Successful campaign: Amtrak to offer vegan meals on the dining car!

Santa Barbara train station at dusk

Well, we did it!! Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Tom Hall, Amtrak’s VP of Customer Service, and Gary Gunderson, head of their Food and Beverage Services department. Mr. Hall had received helpful letters from a number of you, and was willing to commit to adding vegan menu options to all dining cars in their next menu-change cycle. Their Culinary Advisory Team meets once a year, in October, and develops the two menus for the next year: one spring/summer menu and one fall/winter menu, and this coming October they will be sure to add vegan options for next year.

Here is an excerpt from the follow-up email I received from Mr. Hall after our phone call:

“As I outlined, our immediate plans to improve our vegan offerings are to introduce the Vegan Burger on our Long Distance Dining Menus in our next menu change. This has been a successful item in our lounge/café service and should transition well to the dining car. In addition our spring/summer dining car menu change will include an Entrée Salad that will allow the meat and cheese to be ordered separately which in turn will make the base salad vegan compliant and a much heartier portion than our current side salad. We will continue to search out new options for our dinner service offering. As I committed, we will be tasking several of our Amtrak Culinary Advisory Team (ACAT) members with developing vegan dinner options at our upcoming fall ideation session. Any new items designed in the course of that event will be introduced with our spring/summer 2016 dining car menu. As we discussed it would be extremely helpful if you were to forward me some of your suggested items which I will pass on to the culinary team. We will certainly be looking at how we can leverage the vegan offerings as “Healthy Options” as you suggested, the Healthy Option category that we currently offer has been favorably received and fairly successful.”

So, if any of you have further ideas for menu items that would be easy to prepare and store in their small kitchen spaces on board the trains, please feel free to contact me (maren@dreamintochange.com) and I will pass them along. A couple of logistical things to keep in mind, if you do want to make such suggestions:

*Items should not need to be fried, because each car has only one surface for frying, and they want to be respectful by not potentially “contaminating” vegan food items by cooking them on the same surface with meat.

*Anything that would appeal equally to non-vegans and vegans alike would be great; in the past, the vegan options they tried were not ordered enough to avoid spoilage. Potential for spoilage must be kept to a minimum in order for these new menu options to succeed.

Thanks again to all of you who followed this campaign, signed the petition, shared it via social media, and/or wrote personal letters to Amtrak staff offering encouragement and support. We approached this campaign in a persistent, positive, respectful, and collaborative way, and I am absolutely thrilled about this outcome. And, I’m already dreaming up some trips to take on the train next year!

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This entry was posted in Animal rights, Nonviolent Communication, Sustainable Transportation, Travel, Veganism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to Successful campaign: Amtrak to offer vegan meals on the dining car!

  1. Candy Dennis says:

    Congratulations!

  2. Laura says:

    Great news!

  3. Sheketa Daniels says:

    My suggestion would be:

    Veggie sandwiches!! Easy and most, if not all, of the ingredients are already on-hand.
    Lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, rolls, bread, etc. The item that would need to be added would be a veggie mayo. As an example, Panera offers a wonderful Mediterranean Veggie sandwich.

    Congratulations on a successful campaign!

  4. Rita Doshi says:

    You could add veg. sandwiches as a possible option too.

  5. laura says:

    Just switch to Just Mayo for all your mayonnaise offerings for non vegans and vegans alike.

  6. Wonderful work!! Thank you for making this a success! A great progress for animals 🙂

  7. Heather Workman says:

    I second the veggie sandwich option and also encouraging them to switch to just Mayo for everyone. If they add a marinated portobello to the sandwich it would make it quite hearty. This definitely makes me.more likely to use Amtrak.

    • Maren says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Heather! I am compiling a document of everyone’s suggestions to send to the Amtrak folks, and I’ll be sure to include this. (Even though I, personally, don’t like mushrooms. 😉 )

  8. SarahYespdx says:

    For the veggie sandwich, instead of Just Mayo, it’s better to use HUMMUS!
    It’s cheaper than fake mayo, easier to prepare and store, doesn’t need refrigeration.
    Then they can also use the same ingredients to offer a veggies and hummus tray to offer for those who don’t eat bread/gluten-free.

  9. Estebano Vegano says:

    This is huge, Maren! Thanks for doing this!

