Vegans are in every field, from doctors to teachers, athletes, influencers, the list goes on. There are also vegans serving in the military, growing in numbers over the years just as in the general population. However, they’re still a minority and don’t often receive accommodations to the degree that vegetarians or soldiers with religious dietary restrictions have.
It’s possible to be vegan in the military, but it’s not easy (at least in comparison with being an omnivore or even vegetarian). Although some vegan options can be found (or created), vegans in the military have to prepare many of their own food options and might have to make some compromises.
Nonetheless, with proper preparation, being vegan in the military can be made easy. Supplementing with snacks and supplements brought from home while finding plant-based options in dining halls or in MREs can help vegans in the military meet their dietary needs while serving their country.
Does the Military Have Vegan Options
Most militaries don’t provide any fully vegan meal options, but there are some accidentally vegan finds in the dining halls and some MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).
Vegan options can sometimes be requested ahead of time, giving dining hall staff time to prepare modifications (like replacing chicken with black beans when making tacos).
Additionally, depending on your superior, they may be willing to help find foods that fit your needs.
A dining hall at Fort Sill, Oklahoma called Guns and Rockets has been serving plant-based options at every meal since the summer of 2018.
They made the transition in response to a soldier’s request for more plant-based options, so it can pay off to ask for vegan options wherever you’re stationed.
Currently, the only MRE (from the 2019 US military MRE menu) with a vegan main dish is “Elbow Macaroni in Tomato Sauce“.
All other vegetarian options contain milk or eggs in some form.
There are some older MREs that may be vegan, such as the “Bean and Rice Burrito” meal or “Veggie Burger with BBQ Sauce” but always check ingredient lists.
Some MRE side dishes are vegan, such as wet fruit packs, peanut butter, wheat snack bread, applesauce, trail mix, certain candy (ex. jolly ranchers), and nuts.
Is It Possible to Be Vegan in the Military
Many vegans have served in the military and were able to avoid eating animal products. Ethically, however, it’s necessary to compromise on other areas of veganism, as some gear is made of leather or wool and service involves using weapons in both defense and offense. Survival, service to your country, and pursuing humanitarian work take precedent.
In addition, some dishes which should be vegan may sometimes be cooked in butter (like vegetables or rice).
Certain pasta may sometimes contain eggs as well. Asking the culinary specialist about how food is prepared can help those following a vegan diet in the military.
Socially, anecdotes from most vegan soldiers point to apathy, acceptance, or curiosity from fellow non-vegan soldiers and superiors.
Rarely did vegans in the military experience negative reactions from those around them, but many recommended approaching sharing information about veganism with respect and humility.
Whether or not you can successfully implement a vegan diet in the military boils down to the options made available to you and how dedicated you are to buying and bringing your own vegan essentials.
Ultimately, some vegans may have to temporarily take a break from veganism if they’re not able to eat enough during training or while deployed to keep energy levels up.
Are There Vegans in the Military
There are vegans in the military. Unfortunately, the U.S. military doesn’t keep statistics on who follows what diet among their soldiers, but some have shared their experiences online such as Nicole Hadden and Sergeant Alexander Contreras.
Hadden was deployed on a naval aircraft carrier for six months and relied on fruits and vegetables and some starches provided on the ship along with Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), chickpea flour, vitamins, and protein powder she brought aboard.
As an aviation technician for the Navy, she was constantly moving around the ship and lifting heavy equipment. She was able to succeed at staying vegan by bringing and cooking her own food, adapting what was available on board to her needs, and using Amazon deliveries and stops at ports to restock on plant-based food. For more on Hadden’s experience, read her story here.
Contreras faced some difficulty at first when joining the military. The lack of vegan options meant he didn’t eat much during basic training. Later, he had friends who would share food and command sergeants who vouched for him to get vegan options where possible. During his first field mission (of a month), he didn’t bring his own food and survived off some vegan sides, like green beans, and vegan ramen. He learned to pack a military duffel bag full of vegan snacks for future military work.
Contreras also explained that some people in the military view veganism as “taboo” or don’t understand what it means. However, he was able to make friends in his platoon who were supportive and some even wanted to try out veganism. To hear more about Sgt. Contreras’ experience, watch this interview with him:
Can You Eat Vegan at Basic Training
Basic training introduces soldiers to the army and prepares them for military life. The dining situation will differ in each location, but food during basic training is typically served at a dining hall with a main line and a salad bar.
The main line offers hot food: protein (normally animal-based), carbohydrates, and a hot vegetable. The salad bar offers raw veggies, fruit, cereals, and other “grab and go” type foods. Vegan options can include oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, bread, rice, salad with vinaigrette, pasta salad, legumes, broccoli, and olives.
Especially if a salad bar is available, eating vegan at basic training is manageable. As usual, though, bringing your own vitamin B12 is essential, and other vegan foods such as tahini, nuts and seeds, TVP, and greens or protein powder would be greatly beneficial to hitting macro and micronutrient targets on a vegan diet.