The Daily Beet

31 Oct On The Road Again

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*For some reason I am unable to rotate some of the photos in the post, if you are having a hard time seeing what the photo is, just tilt your head for a nice neck stretch.


This week I traveled half way across the country, by car. This was in part an experiment on my part. I decided to test out my theory that I can get plant-strong food anywhere, in any town. So I did something crazy – I packed NO food with me. I was going to be traveling about 30 hours, and would rely on what I could find. More so, I’d be traveling through some pretty remote areas, there was a point that I had no cell phone access for 5 hours. FIVE HOURS.

I started in  Northern CA. When I left my friends house, I stopped at Starbucks and got a venti iced-passion fruit tea, no sweetener and 2 things of oatmeal (hold the sugar) and a cup of mixed fruit.

I also got a fizzy water for the road.

For lunch I ended up at a Panera – I don’t remember the city. I got a salad, hold the cheese, hold the dressing, they had balsamic vinegar, so I got that. I also got 2 apples. They also had herbal tea, so I got that. And got a re-fill for the road, and had my apple.

For dinner I was in a larger city that had a all plant-based place to eat, so I checked it out. I got a plate of steamed vegetables, steamed greens and brown rice – I told them to hold any oil and salt. They thought this was weird, because they had fancy stuff on the menu, so I told them I was just weird. They agreed, and we all went on with our evenings, and my weirdness.

The next morning I headed out, I ended up at a Whole Foods. I got oatmeal on the hot food bar and fruit. I also got some cut up fruits and veggies for the road and some E2 hummus.

I didn’t have dinner till I got to my next spot, I went into the grocery store, I got 2 potatoes, a box of black beans (they are already cooked) I also got a bag of mixed vegetables and a bag of spinach and they had some hot sauce packets at the salad bar. I went to my hotel. They had a microwave in the lobby area – so I microwaved my potatoes, my veggies, and I had a huge salad, with steamed veggies, potatoes, raw spinach and hot sauce. (I stole a couple of salad bar containers).

The next day, woke up, went to the gas station to fill up and I got breakfast. 2 cups of pre-cut fruit, one banana. I wasn’t all that hungry.

I drove for a while, found a town that had a grocery store – kind of like Whole Foods, but not Whole Foods. They had a salad bar, so I got a big salad, and they had steamed veggies, so I got those. I picked up 3 apples, cut up veggies for the road. I started down the road for a while…

And then, I hit snow. Seriously guys, SNOW and SLEET. And I saw a moose. I know that for most of you snow and sleet is not a big deal. But I have not seen snow or sleet in years. And I’ve never seen a moose in real life, so that was pretty exciting for me. I decided that it was not wise to stop in the snow to take photos of the moose, so you’ll have to imagine me, driving through the snow, while admiring the moose.

I ended up having to spend the night in the middle of nowhere because the weather got pretty bad and it was dark and really windy.

I’m pretty sure you could get away with a lot where I had to spend the night.  But guess what? Got some more fruit at this scary gas station AND I got a salad. A plain, pre-packaged, Del Monte garden salad, I also got some salsa. Gas station, middle of nowhere, could have probably been murdered there, but still could get a plant-strong meal. At least my last meal would have been a healthy one. They also had packaged fruit so I got some of that as well.

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And then as I was headed to my hotel I saw a Walmart. I was so happy.

(side note) A few weeks ago, Jeff Novick and I got every single thing we needed for his food demo, which ends up serving A LOT of people, including all of the pots/pans/utensils/spices/cutting boards/ktichen towels/potholders/can opener/scissors. For under 200 dollars – at a Walmart, every thing we needed. So if you live in the middle of nowhere, and there is only a Walmart? You are totally fine, trust me. The Walmart Jeff and I shopped at was not in a big city at all.

So I went to the Walmart. Got some oats for the morning, some fruit, some packaged veggies. I also got a frozen bag of brown rice for a dollar, that I had along with my salad for dinner.

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The next day I hit the road, after having some oatmeal and fruit at the very cheap hotel I stayed at in the middle of nowhere. The front desk person asked me if I was “packing heat” this was the first time I REALLY realized I wasn’t in California anymore.