  10. Jen says:

    it would be awesome if they could also make the vegan burger gluten free or at least have some gluten free salad dressings available!! Thanks!

    • Maren says:

      I think it would be great if they could offer options that are both vegan and gluten free (though I’m sure they cannot provide a 100% celiac-safe environment in their small kitchens) and I will be sure to mention this. Thanks for your feedback!

  11. Kristi says:

    Congratulations! They could offer scrambled tofu for breakfast. Scrambled tofu that is seasoned so that it tastes like scrambled eggs, vegetables such as tomato, onion and green pepper can be added to it. Falafel is a good vegan food, and it can be served in or with pita bread.

  12. Ellen says:

    This is great news!!! BEANS! Beans for the salad, vegan chili, 3 bean salad, vegan burgers made with beans, bean-veggie wraps with hummus… – the list is long.
    Thank you for your efforts.

    • Maren says:

      Thanks, Ellen! I think they actually do use a lot of beans so far in various contexts (hummus in the cafe car, black bean burger on the existing lunch menu–though served with a non-vegan bun, but that could be re-sourced) and vegan chili on their current order-ahead menu… so I’m sure many of these items could be adapted to the new menus!

  13. Cheryl Hugle says:

    Have you contacted Mouth Watering Vegan? I have a feeling she might come up with some great recipes that will fit their parameters nicely. http://mouthwateringvegan.com/

    I also think veggie sandwiches are good. And whipped avocado (just add a little salt and lemon or lime) can also be substituted for mayonnaise. Another possibility is vegan potato salad. Again, whipped avocado can substitute for the mayo and goes great with all traditional (and not so traditional) ingredients. I have also used it with pasta salads (warm or cold) and adding nutritional yeast gives the avo-mayo a cheesy quality.

  14. Monica says:

    Way to go! So glad to be a part of making the vegetarian world a little bigger! Thanks for starting the petition Maren.

  15. Brenda says:

    Yea Everyone!

    Guacamole, Hummus, salsa … could be served with pita or nacho chips for those who are not as concerned about health.

    • Maren says:

      Thanks for these ideas, Brenda! They sound good for the cafe car (and in fact there is a packaged hummus-and-chips option there right now) although for the dining car, they’re looking for heartier, full sit-down/table-service sorts of meals. But a lot of people have been mentioning hummus, here, so I will be sure to pass that along!

  16. Alex says:

    This is great news. However, while tomato/lettuce/cucumber sandwiches or portobello sandwiches are great and tasty and even hearty, they are what non-vegetarian and non-vegan think are suitable enough for us. They appear on every restaurant menu and every airport shop. The problem is that they don’t have enough protein (one portobello has about 2 g). We need about 50g per day. I would agree with some of the other commenters here: beans or eggs in the salad, egg salad sandwich or tofu or hummus in addition to the tomato/lettuce and portobello.

    • Maren says:

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment, and I agree that we want to have hearty, filling options, rather than just green salads and such. However–as I’m sure you’re aware–eggs are not vegan, so they would not be a good choice in this case. Beans, hummus, and tofu would be better choices. I will pass along those suggestions!

  17. Matt Johnson says:

    Great news, thank you for your efforts! I’d say that when I travel on AMTRAK I’d really love it if they offered some vegan bread and something healthy like hummus to go with it, this could be sold in the cafe. I’d also really love to see some basic fresh fruits, like organic/fair trade bananas, oranges and apples.

    This isn’t a vegan thing but I’ve noticed when taking the train that the potable water is very poor on board. I like to bring a reusable water carrier with me everywhere and refuse to buy plastic bottles. Is there any chance you could bring this up with AMTRAK, improving the water by adding reverse osmosis machines in the observation cars/cafe cars or someplace so that long distance travelers have access to high quality drinking water that does not come out of a plastic bottle?

    Thanks!

    • Maren says:

      Hi Matt, thanks for the feedback! You may be in luck with regard to the hummus in the cafe; I’m pretty sure it’s already there on most trains. Organic/fair trade fruit would be great, although I know they need to keep their costs as low as possible. (They are under heavy pressure from Congress to reduce Food & Beverage losses; unfortunately, while it is a great amenity to have on board, it does not generate revenue for them and in fact they incur losses.)

