If you are already vegan, you already know how difficult it can be to be strict about the food you want to eat. Even if something or someone states that a particular food is vegan, you have no way to know for sure unless you prepare the food yourself.
Basic training is no different. Yes, you can try to be vegan in basic training. But it won’t be a picnic. And you might not be successful.
Vegan Food is not always available (or at all)
In most cases, during basic training, you do not have much in the way of options for food, whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian, or vegan.
Instead of getting a vegan meal (like you might on an airplane), you just have to make due with what is available to you, and eat what is (or appears to be vegan) and leave the rest. There are generally vegetarian options, but what they are not guaranteed on any particular day.
For breakfast, for example, in most cases, you’ll be offered food that isn’t vegan (eggs, bacon and the like), and almost no protein that doesn’t contain animal products. And the food that appears that could be vegan generally isn’t, due to something being added to it (such as milk, butter, or eggs).
To stick to a vegan diet when the options are slim, you’ll end up having to go without food, or trading the food you can’t eat with the food you can.
MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) do come with a vegetarian option, but not vegan, leaving the vegan desperately needing calories stuck with the option of only eating crackers or again trading for food. It is for this reason that some argue that it is impossible to be vegan during basic, as you simply cannot get enough calories.
Luckily, there are reportedly some meals that give vegans a chance to put down a lot of calories (pasta night, for example). And aside from breakfast, there should be a few vegetable options at every meal, such as broccoli, peas and corn. However, again, you have to know that you can’t control what the vegetables are cooked with, and it is really possible that they’ll be served with butter melted over them.
Not to mention, everything is done in a hurry. You won’t have much of a chance to really get a good look (or taste) of your food to confirm that it is or is not acceptable for your diet.
Why isn’t vegan food available?
The recruits are not the only ones being cooked for on base. There are tons of people who need to eat in addition to the recruits, and the military is set up to feed the most amount of people in the cheapest and easiest manner. There just aren’t enough people who need vegan food to justify the cost and effort. The military has adjusted for vegetarians (mostly), but not yet for vegans.
Quirks of basic training can make veganism a challenge
During basic training, the recruit doesn’t have a lot of freedom. In many cases, especially at the beginning, just about everything a recruit does is at the behest of the drill sergeant. I’ve heard stories where new recruits are supervised down to the movements of filling a fork with food, then to putting it in his mouth.
I heard another story where one recruit received a box of cookies from a well-meaning parent, and was forced to eat the entire box of them in front of the other recruits.
During basic, the vegan may not have a choice at times about eating certain foods, as the vegan may not have control over his or her body. If the drill sergeant puts a piece of non-vegan food in front of his face, the recruit may have no choice but to eat it, or face the consequences of not following the orders of the sergeant.
Certainly, there are limits to what the military can do during basic training and the like, but it is clear throughout the process that the recruit is not in control, and those in charges go out of their way to push on any weakness they observe.
The vegan may be faced with the choice during basic of following orders (and eating something that violates his or her decision to commit to veganism). Or, a new recruit may have no choice but to eat foods he wouldn’t normally eat simply to survive basic training, and have enough strength and endurance to be successful.
If the recruit is passing out during long runs, he won’t be able to finish basic training. (or he could seriously damage himself by starving himself for long periods under heavy physical stress). Further, the recruit will not want to do anything that could cause him to put his units integrity in danger. If a man (or woman) is too weak to play his part in the unit successfully, he risks causing serious harm to the other recruits.
Regardless, a vegan considering the military has to know that he or she will be the odd recruit, one of very few, and that nothing in the system is really set up to facilitate their commitment to eating vegan.
If you are considering the military, but can’t stand the idea of having to violate your commitment to veganism to survive or successfully complete boot camp, it may be that the military is not the right fit for you.
Everyone has opinions and being vegan can make you stand out
In boot camp, some say that the safest way to get through is to fit in, and don’t do anything to make yourself stand out. You can attract the ire or attention of the drill sergeants, to your detriment. Being a vegan is one way to attract the attention of other soldiers-to-be, as it becomes clear pretty quickly that you aren’t doing the same thing as everyone else.
This can come in the form of jokes and ribbing (or serious ridicule), or potentially being singled out by the drill sergeant for whatever mischief he/she might wish to inflict upon the recruit. For example, once they know that you are vegan, they may demand that you consume non-vegan foods to confirm how well you are committed to following orders.
Regardless, there won’t be much time to focus on food
Meal times are not leisurely during basic training. In fact, a new recruit will seldom get enough time to eat as much as he would normally like to.
And when you get home, you’ll be able to eat as much of what you want, when you want.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the screen when the kids are occupied. She can be reached through the Contact Us page.