Vegan on the Go – Part 2

by Sherri Koehler on November 4, 2010

My last post covered options to explore when dining out, but what about those times when a vegan is truly on the go. How do you manage getting food during long trips, particularly air travel?

Today air travel is fraught with all kinds of challenges. Not only do travelers now have to pick between intimate groping or being blasted with radiation in order that a photo realistic image of their naked body be viewed by security agents, but then there are all the limitations about what you can or cannot carry with you onto the airplane. If your choice of personal indignities isn’t enough, most airports are a veritable “food desert” for vegans and very few airlines provide meals at all, much less custom meals.

How do you get through a day of travel and manage to eat compassionately? This became a real question for us a year and a half ago when we were traveling to Hawaii. We were leaving our house just before 4AM, pacific time, and wouldn’t arrive at our final destination until 9PM, Hawaiian time (which means midnight pacific). When we inquired about special meals we were very politely informed that the airline didn’t offer them anymore although there would be food for sale on the flight. For vegans on that particular airline that largely means potato chips.

The answer to these travel dilemmas is to bring your own food. Make sure you save space in your carry-on luggage for some things to get you through a long day of traveling. There are airline restrictions in the US that you have to get around, but they aren’t impossible. After some research, planning, and “field testing”, here are some results that may help get you through you next long journey via airplane.

Hummus and nut butters have the potential to be a “dangerous gel or paste”. On their own they can only be carried on if put in 3 ounce containers and stashed in that 1 quart ziploc bag with your lotion and toothpaste. OR….there are two ways we’ve found to get around this:

Photo by Paul Martin @jugglerpm on Flickr

  1. Place said hummus, chickpea/tofu salad, peanut butter & jelly between two pieces of bread. Behold!! You have made “A Sandwich” and those are totally OK with TSA. You may pack a sandwich in your carry on luggage separate from the 1 quart ziploc of potentially dangerous liquids. Woo!
  2. Similarly to the Sandwich Maneuver, you can roll your stuff up in either a tortilla or a giant collard leaf. Eureka! You have made “A Wrap” and this too can be carried on! This trick is extra great if you’re eating raw. I sent raw almond pate collard wraps with Christie for business trip flight and they worked out great!   *The collard might be a little odd for the PB&J, but hey, if it rocks your vegan boat go for it!
    Yes, we’re all screwed the day someone attempts terrorism by sandwich or wrap. Le sigh….

Other tips for eating on a long day of travel:

  • Invest in some airport allowed travel utensils. We really like the Microbite utensils from Guyot Designs (pictured). They are light, pack well, get through security without comment, and you can actually cut things avocados and bread with the knife piece!
  • Fresh fruit is easy to add in. Avocados travel really well and are easy to eat with some bread if you’ve got some travel utensils or disposable ones swiped from some fast food joint on your concourse. Only pack enough fruit to consume on the trip if you are going somewhere with an agricultural quarantine, like Hawaii. If you don’t finish it, you’ll have to dump it before leaving the airport.
  • Nuts, dried fruit, and other “trail mix” types of things are very easy to pack and provide a good energy boost.
  • Baked tofu in a ziploc will usually* make it through security with no hassles. This can be tasty all by itself or you can track down some kind of salad in the airport and add your tofu to make a more satisfying meal.
  • Crusty bread travels pretty darn well. The squishier the bread, the more destroyed it will become in your carry on luggage. Crackers likewise tend to get rather destroyed. Pretzels stand up pretty well to being crammed into some corner of your bag.
  • Things like trail mix, pretzels and quite often bagels offered with either hummus or peanut butter are often to be found in most airports. These can help supplement what you have brought with you.
  • Carry an empty water bottle. You can easily fill it up at a drinking fountain and it saves you money as well as reducing the amount of plastic water bottles!

*A very special true story involving the Denver airport and baked tofu.

