A Vegan Shopping Trip

About a week ago, when I wasn’t completely committed to my month-long veganism, I was browsing in the bookstore and happened across Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan.  I bought it and started reading, and immediately decided to take this change seriously.  I would recommend the book for anyone considering veganism—it’s full of helpful tips for eating and living vegan, and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle; in addition, it contains plenty of information on the horrors of animal agriculture.

The most important thing I learned was that veganism meant adding certain elements to my diet, not just taking away those wonderful dairy products that I love so much.  It’s been a week since my vegan shopping trip, and already I’m looking forward to each meal as a new, delicious experiment.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a college student, which means I have a small budget, limited cooking facilities, terrible dorm food, and (this year, for the first time) no refrigerator.  For the past several years of college, I’ve lived off flavorless salad bar pickings and microwaved couscous.  But this year is different.  Somehow, in a strange, counterintuitive way, adding restrictions to my diet seems to have opened up a whole world of new possibilities.

After consulting Main Street Vegan, I came up with a list of vegan essentials and headed over to Whole Foods.  I like to shop cheap, organic, and in bulk (to reduce packaging).  Here are a few of the basics, which any vegan should have at hand:

New Vegan Foods (some of these I’d never heard of before this shopping trip…)

  • Vitamin B12this is only found in animal products and vegan-specific foods, where it’s added as a supplement.  A chronic lack of this vitamin can lead to a life-threatening disease, so it’s crucial that vegans find a source.  I bought Vitamin B12 supplement tablets, but I discovered that it’s also added to several of the other vegan staples I found.
  • Nutritional Yeast Flakes—these are enriched with Vitamin B12, and they dissolve in a small amount of liquid to make a wonderfully creamy, cheesy sauce.  One small container goes a long, long way, and since I bought them I’ve been sprinkling them on practically everything.
  • Powdered Vanilla Rice Milk—since I don’t have a fridge, I had already been suffering for the lack of milk on my cereal, so I decided to give this powder a try even though I was a bit skeptical.  Well, it turns out that the rice milk tastes rich and delicious, and it turns an ordinary bowl of cereal into a luscious treat.  I was especially pleased with this, because I got 25 servings (double that for the amount I use in cereal) in a single cheap bag.  That’s a lot less expensive and wasteful than buying cartons of soymilk.
  • Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale—something I noticed on the way to the cashier.  This kale is vegan and uncooked, but it tastes and crunches like cheddar chips.  It’s so delicious and addictive that I’m afraid to buy it again, because it disappeared almost at once.

Regular Staples of a Vegan Kitchen

  • Whole wheat couscous—choose whatever whole grain food you like best; I prefer couscous because I can buy a box with close to 30 servings for hardly anything, and couscous can be microwaved to perfection in less than five minutes.  I also bought whole wheat pasta and brown rice, but note that the rice will take longer to cook than its white counterpart.
  • Soy Sauce/Miso—getting a low-sodium variety is best, but soy sauce is excellent to have on hand.  It makes a perfect flavoring for stir-fries, though I’ve been known to add it to almost any savory dish.  Miso is a soup base, and my equivalent of a quick sandwich is a bowl of whole wheat pasta in miso soup.
  • Sesame Oil—add just a dash of this to any soy-sauce dish, and the flavor will instantly pop.  One of my all-time favorite childhood recipes was a tofu-carrot scramble cooked in soy sauce and sesame oil.
  • Onions—very cheap and easy to store, these are a great flavor addition to any vegetable dish.  Since I’m cooking for just one person, I bought a bag of small onions, each of which is the perfect size for one serving of a dish.
  • Potatoes—again, an easy-to-store vegetable that offers plenty of creativity when you think beyond the standard chips, fries, and mashed variety.  I learned recently that potatoes can be microwave-baked in about five minutes; they can also be added to soups and stir-fries, or mashed with water and nutritional yeast flakes for a delicious cheesy flavor.
  • Peanut Butter—vegans should definitely have some sort of nuts and seeds on hand, and peanut butter happens to be the cheapest (and the easiest not to overindulge in).  I love roasted almonds and especially pecans, but I can afford to buy them only as a treat.
  • Oranges, Apples, Peaches, and Pears—these fruits keep for a while without refrigeration, so they’re handy to have around.  Vegans (and everyone) should be eating plenty of fruit every day!
  • Bananas—one of my favorite fruits.  Melted peanut butter stirred with banana slices (and a drizzle of maple syrup, if you have a sweet tooth) makes an excellent treat.
  • Other Fruits—berries are the most nutritionally outstanding fruits around, but for my purposes they’re a bit expensive and don’t store well at room temperature.  I’ll buy a small box of raspberries or blueberries whenever I go grocery shopping, and eat it later that day.
  • Vegan Cereal—I made the mistake of buying cereal without checking for honey, only to realize that most of it isn’t actually vegan.  So I’ll wait until the month is over to eat that.
  • Oatmeal—the standard oatmeal with brown sugar is great for cold mornings; to make it extra special, I sometimes like adding pecans, cinnamon, that new rice milk powder, and dried cranberries or raisins.
  • Dijon Mustard—this makes an excellent stir-in for all sorts of dishes, from mashed potatoes to seasoned rice.
  • Dried lentils—these take longer to cook than the canned variety, but they’re cheaper, use less packaging, and don’t need to be refrigerated after opening.  The variety I found takes the same amount of time to cook as brown rice, so I’ll mix the two in one pot and get double the nutrients.

And just for fun…

  • Windowsill Basil Plant—I noticed this in the produce section, and it was too pretty to pass up.  I have a west-facing dorm window, so this cute little plant can soak up five hours of direct sunlight every day even though I’m living fourteen stories above a big city.  I’ve started adding basil to almost everything, and it’s a great treat.
  • Acorn Squash—I picked this up at the farmers’ market recently; it stores for a long time at room temperature, so I’ll be experimenting with cooking it very soon.
  • Farmers’ Market Goodies—whenever I go to the farmer’s market, I’ll buy any fruits and vegetables that catch my eye, provided I can cook them within the next two or three days.  This has led to a variety of delicious and original meals, and I’ll never grow bored as long as the harvest season lasts.
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