Filled up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and got 2 bananas for the road and dried apples, which the only ingredients were apples.

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I traveled a few hours to the next city, which was actually a city, with stores and hotels and everything. So I went to Whole Foods for lunch, got a big salad – my Whole Foods money saving tip, just get the light stuff at the salad bar, buy a box or can of beans, and buy frozen brown rice, or the packaged already cooked kind. You’ll save about 20 dollars. Or you can buy one of those big boxes of spinach, a box of pre-cooked beans, chopped up veggies and just get some balsamic vinegar at the salad bar. Who cares that you look a little strange putting together a salad in the Whole Foods cafe? There are people drinking kombucha and eating something with “live cultures” it’s Whole Foods, it’s ok to be a little weird, that is why we like it.

I then decided to take a few hours off and go for a long hike. It was cold, but it was beautiful. I took a bottle of water, carrot sticks and 2 apples (from Whole Foods).

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After my hike I was super hungry. I went to a restaurant in town and got brown rice nori rolls with cucumbers, yams and carrots. Basically I asked them for whatever veggies they had with brown rice, rolled in nori, hold any excess salt. I got a total of 18 pieces. Like I said, I was hungry.

For dessert I stopped at a grocery store (regular chain kind) got a bag of grapes, and ate a bag of grapes. I hiked 3.5 miles that day, so I guess I wanted a larger amount of food.

For breakfast I went to Whole Foods and I picked up the E2 morning grain blend (seriously, I’m not just saying that) I also got some cut up fruit. Used the microwave in the cafe, and heated up my grain blend bag in a salad box container – with my fruit breakfast cost 5 bucks. Not bad.


I got a thing of E2 hummus and cut up veggies for the road.

Little did I know that for the next 6 hours I would not see another town, and for 5 of those hours I wouldn’t even have cell phone access. And you know what? I’ll be darned, every gas station I stopped at (which was three) in the middle of nowhere had plant-strong food.

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One town – population 300 had a produce section in the little gas station, and they had 10 pound bags of potatoes for 1.99. They also had brown rice, dried beans and rolled oats. It was a gas station. I don’t even know what state I was in at that point, there was nothing except farm land and big trucks with gun racks. Incidentally this was the second time on my trip that someone asked if I was packing heat, you know, to make sure I was safe. I got cut up vegetables, I microwaved 2 potatoes at the gas station, I bought a jar of salsa, I had lunch.  This cost me 3.02.

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They also had brown rice, dry beans and rolled oats!

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The next gas station had cut up fruit next to the register. There was also a gas station restaurant, which as Lilly, the gas station clerk told me “is the best place to eat in town!” I asked “oh where else do people go?” she said “Oh honey, I was joking, this is the only place to eat!”

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Out of curiosity, I went over and looked at the menu, which was hand written and then photo copied, complete with comic sans font. Sure enough, they had baked potatoes and you could get steamed broccoli, they also had a “fixings bar”, which theoretically you could actually make a decent salad out of. Lilly told me that the best seller is “chicken fried steak”. I’m from New York, this was new to me, I thought it meant that it was chicken and steak combined and fried, she thought this was very funny. Then I told her I don’t eat any meat, and she responded “Honey that’s real admirable of you and all, but I wouldn’t say that too loud in here”

Anyway, I got out of there and continued.

I finally reached my overnight stop, a small town, but one with stores and hotels and cell phone service. I found a Pei Wei in town and had dinner there. I got 2 servings of steamed vegetables and brown rice “stock velvet” with water which means they don’t use oil.

I stopped at a little natural food store and got bulk oatmeal for the morning and some fruit.

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And that leaves me with today, the final few hours of my long road trip.

I’ve driven 1000’s of miles around the country in the past few years, and I’ve yet to find a place where I could not make plant-strong work. It’s not always going to be fancy, but it will always give me the fuel I need, and I like the way food tastes now that I’ve gotten rid of all of those pleasure traps I was stuck in for so long.

A few other tips when you are traveling: 

Stay hydrated! Might be the most important thing. Every stop I make I get 2-3 bottle of water. I love fizzy water, and most places had plain fizzy water, which made me happy.

