Vegan Food for Everyone

On a recent trip to Costco, I found seaweed salad (vegan in my Costco, although in some areas it contains fish sauce), big cheap packages of tofu, little travel packs of hummus, and delectable stuffed grape leaves.

I was thrilled to come across these and other vegan goodies. But when I reported my finds on facebook, a few people voiced concerns. Was the tofu GMO? Wasn’t there sugar in the seaweed salad? And shouldn’t I be shopping locally?

I do shop mostly—but not exclusively—locally. And there is no shortage of tofu in my life since I live five blocks from the local food co-op. I’m still excited to see tofu at Costco, though, and happy to buy it there. Because the more that people see vegan food in stores—especially stores like Costco where food is cheap—the more they might be willing to eat those foods.

I’ve lately been re-reading the book Animal Impact by Caryn Ginsberg. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s  a valuable resource for anyone who advocates for animals, whether it’s by promoting veganism, spay/neuter, homes for shelter animals or protection for wildlife. Caryn’s advice is real-world practical and focused. She reinforces what many of us know—but may need to keep reminding ourselves. That is, we need to make animal-friendly actions “possible, simple, fast, convenient.”

My friend and co-author JL Fields recently blogged about her success in making veganism more convenient; she convinced a local restaurant to offer vegan options on their menu. Breakfast items, no less. Not a veggie burger, but vegan French toast and tofu scramble. That’s an amazing feat.  (Although maybe not for JL given her activist and people skills. In fact, there needs to be a non-profit devoted to funding JL’s travel around the country so she can meet with chefs to advocate for more vegan menu items.)

Getting restaurants to offer vegan menu items is good activism. So is eating at those restaurants, even if we’re not especially crazy about supporting establishments that serve meat. Because if nobody buys the vegan French toast, why would the restaurant offer it?

Yesterday, I chatted with some twitter friends about the pros and cons of moving vegan foods like Beyond Meat to the meat section of grocery stores. I see it as a good thing since it would put those vegan options right in front of people who might not otherwise seek them out. Others found the whole idea to be icky; they didn’t want their vegan food in such close proximity to meat.

I get that. I try to avoid going anywhere near the meat counter. But I’ll do it if it pushes vegan food another few inches into the mainstream. Because, what’s comfortable for us isn’t really the point of veganism, right?

As an activist and a public health professional, I’m well aware of the fact that others don’t see vegan choices quite the way I see them. One of the most important truths that Caryn Ginsberg points out in Animal Impact—and something that I guess should be obvious, but often isn’t—is that “I am not my audience.”

How I view veganism is not how my audience views it. I see it as (relatively) easy. Many people don’t. Yet, some activist efforts seem aimed at making it as hard as possible. You don’t just have to be vegan—you also have to shop locally, scrutinize labels to make sure that every six-syllable ingredient on the food label is vegan, and cook everything from scratch. (And then we hide the vegan food where no one can find it!)

Not everyone likes to cook (and an aversion to cooking is not a moral failing). And not everyone can afford to buy local/organic food. (Being strapped for cash is not a moral failing, either.) With some guidance, though, everyone can be vegan or can at least start taking steps toward a more vegan lifestyle. We can build roadblocks to that or create paths. Assuring availability of a wide range of all types of vegan foods at stores and restaurants, and making them easy to find, puts more vegan food in the path of those who are open to trying it.

And, I’ll let you know about that vegan French toast. When I visit JL in Colorado Springs in July for the launch of Vegan for Her, I’m definitely going to ask her to take me to the Cliff House for breakfast.

 

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28 Responses to Vegan Food for Everyone

  1. JL May 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    You are so kind! I would love to work for that nonprofit! ;)

    I love that more vegan options are popping up and I’ve been known to buy tofu, tempeh and seitan – when I don’t need it – if I see it at a store that doesn’t normally carry it. I want them to know that there is a demand for the product!

    Vegan breakfast at The Cliff House? Count on it!

    • Ginny Messina May 10, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      We need to write a grant for that funding! (We can work on it over vegan French toast.)

  2. Kris May 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    This post made me think about a lot of things. The quote about “you are not your audience” made me consider a different perspective. You’re right about making vegan choices on par with other choices by making them as accessible and affordable. All things being equal, who wouldn’t want to be vegan? Thank you for the insightful post.

