One of the most common struggles I hear from new vegans is that it’s so hard to find vegan food in the grocery store. It’s true! When you’ve gone you’re whole life picking anything off the shelf that looked good, reading ingredient labels can be intimidating.
Am I now expected to read the label on every item I put in my cart? There’s gotta be a better way! (said in my best cheesy infomercial voice)
I’ll be straight with you: yes, you now need to read the ingredients on every item you buy. But it’s not as exhausting as it sounds. You’ll quickly find your staple products in vegan form so you’ll need to look at fewer and fewer labels.
Until you get to that point, though, here are some tips and resources to make life a bit easier.
Buy items without a label
Produce! You never have to question whether your bananas, potatoes, kale or mangos have meat, dairy or eggs in them. These single ingredient foods are your best bet. As a bonus, whole plant foods give your body more of the nutrients it needs. So try to fill most of your shopping cart in this aisle.
The allergens section on the label is your best friend
Many labels now have a section near the ingredients that lists any food allergens. It says, “Contains:”. This includes milk, eggs and fish (among other ingredients like nuts). This is a great place to train your eyes to look first. That way you won’t need to read the complete list of ingredients if an animal product is listed. Don’t stop there, though! If there are no animal products listed in the allergens section, you will still want to carefully read the ingredients. See next tip.
Get to know what ingredients to look out for
Peta compiled a list of all animal-derived ingredients. Now, before you click over to it, I must warn you…it’s ridiculously long. I recommend reading through the list to at least see the ingredients once. Then when you’re in the grocery store and you come across some animal-derived ingredients, you may recognize them off the bat. But let’s face it, none of us will ever have that list memorized. So it may be handy to save the link on your phone to do a quick search if you come across an ingredient you’re unsure of.
See if your grocery store has done the work for you
I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s and found out last year that they have a list of all of their vegan products. If you can get your hands on a vegan list from your grocery store, you’re golden! Ask a knowledgeable worker if something like this exists. You can use it to create your shopping list so there’s no more picking one item up, seeing “milk”, and setting it down to pick up another. You can go straight to your vegan items.
There’s an app for that
There are apps out there that allow you to scan the barcode of an item and it will tell you if it’s vegan. These apps have a huge database of hundreds of thousands of food items to help you quickly see if it’s something you want to put in your cart. I have yet to find one that I absolutely love, though. (Readers: do you have any app recommendations?) Obviously, not everything you scan will be in their database but at least it’ll help.
All in all, just have patience and be easy on yourself. It’s a learning process for everyone. And ultimately, you’re doing so much good for the animals, the planet and your self. That’s something to smile about as you stroll through the aisles.
Share your progress in the comments! What have you learned while mastering the art of vegan grocery shopping that we can all put into practice?