Hello again New Vegan,
A couple of weeks ago I posted three tips for transitioning to a vegan diet. There’s still so much more to share about transitioning into this happy, healthful, and compassionate plant-based lifestyle.
As you navigate this journey, here are two more things to consider.
While I actually love going to the grocery store, I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm. People want to get in and out fast.
So at first, the idea of reading labels for everything you buy may seem like a hassle. The good thing is, once you’ve read the labels and know what to buy, it gets faster and easier in the future. You can go through and pick up those things you always buy in no time. (Although, I do read the labels of my regular products occasionally, just in case they’ve changed their recipes.)
Something to keep in mind is that the need to read labels is not the “fault” of veganism. It’s not only vegans who should read what’s inside of their food. Every person, both vegan and non-vegan, should be reading labels. If it takes a science degree to know what’s inside of the food we’re buying, we don’t need it.
When I’m buying a packaged or prepared food, I want it to have as few ingredients as possible. For example, when I’m buying rice, I want the ingredients to read, “Organic brown rice.” That’s all. For pasta, “Whole wheat flour.” Done. For peanut butter, “organic roasted peanuts” or maybe “organic roasted peanuts, salt.” Once they start adding in unnecessary oils and sugars, stabilizers, and hydrogenation, I don’t want it.
I’m sure it seems like a good idea to people selling packaged food to make a product shelf stable for as long as possible, but I don’t want my body packed with preservatives and fillers.
We have a choice. We can feel disheartened that food lobbyists and big businesses are able to infiltrate otherwise healthy foods with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners and colorings, and animal byproducts. Or we can feel empowered that all we have to do is turn that package around, read the ingredients, and make the choice about whether or not we will put that into our bodies or give it to our families.
Because of a newfound desire to read labels, upon going vegetarian or vegan, sometimes people are stunned at the sorts of things that are added into food and cosmetics and other products.
I was buying lipstick a couple of weeks ago and was speaking with the sales clerk.
I asked, “Do you know which of your cosmetics are vegan?”
She looked confused.
“Not really?” I asked. “In many lipsticks, for example, they use crushed beetles for that red color.”
A look of disgust passed over her face. “Ew,” she muttered.
“It’s called carmine or cochineal, and in addition to makeup, they put it in certain kinds of yogurt, soda, juice, ice cream, and other foods that they want to have a pink or red hue.”
Now, if someone invited you over and put crushed beetles on your plate, you would likely be less than thrilled. But when food manufacturers put them into products simply because they think that makes a product look prettier or more appetizing, well, I think that’s worth knowing. Furthermore, a lot of people have severe allergic reactions to eating crushed beetles.
And of course, the beetles’ reaction to it isn’t great either.
Still think that label reading is a bore? Well, then you’re going to love my next bit of advice.
Don’t Read Labels
Go to the part of the store that doesn’t need labels, the produce section. Fill your basket with red and orange and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, mangoes, avocados, cucumbers, celery, carrots, collard greens, lacinato, curly, and purple kale, onions and garlic, butternut and acorn squash, Portobello mushrooms, sweet potatoes, oranges, apples, grapes, figs, and cherries.
Buy whole, fresh food with no labels, and leave the reading behind. Then go to the bulk section and purchase lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains.
In our culture of fast food, prepared food, and processed food, going back to the basics may have a learning curve for your kitchen skills and for your palate. So much space in our grocery stores is taken up with products laden in cholesterol, sugar, saturated fat, and calories.
I was in a grocery store I don’t usually frequent recently, and I couldn’t help but laugh when I found the tiny aisle labeled “Health Food.” That one teeny-tiny aisle was tucked in the back next to the pharmacy. I had to wonder, if that’s the health food, what is the rest of the store? Sick food?
Don’t let the marketing voices in our fast food/junk food/sedentary culture drown out your willpower and desire. Come to think of it, “drown out” is a pretty accurate way of describing it. Spending our days in a world of calorie-rich and nutrient-poor foods is a bit like living in a flood zone. We can do our best to flood-proof our bodies with healthy, whole plant foods that have been shown to protect against a myriad of ailments, or we can accept the status quo first by diet and then by disease.
Don’t wait until the tide has done its dirty work to prepare for the flood. If the damage is already done, all the more reason to get in there and heal your “home.” It’s the only one you get.
Until next time,