Two vegans, one vegetarian, one lactose intolerant and one gluten intolerant adventurer walk into a restaurant in America’s Deep South. What do they eat?
The answer? Plenty.
There’s a common misconception when travelling in the United States that dietary restrictions are difficult to manage, due to the meaty density of America’s stereotypical fast food. But a recent small group adventure with Intrepid through America’s southern states, our little gang of seven happily discovered that our choices were far more diverse than we had expected. Thanks to our incredible leader Mikaela, and the restaurant staff who went above and beyond to accommodate us all, we were all eating delicious southern food in every state we visited.
Here’s how to eat well with dietary restrictions in the US of A:
Spend some time researching vegan and vegetarian restaurants
With a little bit of planning, it’s easy to find incredible vegan and vegetarian restaurants in just about any US city. At the Fox and Fig in Savannah, our group was floored by a burger that we were sure had to be real meat (it wasn’t!); even the meat-eaters among us were convinced. And if you’ve never tried a vegan cheese platter before, it’s a must do. In Asheville, the friendly staff at The Laughing Seed served up a beautiful selection of vegan tapas, like caramel-roasted Brussels sprouts, tostada ensaladas, black bean burgers, crab cakes and grits. Everything was delicious and perfect for sharing.
Be your own chef
We spent two nights camping at the stunning lakeside Mt Pleasant campsite in Charleston, which was a great opportunity to make our own meals. After stocking up on supplies at Walmart (an experience in itself!), we had everything we needed for some quality dinners and breakfasts. On our first night, we whipped up gluten-free pasta, packing with locally grown vegetables, and on night two we all banded together for a traditional barbecue, with vegan patties and sausages, and some barbecue pork for the meat eaters. Cooking a meal together is such a great way to get to know your fellow travellers (it’s even better when it’s followed with drinks and S’mores around the fire).
Most meaty hot spots have awesome salads
By the time we hit Savannah, we were experts in seeking out diet-friendly restaurants. However, as per the itinerary, we were set to visit The Lady and Sons, one of Paula Deen’s famous Southern – and very meat-heavy – restaurants (we actually ran into Paula filming a TV commercial on our way there). Paula’s restaurants are famous for their Deep South cuisine – think Collard greens, fried chicken, and mac n cheese – and we were a little worried there wouldn’t be enough for our vegans and vegetarian pals. However, The Lady and Sons put on a diverse array of Paula’s favourite salads, with heaps of vegetarian options. Paula does a mean peach cobbler for dessert too.
If there’s any ever doubt that you won’t be able to find something that satisfies your dietary requirements, make sure you stock up on snacks; and boy, does the USA know how to do snacks! Driving between Tennessee and Georgia, we became quite familiar with traditional service stations snacks and beverages, where it’s pretty easy to find vegan, vegetarian, dairy free and gluten free alternatives. At one gas station, we picked up a bunch of ‘uniquely’ flavoured chips, ho hos (a kind of chocolatey biscuit), vegan jerky, chex mix, gluten-free parmesan crisps… and a few pieces of fruit for ‘health’. There’s something really fun about trying new foods with your friends, and we spent the next hour sharing our treats. The winner? Doughnut-flavoured jelly beans.
Having dietary requirements doesn’t have to be a setback in the USA. It was so much easier than we all thought to stick to our dietary needs in the land of fried chicken. There’s heaps of great, healthy food available and, with a little bit of planning and a knowledgeable local guide with you, accommodating dietary requirements in the USA’s southern states was easy as (gluten-free) pie.
Hit the road on an Intrepid small group adventure now! Check out our range of trips in America’s southern states here.
Feature photo by Rachel Claire.