I did not find one gas station that did not sell fruit, so I would pick up a piece or 2 at each stop.

Get out and move! I stop at rest stops and do some brisk walking, stretching.

Stop when you are tired. It’s well worth your safety to just stop for the evening when you get tired. A night at a hotel is worth you not falling asleep at the wheel.

Stop when the weather gets bad. Though I wasn’t really expecting to stop in the middle of nowhere and HOPE for a hotel room, the weather was bad, and it’s not worth traveling in weather you don’t feel safe in.

Have some good books on tape and a great playlist. I asked my team for their favorite songs to listen to in the car, so I had a 5 hour playlist to go through, which was great.

Make sure your car is road ready, I got my tires checked, and my car checked before heading out.

Have an emergency kit with you and a gallon of water, I also keep a blanket in the car on really long trips, just in case. This is the emergency kit I have.

So the next time you hit the road, know that you can be plant-strong no matter where you are. Get creative. Use grocery stores and even gas stations to find plant-strong food. Of course you can pack some food with you, but even if you don’t, you’ll be covered.

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Natala Constantine
  • Gina
    Posted at 01:13h, 01 November

    As someone who lives in a small town, where the only shopping option is a walmart and then a small convenience store this post was really encouraging. I get really overwhelmed with other blogs posting about how they only shop at whole foods or organic food markets. We just don’t have anything like that, I’m going to keep my eye out for more things, I have had a lot of luck, I know some people don’t like Walmart, but for some of us that is our only option sometimes.

    • Leyla
      Posted at 11:30h, 01 November

      I wrote this on several other similar posts, but no problem, don’t worry. 🙂 You can buy what you need at walmart or anywhere else. If walmart is where the price is right or the only place in town or just your favorite, buy it there. I shopped only at walmart for a year when it was the only store in my town. Later when I was shopping mostly at whole foods in another town, walmart was only 2 blocks away and I ended up shopping there anytime I forgot anything or didn’t want to drive. The food you eat is really the same in the end. Take care of your health so that your health will be one less thing to worry about. 🙂

    • Starla
      Posted at 10:05h, 04 November

      I live in a small town too. We have a Walmart nearby, but I love Aldi. I can get fresh fruits and vegetables for less cost than even Walmart.

    • Wendy Geiger
      Posted at 12:22h, 12 November

      Do you live in a small town with farmers? Area’s to grow your own? Either way I don’t think the point of the article was to tell people where to shop but rather that there are options and Walmart was used as a suggestion when small area’s like yours don’t have the other stores.

  • Martha
    Posted at 01:13h, 01 November

    Natala you should do stand up comedy, this was so entertaining! Love that you got plant-strong food in gas stations!

  • Diane
    Posted at 01:16h, 01 November

    I like that you mentioned walmart. I’m a single mom and I need to lose a lot of weight and reverse diabetes. I don’t have a lot of money, and walmart for me is the only place I can shop, could you share what you bought for Jeff’s demo? The truth is most americans are suffering financially, and learning to shop at walmart could help a lot of people. Thank you!

    • Leyla
      Posted at 11:26h, 01 November

      You can find lots of great things at Walmart, I used to live in a small town in Minnesota and I would buy nearly everything there: brown rice, dried beans, lentils, whole wheat pasta, produce, oatmeal, cornmeal, spices, soymilk, salsa. They’ve got what you need, just look for the healthy, plant-based options. 🙂

    • Shannon Watley
      Posted at 08:04h, 03 November

      I buy produce on reduced for clearance carts at smaller chained grocery stores. Ask around to find one. I get loads of red bell peppers, bananas, cukes, zucchini, kiwi, apples, eggplant etc etc for 1$-1.49$/package. Of course, this is not organic produce. Walmart isn’t the only place to find low prices. I would look elsewhere. My grocery bill is minuscule shopping this way and rice, pasta, and beans are inexpensive to stock up the pantry. It can be done inexpensively.

