Being Vegan on Trail, and Feeling Good About It

People are often surprised to find vegans on the trail. Some are genuinely curious, other skeptical. The most common question I get is, “Where do you get your protein?” In daily life this question is absurd to me for two reasons:
1) The average American consumes two to three times the amount of protein they actually need. It’s thanks to marketing, American culture, distorted health advice, and the age-old concept that eating meat makes you big and strong.
2) Protein is an extremely easy macronutrient to come by, found in most foods. For example, broccoli has more protein per calorie than beef.
I will admit that on trail protein is a slightly more relevant conversation. This is mainly because protein as a macro really packs a punch; that is, it’s a dense source of calories. Having enough calories is a very relevant conversation for people that are hiking anywhere from 13 to 30 miles per day. Honestly, though, our trail food isn’t anything bizarre. Other hikers are surprised to find that our food bags aren’t too far off theirs. We eat Pop-Tarts, oatmeal, bars, ramen, peanut butter, and starchy dinners just like everyone else.
As for the weird factor, doesn’t it make sense that people who love the outdoors would want to protect it? One way I choose to protect the outdoors and our planet as a whole is by not consuming animal products, as they account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gases, 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions, 27 percent of our water footprint, and plenty of other fun stats.
Plus, I feel pretty dang good.
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Comments 4

  • Oliver : Jun 28th

    “broccoli has more protein per calorie than beef” First off, this is not true. Additionally, I feel like this is a misleading statement. Broccoli is mostly water, and as a result, like most vegetables, it is very calorie light. 100g of broccoli gives you 2.8g protein, whilst 100g of beef steak gives you 25-30g of protein. Additionally, you need to look at the amino acid profile of the protein source. Beef would have a much ‘better’ amino acid profile than broccoli – so they are not really comparable where it matters.

    With regard to protein consumption, studies suggest somewhere from 0.5 to 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight, per day (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6390614), if you lead an athletic lifestyle. Protein helps you lose fat[1][2], build muscle, fills you up so you’re less hungry[1][2][3], supports lean body mass (muscle) over flabby and unhealthy body mass (fat)[1][2], helps you recover better from all kinds of exercise, decreases soreness, and helps to keep off weight loss (combating the yoyo effect).

    Link to sources: liamrosen.com/fitness.html#part3

    I also don’t eat meat, so I totally agree with your sentiment, just hoping to contribute to future discussions you have – in case anyone tries to pick holes in your comments.

    How do you feel about the amount of non-recyclable soft plastics you are paying to have produced when acquiring food for the trail? With reference to the title picture.a

    Reply
    • Taylor Sienkiewicz : Aug 8th

      Thanks for your feedback! As for plastics, I definitely wish I would have been able to find a way to reduce waste. I use as little plastic as possible at home (reusable grocery bags, reusable jars in the bulk section, etc.) but didn’t know of a way to get around it on trail without significantly increasing my pack weight. The only thing I could think to do was buy the food in bulk beforehand and divide it up for my resupply boxes, using slightly less packaging but nowhere near where I’d like it.

      Reply
  • Zen Ritchie : Jul 3rd

    For once, I’d like someone to write an article on how they manage to maintain a healthy diet whilst hiking. 99% of all hikers seem to consume the same ultra-processed foods on a daily basis – pop tarts, trail bars, candy bars, ramen noodles, other packeted convenience foods. These foods are mainly empty calories of sugar, starch, and industrial seed oils. Devoid or limited in enough nutrition. Sure, they’re cheap and taste good, but that dietary inflammation is the foundation of contracting modern disease – type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.

    Being vegan does not necessarily equal being healthy, nor is it indeed saving the planet. The problem with plant food, from a nutritional standpoint, is that its inferior to animal food. Plant foods needs to be converted to nutrients that we can actually assimilate. During the conversion, a lot of the vitamins or minerals are actually lost. Your broccoli example is a very good case. The nine essential amino acids in broccoli, are a mere fraction of what would be found in a corresponding weight in steak. You’d have to eat a ton of broccoli to get anywhere near what a steak could offer. Steak like all red meat is heart healthy. It raises your HDL cholesterol, which reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Just don’t eat with starchy carbs.

    Reply
    • Taylor Sienkiewicz : Aug 8th

      I totally agree that most of the food I ate on trail wasn’t healthy, or that being vegan necessarily means one is healthy! However, that wasn’t really my point. These types of foods are the most practical for an extended backpacking trip because I wasn’t able to individually prepare my meals to my nutritional liking while in small towns with limited grocery access, transportation and time. Finding food that was both vegan and high calorie was the priority.

      Reply

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