My Vegan Deployment—Part Two

By Nicole Hadden, Guest Contributor

My Vegan Deployment—Part I

My first challenge was to complete basic training. Questions came up of whether I could continue eating plant-based in a “bootcamp environment.” At basic training, they offered a main line with hot dishes—animal protein, carbohydrate, and a hot vegetable—and a salad bar with raw vegetables, fruit, peanut butter, bread, and cereals. I spent the eight weeks living off of the salad bar. For breakfast, I had oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit. And for lunch and dinner, I had a raw vegetable salad with balsamic vinaigrette and fruit. Pretty boring, but hey, it was only for eight weeks. Even the omnivores were bored of their limited diet! We all suffered together.

I originally kept my plant-based lifestyle from my coworkers to avoid constant questions and skepticism. I wasn’t really jazzed about spending the next four years hearing, “You’re vegan? That’s weird.” or “I could never live without steak!” or “You’re not getting enough nutrients.” But they ultimately figured it out. They made the typical vegan jokes that were lighthearted and harmless, and they asked how I was going to maintain a vegan diet while on a ship. Although I had not yet been on deployment, I had a lot of confidence that I could maintain my lifestyle—after all, I was able to do it in basic training! These conversations triggered a ton of naysaying around me. Basically, everyone told me it simply could not be done.

When basic training ended, I arrived at my first command. That’s when I found out I would be going on a six-month deployment.

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I knew going into my deployment that I didn’t just want to survive, I wanted to thrive! After all, I was going to be on a ship for six months! For the sake of my job and my well-being, I couldn’t suffer through measly meals and have no energy. My job as an Aviation Technician with a Growler squadron requires picking up heavy equipment and running them up and down steep stairwells, across a flight deck the length of a football field, and the planes are moving constantly. I needed to ensure that I gave myself the nutrients to work proficiently and safely. And for my mental well being, I wanted to continue my normal stress relieving activities of CrossFit, cardio, and yoga.

How Did I Do It?

First, I revved up my self-confidence. I acknowledged the fact that I had a good amount of food knowledge and experience eating plant-based in restrictive environments. I also acknowledged the fact that all the questioning was coming from people who do not eat a plant-based diet and could not imagine doing so on land, let alone a ship. I took the small amount of information I did have about the boat and the food that would be available, and I made educated guesses about what and how much to pack.*

On the ship, the main food line always offered an animal protein, a hot vegetable, and a carbohydrate. The salad bar had a variety of fruit, raw vegetables, sliced bread, nuts, and peanut butter. On the best days, I could load my plate with broccoli, red cabbage, carrots, chickpeas, and a piece of fruit. On the worst days, I would eat olives, pasta salad, celery, and grapefruit.

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As for the carbohydrates, most of the main line carbohydrates are cooked without butter, but it is not guaranteed. I did a simple taste-test or asked the culinary specialist when I wanted to eat rice from the main line. Other than that, I got my carbohydrate from legumes, my morning oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Nuts were especially plentiful because they were served in the galley and could be purchased at the ship store.

When it came to my protein sources, I had to outsource that on my own. I brought aboard Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), chickpea flour, and protein powder. I replenished using, which delivered right to the ship. The TVP was by far the most user-friendly because it comes dried, cooks simply by rehydrating it, and is inexpensive. The chickpea flour I used to make chickpea mini quiches using the microwave. I would whip up about a week’s worth at a time and store them in my shop or locker at room temperature. Along with the protein, I also brought aboard tahini, blackstrap molasses, a seed mixture—hemp, flax, chia—and a green superfoods powder. I also provided my own B12 and multivitamin supplements.

We had port calls in Guam, Korea, and Singapore. All three cultures eat a predominantly plant-based diet, so it was not hard to find vegetable-based and tofu dishes. I did my research via and read up on dishes common to these areas beforehand to isolate vegan-friendly meals to enjoy. Just like on the ship, I exercised a lot of flexibility and food knowledge. I will never be certain that I was 100% perfect in all my food selections at the ports, but I am confident I did the absolute best I could.

After a few months on the ship, I started to hear more admiration than criticism from my co-workers. And when we ported on the final day of deployment, I found that my fitness had improved! I increased my lifts and flexibility with no crazy weight gain or loss, and my energy levels were normal throughout the cruise. I considered it a success on all accounts.

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Final Thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, I met many people on the ship who were at one time vegan or vegetarian but went back to eating meat because the military curtailed their diet. For any vegan who is interested in joining the Navy, know that it is possible! The advice I’d like to offer is this—try your best to stay positive, think ahead and create a viable food plan, stay flexible in food choices based on available options, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up! The goal is to do the least amount of harm to our bodies, the environment, and the animals.

*The issue with packing food was that I didn’t have access to a cool storage space, which limited any type of food that had to stay cold or frozen. I was given a small stand up locker and a small rack to store everything (and I mean everything), and using the mail to replenish supplies is doable, but not consistent enough to rely on exclusively.

Vegan Outreach would like to send a huge thank you to Nicole for providing this detailed account of her deployment. If you have questions or comments for Nicole, please leave them in the comment section.

9 thoughts on “My Vegan Deployment—Part Two

  1. Nicole,

    Your story is inspiring!

    Thank you so much for writing this for VO’s blog—we’re very grateful that you took the time and I have to think you will inspire many others to stick with a vegan lifestyle even when things aren’t convenient.

    Good luck and I hope you’ll be safe!


  2. i, too, am impressed. thank you for being a shining and healthy example of veganism. i hope that many more young vegans will follow your lead.

    all the best to you

  3. Incredible will power & a strong mind to deal with all the challenges to being vegan on a military ship. You are an inspiration Nicole. I am vegan for about 25 yrs now and I am afraid to travel to any city that is not vegan friendly, but you were not afraid and did it offshore.

  4. Proof when there is a will there is a way. No Excuses! I will pull from your strength & commintmemt for the rest of my life! Thank you for sharing….. so inspired!

  5. Thank you, Nicole! I hope your story will inspire other fellow vegans in the military to think outside the box a little in order to keep eating vegan in any situation. We don’t live in a vegan world yet, but it’s coming.

  6. Nicole,

    I’m a SWO, the guy who drives around the Cruisers and Destroyers trying to keep up with the Carriers. I’ve done two vegan deployments and one vegetarian deployment. I have to say, your article here is very well done. I’ve debated writing something like this, but couldn’t quite articulate it in a way that I wanted to. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

    Much of what I’ve done to stay vegan while deployed at sea was exactly what you described here. I’m a distance runner and was training to run marathon on board; yes, on the treadmill. Like you, i was not only able to survive but also thrive! I used both Amazon and Vitacost to supplement the galley food. I had a regular stream of supplies. The CS’s were helpful when preparing food that I chose to get from the galley (side note, it’s definitely easier being an officer than enlisted when it comes to veganism while underway). Sometimes I could convince the CS’s to cook my pancakes first on Sundays for brunch. That was always a motivation boost.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m definitely going to spread that around here in Norfolk. Best of luck. Fair Winds and Following Seas!

  7. My husband is vegan and in the navy too. I am glad you are getting the word out there that it is possible. He was able to be vegan on deployment as well. He has met a few vegans and I am hoping the are becoming more numerous in the military.

  8. Holy cow I was on this deployment! I didnt go vegan until after my second deployment with the Vinson though, wish i would have met you then and i could have got an earlier start. I’m currently trying to figure out if I can retain my BAS on my next deployment since its not on a boat and the galley is not exactly vegan friendly.


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