      I like your water suggestion. It may be a bit tangential to this particular campaign, but I can put it in the document I am compiling with people’s feedback about menu items. I would encourage you to also contact Amtrak yourself about it.

      Thanks again for your comments and support!

  18. Clare says:

    Congratulations Amtrak from this several-years’-daily-commuter on the Northeast Regional (love your almonds). Options to consider: non-dairy milk for tea, coffee, oatmeal; chickpea salad with Veganaise (resembles texture of tuna or chicken salad) on bed of greens or as sandwich; good-old peanut butter sandwiches; bagels with vegan butter/vegan cream cheese; white bean wraps; tomato sandwiches; vegan soups. Thank you for this tremendous effort on Amtrak’s behalf to reduce animal suffering one meal at a time. Bravo.

  19. Steven Rouk says:

    This is so great!! Congratulations to you all for putting forth the effort to make this happen. It’s people like you who truly make large changes in society. =) Time to take a train trip!

    • Maren says:

      Thanks, Steven!! I appreciate your support. And yes, it’s time for a train trip! (Although you’ll still need to order your meals 72 hours in advance for the next year; the new menus will take effect in the spring of 2016.)

  20. Lauren says:

    Any word on breakfast options?

    • Maren says:

      Thanks for asking, Lauren. Right now they do have several vegan breakfast options, including oatmeal, breakfast potatoes, a fruit cup, and soy milk as an option for cereal; so I didn’t push for extra options. However, a tofu scramble or vegan sausage patties or links could be a nice addition, so I can pass that along too.

  21. Larry says:

    They already have a chipotle black bean burger and vegetarian pasta. All tehy have to do is a truly vegan burger and offer veggie pasta without cheese. Their menus are online. They are pretty limited and still offer two vegetarian options that can easily be vegan.

    • Maren says:

      Yes; I think it may not require many dramatic changes to offer more vegan options, just some small tweaks to their ingredients. Thanks for your support!

  22. Suzanne says:

    Excellent news today! You are making train travel much more appealing and helping many. High five .. Suzanne in Vancouver Author Speaker Consultant
    I will share with my followers at my facebook page Go For Glow https://www.facebook.com/pages/Go-For-Glow/122437757926951

  23. Joy says:

    Beautiful – thank you for not only listening but taking action, Amtrak!!!
    Just goes to show that signing petitions DOES WORK!!! We must never stop the fight for animals!! 🙂

  24. Cari Lombardi says:

    Congratulations–that is awesome! I second (third, fourth) the veggie sandwich option, and hummus with veggies and/or crackers or pita chips as a snack option.

  25. Amanda says:

    I agree with Hummus! Hummus is very popular right now, so it has wide appeal, doesn’t need refrigeration or frying, and could be used to make hearty snack options or sandwiches.

  26. Laura says:

    avocados, sliced in salads, guacamole; split pea soup, white bean soup, sweet potatoes that can be loaded with veggies, bean burgers, root veggie burgers, kale chips, kale salads with fruit, seeds and nuts, quinoa pilaf,

  27. Marilyn says:

    Tomato and avocado sandwich

  28. Yael says:

    Awesome! Another idea that springs to my mind is pesto pasta … vegan pesto is easy to make and keeps well, sunflower seeds or cashews can be used instead of pine nuts to reduce costs, and it’s a food that appeals to lots of people, vegan/vegetarian or not…

  29. Heather says:

    Great idea to make condiments safe for both, plus “healthy” option.

  30. Heather says:

    For the salad: have vegan protein options to substitute for the meat and cheese: beans, marinated tofu, nuts, seeds, or hummus!

    Hummus is popular and in demand by the general public. Plus, it meets your requirement of easy to make!

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323798104578453174022015956

    Vegan soups and chili would go over well by both meat eaters and vegans.

    Mock tuna salad made with sunflower seed base: http://m.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/mock-tuna-salad

    Mock egg salad with tofu, turmeric, and just mayo

    The mock salads and hummus could be added to salads, wraps, and sandwiches – giving multi-use protein options.

    Dinners:
    Beyond beef fiesty crumbles
    Served in a sweet potato jacket with veggies
    Mediterranean platter: falafel, hummus, pita, salad
    Soup and grilled veggie sandwich
    Mayan harvest bake: black beans and plantains served over coconut milk grits. Side salad with pumpkin seeds.

