Dear Race Director,
I really appreciate all of the hard work that you put into events. You must get so many emails enquiring about various things, including food – an email asking what food you provide that’s suitable for vegans might just seem like a whole lot more work. Here’s the good news: you probably already provide plenty of plant-based options, whether you’re aware of it or not… Here’s a guide to help you stay ahead of the curve with a few simple tweaks so you can keep all your plant-powered runners happy.
Let’s dive straight in with a few items you can make available at your next event without any extra bother or cost, that vegans and non-vegans alike will consume.
Ready salted crisps
Fruit (runners love bananas)
Jam or peanut butter sandwiches (no spread)
Dark chocolate (most doesn’t contain milk)
Biscuits (e.g. Lidl digestives, bourbons, ginger nuts, oaties. Varies by supermarket but fine if don’t contain milk or egg)
Soya milk for hot drinks (59p/litre from Lidl)
Intrigued? Read on to make your event extra vegan-friendly…
I’ve written this to help out organisers and their teams, as the vegan lifestyle can seem pretty alien if you’re not familiar with it. This post’ll be a bit ultrarunning- and Britain-centric, but hopefully provides helpful tips whatever and wherever you’re catering for. It really makes my day when an event has animal-free food! It can make a massive difference on longer races of course, especially if frequent dropbags aren’t an option. The idea is also that this article can be linked by athletes to ROs – making vegan options more well-known, less daunting and less faff than composing multiple carefully-worded emails…
Below is a (by no means exhaustive) list of food ideas for checkpoints and post/pre-race foods, followed by some tips to make the vegans love you even more.
NB: ‘SFV’ = suitable for vegans. I’ve put a few links to the excellent Vegan Womble – their lists are massive now, so I recommend using their individual supermarket list once you know where you or your team will be shopping, and you can see exactly what’s available.
Sweet food: cheap and easy
Biscuits (e.g. Oreos, Lidl gingernuts, bourbons, digestives, rich tea biscuits, Jacob’s fig rolls. See the Vegan Womble for UK offerings)
Chocolate (dark is cheap e.g. Lidl, Morrisons, Cadbury’s Bournville – most is SFV – check for milk. Lots of Free From ‘milk chocolate alternative’ options)
Fruit (fresh bananas, watermelon and mango are classics)
Jam sandwiches (no spread/dairy-free spread)
Malt loaf (e.g. banana/apple Soreen, *not the standard one*, Aldi own brand, check for egg)
Sweets: e.g. fizzy rainbow belts, Skittles, Starburst (see the Vegan Womble for UK offerings)
Sweet food: extra kudos
Cake-type things: see the Vegan Womble
Doughnuts (Coop jam and custard doughnuts are SFV)
Fruit pies (e.g. Mr Kipling’s Treacle Tarts, Coop Bramley Apple Pies)
Gels (e.g. hi5, Clif shot bloks, SIS, Torq, GU)
Homemade cake – lots of easy recipes online using oil, apple sauce or banana instead of eggs (check out this easy banana bread recipe)
Homemade cookies (my favourite recipe is here)
Mince pies (many supermarket own brand)
Smoothies (use fruit juice instead of yoghurt/milk)
Snack bars (keep an eye out for milk and honey, see the Vegan Womble for UK offerings )
Savoury food: cheap and easy
Boiled potatoes with salt (no butter/lard)
Crisps (most – check for milk powder in salt and vinegar!)
Houmous (everyone loves houmous)
Peanut butter sandwiches (no spread/dairy-free spread)
Pretzels (plain & party size)
Savoury food: extra kudos
Sausage rolls (Linda McCartney or homemade)
Flat coke (diet pepsi isn’t vegan) and other standard cold drinks
Soya milk for hot drinks
Hot food (for post-race or long races):
The veggie hot food option after countless races I’ve been to recently has been accidentally or purposely vegan, which makes me super happy. When I volunteered on the Spine Race this year, I’m pretty sure the number of vegans working in CP1’s kitchen outnumbered non-vegans! Here’s some simple ideas…
Baked potato with beans
Cake (homemade, see above) & custard – Bird’s custard is SFV when made with non-dairy milk!
Chilli sin carne (beans and chickpeas make it more proteiny and filling)
Curry with vegetables
Pasta + bolognese with soya mince/lentil/beans (Quorn mince is not currently vegan, ownbrand soya mince usually is, check for egg)
Pasta + tomato sauce
Pie and peas (Linda McCartney’s country pies go well with mushy peas)
Pizza with no cheese/vegan cheese
Soup (check the label but most tinned vegetable soups are vegan-friendly; ‘cream of…’ not withstanding)
Stew with vegetables/dumplings made from veggie suet
Veggie burgers/sausages (some Quorn products contain egg, the vegan ones have a big green ‘vegan’ on the front)
If possible, let athletes know what will be available ahead of time, especially if we’re talking multiple checkpoints. Some ultrarunners love to plan in minute detail, ahem…
Have packaging readily available, informed marshals/volunteers, or labels clearly marking animal products & allergens – vegans generally don’t mind about traces or ‘may contain’, but of course this could be an issue for someone who has a severe allergy. And some of us have trust issues and like to read labels, don’t take it personally…
If you’re not sure, google it. “Is x suitable for vegans?” usually works. There are also millions of helpful vegan facebook groups out there, e.g. Vegan Food UK, and of course, the Vegan Womble. Supermarkets don’t label everything as SFV or not by any means, but they’re getting better. “Lacto-free” stuff is not vegan.
If you have a small amount of a vegan item, keep it request-only. Trek bars might look more attractive to a non-vegan than a pork pie! I’ve been to races where volunteers have had a ‘secret box’ of vegan goodies kept back for us.
Make your veggie option vegan. It might be as simple as changing the stock you use.
Keep it simple: keep costs down by sticking to recognisable, cheap, ‘accidentally’ or naturally vegan foods, and non-vegans will eat these too. Bourbon or a banana, anyone?
Fancy a challenge in the form of market research? Try a vegan race! The brilliant Kirsch Bowker’s Vegan Welsh 3000s asks its participants to stay plantbased for the day, and seriously, you’ll be amaaazed by their aid station offerings. The 55k ultra is not for the faint hearted…so I’ve so far tended to opt for the half, and gorge myself on delicious food at the finish party.
The market is here, and it’s growing. The vegan community is undoubtedly exploding, with some sources now estimating that 7% of the British population is vegan (https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/vegans-uk-rise-popularity-plant-based-diets-veganism-figures-survey-compare-the-market-a8286471.html). What’s the biggest running club in the UK? Vegan Runners (http://www.veganrunners.org.uk/about/), which now has over 2000 members.
It’s getting increasingly easier to be vegan, and many of us are following in Scott Jurek’s footsteps to become plant-powered ultrarunners. Food without animal products is almost always better for the environment, too (e.g. greenhouse gases, water usage), so it’s a great way to reduce the impact of your event and make it ‘greener’.
It’s not just vegans, either. Many people avoid dairy due to allergies, and a lot of people are choosing to reduce or cut out meat. Why not cater for all at once? My awesome friend Louise recently conducted a poll in the #run1000miles facebook group (not an exclusively plant-based group by any means). Over 50% requested vegetarian or vegan options.
The bottom line is: we really really appreciate it when an event caters for us. Most of us weren’t born vegan so we understand that it doesn’t come easy to all, but hopefully the tips above will help. If you do what you can, we’ll tell our friends and come back for more.
Want to do more? Why not join other events in reducing your impact further by going cup-free, plastic-free or zero-waste entirely?
I hope you found this blogpost helpful. If you have questions, tips or experiences to share, let me know in the comments below!
See you on the trails!