A number of vegan advocates say we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff because the small stuff doesn’t matter or because the small stuff makes us look petty. For example, Ginny Messina says:
“Focus on things that matter. Avoiding additives like sodium stearoyl lactylate because it might possibly be animal derived doesn’t reduce animal suffering or further the cause of animal rights. Most of the tiny animal ingredients in foods are cheap byproducts of factory farming. When factory farming goes away, so will these products. The energy and time that go into researching, creating and sharing long laborious lists of non-vegan ingredients is kind of mind-boggling when you consider that their overall effect is more likely to be harmful than helpful. If anything, they add a layer of (unnecessary) complexity to going vegan and reinforce negative beliefs about the difficulty of being vegan.”
I agree with her, but I have a different reason: I’m lazy. I don’t have the time to memorize long lists of animal ingredients. And I don’t have a steel trap memory either, so I’d have to carry a book with me to the grocery store. I don’t want to lug around a book along with my reusable bags, my grocery list, and my purse.
But I do try to avoid animal products as much as possible. The minor traces do matter to me, a little. So I have a few strategies that I use to help me find truly vegan food. These strategies aren’t 100% fool-proof, but they’re way better than trusting a fallible memory or lugging around a book and reading every single item in the ingredients lists. And there’s nothing difficult about these methods.
These are my methods for finding vegan food:
- Shop mostly in the produce section and dried goods sections. Avoid processed food as much as you feel you can. Apples, lettuce, potatoes, carrots, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, and zucchini are very easy to identify as vegan. Bags of dry beans and bags of rice, too, are obviously vegan. You’re looking for food items that either don’t list ingredients (because it’s just a piece of fruit or veg) or food items that have very short ingredients lists that use words you recognize and can pronounce.
- Look for the word “vegan” or a label that indicates the food is vegan. Some boxes have the word vegan on the front, others list it on the back near the ingredients. Some stores have a code, like Trader Joe’s puts a V inside of a square to indicate if an item is vegan. Whole Foods is great about marking vegan items clearly.
- Use a prepared list. Some good vegan cookbooks contain a shopping list in the front or back. Use that list and cook from that cookbook. If you just stick to the list, all the items in your shopping cart should be vegan. Likewise, there are prepared lists of vegan restaurants or vegan options at chain restaurants, like these websites: Happy Cow and Veg Guide.
- Ask the chef. At restaurants, just ask for what you need. I like to say something like, “Can you recommend any vegan items?” and let them take the lead. If you do this in advance by calling the restaurant, you can save some time in case they don’t offer any vegan options.
Question for the vegans reading: What strategies do you use to help you find vegan food without referring to the long list of animal ingredients?