In Chapter 9, I pointed out that anytime you want, you can pick up the pace in your transition to a vegan diet. With that in mind, by far the best way to speed up your progress is to increase the amount of unfamiliar foods you’re sampling each day. Every time you discover a new food you like, it crowds out more of the non-vegan foods you grew up eating.
In this and the next several chapters, I’ll be revealing all sorts of strategies for enlarging the variety of vegan foods you enjoy. This chapter is devoted to the very worst place to buy vegan food—your local supermarket. Whenever possible, I recommend buying food at farmers’ markets, natural food stores, or online. But there may still be times when it makes sense to visit your local supermarket, and this chapter will help you get the most out of your supermarket visits.
My motto for supermarkets is: so much food, so little to eat. The vast majority of what supermarkets sell is not vegan, and in fact most of the stuff they sell is pure garbage.
The main reason I dislike supermarkets is that they aren’t in the business of catering to people like you and me. So, when they do stock healthy vegan foods, they tend to charge outrageous prices. For any given vegan product, supermarkets will often charge nearly double the price that you could find elsewhere.
Really, there are only two good reasons to visit a supermarket: one is if you simply don’t have a natural foods store near you, and can’t order food online. And the other reason is to take advantage of the produce section—these days, most supermarkets have an excellent produce section and they usually also stock a decent variety of organic produce. And when supermarkets have sales on produce, the prices are often the best you’ll find anywhere. I’ll sometimes go into a supermarket and buy several pounds of whatever peak-of-season produce item is on sale, and that will be the only purchase I will make.
Let’s now check out the remainder of a typical supermarket. I’ll guide you through the vegan options that exist in each section.
Breads. This aisle is usually a disappointment. It’ll be national brands such as Arnold, Oroweat, and Wonder. The whole wheat bread will usually contain milk products or honey. But better supermarkets will also stock bread from a local bakery. You’ll have to check the ingredients, but locally baked bread is frequently vegan. Oddly, these local breads are often kept in a different aisle than the national brands.
Don’t confuse breads baked locally with the supermarket’s in-house bakery, where they typically bake some of the nastiest bread ever produced—check the ingredients and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Juices. Some juices are sold on the shelf and others are located in the refrigerated section. Always check the label, since some of these products, particularly smoothies, may contain dairy or honey.
International Foods. Here, you can find some useful stuff mixed among the menudo and fish flakes. The main vegan foods you can buy here are tamari, noodles, hot sauce, corn and wheat tortillas, and canned chipotles. This section is often adjacent to the rice aisle, which will stock several varieties of brown and white rice. You can save a lot of money by buying your rice in large bags rather than in tiny boxes. You’ll also be able to find several kinds of bagged dried beans, from pintos to lentils to split peas.
Pasta and Sauces. Supermarkets carry a wide variety of pasta and noodles. Spaghetti-style pasta is nearly always vegan, and you can also usually find brands made from whole grain. While I love most whole grain breads, some brands of whole grain pasta are terrible—so buy just one package to start to see if you like that particular brand.
I’ll never understand why tomato sauce is so overpriced at supermarkets. You can usually buy organic sauces at your local natural food store for the same price that supermarkets sell their conventional brands. If your supermarket does carry organic sauce, the markup is usually extreme.
Condiments. Nothing too exciting here, but there are plenty of vegan items: ketchup, mustard, olives, pimentos, and tabasco sauce.
Flour. You can of course buy various sorts of flour in the baking aisle, but if you find any baking mixes that are vegan it’ll be a minor miracle.
Nuts. Every supermarket offers a good selection of nuts, as well as sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Watch out for gelatin as an ingredient, which is sometimes added for the sole purpose of annoying vegans. Gelatin is a protein obtained from slaughterhouses.
Cereals. This aisle is surprisingly disappointing. Oddly, most national brands of cereal are scarcely cheaper than organic brands sold at natural food stores. Still, if you read labels, you’ll surely find brands of cereal that are free of animal products.
Jams, Preserves, and Nut Butters. You’ll find a great selection here, some of which may be organic. Buy jam and preserves instead of jellies, as jellies are mostly sugar.
Coffee and Tea. Better supermarkets will sell fair trade coffee and even have a commercial grade coffee grinder so you can buy whole coffee beans and grind them on the spot.
Cookies and Crackers. The cookie aisle is generally terrible. You’re unlikely to find anything that’s vegan. You’ll do scarcely better in the cracker section. Most items will be non-vegan national brands. But if you look around you can probably find some sort of vegan whole grain cracker. Many varieties of Wasa Crispbread—a European product sold in the cracker aisle—are vegan.
Chips and Dips. Nearly all unflavored potato chips and corn chips are vegan, but check the label to be sure. Stay away from chips made with partially hydrogenated oils, as that stuff is horrible for you. And in the Pennsylvania area, some potato chips are—believe it or not—fried in tallow or lard. Nearly all brands of salsa are vegan. And, increasingly, supermarkets sell refrigerated guacamole in pressure packed boxes. Make sure any guacamole you buy is pressure packed and not just tubbed, as the pressure packed stuff can be excellent, often even better than what you can make at home.
Dairy Section. Most supermarkets carry soymilk packaged in half-gallon milk cartons. Also, calcium-fortified orange juice contains as much calcium as milk, and its calcium is easily absorbed.
Frozen Foods. Amid the salisbury steak TV dinners, there are some surprisingly good vegan options sold in a supermarket’s frozen food section. You’ll find frozen veggies that are much, much better than canned. You can also buy frozen berries, which are cheap, high quality, and perfect for smoothies (I devote much of Chapter 21 to smoothies.) Frozen fruits and veggies are a fantastic option in the dead of winter when good fresh produce isn’t widely available. While browsing the frozen foods section, you may also find eggless waffles, veggieburgers, vegan ice creams, and sorbet.
Alcohol. If your state permits supermarkets to sell beer and wine, you can find plenty of vegan brands. Check the booze list at barnivore.com, to learn which brands of beer and wine are vegan.
As this chapter makes clear, supermarkets offer some good stuff but they scatter it at random throughout the store, leaving it your job to ferret it out. Happily, many supermarkets are setting up aisles and even mini-stores devoted specifically to natural foods. Unfortunately, there are few bargains to be had in the natural foods sections of supermarkets.
While any supermarket can provide all the foods you need for a healthy and diverse vegan diet, you’ll generally find better prices and a much better selection by taking your business elsewhere. Let’s now turn to natural food stores, online shopping options, and farmers’ markets.
Next Chapter: Natural Food Stores
Return to: Table of Contents
This page and The Ultimate Vegan Guide is Copyright 2010 by Erik Marcus, all rights reserved. My writing is my sole means of support, so please don’t abuse the generosity I’ve shown in making the full text of this book freely available from Vegan.com. Posting the text of this book to other websites, and copying or distributing it through other means, is strictly prohibited.