    • Wendy Geiger
      Posted at 12:19h, 12 November

      I agree that Walmart generally has low prices but so does a lot of produce stands/markets, growing your own greens, sprouts and herbs at the very least,(indoors, outdoors, roof top, patio). I think eating healthy has the pre-misconception that it is expensive. There is also “Bountiful Baskets” which serves many areas throughout the US. I live a county where the entire population is 20,000 people and they have it here. You can get produce for $15.00 a week and $25.00 for organic baskets and add extra options like cases of produce/organic bread etc. Don’t be intimidated to shop outside of Walmart.

  • Amy
    Posted at 07:49h, 01 November

    Thanks for the nice post with all the options. One thing…that stock velvet at Pei Wei is Chicken stock :-/ I’ve had the same issue there. Thanks!

    • Natala
      Posted at 08:40h, 01 November

      Ask them to use water – that is what I do.

  • Shiela
    Posted at 09:20h, 01 November

    You are brilliant and hilarious Natala, thanks for the laugh and the info. I’m glad you did not get murdered 🙂

  • WannaBeVegan
    Posted at 09:23h, 01 November

    Thank you SOOO much for posting something positive about Walmart, like someone below that is my only option really, and I feel guilty about writing that on any other plant-based blog, out of fear that they will be judgmental. I know E2 is closely assoicated with Whole Foods, but the reality is that a lot of our country needs to know how to shop in Walmart.

    • Leyla
      Posted at 11:28h, 01 November

      Don’t worry about it. I am someone who loves to and prefers to shop organic, but because of various places I’ve lived or various financial situations I’ve been in, sometimes walmart is where I do all my shopping for a year. It’s totally possible. Truth be told I buy the exact same things whether at Walmart, whole foods, abroad or at home, because I can make the same plant-strong meals wherever I am. Just potatoes, whole grains, fruits and veg, oatmeal, spices, etc. You can do it!

  • bill
    Posted at 09:35h, 01 November

    I could say so much here because on top of being “plant strong” we keep kosher,,, needless to say a double whammy!… I find keeping a loaf of ezekiel bread,,, cut up veggies and home made hummus and a few cans of beans can get me through anything

    • Leyla
      Posted at 11:33h, 01 November

      As no stranger to keeping kosher, I can agree that it can also be done. Just skip the pre-sliced fruits and veg, and like you said, bring your own bread along to have that option. So many things are kosher in the US though, and well-labeled. 🙂

  • Deborah
    Posted at 09:36h, 01 November

    Natala, I LOVE reading your posts! You are so smart and funny and your insights and advice are so pragmatic and generous! I so admire and appreciate all that you are doing and sharing with us!!! I met you at True North last summer and we talked about eating disorders. I’ve commented on several other posts you’ve written. Safe travels! Take care!

  • Mark Yvanovich
    Posted at 10:05h, 01 November

    We miss you already. Thanks for sharing your road trip experience. I tend to be a little afraid of traveling, and it’s good to know that it can easily be done.

  • Ami Mackey
    Posted at 10:06h, 01 November

    Walmart is one of my favorites too. I buy the majority of my staples there and at Target. This doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

  • Mary
    Posted at 10:08h, 01 November

    Thank you so much for this post! I love the ease at which you were able to find food with no preplanning.

  • Natala
    Posted at 10:39h, 01 November

    Correction: my shopping trip with Jeff was lower than 200, I forgot I got a bunch of stuff for our immersion not demo related! I’ll update when I am with somewhere that has Internet.

  • mikecrosby
    Posted at 10:58h, 01 November

    This was very inspiring. I just got back from San Jose yesterday and the hotel we stayed at had free breakfast. The only thing that I could eat among all the food was bananas. Lots of high salt breads/cereals but nothing that was healthy.

    I like both the Walmart and gas station finds. I would not have ever thought of that. BTW, most of the foods I eat at home are from the $.99 store. I get the dried lintels, peas and beans and make lots of soups with the other veggies they have available.

  • kalesmom
    Posted at 11:18h, 01 November

    I loved the diary of what you ate each day. I am still learning transitioning to this and am very interested in what this actually looks like meal to meal. Thanks so much! What a helpful post!

  • Colleen Cook
    Posted at 11:23h, 01 November

    Great Post!!! When I first started changing my diet a friend asked me, how I could totally give up fast food, that it would not be possible and then said what if you were on a road trip and ran out of food. I said I would get a plain salad, until I found a better place. This shows we do not even have to rely on fast food.

