Marilyn cooking up something good in the mountains outside of Mexico City.

What living in a van in Mexico taught us about being vegan. (It’s possible).

Marilyn and I just completed an epic drive from Guatemala to Utah in our beloved van “La Gorda”. Of all of the amazing positives of living in a van, cooking is just not one of them. First of all, we didn’t want to be spending a lot of time cooking. We were technically on vacation, and who wants to be cooking when they can be swimming above tropical fish and sting rays? Second, living in a van for us meant no fridge and minimal storage, which meant very few ingredients and minimal variety. Third, we only had a single burner stove, minimal utensils, kitchen supplies. Lastly, we were most definitely on a budget. We splurged one time and ate at a plant based restaurant called Mango y Chile in Bacalar (If you’re in that part of Mexico, definitely look it up) and although we wished we could eat restaurant veggie burgers for every meal, we couldn’t. The cost just adds up and we wouldn’t have enough gas money to get home.

I get that these challenges come up for everyone when trying to eat a vegan diet, especially while making the transition. We get it, it can be SUPER hard. So, how did we continue eating a plant based diet with all of these added challenges on the road? That’s why I’m writing this post - to give you a little bit of inspiration. You might not be living in a van, but these same challenges come up for anyone trying to eat healthy.

Time

For most people, a daunting aspect of eating plant-based is TIME. It’s true, eating vegan often means a little bit more time in the kitchen. Marilyn and I struggle with this one all the time, especially while we were living in the van. We wanted to spend our time seeing cool places in Mexico, not just sitting in La Gorda cooking. We didn’t want our van to turn into a food truck. The same goes for when we’re in school. There just isn’t enough time to sit and cook! So what are some solutions to this problem when it would just be so much easier to make Ramen or get fast food? Well, one solution we rely on is to simplify. A good outline to follow is to make a starch (noodles, rice, quinoa, potatos, etc.), add whatever vegetables you’re feeling that day (avocado, beans, bell peppers, spinach, zucchini, corn, tomato, etc.), and then add a sauce (red sauce, cheesy nutritional yeast, vegan ranch, spicy thai, etc). We’ve found this to be a super easy and yummy time saver.

If you do have a little extra time to make a big meal, double or triple the recipe and then keep it in the freezer so your have a couple of ready meals all in one go!

Last, being organized in your kitchen can also save you lots of time. Try to label things, keep it clean, or use a template to plan out your food for the week. Time savers like this may seem daunting at first, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

No Variety

One morning, I walked over to where Marilyn was “eating” her oatmeal and found her catapulting the contents of her bowl into a nearby swamp. She said she just couldn’t take it anymore and was sick of eating the same oatmeal every morning. I had to agree- we’d been eating the same oatmeal recipe every morning for weeks: oats, a glob of peanut butter and walnuts. It was definitely starting to wear on us and something had to change. When you’re making the transition to a plant based diet, your lsit of go-to meals may be slim at first. You might find something that initially tastes good, is easy, quick, and cheap and eat it until you’re so sick of it that you find yourself catapulting it into a nearby swamp. The good news is that there ARE options. You just have to use your noggin and think up some variety. For us, we started to spruce up our boring oatmeal with some super simple changes, like banana, pecans, apples, sprinkles of salt, hemp hearts, and coconut milk. Many people think that when they start eating a plant based diet that they’ll be miserable all the time due to a lack of of tasty and varied foods. Nothing could be further from the truth! When you think about it, most Americans eat the same meals over and over and over again no matter how healthy they eat. Monday spaghetti and meatballs, Taco Tuesday, Wednesday is chicken and mashed potatoes, Thursday leftovers, pizza all weekend and then it repeats. Talk about a diet with no variety! When you are using your imagination with a wide variety of grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits the options for meals are as many and as varied as you can imagine.

Simple Kitchen

Like I said, one of the hardest things about cooking while living in a van is that we just didn’t have a lot of kitchen to work with. Our single burner stove was puny and burned things so fast if we didn’t keep an eye on it. As for cooking utensils, and we only had one pot and one pan. No blender, no oven, no microwave, no toaster, no food processor. Lots of you probably don’t have the most tricked out kitchens (yet) either, but it’s still totally possible to eat vegan and love it. The good news is, there are tons of things you can make that don’t require a fancy kitchen. Yummy vegan meals don’t have to be complicated. Some of our staples were rice, noodles, and beans. Basically, boil water, add one of those ingredients, throw on some seasoning or a simple sauce and you can make all sorts of variations of dishes. We also resorted to “grilling” (in our only pan) tortillas or whole wheat bread and it worked great for Mexican dishes, or sandwiches loaded with veggies. Point is, we made it just fine with only one cutting board and without a food processor and so can you.

Budget

Food expenses were especially relevant to us recently because our trip through central America was seriously breaking the bank. Most of our money went to feeding La Gorda’s thirsty V8 engine. Since we weren’t working a lot while traveling, money was super tight and so we definitely weren’t buying the most deluxe food. Well good news, you definitely don’t have to in order to eat well! We hear it all the time: “But isn’t eating vegan really expensive?” When you actually start looking at monthly costs and supermarket prices, eating a plant based diet is arguably CHEAPER. Meats, dairy, and poultry are oftentimes more expensive than plant based foods. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, researchers found that on average, plant eaters save almost $800 dollars/year when compared to meat eaters.

Some vegan replacement foods like fake meats and non-dairy ice cream are pretty expensive, so if you’re on a budget like us we suggest making these cheaply at home. You probably don’t regularly want those store-bought replacements in your diet anyways because they are usually highly processed and low in nutrition. Lastly, and maybe obviously, you can save your money and your health by eating out less. Those costs add up way quicker than you think. It’s much more cost effective to buy in bulk and cook at home.

So now you know that eating a plant based diet really isn’t as difficult as some people say, even if you find yourself living in a van in Mexico. If you find yourself in a rut and at odds with one of these four aspects, try to just make a few little tweaks and it will become rewarding, fun, and easy again.


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