I used to go to Denver at least once or twice a year for business travel. I eventually made my way around to some pretty fabulous restaurants there, but flying home was always a hassle around food as I generally would find myself out at the Denver airport at dinner time, waiting on a delayed flight home, and hungry as all hell. In the past few years I was absolutely over-joyed by the addition of a fast food joint that provided mediocre rice bowls with the option of tofu!! Up until then I had started to bring a nice piece of baked tofu and would seek out a salad to have with it.

Generally this always went according to plan with no hassles. Of course it was only a matter of time before something happened to break my sense of security. What happened was irritating at the time, but in retrospect kind of hilarious.

It is about 6PM and I’m making my way through a relatively quiet security queue at DIA. Shoes off, laptop out, stuff on conveyer belt, no beep in the metal detector and I’m waiting for my stuff at the other end. And waiting…

“Excuse me, ma’am.” I hear a youngish, male voice behind me.

Turning around I see a very tall, twenty-something security guy with my bag open and in his blue-gloved hands my ziploc bag with a small piece of baked tofu.

“Yes?” I reply.

“Is this yours?.” Asks the gangly TSA agent while holding the bag at roughly eye level in order to more effectively give it a suspicious stare.

“Yes, that’s mine.” I respond with some confusion.

“What is it?” He asks, now carefully squishing my tofu through the bag with his gloved fingers.

“My dinner.” I tell him, growing mildly exasperated.

“What is it?” He asks me again, still going squishy-squishy with my freaking dinner.

“Tofu.” I say, “Specifically baked tofu.”

“And you plan to eat this?” He says giving me a bewildered look. Yes, more squishy-squishy!

“Yes, that is my plan, once I get to my concourse.” By now I’m fighting the urge to ask him to please stop fondling my damn dinner.

“Well, I guess…” He finally responds,  stops groping my tofu, puts it back into my bag, zips it closed and sends it along down the metal rollers to me.

Seriously, just like that. True story. Lesson learned: baked tofu has always made it through security, however, I have had to endure some gawky TSA agent fondling it as though he was sure it was some new form of explosive.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill - Vegan Backpacker November 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm

What a great post! I once had a disagreement with some airport security officers because I was bringing three large tubs of homemade hummus on board. They kept saying it was a paste. I kept telling them it was hummus. Eventually they gave up.

I like your idea about the airline friendly utensil set. Great idea 🙂


sherri November 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I’m impressed you managed to get our hummus on board! I’ve been told at several airports that unless it is in the “toiletries” 1 quart bag or cleverly disguised as a sandwich/wrap, hummus & nut butters are “potentially dangerous pastes”.

I’ve not always had luck finding a free, disposable utensil while traveling. Carrying my own means I always have one and I don’t have to throw away another piece of plastic.


Nikol November 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I’ve had good luck getting the Justin Nut Butter packets through airport security. So far, I’ve only been brave enough to try 3 packets at one time, stashed in my purse, and security hasn’t questioned them. I’m not sure if it is because they are in factory sealed packets or if it is because they are so small.


sherri November 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm

That’s great to know, thanks! I’ve wondered about those packets. If anything they’re so small and thin it would be easy to cram them into the 1qt. “liquids” bag.


Nikol December 1, 2010 at 6:44 am

I had thought the same thing! If they did get fussy about them I had enough room to shove them in my liquids bag :0)


Jennifer May 21, 2012 at 8:13 am

I know this is from a long time ago, but wanted to say thanks! I have a 26 hour air voyage ahead (Boston to Canberra), and I’ve been pretty worried about starving. While I did request a vegan meal on the last, 16-hour flight, the last two times I’ve officially requested a vegan meal I’ve gotten *nothing*. Before that, I got a tiny plate with three steamed baby carrots, four steamed green beans, and a potato the size of a ping-pong ball. This post is super-helpful. Now I just have to worry about how to avoid soggy bread!


sherri May 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Jennifer, thanks so much for your post! I’m so glad this was helpful.


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