  3. Christine May 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Thank you for this post! I love Costco and frequently use it as an example of how easy veganism is! I buy organic tofu, frozen fruits and veggies, certain fresh produce items (like apples or citrus that will keep for a while), REAL MAPLE SYRUP, milled flax seeds, basmati rice, and non-dairy milk there (there are at least 3 options at my store). I’ve noticed that my store even has hemp seeds, agave nectar, and vegan falafel and burgers in the coolers! Even better, some California stores carry Gardein items and locally made soy foods. Plus, Costco provides better benefits and wages than other membership-based stores.

  4. Terri Cole May 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

    YES! I’m another Costco fan. My husband and I live on his disability and our Costco membership makes it possible for me to buy A LOT of organic produce, whole grains, soy milk and even the occasional Field Roast sausage! I shop the farmers markets when I can and this is the first year in 4 that we haven’t had a CSA membership (our CSA folded, due to our farmer’s death) so I believe in buying local. However, frugality has to come first!

  5. Hazel May 11, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Great points, Ginny (and JL!) It’s very difficult to remember that we, as vegans, see the world much differently than non-vegans, but that’s the best way to help others see how awesome veganism is.

    Somethimes I tire of the ‘health’ argument for veganism that is spouted in the mainstream media, but frankly that is often what people respond to. Moral arguments seem most convincing to me, but if someone is browsing a magazine and sees an article on veganism, emphasising the (real, not exaggerated!) benefits of plant-based diets is going to woo them more than a moral debate/

    We still need people to get the word out about other animals’ suffering of course, but for mainstream media, a less-direct introduction seems to be the best approach.

  6. Allysia May 11, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    I’m so glad you posted this! I’ve been thinking about ‘food purity’ a lot lately, the sort of judgement that gets passed if you don’t eat all-organic, all-homemade, etc, like you’re a lesser person, and I totally agree that’s the wrong approach. It makes the jump to being vegan so much more extreme, and in many cases unattainable. Because what if you can’t afford all that fancy, high-quality organic food? What if you don’t have time to cook all your own meals? What if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market? There needs to be options for everyone, sans judgement.

  7. Marla May 11, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    So well-stated, Ginny. Thank you! We can nitpick each other to death, and make no headway in facilitating a more broad adoption of veganism if we’re not careful.

  8. Gary May 11, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Amen! More times than I can count, I witness (or am talking with) someone who is vegan-curious, and folks on our side will be telling her “no soy, no gluten, no GMO, no this, no that, don’t shop at Whole Foods, only go to all-vegan restaurants,” etc. Like you, and, I would imagine, most long-time vegans, I see veganism as easy, but my experience from years of vegan outreach is that non-vegans typically see it as scary, as something that may be difficult. Furthermore, most of the people I know in real life have little time to cook; for better or worse, they get home from work late and squeeze dinner between TV downtime, paying bills, and helping the kids with their homework; it’s virtually a given that they are going to continue to buy some time-saving prepared food from the frozen aisle or deli counter. Let’s try to make the transition for this huge and important demographic as easy as possible. Down the road, once they’ve incorporated nutritional yeast, Veganaise, and Sophie’s Vegan Seafood into their daily meals, we can have conversations with them about going further – moving to a T Colin Campbell-type whole foods diet, avoiding GMO food and unfair trade chocolate, understanding mono- and di-glycerides, and so forth.

  9. Sunny Hochberg May 11, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Great column, Ginny! It is so hard to share the message without turning people off before they have a chance to really hear it, that going vegan is 1) truly possible with minimal effort, 2) yummy, 3) better for our health, 4) crucial for our planet in terms of reducing climate change and environmental pollution, and 5) good karma, because causing pain, unbearable grief and cruel death to another sentient being for our eating pleasure is just plain wrong. So often I’m tempted to go straight to item #5. Some folks, maybe most, aren’t ready for that. I’m so looking forward to the new book! Thanks to both you and JL for writing it for me…I mean US!

  10. Rhea May 11, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly. Vegan outreach has to mean reaching out to everyone – that has to include people in all locations, different socioeconomic groups and all places along their vegan journey.

    Of course it’s great to support all-vegan companies and restaurants but if other establishments offer vegan products and services and we don’t buy them, they will stop offering them. Then we will complain about the lack of vegan options at mainstream places. It’s as simple as supply and demand. We have to show there is a demand for vegan products in as many places as we can. Then people will have vegan options everywhere.

