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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The Vegan Trial

In addition to creating a set of guidelines for perfect world eating, I will be chronicling my personal project: a month-long vegan diet that will hopefully change the way I eat forever. Image

A few days ago, I decided to try out veganism for a month.  I don’t want to promise absolute veganism forever, but I would like to cut most animal products out of my life, unless they come from a reliably ethical provider.  Maybe someday I’ll keep a cow and a few chickens of my own, but until then I’m wary of buying animal products.

Until very recently, I defended my vegetarianism with vague ethics, saying that I could never become a vegan—it would be too difficult to give up the milk, eggs, ice cream, yogurt, and especially cheese that I loved.  Then I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals (an excellent book), and I could no longer ignore the horrors of the egg and dairy industries.

Several weeks passed, and without intending to do so, I started browsing around PETA’s website and signed a month-long agreement to go vegan.  It was done on a whim, but I’m already convinced that I made a good decision.  If I can use this month to learn more about vegan living—what foods to buy and avoid, how to get the proper nutrients, and how to cook delicious meals without relying on animal products—I will be ready to cut these foods almost entirely out of my diet.

So, what am I giving up?                                            Image

  • Cheese—this is going to be the hardest, I expect, apart from the hidden ingredients of baked goods.  Cheese is actually addictive, which explains why I love it so much.
  • Milk—I generally don’t use milk except on cereal, so substituting it with rice milk is an easy choice (my favorite non-dairy milk is hazelnut—it’s deliciously rich and smooth)

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Desserts—since milk, butter, and eggs are concealed in most desserts, from baked goods to chocolates (except pure dark chocolate), I will have to forego all desserts for the month.  I adore dessert, so this will be a huge challenge.

Eggs—these are a special-occasion food, so I just have to make sure I get the nutrients that they provide (vitamin B-12)

 

  • Honey—I want to do this vegan thing right, so for now I’m putting honey in the animal-products category.  This might change as I do more research.
  • Yogurt and ice cream
  • Chai lattes and hot chocolate—I was very disappointed about this until I discovered that soy lattes taste just as good as the regular kind.
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Why I Became a Vegetarian

There are hundreds of reasons why the meat industry is problematic.  Most people are either unaware of these or pretend ignorance, because thinking about industrially farmed meat is disturbing.  Obviously the easiest way to avoid these problems is to give up meat altogether.  It gives you a clean conscience and a healthier lifestyle.

That wasn’t why I became a vegetarian.

I first gave up meat because I didn’t like the taste.  I grew up eating chicken a few nights a week, and went through a phase of loving baby-back ribs when I was about ten, but meat always had a very small role in my diet.  As I grew older, I became a pickier eater, and the texture of meat began to disgust me.  So I stopped eating it, unless it was directly served to me.  I resisted giving up meat altogether, because I didn’t want to become one of those better-than-thou vegetarians, the kind that sneer at people who enjoy meat and take pleasure in being difficult at restaurants and dinner parties.

When I officially decided to call myself a vegetarian, I was joining my mother and sister in a decision that had been a long time in coming.  They had noticed my avoidance of meat, and realized that we had no reason to continue including it in our diet.

Now I feel good about myself for cutting meat out of my diet, but I would be a hypocrite to scorn omnivores, because I don’t have the willpower to give up anything I truly love.  Cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs—these come to stores with a footnote of animal suffering, and I know as much, but I can’t give them up outright.

Even so, I can’t discount the accumulated benefit of small changes over a lifetime.  Becoming a vegetarian—or even cutting down on meat consumption—is positive in so many ways.

The benefits of going vegetarian:

  • The meat industry is one of the biggest polluters, worse than any form of transportation.  By cutting out meat, people can significantly reduce the CO2 emissions they contribute to.
  • One person giving up meat for a long period of time will save thousands of animals from unnecessary torture, suffering, and death.
  • Factory farms concentrate huge amounts of animals in small spaces, and these animals produce a ton of fecal matter.  This waste is left in toxic sludge pits that contaminate the land and spread disease to anyone living nearby.  People who give up meat are no longer paying companies that use sloppy and dangerous practices like this.
  • Eating a well-planned vegetarian diet can help prevent illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Bacterial contamination inevitably happens during meat processing, so avoiding meat protects you from potentially life-threatening sicknesses that can result from eating unclean meat.
  • Finally, avoiding meat allows more people to be fed with less damage to the land, because instead of channeling a huge percentage of our crops to animal feed, we can use it for our own food.

According to PETA, I’ve already saved 560 animals in the two years I’ve been vegetarian.  Of course, that’s a huge overestimation given how little meat I ate to begin with, but imagine what it would mean if more people made this choice.  For someone who eats meat regularly, giving it up will save over 16,000 animals and more than 190,000 pounds of CO2 in a lifetime.  That’s huge.

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The Mission

We live in a complicated world.  In providing for our most basic need—food—we are faced each day with a tangled web of decisions, deceptions, and desires.  And we usually succumb to habit and simplicity.  It’s a hundred times easier to grab the cheap burger from the drive-through than to think about where that food comes from.  It’s simple to follow our cravings.

But the food economy we have built is founded on lies and careful concealment.  Unless we change something soon, the swollen food industry will begin to collapse around us.  It is an unsustainable system, and we are both the perpetrators and the victims of its success.

In an ideal world, we would live in small subsistence communities, aware of the capacity of the land we farmed and responsible for maintaining its health and productivity.  Of course, this is impossible today—our population is simply too large.

However, there are ways for us to minimize our impact on the world.  We have never been blessed with more choices in what we eat.  So how do we know which choices are the right ones?

I am striving for conscientiousness, not perfection.  I want to understand everything we overlook each day when we eat.  Through this blog, I hope to create a set of guidelines for thinking about food in terms of world health.  And I will attempt to change my lifestyle accordingly.

So, what do I include in “world health?”  It’s a broad term, meant to encapsulate all the complexities that go into food production.  But I’ll break it down into several categories that I will address:

  • Personal health: avoiding pesticides, eating nutritious meals, and making sure I get the necessary vitamins and minerals as I change my dietary choices
  • Human rights: supporting fair trade and farmers’ markets, and avoiding companies that exploit workers at home and abroad
  • Animal rights: factory-farmed animals, vegetarianism, veganism, and the lies about “free-range”
  • Environmentalism: cutting down on waste, composting/recycling, and minimizing fuel used in production and transportation
  • Farm health: working against the dangers of monoculture by supporting seed saving, buying artisan crops, and avoiding GMOs
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