    Breakfast:
    raisin toast or hot cereal served with nutbutter & fresh fruit cup
    Pancake special: make a special flavor to draw in non-vegans and it just so happens to be made with almond milk rather than cow’s milk.

  31. Gina Sengupta says:

    Heather has it exactly right. Often when places have vegan options these options lack protein. Her menu ideas are right on.

  32. Janet says:

    Great work! My concern is that so many vegan breads are all or mostly white flour. I’d sure like them to be 100% whole grain for the burgers and other sandwiches.. Likewise brown rice rather than white if there’s going to be rice, and whole-grain pasta.

    • Maren says:

      Thanks, Janet. I think these are the sorts of conversations they are having at Amtrak right now. For example, considering whether to also make the vegan options gluten free. They need to weigh health, cost, appeal to vegans, and appeal to the vast majority of their non-vegan passengers. I also hope that they will be able to make whole-grain options work.

  33. Janet says:

    I’m curious about the several responses that say hummus doesn’t need refrigeration. I’ve just been up half the night with what I believe to be food poisoning probably caused by eating the homemade hummus that I carried in my pack for 4 days on a backpacking trip down into the very hot (mid- to upper-90s) Grand Canyon. I realize Amtrak trains are probably not as hot, but still, I thought hummus needs refrigeration.

    • Maren says:

      Oh, yikes, I’m so sorry to hear about your food poisoning! Yes, it’s definitely my understanding as well that hummus needs refrigeration. (And the hummus currently sold in the Amtrak cafe cars is refrigerated.)

      Perhaps the commenters here are referring to powdered hummus mix that can be made as needed? I believe such a product does exist.

  34. Erin says:

    Thanks for the post. I’m vegetarian for 12 years and have been frustrated to find any vegetarian menu at many restaurants. Most of them offer cheap non-nutrient lettuce salad and many unhealthy meat. THANKS.

  35. Gail says:

    Thank you, thank you!
    Newly vegan, thought we might have to give up our beloved Amtrak travel. New menus in place for our upcoming cross country trip to New Orleans. I sent a thank you to Mr. Hall, Mr. Gunderson, the chefs and procurement folks via their website. Thanks also to everyone who signed and promoted the petition.

    • Maren says:

      Awesome! Yes, I’m really excited to take a cross-country trip this summer, on the Empire Builder, to experience the new cuisine. 🙂 Welcome to veganism, and bon voyage! (And thanks for sending the thank-you emails, too!)

  36. Caroline Radacina says:

    wow thank you!!!
    I love taking the train!!! <3

    I recommend gluten free options since a lot of vegans are gluten free too.

    Gluten free waffles are something that could be made quick and easy…
    Vegan lentil soups.
    vegan and gluten free mac and cheese . I know Amys brand has that…
    Vegan gluten free pizza
    hummus!
    Rice with tamari sauce or peanut sauce
    so many options! Thank you , thank you!

  37. Gail says:

    Thank you again! We have been enjoying the vegan options on the Sunset Limited! My favorite is the black bean enchiladas and the pad Thai is also great. They offer soy milk too.
    Note, eastbound into New Orleans (second day) they went to a three-item mini-menu for dinner that didn’t include anything vegan, even veggie burger or a side salad. The server realized we were vegan and did allow us to have the vegan entrees. Otherwise would have been pretty bleak. 🙂 Thanks!!

    • Maren says:

      Oh, I’m so happy to hear that, Gail! Just wonderful. (Except for the mini-menu… but I’m glad they still made it work for you.) I’m excited to take my own trip on the Empire Builder and Capitol Limited this June… thanks again for your “preview” of the meal service.

  38. Lisa Zain says:

    Dessert! I am not vegan, but am dairy-free. Dairy Free/Vegan leaves not much for dessert, but a little sorbet would be nice 🙂

    • Maren says:

      Yes, it would! I recently took a celebratory cross-country trip on the train, and I loved the vegan meals but felt sad when others were ordering their desserts. 🙂 I would encourage you to contact Amtrak and make that suggestion. They seem very responsive to social media, so perhaps a private message to their Facebook page administrator…?

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