  • Leyla
    Posted at 11:24h, 01 November

    I love this post! My husband and I drive across the country (either Mexico to Canada or East Coast to West) several times a year. We do it all plant strong, both with what we bring with us and what we find. I have eaten several amazing vegetable sandwiches (I asked for the fixings, the sandwich itself wasn’t on the menu) on whole grain bread on these trips. All sorts of little surprises await you in unexpected places. And yes, in gas stations. 🙂 Happy travels!

  • Wendy Freese Cromwell
    Posted at 12:42h, 01 November

    I wish your story had listed the towns and states you were in at each stop.

    • Ami Mackey
      Posted at 15:13h, 01 November

      The towns and cities don’t matter – that’s the whole point – whether in Duluth, MN or Burlington, VT – Midland, TX or Murphy, NC – anywhere there is a gas station or grocery store – you can eat plant-strong – you just have to look for plant-strong foods.

    • Natala
      Posted at 23:02h, 01 November

      Yes, it really wouldn’t have mattered, I’ve driven 1000’s of miles, I couldn’t tell you where I stopped, but I can tell you everywhere I stopped I could find something 🙂 Same goes with grocery stores, walmarts and targets.

  • dode
    Posted at 13:24h, 01 November

    Loved this story! We travel between south Texas and Colorado and South Dakota a few times a year . We never thought about stopping at a grocery store for lunch; now we will! Maybe next time you might want to stock up on 3 days worth of water, organic, low sodium, fat free canned goods and such from Whole Foods (along with a spoon and can opener) … just in case you get stranded in a snow storm. We keep a pack in the car all the time. 🙂

  • Blanca
    Posted at 15:06h, 01 November

    Great story. Love you tips on staying healthy while traveling. I have a simple breakfast that I can eat anywhere. it’s the Firemen’s Muesli: uncooked rolled oats, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, nut milk, juice or water, and if sweetener is needed I use agave or honey.

  • Diane
    Posted at 23:03h, 01 November

    I just want to say I’m considering going to a retreat just to hear you speak, you have my favorite blog on the internet!

    • Jan
      Posted at 11:07h, 02 November


  • Maddy
    Posted at 11:08h, 02 November

    This cracked me up, and gave me hope that I can do plant-strong. I live in a larger cities with whole foods and everything! And you are right, I love whole food because everyone is a little weird!

  • Jim
    Posted at 11:09h, 02 November

    I love when you write, and I think you are gorgeous. I hope you have a book in the works.

  • Cataract Surgery
    Posted at 14:53h, 03 November

    Many thanks! This post seems to have done the trick!

  • Starla
    Posted at 10:03h, 04 November

    I love this post! I keep reading things about “food deserts” in the news. While I KNOW there are probably places where it is more difficult to find fruits and vegetables, I think the whole thing has been blown up just a little. I live in the middle of absolutely nowhere (there is not a Whole Foods or Starbucks within a 100 miles), but there is still fresh bananas and apples at our local Speedway (gas station). If families are determined, they CAN eat a healthier lifestyle.

  • Celeste McIntyre
    Posted at 12:10h, 05 November

    What a fun and inspiring article! Thank you Natala!

  • Wendy Geiger
    Posted at 11:57h, 12 November

    I have to admit I didn’t read past the “packing heat” much. I think I got the point. There are always options no matter where were at we need to remember to look past the menus, bright shiny billboards, and drive threw. I like to pay the extra $10-$20 dollars a night for a hotel with a full kitchen when I have the option. This way I can not only have 100% control over my food but it pays for itself. I also vacuum packed Quinoa, Oatmeal full of fruit / Cinnamon, Hummus/veggies w/Olives, and some curry/beans for a flight and 3 day conference in a hotel that only had a TGI Fridays near by. I did get a beer and small french fry over the weekend with the girls. It takes self discipline and I do love this article because it gives examples, experiences, suggestions, and proves there’s more options then meets the eye.

  • Xanthe
    Posted at 00:20h, 19 November

    Story of my life when I’m on the road! We’d travel well together 😉 Also…I had no idea what stock velvet meant until this– thank you!

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