As tedious as social media can be, it also affords us the chance to reach out and meet like-minded people all over the world. As a vegan in Kansas City, a barbecue mecca, it’s always refreshing to meet vegans in other places with similar struggles. Paige from Modern Merfolk reached out to me to write about my veganism and the year of nothing new recently, and I loved her energy so much that I asked her to share her story, too. Her practical advice on navigating the all the Tex Mex, slow smoked, meaty offerings of Houston rings true for folks anywhere hoping to eat more plants. Paige is vibrant and inspirational, and I hope you follow her story on her blog and Instagram. Here’s more from Paige about being vegan in Texas:
As many of you know, I started my vegan journey in the fall of 2013. During that time we lived in an 800 square foot apartment in a quiet, family-friendly suburb about 30 minutes south of good ole’ Houston, Texas. I’m a Houston native, and my husband has lived here for the past 9 years. We have a love-hate relationship with this town, but have learned to lean more towards the love for the time being.
Now let me preface the next paragraph of comments with some words of endearment:
Yes, Houston is one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Yes, it’s super cheap to live here.
And Yes, it is home to a pretty awesome culinary scene for those interested in the likes of farm-to-table Oxheart-esque establishments.
And this is a huge “BUT”.
The vegan scene—or rather, the grouping of people interested in promoting a healthy whole-foods plant-based lifestyle—is small. Very small.
And that brings me to this next paragraph.
Houston, Texas has been very difficult for my husband and I to accept since I’ve made the switch to veganism. I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been to an all-plant-based establishment in the city.
For a vegan to truly love eating out in Houston, you’ll be missing out if you don’t embrace “vegan-friendly” joints that still offer meat and dairy products (ie like MorningStar, a new brunch spot that recently gave my husband and I the first taste of a local vegan donut we’d been missing for the past 3.5 years).
For those of you who may be visiting the area, here’s a list of the exclusively Vegan restaurants in the Clutch City:
- Doshi House (family-style Indian-Inspired meals, inside a coffee shop)
- Green Seed Vegan (a raw vegan establishment with excellent options)
- Green Vegetarian Cuisine (a spin-off of the larger original San Antonio location)
- Ripe Cuisine (Rice Village Food Truck)
- Pepper Tree (all-vegan Asian buffet)
- Loving Hut (national chain)
- Garden Kitchen (small café next door to a practice run by a local cardiologist)
- Pat Greer’s Vegan Kitchen (no storefront, catering and pick-up only)
- Sinfull Bakery (no storefront, catering and pick-up only)
And while the list below may seem like a lot to you if you’re coming from somewhere else, consider this:
Houston is the 4th largest city in the United States.
Four out of the nine places listed aren’t even sit-down dining restaurants, and all of them are at least 30 traffic-ridden miles away from our home.
So how does one survive in a “vegan food desert” like Houston?
Pick up a Book and Learn to Cook
At first, the lack of vegan dine-in options made us extremely sad. We liked eating out, and this took us by surprise. BUT in hindsight, this made us really buckle down on our food budget. We learned to rely on ourselves for food, rather than the hands of others. Honestly, this is what made me fall in love with fresh, flavorful ingredients. Putting the combinations of flavors together with my own two hands helped me to cultivate a new sense of appreciation for good food. It’s actually hard for me to enjoy food made at restaurants now; a lot of times our food tastes way better!
Your Local Grocery Store Has Everything you Need
I was shocked that all of the ingredients needed to sustain a home-cooked whole-foods plant-based diet were readily available at our local grocery store. We shop at HEB and Kroger, which are the equivalent to what you could probably find at any Super Walmart or Super Target. We recently learned that our local Target started carrying organic non-GMO tempeh! How cool is that? And while many people have reservations about shopping at Walmart, they’ve at least vamped up their organic produce game in recent years. This definitely busted the myth in our minds that we would have to drive across town to a fancy “health food” store. Everything we needed was right in front of us.
Create Your Own Community
Eating out is super fun with friends, and this is something that we’ve struggled to deal with. It isn’t exciting to raise your hand and be the party pooper who wants special treatment when the group decides to pick the restaurant without you. Our solution is two-fold:
- We eat before going out whenever possible, or stick to piecing together a few side items on the menu
- We just invite people over for dinner
We love hosting dinner gatherings. Often, our guests are really surprised at how satisfying our meals taste, and we’re able to save money on over-inflated food and beverage prices at outside establishments. It may not seem as exciting at first, but having friends over seems to help create a much more meaningful experience overall. You tend to talk for longer, drink a little more, and relax a bit. No need for a designated driver, just stay on the couch!
While Houston isn’t an excellent spot for vegans, it has definitely given us a new perspective on what’s truly important.
We’ve learned to appreciate a home-cooked meal, good friends, and spreading the vegan message in a town that seems way more receptive to finding the best barbecue ribs in existence.
People at work often ask us about our food choices and open up conversations about our “interesting and amazingly disciplined” diet. The cashiers at our grocery store know us by the produce-laden cart we tow every Sunday amidst hundreds of tamale-loving Tex-Mex fans.
We get to be the local “weird vegan couple”, and it’s kind of endearing.
Looking forward, it might be a little strange for us to move to a city like Portland, OR, with so many vegan restaurants to choose from. But I think we’ll survive.