The military isn't the best place for a vegan...but there's a lot more Vegans Veterans than you'd think.
In fact, one day, I even ran into twenty at once. It was back in 2004, I was 18 years old, and I was in phase II of army basic training. We had woken up at 4:00am and had spent all day running buddy drills (two soldiers running around ducking and covering). After about eight hours of running around, the drill sergeant called us all over and said that it was time to eat. We were out in the field which meant that we'd be eating M.R.E's (Meal Ready to Eat); an M.R.E is a bag full of food that's supposed to stay edible for 5+ years and, if necessary, a soldier could ration off the food for 3+ days. The food was horrible and tasted exactly like what you'd expect food to taste like when it was made to last 5+ years. But as I jumped in line with 200 other soldiers, and as I edged closer to the front of the line waiting for my M.R.E, I noticed something funny.
One after another, after another, for twenty soldiers in front of me, when it was their turn to take an M.R.E, they would look at the person handing them out and announce, "I'm a Muslim," and the person handing out the M.R.E's would reach behind and grab an M.R.E from a different box. When it was my turn to get an M.R.E I decided to see what was going on and I too announced that "I'm a Muslim." I was handed an M.R.E from a special box and instantly I realized what was going on.
99.9% of M.R.E's tasted awful, but there was one type of M.R.E that was always guaranteed to be good, and that was the Vegetarian/Vegan M.R.E. What the soldiers in front of me had figured out was that since the U.S. military was accommodating to all recognized religions, and since a lot of Muslims didn't eat meat, the military had to make sure that they had specific M.R.E.'s just for them, and whenever someone announced that they were a Muslim they were given the special no-meat M.R.E. And it was truly the crown Jewel of M.R.E.'s. Spaghetti and tomatoes was a million times better than the meatloaf that most of us were used to and each vegan/vegetarian M.R.E was guaranteed to contain a package of jolly ranchers—a good candy since it lasts long, and sucking on candy helps keep you awake when you've got guard duty to do.
It was soon after I caught on that the rest of the men in the company caught on, and before anyone knew it, almost our entire company was full of vegetarians/vegans pretending to be Muslim. All of us, hardened men, soldiers and warriors, were pretending to be Muslim and became vegetarian/vegan just because M.R.E's tasted bad. The drill sergeants all knew what was going on, but with wars going on in two Muslim countries; none of them wanted to deal with the storm that would come from dealing with a hundred soldiers pretending to be Muslim.
But, if there's one thing drill sergeants know, it's how to get around a problem.
Eventually, the drill sergeants figured out a plan of their own and every time someone took a vegetarian M.R.E, they'd make the entire company do an additional 20 pushups; and since so many people were eating vegetarian M.R.E.'s, that was a few hundred pushup before each meal, and by the time we finished our pushups there'd only be a few minutes left for us to eat.
After a few days, everyone went back to eating the crappy M.R.E.'s and after a few weeks we all graduated basic training. But once I got into the real Army, that's when I truly learned what it's like to be a vegan/vegetarian in the military.
Which will bring us to our next article: "The Trouble With Being Vegan In The Military"