    Not everyone has access to all-vegan businesses and not everyone can afford to buy local, organic, non-GMO products. My local natural market, where we have to argue and fight for vegan products, is dramatically more expensive than shopping in a supermarket chain. If I had to choose, I would rather eat non-local, non-organic vegan food than not eat those vegan foods at all.

    It makes total sense for vegan products to be offered next to their non-vegan counterparts. I, too, like to avoid the meat department but if the vegan sausages and burgers are in their own vegan aisle, then the only outreach happening is to people who are already vegan. How will that show meat-eaters that they have a compassionate, healthier choice? If the point of activism is to educate non-vegans, then we have to deal with any discomfort going into the meat department may cause us. After all, it’s nowhere near the “discomfort” that the animals go through.

    Lastly, no one who is trying to add more vegan options into their lives should ever be discouraged by also adding a bunch of rules that make veganism seem harder and maybe, unobtainable. First and foremost, the goal is to reduce harm to animals. After that, people can worry about the other aspects of their food choices.

    Thank you for this post!

  11. Bertrand Russell May 11, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Ginny, you rock. It is so very, very easy to be negative about anything / everything not vegan, anything / everything that doesn’t conform to every aspect of our worldview. So easy to be critical and judgmental, to attack and tear down, as opposed to helping people take the first step….
    Thank you for your kindness, and for your focus on really helping the animals. Don’t let the haters / vegan police get you down!

  12. another_vegan_scientist May 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    there are some very good arguments against organic produce. we are literally extinguishing intertidal ecosystems due to the massive demand for intercoastal fish used to create organic fertilizer. low impact, low persticide non-organic agriculture is, imo, more sustainable in the long term.

    • Blah May 16, 2013 at 8:30 am #

      but the low impact low pesticide non organic culture is, imo, killing off intertidal ecosystems, etc. How about composting?

  13. Caryn Ginsberg May 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Thanks, Ginny, for reminding your readers about “Animal Impact!” I love it when veg advocates gain new insight that can help them be more effective. When Kris thinks about “we are not our target audience” and Hazel reflects on different messages for different situations or people (“one size does NOT fit all”), we are that much closer to success.

  14. Vegan Gypsy May 12, 2013 at 12:15 am #

    Excellent post, and a reminder to the “vegan police” that not everyone can, or will, make perfect choices all of the time! I travel a lot and as a result find sometimes myself in locations where the only grocery store is..gulp..Wal-Mart. I make the best decisions I can under the circumstances, knowing that my intentions are always the same: compassion.

  15. Brian May 12, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    The more exposure that vegetarian and vegan food items get and, thereby, come into the consciousness of meateaters the better. I saw the chickenesque product of Beyond Meat reviewed and ballyhooed by the New York Times’ Mark Bittman a year, or better, ago and have yet to venture to Whole Foods (where Beyond Meat must have a exclusivity arrangement) to try it. Bittman thought highly of it.
    Another thought that occurs to me is that this website and so many others that promote vegetarian/vegan eating/lifestyle must certainly be “preaching to the choir.” I can’t see many hardcore barbecue aficionados, for example, finding much of interest herein. Just a thought.
    One more thing: I like to offer books to sensible meat-eating friends/co-workers in order to show them just what they are eating and how it came to them. Right now I am reading (just started) “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight” by Timothy Pachirat. It seems like a detailed, more dispassionate look at the whole horrific process which ends up all cleaned up and wrapped in plastic and soon on all those tables across America. I’d say that this book and “Slaughterhouse” by Jill Eisnitz might put a damper on some beliefs long held by all those meateaters we know are out there. Peace to all.

  16. Staci May 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Wonderful piece! I think urban vegans in metropolitan areas are definitely guilty of this line of thinking frequently and tend to forget their relative privilege. Having grown up in a small Appalachian town, it’s easier for me to understand that being vegan is not necessarily convenient or easy so when options are available at Costco or even Wal-Mart, you take them, whether they’re locally-made or organic or whatever else. Of course, I am also a social worker and operate on the ‘meet them where they’re at’ principle on all levels. :)

  17. scarlett May 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Very thoughtful post. I’ve even found it’s possible and not difficult to shop vegan at Save-a-lot. Loads of dried beans, rice and other dried grains, frozen veggies, hummus, soy milk, and surprisingly fresh and varied produce (though I’m sure this depends on the location). None of this carries a “vegan” label there, making it more accessible (in my opinion) to those that are turned off or uneducated by labels.

