As you know, I follow quite a strict local/vegan/gluten-free diet in accordance with my own moral and ethical beliefs which govern every aspect of my life. (I’ve blogged about this before: here). I thought today I would share with you a standard food shop, and talk about a bit about vegan food shopping! In no way am I intending to convert you all to a vegan lifestyle or preach about myself from the mountaintops; I’m just sharing my food shopping (the closest I’ll get to a “haul” post) and a few tips.
So this is my food haul from Earth Foods in Kentish Town – my favourite shop! I bought rice pasta, vegan pesto, cacao, soya chunks, spelt chocolate cookies, plum bread, chocolate drops, coconut yoghurt, almond milk and three types of loose leaf tea (I have a serious love of tea). Quite a lot of the food I eat is not pictured; items such as lentils, nuts, potatoes and rice are all stocked in my cupboard already. The almond milk and coconut yoghurt I’d bought on this trip had already gone into the fridge.
Also not pictured is fruit and vegetables. I am part of VegBox, an amazing scheme based in Kentish Town where locally grown vegetables are sourced and delivered fresh to various pick-up points. Apart from the scheme hugely chiming with my beliefs, it is great fun having an ever-changing variety of vegetables to cook with!
So here are some general guidelines if you are trying out a vegan food shop:
Firstly if you’re a meat-eater or vegetarian: “Humane”, “Organic”, “Free-range”: etc – none of these mean ANYTHING in terms of animal welfare and animal wellbeing; these are just words companies can slap on to make you think you’re making an ethically sound purchase. The standards for animal welfare are so low in government and farming legislation (when it actually applies) that a free-range, organic and humane egg has still been produced by a genetically-modified hen in a tiny cage whose beak and legs have been removed. Even more outrageously: a lot of animal welfare legislation doesn’t even apply to farming animals.
Dolphin-friendly:This means that whilst dolphins are spared from these kind of nets, anything smaller is still at risk (i.e. most fish, turtles, seals, snails, eels etc).
Lactose-free:still often contains milk protein sourced from animals, as does anything containing “whey”.
The Vegan Society:the logo means it has been checked and approved by the Vegan Society.
Is It Vegan? is a game well-known to all vegans and allergy-sufferers. There is a LOT of grey area in many food groups, and a trusty ingredient check is what’s needed 9 times out of 10. I have singled out just a few groups which are often problematic when playing Is It Vegan?
Sauces: Pasta sauce, pesto and many canned soups are probably not. A lot of sauces and soups use cream or milk as a thickening agent and a lot of pasta sauces or salad dressings contain egg. Even the humble pesto contains cheese. You can see I’ve gone for zest vegan pesto in my above food shop; it’s quite a mild taste but I like it! Thai curry sauce and worcestershire sauce almost always contain fish.
Pasta: often made with eggs or milk. Wheat-dried pasta, spelt pasta and rice pasta are generally ok. Being wheat-free I always go for rice pasta (my favourites are the multi-coloured ones).
Biscuits: Quite a lot of them are! Most bourbon biscuits, pink wafers, table wafers, rich tea biscuits, Ritz crackers and Oreos are actually vegan but CHECK THE LABEL FIRST. I’ve gone for spelt cookies which have dark chocolate chips (dark chocolate is vegan most of the time!).
Quorn (vegetarian substitute): Noooooo! This stuff annoys me so much as it’s never vegan; it’s like aggressively non-vegan. Nearly every other vegetarian brand I can think of has vegan products. Just adapt the ingredients guys and we can all party together. (edit for 2017: Quorn now has some vegan products! Clearly marked with a happy green word.)
Hot Chocolate: why do they add dried milk?! I get Cacao, basically pure cocoa, and then add almond or soya milk.
Alcohol: Occasionally. Many types of alcohol are brewed using isinglass (fish bladder), albumen (from eggs) and chitosan (crustacean skin) as a distillation agent (grim, I know). In the UK there are no requirements for any of the ingredients used in the brewing process to be displayed on the packaging. Wine is also exempt from having to state if it includes milk or eggs. Handy, right?Basically: most cask ale, beer and lager is off the menu. Most supermarkets have their own vegan wines (or at least label them), but when in doubt check. Spirits are generally fine with the exception of Jack Daniels (distilled through animal bone), Campari (coloured with beetles – nice) and Baileys (milk fiasco).
CHECK THE LABEL: every time! Even if you think something is vegan or you’ve had it before companies are under no legal obligations to let you know when they amend their ingredients. Watch out for: casein, lactose, whey (milk-derived), bone char sugar (whitened using animal bones – gross), gelatine (animal tissue/bones – again, gross), carmine or E120 (beetles), shellac or E904 (insect secretions. Seriously, how rank is that?).
Here’s a couple of useful links: