spinach Juice Pulp. All contain kale, spinach, chia or hemp seeds, almond butter, and Edensoy Extra soy milk to fulfill all the guidelines of my daily breakfast checklist. I also packed a bag each of brown rice puffs and millet puffs to stir into the smoothies each morning.

For lunch, I’ve packed a giant container of mixed salad greens, four carrots from my favorite Plahnt Farm, a Tupperware full of roasted beets (also from Plahnts), another Tupperware of roasted kabocha squash (yup, this one’s from Plahnts, too!), two cans of Eden beans (one kidney, one black turtle), a jar of Liquid Gold Dressing, a pack of brown rice cakes, four frozen Vegetarian Burgers from Nature’s Bakery, a jar of tahini, and a jar of seaweed sauerkraut from Powerkraut. This should aptly furnish the standard giant salads I enjoy for lunch everyday at home.

For dinner, I’ve prepared a crock-pot full of curry, inspired by a recipe from the Gluten-Free Goddess. I followed the recipe fairly closely, but reduced the oil to 1 tbsp, substituted the onion for a leek, omitted the celery (I never have any in the refrigerator), used Napa cabbage, replaced the apple with broccoli Romanesco (I have an aversion to apples cooked in savory dishes), and left out the agave nectar. To serve alongside the curry, I cooked up a large batch (2 cups uncooked) of Countrywild Rice—a blend of Wehani, long-grain brown, and Black Japonica rice from Lundberg. Both are tucked safely inside giant Tupperware containers, ready for reheating.

And just in case I find myself a bit peckish, I’ve included four bottles of GT’s Kombucha, two bags of kale chips from Rhythm Superfoods in Bombay Curry and Zesty Nacho flavors, two Larabars in Cherry and Apple Pie flavors, and three teabags each of Kukicha and Vanilla Rooibos.

Comment Provoking Questions: How do you respond to inquiries of your diet? What are the most common questions people ask? What are your favorite travel foods? How do you prepare for a trip to a place where you know there is a lack of vegan-friendly food?

Until next time, Ali.

10 thoughts on “Alabama Eats: Vegan in the Deep South and Responding with Compassion to Questions of Veganism

  1. vegansparkles says:

    haha, great planning! As a newbie vegan, I’ve gotten into the habit of always carrying a muesli bar and a banana with me when I’m out and about for long periods, but I love the idea of the cooler packed with vegan goodness for longer trips. 🙂

  2. Brittany says:

    I love this post. I’m from Alabama; Auburn specifically. I guess I am one of those typical Alabama conservatives 😉 Raised in a college town that attempts to cater to international needs, my 5 and a half month vegetarian diet hasn’t been too difficult. I worked at a health food store in college here, and surprisingly, I carried on my animal-eating way of life. This summer, I decided I was going to take my health issues head on. I have type 1 diabetes, so I have to take insulin no matter what-but i have reduced my long term insulin by 20 percent!

    Even my dad, who owns a typical southern restaurant, has expanded his veggie selection.

    Compassion is definately the way to handle family who think if steak or chicken isn’t the center of your meal, then it’s not complete. My husband eats what I cook. Occasionally he will throw a steak or pork on the grill. But he never complains about my dinners!

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Good for you! Two of my uncles have diabetes and must pay close attention to what they eat, but have yet to adopt a vegetarian diet. I understand their (and the rest of my relatives’) hesitancy–my Gran summed up perfectly their collective concern for giving up a meat-centered diet when she asked “But do you really feel full after eating only vegetables?”

      Thanks a bunch for your great insight into Southern eating habits!
      -Sincerely, Ali.

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