    I, too, prefer to buy local as much as possible, but as a graduate student on a tight budget, I love being able to get vegan pantry items for the cheapest price!

  18. Gemma May 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    You can try vegan french toast at Junior’s in Portland during your speaking gig this May here!

  19. Gena May 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    I’m the kind of kitchen dweller who loves to make almond milk from scratch, sprout buckwheat, dehydrate flax crackers, and make kefir. And I still think it’s a wonderful thing that you can get vegan options at Costco, and I would support it in a heartbeat if I knew how to drive (and could therefore visit Costco!). I make a point of taking post-bacc friends to omni restaurants here in DC, rather than begging them to go to a vegetarian place with me. Why? Because it shows them what the vegan options are, and that they’re tasty. They often end up sampling my lunch with envy!

    It’s fine to be a “DIY” type. That kind of approach can be fun, can connect us to our food, and serve as a hobby/craft/form of artistry. But it has nothing to do with veganism. We need to show others that veganism, like any approach to eating, can be what you need it to be. Complex, simple, DIY, or found at your local Costco.

  20. Charlotte B. May 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I totally agree with everything you have written!

  21. Pierce May 17, 2013 at 6:30 am #

    So, wait, did the salad contain non-vegan sugar or not? Is that a worthy concern? With the rest of the language in this article, I’m assuming you don’t think it is.

    So, we have to a) make sure vegan food is accessible to people who can afford to eat out b) make veganism accessible to people who can afford to shop at a member’s-bulk-discount-store, make veganism affordable to people who can’t afford local?organic? food, and make veganism accessible to people who “cannot cook.”

    I mean, come on. If not being able to find vegan product X at Costco, or not being able to eat at every restaurant, or having to actually COOK something is going to stop people from being vegan, then a million other things probably are as well.

    Can we start with a conversation about morality? If we wouldn’t kick a dog for fun, then why are we supporting this system of animal use? If we really recognize the hell we’re creating, and that the nonhuman animals we’re putting through it are sentient beings, can we not be moved to action?

    Are we going to throw up our hands when we can’t find Diaya at Costco? Or when we can’t find anything at that restaurant? (And didn’t bother to check beforehand) Or when we actually have to put things together to make food? If so, let’s go back to that conversation about morality.

    There’s a vegan cookbook called “vegan on the cheap.” It has meals that cost dollars a day. I was a vegan in high school and bought my own food. I lived in a town of 30,000. I’m still not very far above the poverty line. The idea that “veganism” isn’t affordable is nonsense and it’s obviously not coming from the vegans who actually ARE poor, because we’ve been doing it without a problem.

    • melaniek August 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

      Ok, but it’s still difficult. It’s not convenient, and not all of us have time to get the ingredients for those cheap vegan meals. Sometimes we need some help from convenience foods. And if Safeway or Costco are on my way home from work, it’s nice to know that I can stop there and grab the things I need.

      Sure, we need to consider morality, but what about humility? Just because you manage just fine doesn’t mean that everyone else does. Just try to be considerate of others. That’s all I am saying. But good on you for all your efforts. I mean, like I said, it’s not easy, so it’s awesome that you are making the time to make it work.

  22. feet May 22, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Costco also treats their employees well. If you’re going to go big box store, this is the place to go.

  23. Anne B May 27, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    Great post! The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

  24. Lani Muelrath May 31, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    I’m with you on this one Ginny. Bottom line, I want people eating more plants and moving their bodies. It’s a good filter through which to run any item such as this.

    You hit it on the head when you say “How I view veganism is not how my audience views it. I see it as (relatively) easy. Many people don’t. Yet, some activist efforts seem aimed at making it as hard as possible. You don’t just have to be vegan—you also have to shop locally, scrutinize labels to make sure that every six-syllable ingredient on the food label is vegan, and cook everything from scratch. (And then we hide the vegan food where no one can find it!)”

    Brava! Let’s make it easier for people to eat whole food plant-based.

    Lani Muelrath

  25. melaniek August 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    I am so glad you addressed the fact that people make it too hard to be vegan. So what if some of the food is GMO or non-organic. It’s already hard enough to live a vegan lifestyle without some wiggle room in other areas. And touching on what you said, not everyone has the luxury of being so picky, due to finances, availability, time, FINANCES, other food allergies (gluten, soy, wheat, some fruits, vegetables, nuts etc). So instead of chastising people who are excited by their bargain, non-local vegan finds, be open-minded…we are not the enemy!
    Keep up the good work!

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